(Columbus Circle, NY)
Our Last day in New York. It’s time to hit at the heart of “the great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” I know that metaphor was written in praise of Goldman Sachs but Wall Street in general deserves that glorious word play, don’t you think? It was time to visit the Bull: the most recent representation of the biblical Mammon. The Bull is always surrounded by huge crowds and you get a minute (if you’re lucky) to take a pic and move on. It is quite popular to take a picture touching or caressing (more often than you think) it’s balls. We keep thinking that modern spirituality has moved beyond phallic and scrotal worship but we merely repeat ourselves in an endless cycle.
We walked to Battery Park and saw the Statue of Liberty in the midst of a foggy haze, way off near the horizon. If people asked us if we had seen the Statue of Liberty on our NY trip, technically, yes. We had no further interest in the lady, to be honest. I chalk it all down to over-exposure. One too many Hollywood thriller or Bollywood overseas song sequence and I just feel saturated, the real thing fails to draw you anymore.
(What having technically seen the Statue of Liberty in NY looks like. ;))
It was drizzling and the temperature was below zero. A cup of coffee and lots of protein felt appropriate. A Jewish Deli in New York seemed to be the right place to imbibe some real local flavor. Therefore, it was decided that Katz’s Deli was a compulsory stop. The place was crowded and they had a weird ticket system to get in and out. The guys at the counter would shove plates of Reuben and Pastrami at you while they went about their business. The guy at the sandwich counter was old and grouchy but the sandwich was expertly assembled and the meat tender. It was like your favourite curmudgeonly old uncle coming home with your favourite candy bar and throwing it at your head (affectionately, of course). The guy at the omelet stand was another story. He was that shady guy at the bus stand who you sure wish would stop hitting on you ‘cause you are ordering that omelet for your husband who is standing next to you the whole time. Dude, this pastrami omelet is fabulous. Which is why I choose to ignore your remarkable obliviousness for the time being and focus on wrestling as much of said omelet from said husband as is humanly possible. I didn’t know this was the place where the scene from “When Harry Met Sally” happened till I saw the sign, but I concur; the omelets will make you want to have what she’s having.
I like to think we were following some sort of chronological order with our museum trips, we moved from the Old Masters to MoMA to the ultra-mod Museum of Art and Design. A friend of mine, Yushan, recommended this place and it was amazing. What makes MAD really worthwhile was the curation. It can be covered in a couple of hours (not overwhelming) but there’s always a lot of challenging material. The current exhibition focused on the interaction between artists and technology and how modern digital technology has influenced the way new artistic projects are conceived and executed. In a sense technology has made a lot of artistic endeavors redundant while enabling the execution of myriad others. In another sense, artists may be the only people who can ease the feeling of existential angst that comes with the relentless onslaught of technology: We can be killed by unseeing drones, we know that now. It appears that many of our functions can be performed more efficiently and with less error by machines. What is the meaning of it all if we are so disposable? Many of the exhibits use algorithms and advanced mathematical functions to create objects of great beauty: pillars, sculptures, furniture, homes. The emphasis seems to be on a sort of symbiotic relationship with technology.
(Michael Hansmeyer, “Subdivided Column”, cardboard, manually laminated, inspired by morphogenetic processes in nature)
(Richard Dupont, “Untitled”, pigmented cast polyurethane, sculpture derived from a digitally distorted body scan)
(PROTEAN Bodywear by SOMARTA for Lady Gaga, digitally-knit in one piece, seamless nylon-polyurethane mix, covered in Swarovski crystals from the Skin Series)
(Iris von Herpen and Neri Oxman: “Cape and Skirt”, 3D printed outfit, the first to mix two types of materials together while printing, MIT media labs project)
There were the more flippant pieces too like the 3-D printed bra and knickers and the 3-D printed dress worn by Burlesque exponent Dita Von Teese at one of her shows. Then there were those that I could make no sense of and did not interest me aesthetically. And finally, there were the cool thought experiments. What would you get if you applied the principles of genetic engineering to chairs? With sufficient diversity in the gene pool and the tendency towards the survival of the fittest would evolution favour the perfect chair? What does the perfect chair even mean? Dealing with all these loaded questions is “Chairgenics” by FormNation.
