Kyle and I had a great time this past Tuesday at a group exhibition where she showed a new painting of hers, “Brick by Brick.” The reception was at Strivers Gardens Gallery in Harlem, one of four galleries that have held openings over the past two weeks, all part of African American Music Appreciation Month and the Harlem Art Crawl. These Motown to Def Jam exhibits have been curated by the impresario Sou L Eo. who beginning last spring asked more than forty visual artists to take inspiration from songs from major record labels (Motown, Stax, Chess, Def Jam, etc.) that over the past several decades have fueled African American music, from Motown to the Philly Sound to blues to hip hop. Sou L Eo asked each artist to choose a particular song, and allow it to inform a new work for these shows. I’ve been to two of the openings by now, and have found the work consistently bold and interesting throughout.
Kyle’s song was “Let’s Clean Up the Ghetto,” a 1977 release by the Philadelphia All-Stars with Lou Rawls on the Philadelphia International Records label. While viewing at the Strivers Gardens Gallery is generally by appointment, it will be open to the public from 1-4 PM on two upcoming Saturday afternoons, July 13, and July 20. There is also a gallery talk there on July 17 from 7-9 PM. Strivers Gardens Gallery is at 300 West 135th Street between St. Nicholas & Frederick Douglass, less than a block east of the 135th Street station stop for the ‘B’ and ‘C’ subway lines. Here are some photos from the reception starting with a shot of Kyle and “Brick by Brick,” in a photo taken by artist and writer Daniel Maidman, followed by a group shot with many of the participating artists and friends, and a shot of an informational postcard. If you’re interested in seeing more of Kyle’s work, you may visit her website at http://www.kylegallup.com/.
Green-wood Cemetery is a NYC landmark I’ve been keen to visit for years and last weekend an ideal opportunity arrived for my wife and son and myself to finally get there. The complex, 478 acres of rolling hills (making it more than half the size of Manhattan’s Central Park), big hardwood trees, and sparkling views of Manhattan and NY Harbor, was founded in 1838 as a non-denominational burial ground that also offered what was described then as a “rural” location. To the urbanites who conceived Green-wood*, it was important to create a pastoral, soothing place for mourners to say goodbye to their loved ones. The three of us discovered on Saturday that it is still pastoral and still a balm to the daily cares of city-dwellers.
Among its more than “560,000 permanent residents”–as Green-wood’s literature refers to those interred there–is Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-69), a New Orleans composer and pianist whose kinetic and tuneful music provided our nation’s first examples of such styles as ragtime and stride piano, amid a fusion of African, Haitian, and Cuban rhythms joined with Western music. I get periodic emails from Green-wood and had learned from one message that in the 1970s, a memorial figure then gracing Gottschalk’s burial plot had been vandalized and destroyed. Saturday had been announced as the unveiling of a new figure at his gravesite. Not satisfied to merely place it there, Green-wood planned a program of live piano music in the bright autumn air, played and presented by John Davis; a talk by Frederick Starr, former president of Oberlin College and author of the Gottschalk biography, Bamboula!; an introduction of the sculptors who made the new figure; and finally, the unveiling of “The Angel of Music.” All this was offered to the public free of admission charge.
We emerged from the ‘R’ subway stop at 25th Street and 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, walking a block east toward 5th Avenue and Green-wood. Even before reaching the cemetery, we spotted a cool-looking complex of low buildings. Fenced around on all sides, this establishment was topped with a sign reading “McGovern Weir.” We wondered if it had been a business selling gravestones and monuments, though have since learned from the blog “Lost New York City” that it was for many years a florist. This handsome old wreck of a place was constructed in 1880, and was bought for $1.6M by Green-wood in April.
Walking past the Green-wood gatehouse we were met by a friendly young woman whom we’d later see again selling books from an outdoor kiosk. Here, she was handing out programs for the Gottschalk event. Ewan and I made it up the hill first where we saw the crowd gathered, with Kyle a bit behind taking pictures. Soon the three of us were settled comfortably on a grassy slope just a few yards from where a shiny black Steinway piano–lent by the Steinway company, whose forebears are buried at Green-wood–sat gleaming in the sun. Just the novelty of seeing a grand piano outdoors was exciting.
