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!

chandeliers in treehouses (tbt)

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Toshihiro Oki Architect P.C. with Toshihiro Oki, Jen Wood, and Jared Diganci, “tree wood,” 2013

This was a pretty cool project, and one that I almost didn’t see. The last summer I was in New York, I was living in Astoria, but didn’t explore much of my neighborhood until the last few weeks I was there. It was July (2013), and it was hot, but it was also so green and beautiful. Ah, how I miss TREES in Shanghai! Anyhow, it was my first time to the Socrates Sculpture Park, and for the most part I found the park to be just so-so – nothing wildly impressive, but a nice stroll.

This particular project “tree wood” was pretty cool, although it blended in so well with the trees I almost completely walked past it. Socrates is a sculpture park, but this was more along the lines of installation art or temporary architecture than sculpture. Basically it was a tree house structure of sorts, framed with two-by-four studs, with a chandelier, which just won the whole thing. With the streaming sunlight and the quiet tranquility of the park and the sheltering of all those leaves and branches, the project had a really interesting quality to it, natural yet manufactured, unfinished yet refined, public yet secluded.

Not sure if this is still up since it’s been over a year since I visited, but regardless, I love the idea of the project.

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And whaddaya know, the project was designed by architects … I wonder if that’s why I appreciate it so much. I think it’s true that there’s no such thing as a ‘former architect,’ because even though there are many of us who have moved on to other fields, I feel like there’s some sort of weird bond/understanding between architects (past or present) where we just ‘get’ each other. I was talking to a jewelry designer whose pieces I admired, and whaddaya know, she was trained as an architect. Maybe it’s suffering all those hours in studio that gains one entry into the imagined community of architects.

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.

what’s in a name?

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

– William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (II.2.47-48)

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I’ve been working at an art gallery here in Shanghai for the past few months, and in that time I have been [job untitled], curatorial assistant, art director, and now curator. My friends on LinkedIn and Facebook are probably as confused as I am. Well, my main responsibility is organizing the exhibitions – coming up with exhibition themes, writing press releases, and deciding on titles. And you know what? Titles are hard! It’s nerve-wracking to try encapsulating a whole idea (of someone else’s work) in a few words. Thank goodness there are nifty sites like this generator to help.

Because I’ve switched from architecture to the art field, I’m discovering a whole different way of looking at and talking about the world. I still consider myself an architect in many ways, but I’m trying to learn the lingo, this so-called International Art English (of which there was a big hulabaloo about), referred to elsewhere as artspeak or “The Joke That Forgot It Was Funny.” Oh gosh. Architects are known for having their own jargon and sometimes talking in a pompous holier-than-thou manner (quoting Foucault with wild abandon for instance), but in general are much more down to earth because they have real things to deal with, like gravity.

But art? Well that’s a whole different ballgame. Oy. I barely followed the Foucault crap. Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy Lantern Festival! The picture is of roses from the Queens Botanical Garden when I went last summer with my grandmother. You know, back when times were simple and a rose was just a rose ….

lic ps1: the stairs

PS1 is a museum in Long Island City (LIC), not too far from where I lived in Astoria, Queens. Dedicated to contemporary art, PS1 is located in a former school building turned warehouse and was known as the P.S.1 Contemporary Arts Center … then it got affiliated with MoMA so now it’s just called MoMA PS1.

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I think it’s cute that its moniker reflects the original building’s program (P.S. = public school). Also, PS1’s an exhibiting museum rather than a collecting one, which I suppose is fairly normal for contemporary art museums … because they’re all about the contemporary (id est, the now). I had been to PS1 once to attend a lecture/book launch that one of my professors was involved in, but otherwise the trek to LIC from the UWS was not worth it in my eyes. Anyhow, over the summer I lived in Astoria, so before saying adios to NYC I paid PS1 a proper visit. Nice place, but not my favorite.

I liked how there was art everywhere and it had a grittier work-in-progress feel to it compared to the Met (a ‘proper’ museum where things are in gilded frames and I always feel underdressed) or MoMA (a more free-spirited museum due to the type of art on display, but which still adheres to that typical ‘gallery’ look). PS1, however, however, is downright chill.

Take the stairwell, for example. Stairwell A, to be specific.

