Glass, Granite, and Urban Awakenings

New York City is, and always has been, a study in stark contrasts. The route of the IRT Lexington Avenue subway line, which travels from some of the lowest income neighborhoods in the city (the Bronx) through the highest income neighborhoods (upper east side) exemplifies such a contrast. And it seems rather fitting that the Lexington line continues south to make a stop at – where else? – Wall Street in the Financial District.

This week, the new Whitney Museum has opened with much fanfare, and I do mean MUCH fanfare. After many years in the making, the plans for a new Whitney have finally come to fruition. With a $422 million price tag, the museum’s new digs were designed by the architect Renzo Piano. The 200,000 square foot structure of steel, concrete and glass sits along the West Side Highway in downtown Manhattan in what is known around here as the “meatpacking district”. But don’t let that historical reference to New York’s long gone turn-of-the-century slaughterhouses and packing plants fool you. The meatpacking district is, today, one of the trendiest, “hottest” neighborhoods in the city, replete with high end boutiques and restaurants. The planners for the new Whitney chose their real estate wisely, as “location” is everything in this town. Flanked by the High Line and Gansevoort Street, the Whitney is the sleek spanking new jewel of New York City. With a glass-enclosed lobby and a panoramic view of the Hudson River, it is the new home of the museum’s American art collection of Hoppers, Warhols, Pollocks, and company.

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Just a few miles north of the new Whitney, an art space of a different sort also held an opening, but with significantly less fanfare and without the First Lady, the New York elite, glitterati, or art magazine critics in attendance. The old Bronx Borough Courthouse, which had been abandoned, neglected, and boarded up for 35 years, has been rescued from its squalid, dilapidated state by an organization called “No Longer Empty”, which avails community engagement to “revive underutilized properties” according to their mission statement. Constructed in 1905, the four story Beaux-Arts building would have been most likely demolished had it not secured historic landmark status in 1981. But though it remained standing, the structure still fell into disrepair, its cavernous interior and stately architectural features sealed off from the public. Now, as debris is cleaned away and the light is let in, the Bronx Courthouse is experiencing a renewal as a space for art, installations, and symbol of the neighborhood’s heritage. You can read all about it on CurbedNY.

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O Henry once said that New York “will be a great place if they ever finish it”. What O Henry didn’t know, presumably, was that New York will never be “finished”. Ever. Those of us who have lived here our entire lives can attest to the fact that the city will do whatever the hell it wants, and as New Yorkers our famously held skills of adapting and improvising are only strengthened in the process. Make no mistake, this is a town of deaths and births and reincarnations, relentlessly so. This town makes decisions that will either boggle the mind or thrill the spirit. This town will break your heart and ignore your tears. Some salivate over new constructions and state-of-the-art modernization, while others bemoan losses, cling to relics and shadows of the past. New York has certainly not thrown off its history, but its dogged impulse to surge forward will never be subdued. Nor should it be.

In the spirit of this diverse, crowded, maddening metropolis of contrasts and confounding changes, I offer a warm welcome to the new Whitney, and an equally warm welcome to the “new” old Bronx Courthouse.

Building Blocks

Life as a born-during-the-Johnson-administration 46 year old in a millennial-driven culture felt a little less alienating this week when the rock music world celebrated the 40th anniversary of Physical Graffiti. Led Zeppelin’s epic double album was released on February 24th back in 1975 and can now be called, officially, “middle-aged”. We’re in good company, yes! I like it :-)

Since I’ve already opined extensively about Zeppelin on this blog, I’ll spare my readers another fawning monologue and highlight instead the album cover for Physical Graffiti. But first I want to mention that I love the MP3 phenomenon as much as anybody. For all us music lovers it’s been, truly, a revolution. But if we lost anything of value with the death of LPs (the need for ample upright storage space not among them) it’s the art and design of the album cover. Particularly the rock album cover. Can you envision them? I’m sure you can. The Beatles’ Abbey Road. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers. Sure there are covers to CD releases today, but it’s not quite the same.

Peter Corriston designed the iconic cover for Physical Graffiti which is instantly identifiable to Zeppelin fans:

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The source for this image is a block in New York City’s East Village, building street numbers 96 and 98 on St. Mark’s Place. My town has provided countless settings and images that have made their way into popular culture, and it always makes me proud. From the Empire State Building to the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park to the promenade in Brooklyn Heights, in music and television and movies, New York City is everywhere … and don’t you forget it! Here are the Physical Graffiti apartments:

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The top floor of the building was cropped out and the window spaces on the album were cut out and inserted with liner notes and illustrations. You can read more about the Physical Graffiti album cover at this page.

