a city of islands: beaches and art

Sometimes I forget that New York City is a city of islands with easy access to water because I spend the far majority of my time surrounded by skyscrapers in Midtown or Lower Manhattan. But yes, Manhattan is an island. Queens and Brooklyn are part of Long Island (a rather giant island). Staten Island is an island. Only the Bronx is not an island … and coincidentally it’s also the only borough I’ve never been to. But there really is water everywhere. Which means beaches! And since it’s still New York, it also (sometimes) means art! Woot!

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The Rockaways (Rockaway Peninsula in Queens) were pretty devastated during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, so it’s nice to see how it’s recovered. Over at Fort Tilden is the site-specific installation Rockaway! by Katharina Grosse. Basically it’s an abandoned structure full of sand that got a spiffy red and white paint job. Cool. Kinda random, but still kinda cool. I mean, if it’s going to be abandoned, it might as well be pretty.

So far I’ve been to Rockaway Beach, which has a pretty spiffy new boardwalk, and Jacob Riis, which is less crowded with better/closer food options, but is harder to get to (we took the Beach Bus to Jacob Riis; Rockaway Beach is accessible by train). But getting out of the city in any manner feels AMAZING! And if I’m being technical about it, we never really left the “city” since we were in New York City the whole time!

Oh, and while at Rockaway Beach, we created a masterpiece. What do you get when a group of architects builds a sandcastle? Why, a ziggurat of course.

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Happy summer!

baby crocs in new york

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Have you ever heard that urban legend about crocodiles living in the New York City sewers? Well, there are Crocs in New York City, but these are of the ugly shoe kind. On 34th Street across from the flagship Macy’s store is a Crocs store. And on the wall they have this really cool two-story-tall mural of Lady Liberty made out of baby Crocs shoes! It’s really quite amazing. Although the shoes are ugly. Okay, some of the brand’s newer styles are actually kinda cute, and I do own a pair of their pointy-toe flats. But although I will admit that the classic Crocs are comfy, they are still very, very ugly and should never be worn outside the house/garden/hospital.

chicago o’hare: my most hated airport

With the crazy weather out East, I’m thankful as heck to be way over in Nevada! Although I’ll actually be going out East next week, so hopefully things are better by then. A few weeks back I spent a few days in New York (no snow at the time), and on the way back had a layover at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport … reaffirming ORD as my most hated airport. Then again, they do have this amazing tunnel, which is by far the coolest thing at O’Hare!

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The tunnel connects United’s B and C concourses, has a mirrored ceiling and neon lighting installation by Michael Hayden (Sky’s the Limit, 1987), backlit colored panels on the wall, and was just wow. It almost made up for a delayed flight, horrendously long trek across the airport, and lackluster chicken quesadilla I wolfed down. Rainbow colors, mirrors, and neon lighting? It’s like I was back in China! It was also a complete surprise to me because even though I’ve been to ORD many times before, I normally don’t fly United and had never had the pleasure of seeing the tunnel before.

So why, might you ask, do I so dislike Chicago O’Hare? Three reasons: A) I always seem to have a delayed flight (either to or from there), B) It’s such a crazy large airport that it takes forever to get anywhere, and C) I’ve only ever been to ORD on layovers, and layovers inherently suck. It’s not the airport’s fault that it’s a major hub, it’s incredibly busy, and Chicago weather causes a lot of delays, but I still prefer to change flights elsewhere … especially in winter.

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My flight into Chicago was delayed an hour because it had just started snowing in Chicago and ORD was backed up, but thankfully my layover was long enough that the connection was ‘a bit tight’ rather than ‘run like you’ve never run before’. My flight out boarded on time, but was delayed due to the de-icing process, which was actually pretty cool to watch from my window seat on the wing (my favorite seat). Basically a giant mechanical arm with a bright light and sprayer head on a pivot just went back and forth spraying the wing down.

In the end, my flight landed on time due to favorable winds, so all in all the experience wasn’t that bad. But I still just do not like Chicago O’Hare. Because as much as I bemoan the pretty-much-given delays and borderline-incompetent staff at some Chinese airports (oh PVG, will you ever get your act together?), I always feel like Chicago should be better. But alas, one change the weather.

Safe travels to all you out there!

remembering 5 pointz (tbt)

I was off on vacation for a while, but now I’m back in Shanghai and it’s Thursday! Which means that it’s time for a throwback. And my choice for today is … (drumroll, please) … 5 Pointz in LIC! This place was SO COOL. Unfortunately, emphasis is on the past tense.

