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 But don’t let that historical reference to New York’s long gone turn-of-the-century slaughterhouses and packing plants fool you.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.

Know Thyselfie

The selfie. It’s here to stay. If that statement fills you with dread, take heart. It may not be as bad as it sounds. While the proliferation of inane and inappropriate selfies causes us to fear the end of civilization as we know it, the selfie phenomenon has its uniquely engaging qualities as well. We just have to filter through the narcissism parade and duck faces to find the genuine fun and interest. It can be done!

I should confess that I’m not a big selfie taker. It’s probably because I don’t have a good phone for it (yes, I still use a Blackberry). But I did take this one recently in the art model’s changing room at FIT. If I look stressed it’s because the prior two hours involved a total shutdown of all downtown subways in Manhattan due to signal problems. That meant I was caught in the rain with no umbrella and had to walk 30 blocks, through gridlock traffic jams and blaring sirens and horns, from the upper East Side to get to my job at FIT. After drying my hair with paper towels and getting undressed, I took this selfie as I waited for the teacher to start class. What a day that was.

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The truth is that there’s nothing really new about the selfie. The word may have triumphantly found its way into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, but if we define the term to mean simply a picture one takes of one’s self, then it’s been around as long as we’ve had the tools to create such a picture. Before cameras went digital, there were selfies and plenty of them. If we want to stretch the meaning to include images of the self of all kinds – before photographic technology was even invented – then the self-portraits of artists give substantial weight to an otherwise frivolous sounding term. Isn’t an artist’s self-portrait the painter’s version of the “selfie”? So we can just go ahead and crown Rembrandt, who created dozens of self-portraits, the King of the “selfie”.

The earliest known photograph of a human being was, in fact, a selfie. Robert Cornelius, an amateur chemist in Philadelphia who ran a silver-plating business, experimented with his camera one day and took this daguerreotype in 1839. Robert doesn’t have to comb his hair, because he’s a badass ;-)

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If the selfie craze of today has earned some degree of scorn it’s probably because it feeds groan-inducing vanity and attention-seeking, two things our culture could use less of these days. The obsessive urge to document every moment of our lives is another off-putting aspect of the selfie generation. I don’t need to see celebrities, or anybody for that matter, on the toilet.

But the urge to “document” is, in itself, generally a good one. I’ve seen quite a few genuinely interesting, humorous, spontaneous and charming selfies that weren’t driven by purely “Look at me!” impulses. If a twelve year old boy meets his baseball idol during batting practice, then sure he should get that selfie with him. He’ll treasure if for the rest of his life.

She was the “Inquiring Photographer” for a Washington newspaper before she met the future President. Here, Jackie Kennedy takes a mirror selfie with Ethel and John, 1954:

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A selfie, Stanley Kubrick style. On the set of “The Shining”, the famed director snaps a mirror selfie with his daughter, while Jack Nicholson stands in the foreground:

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Jeff Bridges, using a Widelux lens, takes a selfie with Sam Elliott on the set of the Coen brothers 1998 cult classic “The Big Lebowski”:

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I like to visualize the selfies that could have been. If you have any disdain for the selfie, picture these imaginary captures and consider how awesome they’d be on social media. It might change your mind. I’ve used contemporary jargon and Internet-era parlance. I’ve also included hashtags, because you have to use hashtags. You have to ;-)

At the Continental Congress on July 4th, 1776, after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams takes a selfie on his Android with a grinning Benjamin Franklin who, with his fingers, makes rabbit ears behind Adams’ head. Thomas Jefferson photobombs in the background. Adams posts it to Twitter with the caption “We did it!! Freedom in da house!! Grab your muskets colonists!! #yolo #KingGeorgeisapunk #tasteitbitches #pursuitofhappiness”

Michelangelo atop a scaffold near the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Disheveled, miserable, biting down on paintbrushes in his mouth, he stretches out his arm and takes a selfie on his iPhone. He posts it to Instagram with the caption “Wish I never took this commission. WORST. JOB. EVER. #paintingsucks #biteme #myasshurts”

Jo Hiffernan, artist’s model, muse, girlfriend of James Whistler, on a break while posing for Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde, takes a nude selfie with the caption “Don’t blame me. Some Ottoman diplomat requested this painting. LOL. #sorryJames #CourbetIsCrazy #imfreezing”. She posts it to Facebook where it is promptly taken down for violating Terms of Service.