Green-wood President Richard J. Moylan quickly introduced John Davis, who, as he removed his gloves against the chill said he hoped we wouldn’t think he was pulling a pre-performance trick as Gottschalk was wont to do–carefully pulling off his white gloves one finger at a time as he sought to draw the attention of his audience to the very hands that were about to strike the piano keys. Davis launched in to his first Gottschalk selection, “Bamboula,” a sprightly piece based on a Creole song that warmed up the audience. One could hear shades of Chopin, as well as an anticipation of melodies that we’d later identify with Stephen Foster. Introducing “Danse Cubane,” he described Gottschalk as the “father of world music” and the first classical composer in America to break away from an exclusively European model. All this reminded me of what a relatively enlightened and open urban culture New Orleans was in the first half of the 19th century, with free people of color landing up there from the Caribbean and South America. Gottschalk, with a German-Jewish father and a Haitian mother, tapped into and reflected influences from the New World and the Old. Davis also amazed us when he described that in 1938–around 80 years after the peak of Gottschalk’s influence–Jelly Roll Morton wrote of “the Latin tinge” that pervaded his music, in a thread of influence that began with Gottschalk. Davis closed this part of the performance by evoking Mark Twain’s partiality toward the banjo and then playing one of Gottschalk’s signature compositions for solo piano, “The Banjo,” which thoroughly commingled African, Caribbean and European motifs. Here I’m glad to insert the front and back cover of an LP I acquired in the 1980s, with the music of Gottschalk played by Edward Gold. It still sounds great!
With these sounds still echoing in our ears, the program moved through Frederick Starr’s biographical presentation and the introduction of sculptors, Giancarlo Biagi and Jill Burkee. They bid us to walk a few yards along the slope to Gottschalk’s gravesite, ringed with a black wrought iron fence. As Mr. Moylan assured us even he had not yet seen the finished cast of “The Angel of Music,” we saw a pedestal in the middle of the grassy square topped with a figure enshrouded in a green tarpaulin. As we stood expectantly, hands reached out to shuck off the tarp, exposing an elegant bronze figure that looked as if it had set there for much longer than just this day. Applause and shouts of congratulations to the sculptors were heard as we all admired the delicate figure.
With that, we went back to our earlier spots as John Davis sat again at the piano, joined by clarinetist Jeffrey Lederer and vocalist April Matthis. The trio performed “Slumber on, Baby Dear,” a lullaby composed by Gottschalk. As a final round of clapping rang out, Richard Moylan invited everyone to Green-wood’s nearby chapel where refreshments and coffee would be served. We walked down the hill and around the property to the chapel. Along the way, we stopped at the book kiosk where maps of Green-wood are also available. There we asked the same young woman who’d greeted us earlier if she could possibly help us determine where we’d find the grave of one’s of Green-wood’s “permanent residents,” Thomas C. Durant, who was instrumental in building the trans-continental railroad in the years immediately after the Civil War, and through his corruption became embroiled in the infamous Credit Mobilier scandal of the post-Civil War years. We’d learned about the real-life Durant from the TV series, “Hell on Wheels,” a fictional treatment of the building of the railroad, in which the Irish actor Colm Meaney plays the striving rail baron. One plot thread in the TV series–which is actually true to history, as far as I can tell–is that Durant had corruptly enriched himself at the expense of the US government and investors in the railroad, and very possibly ended his life in some disrepute. In the program, he runs his enterprise with a great deal of secrecy and intrigue, and again, this seems to conform with what I’ve read about the real Durant. Colm Meaney’s Durant is a scheming, self-interested, angry figure who, I daresay, most TV viewers come to distrust and even loathe. The friendly greeter-bookseller helped us locate Durant’s burial plot number and we made a note on our map, indicating where we ought to be able to find Durant’s memorial.