It looks like I’ve just done a Music Monday at midnight on Saturday. So I might as well go the whole nine yards and conclude with actual music. But what to choose from this magnificently rich, confusing, strange, uninhibited double album? One on which you can detect the wear and tear in Robert Plant’s voice, and savor Jimmy Page falling obsessively in love with his guitar? No we won’t do the masterpiece “Kashmir”, but an acoustic ditty that was recorded outdoors in the garden at Mick Jagger’s house. From Physical Graffiti, this is “Black Country Woman”.

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Have a great weekend, friends! Be back soon. Until then, peace ..

Figure al Fresco

It was an unseasonably warm day – at first – until the gusty autumn winds began to blow, temperatures began to drop, and a blanket of rain clouds drifted ominously across the harbor, threatening to strike. None of it would thwart our two hours of drawing outdoors at the water’s edge in lower Manhattan. The Battery Park City Parks Conservancy hosts free drawing sessions in the South Cove called “Figure al Fresco”. A clothed model takes five, ten, and twenty minute poses, and the Parks Conservancy provides drawing materials and instruction for anyone who needs it.

I posed for this group over the summer and was delighted to pose for them again last week on the final session of the season before it goes on winter hiatus. The number of attendees is larger than you might expect. I counted thirty artists at one point, all of whom were in remarkably cheerful spirits. They initiated conversations with me on breaks, complimented my modeling, and expressed concern that I might be too cold.  Actually I was a little chilly, but I never told them that ;-)

Taking pictures on my breaks took my mind off the blustery winds. I fell in love with these glowing blue lanterns along the promenade:

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Outdoor modeling naturally brings a special set of circumstances and observations, such as curious passersby, some of whom stop to watch for a few minutes. Those who popped out their phones in an attempt to take a picture were politely admonished by a Parks Conservancy staff member. There’s also sashaying pigeons, darting squirrels, youngsters on scooters and skateboards, bicyclists, and fitness freaks running by, tuned out from their surroundings with iPod earbuds securely in place.

My modeling spot at the base of the steps. Cushiony gym mats, bench, and my well-worn purple modeling bag that I’ve had forever. The trees, displaying gorgeous fall gold color, sent down a flurry of  leaves with the winds. I held steady in my pose as they fell around me .. and on me!

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A pair of ducks, just relaxing and listening to the lapping water, not interested in my poses at all. How dare they ignore me! :lol:

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Getting up to stretch on a break:

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I began my posing wearing shorts and a tank top, wanting to give them as much “figure” as possible for the Figure al Fresco. It was a valiant effort for the first two sets, but then the nippy air won out and I put on leggings. I brought a colorful shawl which also provided some warmth and serves as a nice modeling accessory that adds more shapes and lines.

More of those great blue lanterns, and New Jersey across the river:

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And some more beautiful fall color:

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For now, I bid farewell to Battery Park and Figure al Fresco. I look forward to modeling again for this lovely group and working with the terrific staff, come springtime.

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Elaine Hajian, Artist

It is with great daughterly pride that I announce my mother’s solo art exhibition at the Queens Botanical Garden. Yay Mommy!! This event has been almost a year in the making, and what a joyous triumph it is. Mom’s show, titled “Evolution of an Artist”, has just been unveiled in the Visitor’s Building and will remain on view until January 17th. Also, Mom is teaching a Plein Air Art Workshop this Saturday at the Botanical Garden. So basically, Mama is on a roll! I can’t tell you all how proud I am of her, happy for her, and how much my brother and I are sharing in her palpable exuberance during this time of artistic renewal in her life. The reception will take place on Sunday, October 26th, which also happens to be Mom’s 79th birthday. How cool is that? :-)

Mom assembled a collection of her paintings that combine older pieces with new works, in oils and pastels, the latter being her favorite medium. Thanks to the invaluable assistance of her dear friends Joyce and Ed Morrill, the show came together magnificently, and the wonderful staff at the Botanical Garden are absolutely delighted to have mom’s paintings on display in their center. I took some photos on Wednesday.