An epic selfie. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s photo of himself from the Gemini 12 mission which he proudly shared on Twitter last summer:

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Pope Francis takes the first “Papal selfie” with a group of young visitors at the Vatican:

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So whether we like it or not, we’ll have to roll with the selfies. They have, for better or worse, hit the big time and will even dominate the news cycle in some instances: Ellen at the Oscars, which received over 3 million retweets on Twitter, and even heads of state amusing themselves at a funeral.

I don’t think I’ll be taking more selfies anytime soon, but if I do I know Mona’s got my back. #TeamMuse #artselfie #LeonardoRocks :-)

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Atelier Days

Hellooo helloooooo!! Museworthy friends, I apologize for the terribly long absence! A Verizon FIOS outage kept me off of my beloved blog for a few days. Phone, TV, and Internet were down since last week but thankfully it was all restored over the weekend. Sunday night I felt too tired to post, Monday I worked a long day of modeling and schlepped around town in raw, rainy weather, and today I’m a touch sick with the usual cold/flu season symptoms. Got the old sandpaper throat. Sandpaper throat stinks, doesn’t it? I’m popping Ricola lemon lozenges like candy :lol:

Anyway, let’s get caught up. First, an official Happy New Year to you all now that we’re two weeks into 2015. Hugs and kisses all around! For me, the new year kicks off with a month-long modeling assignment at Grand Central Atelier. When I last posed there, in the spring, the school was in their original location in midtown Manhattan. Over the summer they moved into their spacious new digs in Long Island City, Queens. And I do mean spacious. Studios everywhere, skylights, plenty of room for artists, models, casts, supplies, storage, and a lovely gallery.

I am the January model for Jacob Collins’ figure class and we’re off to a splendid start. One pose for the month, every morning Monday – Friday. Grand Central is a rigorous four-year program that concentrates on classical training. In just the past week and a half I’ve seen firsthand the discipline and concentration of these dedicated students. It’s quite impressive.

On my first day before we set up the pose, I was handed a black binder that the students thought would be useful. In it was a compendium of images that represent classical art poses typically employed for academic art training. What a nifty reference. Now experienced art models like myself don’t necessarily need such a book, but I enjoyed looking through it. I instantly recognized David, Ingres, and Prud’Hon among others. This kind of compilation is certainly helpful for a newer model in search of ideas and it serves as a handy anthology of the academy tradition. I photographed some pages in the book to share:

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All art modeling is not the same. I’ve probably stated this a hundred times on the blog! But it’s true. To some degree, yes, a pose is a pose is a pose. But the settings and environments can be vastly different, which means a professional, experienced art model has to take into consideration what the artists are trying to achieve, what they expect, and how long the pose will be. Some artists really need to see and meticulously render the model’s sternocleidomastoid (yeah, Google that!), while others do not. Showing up at Spring Studio for a Wednesday night short pose session, doing active gestures one after another, is a far different gig from what’s happening this month at Grand Central. This is formal training, and the class is a mixture of 2nd year, 3rd year, and even 4th year students. Some are sticking with drawing for the duration, others are beginning to paint grisaille, while others may do painting with color. One thing is constant: the model’s pose. I posted it on Twitter if you’d like to have a look.

Before I go I’d like to share a deeply heartfelt column written by my good friend Daniel Maidman on the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris last week. Daniel, like me, is a free speech absolutist. I think this is worth a read. On the Huffington Post, this is “Guardians”.