Following some coffee and a snack in the chapel, a vaulted space where mourners at Green-wood gather for indoor memorial services, we thanked our hosts and walked toward Section H, Lot 10400, in search of Durant. After passing some beautiful Civil War-era memorials, we hunted around for quite a while, to no avail. Growing frustrated, but no less determined, and refusing to leave disappointed, the three of kept walking and looking until I finally found a mausoleum bearing the legend, “T.C. Durant.” The form of the memorial was entirely in keeping with the Durant we’ve come to know from the program and our research. Sealed up tight behind a gated door flashing spear points, a stolid and impregnable edifice squats in the brow of a low hill, with trees looming protectively over it. Like the man interred there, it gives off no secrets and yields virtually no information. It doesn’t even use his full first or middle names, no year or birthplace is etched in the stone, and likewise no death date, though we’d read it was 1871. In the dappled light of mid-afternoon, we found it was even difficult to photograph the letters of his name mounted above the gate, and had to take many pictures before we got images that decently bear the legend of Durant’s initials and last name. The successful outcome to our searching left us with more questions than answers about the real Thomas Durant, and we will continue trying to learn about him what we can.
With that, we walked back toward the gatehouse and out on to the ordinary streets of a quiet Saturday in Brooklyn, grateful for the fine program celebrating Gottschalk put on this special day, and struck by the charm and splendor of Green-wood Cemetery, a bucolic urban retreat we hope to return to soon. I hope these photos, most of them taken by my wife Kyle Gallup, will give you some sense of the occasion. And, if you can, check out the music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, a worldly musical pleasure.
*Green-wood shares the hyphen in its name with the New-York Historical Society, a particularly 19th century sort of spelling.
Please click through to see all photos.
After my July 15 post, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Coming to NYC!, I’d seen no evidence of renovation at the Metro theater near my home in Manhattan and so have wondered if the enterprise is really going to happen. Happily for my neighborhood and for NYC film buffs, an Oct. 11 item in DNAinfo.comNewYork brings the good news that a key part of the process is moving ahead. Emily Frost reports that Alamo, based in Austin, TX–which serves food and drink at their screenings–has received approval for a liquor license from our local community board. Meantime, I also found a June West Side Rag interview with Alamo founder Tim Lee who says they’d begun seeking the city permits required to begin gutting the interior and renovating the space to accommodate the five screens and viewing spaces they envision for the theater which first opened to the public in 1933. For readers unfamiliar with the site, the classic Art Deco marquee–shown above in a photograph and below in a painting by my wife Kyle Gallup–has landmark status and will be preserved as is, though the interior has no similar exemption. I’m very pleased with this news, and look forward to having them in the neighborhood, perhaps in 2013, or the next year.
A view of The Great Gray Bridge from the Amtrak train we recently rode from NYC to Cleveland. Photo by Kyle Gallup. Our route took us in to the open air for a few seconds, then back underground and under the bridge, then back out in the open again, north of the bridge, when this picture was shot. The train ride was the first leg of our current midwest road trip, which has continued by car through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and now to St. Louis. On the return leg of our trip, we’ll be dropping our car off in Cleveland and coming back to NYC via Amtrak. Cross-posted at my Great Gray Bridge tumblr.
July 17 Update–A Note to Great Gray Bridge Readers: A reader of my blog saw the post below and thought it’s possible that Alamo Drafthouse Cinema may not come to the Metro Theater in NY after all, that it may not happen. I agree there’s certainly been no improvement to the site yet and I concede the news was reported in Huff Post more than 4 months ago. There’s a possibility something could go wrong, but I doubt it. I’ve found the Huff Post story was triggered by a blog post on the Alamo site. I just don’t think they’d have announced the Metro renovation without a proper deal. We shall see soon, if they really are planning to open in 2013.
I was excited to discover that Austin, TX–based Alamo Drafthouse Cinema–an innovative chain of movie houses that combines film and food–are going to renovate and reclaim the handsome Metro Theater on Broadway at 100th Street in Manhattan, which has been neglected and empty for nearly a decade. This is great news for the Upper West Side! Coincidentally, the Metro Theater marquee is featured in the series of urban marquees that my wife Kyle Gallup has recently been painting, as seen here. Following Kyle’s piece is shot of the Metro’s Art Deco facade, in a photo borrowed from the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Facebook page, which you may ‘like.’
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is also opening a location in Yonkers, just north of New York City, so they’re clearly aiming for a major presence here in the metropolitan area. On the web page for the Yonkers location, they are already soliciting local applicants for positions with the company.