There was the brainwave couch and the house that grew organically like bone. There were a lot of design projects inspired by Biology like the jewelry and the lamps that mimicked coral formations or were inspired by the Fibonacci series. It was an exhibit that made you feel like a child again with lots of things to touch, feel and interact with. Before we exited the floor, we decided to get ourselves 3D printed. It seemed like a fun NY souvenir to take home, a reinterpretation of the tacky street portrait of bygone days. ;) We had to stand on a circular platform and were slowly rotated while being scanned 360 degrees. The image is sent to your email the next working day and the small sculpture is at your door a week later. We opted for coloured sandstone but the more durable white plastic and steel options are also available.
There was a costume jewelry exhibit that had a number of great early 20th century pieces. And of course there was the simply brilliant sculpture exhibit, “Body and Soul: New International Ceramics.”
(Tip Toland, Grace Flirts (2008) Stoneware, paint, pastel, hair, wax lips)
(Kate MacDowell, Daphne (2007) Hand built porcelain)
This was a treasure trove of great work but what will remain with me is that I discovered an amazing new artist whose work really speaks to me, Sergei Isupov. His sculptures mostly deal with human relationships: the vulnerability, the violence of intimate relationships, the casual cruelty, the burden of loving another human being selflessly and the gaps in communication. And at the same time, the sculptures also capture the feeling of wholeness, of oneness and communion, of mutual strength and the flow of energy and care. I left MAD with something caught in my throat.
(The Challenge, Top (Back), Bottom (Front))
(Belief and Hope, Top (side 2), Bottom (side 1))
(Exorcism, Top (Front), Bottom (Back))
(All images courtesy of sergeiisupov.com)
Since MAD was quite close to the Time Warner Building, we decided to pay a visit to the Botero Adam and Eve. I have always been a fan of the Columbian artist and his corpulent subjects. Both Adam and Eve did not disappoint. They were huge, imposing and approachable. In the Malayalam movie, “Da Thadiya”, they talk about how heaven can be found in the titular character’s huge bear hug. I suspect Botero’s subjects hold a similar appeal. There is something very charming and cuddly about them all. I am sure many an art critic and possibly Botero himself just flinched.
Next up, Chelsea Market. We were told this was the place where the hipster crowd likes to hang out and the place to get some serious youth vibes. The place was all brick and graffiti and paper and string-lights but definitely a sanitized version of the street scenes in the rest of the city. There were the butchers with the free range meat, the spice shops, the cheese shops and the shops that sell locally made wines and pickles. Lots of cupcake shops. A couple of places to tear apart at what looked like fresh lobster. We decided on an early dinner at the “Tuck Shop.” It’s an Aussie Pot Pie stall that shares a dining area with three other stalls and has a mean reputation. After that dinner, I may be being immodest, but I am forced to admit I make the best pot pie I have ever had. Hit me up if you want the recipe, you won’t regret it.
I couldn’t leave NY without visiting the Strand Bookstore with its famous 18 miles of books. It’s not my favourite book store in the entire world but its valuable book section is amazing with all those leather bound treasures with their gilded titles and spines. I love a little quirk and personality when it comes to my bookstores and the Strand is a bit too big to offer any of that. None of the cozy corners and dimly lit L-shaped sections made by overstocked book-shelves here. It is however heartening to see that 18 miles of books can still survive in a city like NY and make rent every month. You go guys! You make bookworms around the world hopeful about the future of reading.
We are not particularly sure about the best way to spend the last few hours here. We walk aimlessly around Little Italy and China Town, incidentally seeing a monstrous Cannoli at one of the little bakeries along the way.
We see the displays at Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.
My feet have declared open revolt and refuse to budge. We use the last trip on our PATH card and head back to the hotel. The driver of the hotel shuttle informs us it is his last day at work. He is in a jovial mood and shares the story of his life with us. He is from Ecuador and worked 35 years as a manager at a big soft drink company. He decided to go back home and invest his retirement funds in a shrimp farm but things didn’t work out and he came back here to work as a driver to repay his debts. He was finally done with his payments and was going back to his family. I asked about his wife and children. Turns out his daughter finished her PhD at an Ivy League University and his son was accepted to MIT. That was all he ever wanted really. I can hear the pride in his voice. It is a beautiful story. A story that represents the idea of America, the land where hard work meets opportunity to create magic, the land where the accidents of birth and circumstance can be overcome. Setting aside current political and social realities for one night, we are glad that sometimes this is true.
New York is often described as a concrete jungle where Wall Street moguls sit back and orchestrate the fate of the universe, a city of great inequality and great cruelty. I am glad that I got to see another side of this city though, a city full of energy and vitality, great art and great food, a city where you can reinvent yourself, sometimes even twice in the same lifetime, the city that never sleeps and when it sleeps, the city that dreams big dreams.