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“Put up a new blog post already.” <– my mother to me on the phone the other night. See what I have to deal with? My life is a living hell!! Yes, I’m kidding :lol: Actually Mom’s right. What the heck’s going on here? A new post is way overdue. I hope you all had a good week in the interim.

Speaking of Mom, her art show at the Queens Botanical Garden is still on view, providing joy and enchantment to all the family friends and QB Garden visitors who have seen it. It closes on January 17th. I helped my mother write her artist’s statement for her show and I think it came out pretty well. I’m mentioning this because an artist I know sent an email to several of us that I got a kick out of. So I thought I’d share it here. The “artist’s statement”, which I imagine is a somewhat new formality, appears on artist’s websites and promotional materials. The artist who sent the article I’m sharing told me she has no artist’s statement on her website because she thinks it’s stupid and pretentious. She has a point. Some of them, not all, can be quite pompous, particularly the ones that use postmodern language and theoretical terminology. You can’t help but roll your eyes when you read some of them. 

So John Seed, a painter and art history professor, wrote up some artist’s statements for the old masters using postmodern rhetoric, and they’re hilarious. For example, Michelangelo’s begins with, “The pre-homoeroticized body forms both my field of action and the basis of my conceptual taxonomy.” The one for Velázquez’ reads in part, “In addressing the collapse of personal autonomy and identity in an authoritarian/monarchist space I imply a multiplicity of didactic constructions and formations.” Click here for the entire article. The ending is great.

Also, my beautiful talented niece Olivia turned 12 yesterday which boggles the mind because it feels not so long ago that I saw her for the first time, on a cold December day, at Mount Sinai Hospital when she was just a few hours old. And now she’s a young lady! Kicking butt at JV basketball, student government, and of course her voice lessons. Olivia has always been the gladdening ray of light in our family and she is now more than ever, given the circumstances. Here she is sitting on steps, like the true Upper West Side city girl that she is. Happy Birthday sweetheart <3

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And tomorrow, December 7th, will mark ten years since my father’s death. That he’s been gone a decade now is difficult to grasp. A decade since that harrowing morning when I was roused from sleep by my brother banging loudly on my door at 7 AM. Olivia was only two years old when Dad left us. Sadly, she has no memory of him, her grandfather.

Thanks for reading, friends. And yes I will post again soon  ;-)

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!

Happy 7th Birthday Museworthy!!

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your … eyes …
I come not to bury anyone, but to praise … my readers …

Here we are again, my darlings. Another mini milestone on the blogging odyssey. Forgive me for the grandiose word but I do see it as an “odyssey” of sorts. Maybe it doesn’t rise to the level of epic Greek poetry, but in my heart and soul this blog is a place of discovery and warmth, discourse and revelation. What do we do here at Museworthy? We laugh, we wonder, we question and often challenge, we relish beauty, poetry and music, we examine and study, share, reminisce, and admire. I “know” all of you. Some better than others of course. But even those of you whose email addresses have held steady in my subscribers list for years, choose to lurk quietly, and read my new posts as they pop into your mailboxes, yes you too. I see you, and appreciate you. And to everyone, keep sticking with me I’ll keep sticking with you. We have much more to explore. And it will be a blast, that’s a promise ;-)

The annual Museworthy “blogaversary” wouldn’t mean a damn without the tradition of a Fred Hatt photo of yours truly. We’ve done it since year one. We hit it this year with a variation of a standing contrapposto, which the artists among you know is a timeless art modeling classic. Thank you, Fred. You rock, my dear friend …

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Our music for this year’s party is the Southern rock stylings of Little Feat. This is “Two Trains” from their 1973 album Dixie Chicken, so get your feet tappin’ and spirits groovin’. As for year eight of Museworthy? I’m ready if you guys are. Let’s do it! Hugs and smooches to you all, and a most sincere and grateful THANK YOU for your readership. It absolutely means the world. Bless you all for your generosity …

Love, your muse, Claudia xoxo