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This is art. A long-term installation called “In the Woods” (2004) by Ernesto Caivano. Yeah, it’s kind of a grungy space, but it’s the cool hipster kind of grunge that you’d expect from Brooklyn or some such. The walls and ceiling weren’t primed white before Caivano made the space his canvas, but it’s better because of that. It’s an interesting mixture with the concrete, chain-link fencing, hanging light fixtures, rough walls, and this beautiful scene of crossing branches and birds in black laid on top. It just works.

Other stairwells had paintings by other artists. And then some areas were left as … authentic grunge.

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navigating nyc maps

Not sure why I have a Manhattan bus map since I rarely rode the bus in Manhattan. And not sure why I have two different subway maps, 2009 and 2011 (but not the newest, correct 2013 map), but I like how the 2011 design (which I believe is still current) looks much more retro than the older version. Doesn’t really change much anyhow, and with all the construction and redirecting of trains, sometimes the maps themselves aren’t all that helpful and it’s best to keep an eye out for posted signs.

Now where can I get my hands on a physical Queens bus map? Or are these physical maps a thing of the past? Sure I have PDFs of these maps saved on my Kindle … but what if my Kindle dies?

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au revoir manhattan!

For the past two years I have lived in Manhattan. I was in the city, in “New York, New York.” I’m no longer there, and though the rent is much cheaper out in the boroughs, it’s still a bit bittersweet. Upper West Side, Harlem, West Village, SoHo, Chinatown, Chelsea … I’ll miss you. But I’ll be seeing you soon. Well, probably not Harlem. I won’t go back there – long story.

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I like this picture, taken at the Broadway Station in Queens, because of its overwhelming horizontality. I rarely used to venture outside of Manhattan and rarely ventured above 125th so it still freaks me out when the subway is above ground (because that completely goes against the “sub-” prefix). I just about got the Manhattan subway map memorized, but now I’m having to learn new stops and door opening sides, new train and bus routes, new street name equivalents and numbering quirks, et cetera. Seriously, Queens is a whole new ballgame.

panorama of the city of new york

Today I was in Queens. Eh, not my favorite borough of New York, but it was a good change of scenery. It’s amazing how open and full of space Queens is … really does not feel like the New York I’m used to. I went to the Queens Museum of Art, where there’s this gigantic architectural model of the city of New York. It’s massive. And it’s pretty cool. It was constructed by Robert Moses for the New York World’s Fair held in 1964-1965 and is updated to 1992, but that’s still pretty old school. I wouldn’t call it particularly beautiful, but the sheer scale of it is just amazing.

Unfortunately the rest of the museum collection seemed pretty lacking. The museum itself wasn’t very easy to get to either since you have to trek through Corona Park, which on a normal day might not be so bad … but today it was kinda rainy and yucky. Overall it was an okay experience and great to see the panorama … but it’s not a trip I’m likely to repeat.

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danger danger … déjà vu

Remember last year … just about now? I had just moved into my new apartment and whaddaya know, New York had a hurricane AND earthquake. Being from Texas, I’m used to hurricanes coming around, but the earthquake was trippy. It was my first earthquake (however slight it was) and it was pretty unusual for New York as well. Today, THERE WERE TORNADOES. IN NEW YORK. TRIPPY.

The tornadoes touched down in Queens and Brooklyn, which means I’d be safe in my new apartment – right? Except today of all days I went to Queens. Whups. The weather was nice in the morning when I ran some errands. As I was getting on the subway, it seemed like it was sprinkling a bit but nothing major. Thankfully I had my umbrella with me, because as I exited the subway in Queens, I was greeted with a torrential downpour and emergency text messages on my phone telling me to seek shelter! Um … right.

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I didn’t see the tornado, so I still have not seen a tornado in my life despite having lived in some tornado-prone states. Eh, probably for the best that I have never seen any funnel clouds barreling towards me. Maybe there’ll be a blizzard this winter and I can add one more natural disaster to my list of experiences. I think the lesson here is that I really should check the weather.

cha shao bao #2

Back when I was in Shanghai, I used to eat cha shao bao like mad (as referenced here) because they were yummy, cheap, and omnipresent. The other day I went to Flushing in Queens, New York, which is essentially like Chinatown. I had dim sum with my grandmother and took some cha shao bao home. Oh yum. Missed that stuff. Not cheap like the Chinese convenience stores, but definitely better quality.

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I’m in the middle of finals, so I’m supposed to be hardcore paper writing. Ugh. I also have a long list of stuff on my to-do list, but since it’s been rainy and icky out … I’ve been lazy and have just been hanging out at home. Whups. I will be a better student … tomorrow … I promise.