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The reflecting pool outside the building can be seen through the floor-level windows:

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While most of the pieces are landscapes and cityscapes, this section was curated nicely to group together sentimental subjects: portrait of my great-grandfather, an Armenian farm girl, a knitting grandma, and my cat Monty in a special work Mom gave me as a present after he died. It’s “Not for Sale”, but rather “on loan” from the walls of my house:

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So you can fully grasp the beautiful setting of the show amid the Queens Botanical Garden, this is the view from the exhibition space. Much nicer than those windowless galleries on the west side if you ask me:

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The lovely Rose Garden on the grounds that would inspire any artist, still looking healthy and vigorous in early October:

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Congratulations Mom! You are so vital, so tireless, so youthful and enthusiastic in your outlook on life. I admire you, truly, with all my heart :-)

And Museworthy readers, Music Monday returns next week! So stop by in a few days and we’ll have lots of fun. See you soon!

Jets and Parasols

The two year refurbishing and redesign of the Metropolitan Museum plaza is finally completed and open to the public. On Saturday after modeling at the National Academy I decided to take a stroll down Fifth Avenue and check out the spanking new space. It was far less elaborate than I had expected, but I soon came to appreciate the sophistication of its simplicity. With elegant new granite, paving stones, trees and fountain, the plaza runs the length of four city blocks along the Museum’s stately entrance. I took a few pictures to share here on the blog.

These red parasols are really cool and provide shaded areas to sit and enjoy the sights of Fifth Avenue:

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The fountain is wonderful. The water jets delighted everyone with a gushing, cascading dance:

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Now my Museworthy friends, please visit on Wednesday for the next post in which we will have our annual celebration of this blog’s “birth”. Hope you join me! See you soon :-)

My Town

I hadn’t intended to post for the September 11th anniversary, as it’s not something I do every year. I posted back in 2011 for the ten year remembrance but not since then. I think with the current global events and resurgence of terrorism threats, feelings of fear, anger, and unease have been triggered in many people – especially those of us who live and work in big densely populated cities.

There’s no question that the 911 attacks and their aftermath are deeply felt by all Americans. But it will always be different for New Yorkers; more acute, more personal, more harrowing. Unless you lived here at the time you can’t fully understand. I don’t mean in any way to diminish others’ feelings or ignore Shanksville and the Pentagon. I’d never do that. I’m just trying to express the unique and exceptional mindset of a unique and exceptional city that remains a bullseye for grievance-obsessed monsters. It is a city that will never stop inspiring people, a city that wallops its inhabitants with challenges and impossibilities, thrills and disenchantments, oddities and curiosities, scandals and triumphs, idealism and cynicism. We are a maddeningly paradoxical town, where neurosis and fortitude live side by side. We rebuild on top of rubble, and we hold up a collective middle finger to people who think they can destroy us. And to those who hate New York or don’t understand it, we respond in snippy Big Apple form: take it or leave it.

New York, by Franz Kline, 1953

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Love, peace, and blessings to all of you, on this day and every day …

Summer in Full Swing

Helloooooo friends! It seems that I left this blog in the hands of Gaston and Isabel for the past week. And what have I been doing in the meantime? Nothing particularly interesting. A little summer reading, a little gardening, a little bike riding.

As the hot temperatures have set upon us and a hurricane pounds up the east coast this Fourth of July weekend, I’d like to offer my yearly Auntie’s brag about my niece Olivia. She just completed the 6th grade with stellar marks and, to top it off, won the end of year award for “sportsmanship in softball”. Yeah Olivia! At the age of 11 she’s already a better athlete than I’ve ever been. My brother took this picture of Olivia at the last game of the season. As you can see, she’s contemplating her strategy for her next at bat. Love this girl :-)

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Olivia is now enrolled in summer day camp and having a blast. My brother is immersed in music composing jobs, my sister-in-law is doing some renovations at the country house in the Catskills, and Mom is working on paintings for her solo art show in the fall (more on that to come). As for me? Just taking life one day at a time, anticipating a summer of afternoon sunbathing in the park, some writing, volunteering, plenty of reading, visiting friends, going to church, and, lo and behold, some art modeling! Yes I actually have gigs booked in July. I had to hustle and harass for them, but I got them all the same.

I wish everyone a fabulous weekend whether you will have rain or shine, mild breezes or stuffy humidity. Happy Fourth of July! Be safe, be joyful, be grateful. I’ll see you all very soon. Peace, friends.

Central Park, New York City, July 4th, watercolor, Maurice Prendergast, circa 1903:

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