5 Pointz as I knew it no longer exists, and soon it’ll be completely gone. Sad but true. So join me in remembrance of this truly amazing building.

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5 Pointz was one of the stops on my whirlwind “must see everything before I leave New York” tour back in July 2013. In November its awe-inspiring graffiti was whitewashed, and I just heard that the building itself will soon be demolished to make room for *gasp* condos (ah gentrification, that dirtiest of words).

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Basically the building was one giant canvas. It was an ever-changing art studio, an exhibition space, a piece of artwork in itself. It was amazing. I had heard of this building before, but never gave it much thought while I was living in Manhattan, because gosh darn LIC (Long Island City) in Queens is annoying to get to from upper Manhattan. But during my last two months in New York, I was subletting a place in Astoria … and wow. Breathtaking. The scale, the talent, the variety, the “holy crap, you can do that with spray paint?”

New York City has great public art, whether it’s ‘official’ or not, and there are a lot of darn talented New Yorkers. Much of the ‘graffiti’ seen around the city is more along the lines of street art than vandalism and 5 Pointz was by no means standard graffiti. 5 Pointz was graffiti in the best sense of the word. It wasn’t spiteful vandalism, it was public art in its truest form. It was out there for people to see, to wonder at. It was bold, it was unapologetic, it was part of the city, and it was oh so New York. And it will be sorely missed. Goodbye 5 Pointz, you were amazing.

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Oh, and 5 Pointz’s appearance in the film Now You See Me (2013) made me smile so hard.

paley and pal – pocket parks on 53rd

A few days ago I posted about a series of sculptures by (Albert) Paley on Park (Avenue). Well, it’s only right that I follow up that post with one about Paley Park. Because … come on! Paley on Park v. Paley Park? Golden. It’s a teensy tiny little park, and it’s not really a park in the way that Central Park is a park (id est, no room to lay out or throw a football), but it is public, although technically a POPS (privately-owned public space).

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I gotta say, it’s a very nicely done park. Midtown Manhattan is a busy, crowded, kinda soulless place. But the park is so calming, so unexpected, and so removed from all that. It’s a few steps up from street level, there’s green ivy on the side walls, some trees for shade, and a freakin’ waterfall. It’s no wonder that it’s an extremely popular place to eat lunch. Unfortunately when I visited there was some construction going on, so the pocket park was made even tinier, and I didn’t get the full effect of the waterfall.

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Paley Park is on 53rd Street, between Madison and 5th. Walk a bit further east and you’ll come across another pocket park, which in my opinion is even more impressive than Paley (although smaller and not as well designed or aesthetically pleasing). But hey, it has a chunk of the Berlin Wall. Sorry, but as impressive as the waterfall wall is, it doesn’t beat the history of THE FREAKIN’ BERLIN WALL.

This park doesn’t get as much press as Paley Park because … it’s nameless. I guess it’s the courtyard or whatever of the building 520 Madison, because people refer to the park as 520 Madison. There are five sections of the wall, and they’ve been painted by two German artists, Thierry Noir and Kiddy Citny. Not my favorite work, but how many people can say they’ve had lunch next to the Berlin Wall? And these people do it repeatedly. Amazing. New York = amazing.

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It’s also amazing to me because of how understated both of these parks are while being completely open. The whole setup is so New York. Hundreds of people walk by these parks every day – how many stop? But when you do stop and walk a few yards into that little space, you get the feeling that you’re no longer in busy Midtown, but at the same time you don’t feel cut off from the hustle and bustle that makes New York great. How many people realize that they’re walking by history? In a city like New York, there’s history and art and culture everywhere you turn, and after a while all that becomes so normal and comfortable that eating a tuna salad sandwich next to the Berlin Wall becomes commonplace. I think that’s what’s most impressive to me, that instead of confining pieces of history to a museum to be gawked at, they actually become part of the present and enrich our everyday lives.

Kudos, New York.

paley on park (ave)

One of the things I’ll miss about New York is the art. The art that’s EVERYWHERE. There are galleries and museums all over the place, and it’s easy enough to wander from one to the next. In Shanghai? Not so easy. And not as great.

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Park Avenue has this thing where they display sculptures spanning a number of blocks. Last summer I posted about a series of sculptures by Rafael Barrios along Park Avenue, so I felt like I had to post something about the new sculptures by Albert Paley that are now up there. There’s a lucky total of 13 of them metal things, all abstract and twisty and industrial. They kind of look like some projects I did in architecture undergrad out of bristol board. Anyhow, they’re supposed to be up until November.

