the new museum

Thursday after work I went to the New Museum for the first time. I know, I know. How could I, who enjoys contemporary art oh so much, have never been to the New Museum until just now, mere days before leaving the city? Well, the answer’s actually quite simple: money. Whereas I can get into MoMA or the Met for free, the New Museum offers Columbia students no such perks. However, Thursday nights (from 7-9 PM) they offer everyone the perk of free admission!

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The New Museum’s current building was designed by SANAA in 2007 and garnered quite a bit of attention. Sure, it’s a nice building, but what really makes it for me is the giant rose sculpture “Rose II” (2007) by Isla Genzken on the facade. The museum’s stacked block design is bold in a quiet understated sort of way (and reminiscent of a project I did in architecture school) but it hasn’t decided whether it wants to be a standout or simply new yet unoffensive. In that way I suppose it’s also responding to the uncertainty of the context, since it’s not far from Storefront for Art and Architecture (on Kenmare) or the SoHo area (south of Houston) with all its trendy boutiques, but at the same time it’s right by good ol’ smelling-of-fish Chinatown.

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I only have exterior shots because photography isn’t allowed inside, and to be honest … there wasn’t much I would’ve wanted a photo of. They insisted we start from the top and work our way down (à la Guggenheim) so first up on the 5th floor was the exhibit “XFR STN,” video work that I gave a quick glance to before moving on. “Ellen Gallagher: Don’t Axe Me” on the 3rd and 4th floors and “Lllyn Foulkes” on the 2nd were both eh – weird but borderline interesting. I did like “Erika Vogt: Stranger Debris Roll Roll Roll” on the ground floor though. It’s in a small gallery tucked in the back by the cafe, and was a installation piece that I found fun to walk around in and well executed.

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My main complaint overall would have to be the interior vertical circulation. Because it’s annoying. Since the building’s floor plates are relatively small, vertical circulation is extremely tight and very vertical; you have your choice of elevators or stair shafts that feel way too much like emergency fire stairs. When I’m trying to enjoy art, the last thing I want to hear is that constant pinging of the elevator arriving and the last thing I want to do is go down a set of claustrophobic stairs where I’m grasping onto the railing so I don’t tumble down and down and down (the New Museum gots some tall floors). However, between the third and fourth floors there’s an extra staircase, the John S. Wotowicz stairs, hidden in the back behind the normal stair core. It’s easy to miss but definitely made me happy. It’s a straight shot between the floors and really narrow, with a small landing halfway up/down with some additional pieces of art and a window looking out.

That staircase and Vogt’s piece – those I would’ve taken photos of. But I wasn’t in the mood to possibly get yelled at (keep in mind this was in the evening after a long day of work before I’d had the chance to eat dinner) and, as much as I tried to get into the work by reading all of the supplemental text … I was pretty over the whole experience. Normal admission price to the New Museum is $10 for students and $14 for adults.. Would I have paid to visit? No. Definitely not worth it. But that’s generally how contemporary art goes – very hit or miss. So … huzzah for free!

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crack is wack (the playground)

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The other day I discovered a fascinating little gem in East Harlem near the Harlem River (north-ish of the East River). It’s actually a pretty crummy little place in a pretty crummy area, but there’s this mural. It’s a crazy public art piece by Keith Haring, who was a famous 1980s New York City artist. And it is from this mural that the playground gets its name. That name? Crack is Wack. Oh yes. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Crack is Wack Playground.

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The playground’s a small little thing located between East 127th, East 128th, 2nd Avenue, and Harlem River Drive (the northern continuation of FDR Drive). There are basketball courts et cetera, but it didn’t seem very well maintained. And there’s honestly not much nearby but a bus depot, car dealership, and the rest of Harlem River Park. And Harlem River Park? I ventured over there, then turned tail and walked out very fast. I imagine by the water it’s quite nice, but I got freaked out by a group of sketchy looking guys who were staring at me ’cause I think I interrupted a drug deal … in the middle of the day. Quite ironic given its proximity to a large mural proclaiming that crack is wack, eh?

