Impressions, Sights

NYC Art Itinerary

"Migration Patterns" map by an anonymous contributor, sent to Becky Cooper, and printed in "Manhattan of the Mind" by Zachary Sniderman, New York Times Magazine, Feb. 17, 2013.

“Migration Patterns” map by an anonymous contributor, sent to Becky Cooper, and printed in “Manhattan of the Mind” by Zachary Sniderman, New York Times Magazine, Feb. 17, 2013.

When MA visited NYC last week, he filled each day with an ambitious art itinerary. It reminded me that I used to try to make the most of of my trips to New York. But since moving here, I’ve become lazy, and too borough- and subway-line-centric. I’ll take MA’s inspiring lead and resolve to get out into my own city more often. Here’s a list of places that I would like to visit, but have not yet been—and which I hope to see in 2013.

It’s better to set goals along with strategies, so I’ll include personal notes to make getting there easier.

The Morgan Library
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street 
A short walk from one of my favorite places to eat, Koreatown. Also, not far from Grand Central Station where Nick Cave’s horses will be on view March 25–31 as part of its centennial celebrations.

The Cloisters
99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park
A bit out of the way, in a northernmost part of Manhattan—yet by bicycle, it turns out to be just 10 miles from my house.

Wave Hill
West 249th Street and Independence Avenue, Bronx
This is even further out of the way in the western edge of the Bronx, but I could make a longer bike and art day out of it, as it’s only 5.2 miles north of The Cloisters. Thirty miles round trip is nothing for serious riders; I am not a serious rider, but maybe I’ll start to up my mileage come spring.

1939 World Fair collectibles, collection of Kyle Supley, on Designing Tomorrow's Tumblr.

1939 World Fair collectibles, collection of Kyle Supley, on Designing Tomorrow’s Tumblr.

Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street

This was not high on my list of places to visit, but it turns out that they’ve got a current exhibition on the 1930s World Fairs called Designing Tomorrow. World fairs are generally fascinating to me, but I am especially keen to learn more about the 1930s fairs in Queens (Didn’t I mention I’ve become borough-centric?) for their spectacle, futurism, modern design, typography, as well as the numerous bits and bobs of memorabilia.


311 East Broadway
Who knows why East Broadway runs at an angle to, and detached from, Broadway. But I know where e-flux is, having made a pilgrimage to its neighboring dumpling restaurant. Now I just need to combine my dumpling craving with astute contemporary discourse.

Museum of the Moving Image
36-01 35th Avenue at 37th Street, Astoria, Queens
My own borough; I hang my head to admit that I’ve been to the multiplex around the corner.

Brooklyn Botanical Garden

150 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn

Not art; visual nonetheless. In Prospect Park next to the Brooklyn Museum. Another nice bike adventure come warmer weather and new blooms.

  • Visited May 17. Huge, lovely, and well worth a visit.


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notes on news

Over Thanksgiving dinner — Filipino food and apple pie — I had the rare pleasure of explaining contemporary art to family members. We talked about postmodernism and how a picture of $400 by Warhol could bring in $43.7M at auction.

I can appreciate how hard it is to make sense of the contemporary art world. I know about how some things work; others, I’m still learning — such as this telling article about why blockbuster museum shows like Tut are such big business (below). It’s because it actually is a big business.

But the Tut show, a product of an alliance between Zahi Hawass, the Egyptian government’s chief archaeologist, and U.S. sports and entertainment giant AEG, is also a global revenue powerhouse that takes over its hosts entirely.

In 2005 Hawass paired with AEG, which owns sports arenas and teams (such as the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings) around the world , for a traveling exhibition that would display a few dozen of Egypt’s thousands of Tutankhamen artifacts. The show was to be put on by an AEG subsidiary, Arts and Exhibitions International.

The deal was simple: The hosts, like the AGO [(Art Gallery of Ontario)], could keep a portion of the gate receipts (the AGO declined to disclose how much, citing a confidentiality pact with AEI), but would surrender all say in how the show was presented and installed. The host would only profit after all of AEI’s costs were covered. AEG also demanded that its own, proprietary gift shop be installed.

At the AGO, the result is a stranger in the house, a hermetically sealed silo hived off from the rest of the gallery. This isn’t how most people expected the gallery to carry its mission of transformation [and inclusion of contemporary art] forward.

—Murray White, “Boy king’s reign at AGO troubles artists” (Toronto Star, November 29, 2009)

I’d had inklings of such tactics (when the Tut show came to the de Young Museum, local preparators were shut out of the installation work), but this is unsettling. Museums are perceived as custodians of historically significant artifacts. For many visitors, this suggests a faith in museum officials — that what’s exhibited is there because it’s edifying and worthy of the public’s attention. The reality is more complicated — in the Tut show, what’s exhibited is there because it’s historical as well as popular and profitable.

To make an entertainment business out of exhibition-making just feels wrong. I’m not so innocent to believe that art and commerce must be kept separate, but I’d hope that museums would be above big-business tactics (media saturation, merchandising, proprietary products) and values fixated on the bottom line. When museum officials legitimize a corporate blockbuster exhibition as an attempt to expand audiences (to their non-profit institutions) at $32.50 a pop (most of which goes to a big business), it seems unscrupulous.

Before traveling to the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Tut exhibition was at LACMA. That sort of makes sense. LACMA’s a county museum, so its emphasis is not on contemporary art or risk-taking; it can be forgiven for erring on the side of populism. Plus, everybody knows it’s strapped for cash. Now, Koon’s hanging locomotive sculpture needs a helping hand. At “an estimated cost of $25 million, making it one of the most expensive public art projects ever undertaken” (Katya Kazakina, “Koons’s $25 Million Dangling Train Derailed by Lacma Shortfall,”, November 29, 2009), no wonder. I’m all for ambitious public art (love Chris Burden’s lampposts at LACMA), but you don’t have to be a cynic of fine art to think that $25M is an outrageous sum. Imagine how many new works of contemporary art that could fund. You could award 100 artists a quarter of a million dollars each!

Last, Randy Kennedy sums up a massive study of how artists are faring in the recession (“A Survey Shows Pain of Recession for Artists,”, November 23, 2009). Of 5,300 respondents spanning painting, film and architecture,

  • “more than a third don’t have adequate health insurance”
  • “While the majority of artists have college degrees, only 6 percent said they earned $80,000 or more.”
  • The artists surveyed tended to earn either very little of their overall income from their artwork or almost all of it.”

I’m biased towards indie stuff: art and commerce can mix well. If you’re feeling the gift-giving spirit this month, don’t forget your local artists and galleries:

SHOP SHOW @ Swarm Gallery, Oakland, CA
Opening Friday, December 11, 2009, 6-9 pm and continuing through January 24, 2010

HOLIDAYLAND GIFT SALE @ Blankspace, Oakland, CA
On now thru December 20, 2009, with a First Friday Reception on December 4th from 6-10pm