They varied in color and complexity, and some were definitely more successful than others (the horizontal white one was definitely one of the better ones). Due to their placement you never see more than one sculpture at a time, which is necessary … because these kinds of sculptures stand alone.

New York doesn’t really need sculptures on Park Avenue, but I love the fact that they’re there. That people actually fund public artwork, especially in a city like New York, where it’s so dense and your tiny crumbling little apartment costs more than half your salary and the subway is a smelly, trash-strewn, rat-infested slice of hell … that there are places like Central Park and the NYPL and Grand Central and there are sculptures and mosaics and murals everywhere … that makes me smile and remember why New York is one of the best cities in the world.

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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.

park ave illusions

I have left New York for the summer, and I must say … it’s weird. It’s weird because I don’t walk. It’s weird because I have to drive everywhere. It’s weird because it’s so quiet. It’s weird because everything is SO SLOW. Sigh. While I do appreciate the relaxing pace here and the fact that every interior space is air conditioned, it’s a change. I think I definitely prefer city life. I still have some pictures from New York that I’ve been meaning to blog about, so here are a few from the end of April.

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One of the things I miss about New York is all the art. For example, on Park Avenue (I think they’ll be there until June) there were sculptures by Rafael Barrios … and they were awesome! When you first see them, they look like three-dimensional geometric shapes, but as you crossed the street you realize that BAM! They’re pretty much flat.

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Pretty cool, eh? I thought so. There was a whole series of these sculptures on Park Avenue of different shapes and colors. Here’s another one:

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And as you cross Park Ave and stand on the median:

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So cool. New York is able to have sculptures like that because the optical illusions rely on the perspective of the viewer. Since there’s heavy traffic (car and pedestrian) along and across Park Avenue, it works. Plus, they’re pretty. And New Yorkers generally like art. There are few wide medians like these that don’t have a sculpture of some sort, and since they change every now and then, it’s always nice to just walk around the city. I couldn’t imagine the same series of sculptures working in a city like Houston. Unlike New York, Houston is so spread out and lacking density that most people probably wouldn’t even notice the sculptures since streets are so wide and cars just drive on by.

Anyway, this summer I have an internship lined up in the Museum District, so that’ll give me a chance to check out what this city has to offer in terms of the arts. I don’t think it could possibly compare to New York, but hey, few cities can.

oil in them thar … manhattan

This is the “Manhattan Oil Project” by Josephine Meckseper, down at the corner of 46th Street and 8th Avenue … in Manhattan. Oh yes, there are oil pump jacks (from Electra, Texas) plugging away down in Manhattan. All in the name of art, of course. There’s no actual oil, which would be a ridiculously crazy notion because Manhattan is basically rock due to the schist.

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It’s just one of those weird juxtapositions, of the skyscraper versus the oil pump, of the quintessentially New York with the quintessentially Texas. It was fenced off with signs warning of danger, and although I knew it was meant as an art piece, there were obviously many other people who did not. It was interesting like that. It was less about the sculptures themselves (although the repetitive movement was quite relaxing to watch) and more about how people perceived the structures in a space such as downtown Manhattan. There were no indications that it was art, no signage to that effect, but even if one didn’t have the prior knowledge about Manhattan’s schist, there was still this sense that the oil pumps did not belong in that space.

april showers

There’s the old saying that April shower bring May flowers … goodness gracious I hope that’s true. It’s been raining ALL DAY today and it’s quite annoying. I was extremely low on groceries so I forced myself to trek out there. Ugh. It’s very awkward carrying groceries while holding an umbrella. But now I have food in the fridge and I’m all cuddled up in my pajamas, so all’s well that ends well.

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This is a sculpture in Times Square that I visited a few weeks ago. It’s called “Soñando New York (Dreaming New York)” and is by Pablo Atchugarry. It was hand-carved from a single block of marble – amazing, eh? It was a nice piece, but I think I would have liked it much better if it was in the space of a museum or gallery. I’m not too fond of when they put sculptures in Times Square because most pieces just get overwhelmed by the surroundings, and it always makes me sad to see so many people just walking by a piece without appreciating its art. I need to make a point to trek back down to the Chelsea galleries one of these days. The New Museum and Whitney are still on my list as well. Sigh. I might try to make a day of it for this Friday … if I can squeeze in the time.