Anyhow, back to Crack is Wack. For the record: Crack is wack. Kids, don’t do drugs. “Crack is Wack” (1986, the mural) is located at the north tip of Crack is Wack (the playground) next to Harlem River Drive. The mural is on the two sides of a concrete handball wall on a seemingly little used handball court … because seriously, who plays handball? And who wants to play next to a highway? The mural got restored a few years back but I doubt many people venture out to see it, although the orange and black side gets seen plenty by all those people zipping by on Harlem River Drive (which connects to FDR East River Drive).

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As the story goes, Keith Haring painted the mural illegally in response to the crack cocaine epidemic that was basically ravaging New York City during the 1980s. He got a $25 ticket for it and a few months later the New York City Parks Department contacted him and asked him to finish the mural. Kinda cool, eh? Then again, by that point he was already well known so I wouldn’t recommend anyone else going out and trying it. ‘Cause I have an inkling the fine these days is a tad more than $25.

I lived in Harlem for a year (north of Central Park, east of Morningside Park) but never went out to East Harlem except to go to Target or Costco. I was also kinda busy with the time-consuming disaster/masterpiece that was my thesis. However, now that I’m preparing to leave New York, instead of packing I’m trying to knock things off my NYC bucket list – and it’s a long list. The list grew significantly during my time here, since the more entrenched you get, the more things you hear about, and the more you never want to leave. Needless to say, the list isn’t going to get completed, but whatevs. Just another reason to come back, eh? Well … maybe not Harlem. I probably won’t come here again.

mandela day in fort greene

Two days ago, July 18, was Nelson Mandela International Day, otherwise known as Mandela Day. My friends and I went to Madiba Restaurant for dinner in Fort Greene (an area of Brooklyn) and since Madiba is a notable South African restaurant and Nelson Mandela is a famous South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, president, humanitarian, et cetera … it was pretty crowded. At one point there were eight of us crowded around a 2′ x 2′ table, which was a bit awkward outside in the stifling heat. However, the drinks were yummy (Obama Mama) and the food was fine (salmon burger), although the prices were a bit pricey. The highlight of the night was when darkness fell and lanterns were lit in honor of Mandela.

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It was really quite a magical experience seeing all these paper lanterns float off into the sky. That being said, there was some minor concern voiced as the lanterns went over the building that perhaps floating fire in a fairly dense area wasn’t the best idea ever … but no harm, no foul. After all the lanterns were lit and traveled beyond view, there was some traditional South African singing and dancing.

Considering that this was my first time in Fort Greene, it was a lovely experience. Sure it was a bit miserable because it’s been unbearably hot lately and I really didn’t intend to spend so much on dinner, but that’s just how it is. Ah, I’m going to miss all the cultural diversity of New York!

frozen chicken egg

Did you realize that chicken eggs can freeze? It makes sense, but I never expected it to actually happen. Especially since they were in the fridge. I imagine this is a fairly common issue (my last apartment’s fridge did the same although to a lesser degree), but my refrigerator absolutely does not disperse the coolness evenly. If stuff is center front, it’s barely chilled. If it’s in a back corner, it freezes. Guess where the eggs were. What I find especially trippy is that only the single egg in the corner of the carton at the corner of the fridge was frozen. The rest were normal. Meaning that the temperature threshold was right there. Weirdness.

By the way, the scrambled eggs turned out just fine.

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summer in new york

This has been my first summer in New York, and wow it’s hot. The temperatures have been in the 90s except for a few days of rain, and it’s not really the temperature that gets you, it’s the humidity. It’s not to the point where I’m going to embarrass myself as a Texan by overly complaining about it, but I must say, this lack of central air-conditioning is annoying. Otherwise, it’s kind of nice. No school, work only two days a week, and a lovely ceiling fan spinning overhead.

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To me, summer in New York means:

  1. Broken fire hydrants and flooded streets.
  2. Brunch every weekend. (Bad for the wallet, good for the soul.)
  3. Hot trash smell.
  4. “The Entertainer” on repeat from that ice cream truck that seems to circle my block.
  5. The extreme temperature difference between waiting for the subway (that steaming concrete hell that is the underground airless platform) and entering the air-conditioned car.
  6. Aguas frescas on the street. Watermelon, hibiscus, tamarind, horchata, oh my!
  7. All those damn tourists who walk slowly, crowd the museums, talk obnoxiously loud on the subway, and make my life just that much more miserable.

takoyaki = yummy octopus balls

I am by no means a glutton. I like food, but I actually don’t eat a whole lot of it. I do, however, like what I like. And takoyaki I like. And I want more of. It’s a Japanese dish that I bought on the street in Beijing, and it was pretty magical. They had just finished off a batch when I got to the little stall so I decided to wait and watch them cook it. It’s pretty cool. They have this special dimpled pan that they pour batter into, and then stick octopus pieces and some other small things. As they cooked the lady was constantly picking at them, turning them so they became little spheres of goodness.

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The presentation was quite nice too, especially in comparison to most Chinese stalls where everything gets squished into a plastic bag. Four little octopus balls to a boat, covered with some sauce, green onions, and dried fish shavings, with a pair of chopsticks tucked in and napkins underneath. It was amazing. It was 10 kuai (about $1.50) which might be considered a bit pricier than the stuff on sticks that most Chinese stalls sell … but wow, so much better (even though I do have a fondness for that stuff as well).

Thankfully I live in the wonderful city that is New York, where every cuisine under the sun can be found. So it shouldn’t be too long before I get some takoyaki again!

raffles city beijing

There are a hell of a lot of malls in China. I grew up in suburban America, so I of course have fond memories of going to the mall on the weekend. Because there’s really not much to do in suburban American on the weekend other than go shopping, eat, or watch a movie – all of which were conveniently located at the local mall. Nowadays the (American) mall has basically died out. In China, they’re alive and well … although a bit anemic.

That’s what happens when there are a million malls within spitting distance of each other, and all of them carry just about the same things, and all of them are more expensive than your average local can afford to shop at. They’re really all about the same. Basically, they’re massive, shiny, and always sorta empty. It really doesn’t make any sense why they keep getting built, because they don’t seem very profitable. It’s also really freakin’ easy to get turned around in one of them and I hate how they’re designed, although many of them are quite pretty.

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This is an interior shot of Raffles City Beijing. There’s another Raffles City in Shanghai. And … a few other cities. Because why stop at one, right? I’m not really sure what to make of the angular glass blob that kind of grew off of the floors into the open space. Probably they were just trying to add a bit of excitement into the plan of it so there could be some sort of connecting vertical element instead of just level upon level of the same, but no. Totes odd.  Oh, and without a doubt, if it’s a Chinese mall, there is either a Costa, Starbucks, or Coffee Bean. Even though a lot of Chinese people don’t drink coffee.

kfc: my last meal in china

For my last meal in Beijing, I had KFC. Yes, that’s right. I had American fast food in China. Judge me if you will, but you shouldn’t, because it’s totally not the same. Way back when, KFC was Kentucky Fried Chicken, but now it’s just those three letters. Which is fitting, because they’re not really just about fried chicken anymore (although I would gladly dig into a bucket of the stuff). In China at least, rarely anyone orders their fried chicken. They don’t even have biscuits! Or macaroni and cheese! SCANDALOUS!

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But I guess it’s a small price to pay. Because seriously, when did you last see a KFC this big and clean? And so full of people there was barely any seating available?

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As I mentioned, I love me those KFC buckets of fried goodness. But … I’m also kind of obsessed with their shrimp burger. I first had it a few years ago when I was traveling around China, and I really, really missed it. It seems weird, but it’s actually DELICIOUS. The fried patty is chock full of shrimp, then there’s lettuce and the sweet mayonnaise that Chinese people seem to love. I had to remove much of the glob of mayonnaise so it didn’t overpower my taste buds, but yeah … delish.

I also really like KFC’s chicken burgers in China because they use dark meat instead of the fat-free white meat Americans seem to prefer. Mmm … now I’m getting hungry.

happy independence day!

I’m back in the good ol’ US of A! My trip to China was very eventful, so I have a bevy of images to get through, but I’m still jetlagged as hell. Got back into New York Wednesday night, waited FOREVER for the M60 (over 40 minutes of waiting … there was a mob of people trying to climb on when the bus finally arrived), got two rough-looking donuts from Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast/dessert, and crashed for approximately 18 hours. Then I woke up and headed to a 4th of July party! In Brooklyn! On a rooftop! How hipster of me, no? So quintessentially New York.

It’s good to be back. Happy birthday, America.

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