Saturday was a perfect day for me and Kyle to go to Bushwick Open Studios (BOS) in Brooklyn. Our plan was to meet up with Kyle’s friend, painter Louisa Waber, and see as much as we could over the course of the afternoon. Before leaving we checked the BOS online catalog and jotted down several art venues that we knew we to wanted to hit, while still leaving opportunity for serendipitous discoveries. This year, the sixth annual BOS, there were more than 525 studios and galleries open to the public—so much to see and not enough time to see it all. What struck us immediately, and held true throughout the day, was the fresh, open, and unselfconscious quality of the artists and the work they were showing.
Our first stop was Norte Maar on Wyckoff St., where we’d read that we could pick up a printed catalog including helpful maps of the six zones where BOS was happening. After viewing the show of paper and film collages by Oliver Ralli and a video by his music group PassKontrol, we headed over to the exhibition AllTogetherNow organized by Julie Torres at The Coin Locker on Starr Street. The group of eleven artists in this show came from Australia, Europe, and across North America, having first been drawn to each other’s work on Facebook. Torres organized the exhibit and invited them to Brooklyn to show their paintings and spend time working together on collaborative pieces. All of them had met in person only for the first time in the past week. Hanging the show, she gave the artist the opportunity to step back from their work while she made connections among individual pieces that might not otherwise have emerged. The artists told us that Julie instructed them to place their works on the floor in front of the wall it would hang on and then “go get a cup of coffee.” Julie then translated the art on to the walls.
A sentiment expressed by several of the artists we spoke with, including Brian Cypher, Peter Shear, Vincent Hawkins, Inga Dalrymple, and Ian White Williams, was how they appreciated the chance to better understand each other’s creative process by collaborating on small works on paper. An artist would begin a piece and then another artist would choose to respond to the last artist’s drawn marks, shapes or color. The piece would be passed around and worked on until they felt that it was ready to put on the “finished pile.” The exhibition included works by the individual artists and the collaborative pieces they’d completed together.
Back out on Jefferson Street, we stopped for a free hot dog and iced tea outside the newly opening Cobra Club. A word to culinary carnivores: the hot dogs were from the cool Brooklyn butcher Meathook.
The next stop we made had not been on our list but the door was open and so we walked in, meeting two young female artists sharing a space on industrial Johnson Street, Alison Kizu-Blair and Sophie Stone. They told us that they’d been working in their apartments on very small-scale pieces until they decided to rent this space together. Close friends—Alison a painter and Sophie working more sculpturally—both are finding a new kind of freedom sharing the Bushwick studio. Alison said that earlier she’d only been able to work on small collages, while the studio space now allowed her to work larger and in oil paint, while her friend Sophie is able to create free-standing sculptural tiles and works in paper pulp and corrugated cardboard which she could not do in her apartment.
Next we continued on foot down desolate Johnson Street which was lined with idling trucks emitting odors and parked cement-mixing trucks until we reached The Active Space on Stewart Street to view Deborah Brown’s exhibition “Freewheeling.” The large space showed off Brown’s vibrantly painted canvases in hot saturated color that contrasted the junk cars and derelict junkyard landscapes.
Later, at The Active Space we walked in and out of studios where artists were working and meeting people. We met painter and fiber artist Emily Auchincloss who draws inspiration from weavers in Morocco who make boucherouite rugs. Another studio we visited was that of Jen Hitchings, who makes paintings related to her emotional connection with photography.
On 117 Grattan Street we were welcomed by artist Sharon Butler of the blog Two Coats of Paint where we viewed a group show curated by Austin Thomas, mounted in Sharon’s studio. This was a selection of four artists’ work that quietly related to one another. We noticed an old Royal portable typewriter that Sharon said she uses when she’s working in her studio. She does not have a computer in the studio and prefers staying offline while there. She uses the typewriter to make lists of different ideas and thoughts that come into her mind. Her views of Brooklyn rooftops and buildings provide an inspiration for her own paintings.
As the afternoon waned and we began to tire, we just had time for a visit to StorefrontBushwick on Wilson Street to see another group show. This was a collection of pieces by artists Abdolreza Aminari, Drew Shiflett, Paula Overbay, Lauren Seiden. Matthew Mahler, and Nancy Bowen. Aminari, from Iran, had delicate gold thread sewn through paper pieces, a nice contrast to Shiflett’s “Easel Sculpture #2” made from paper, fabric, glue, cardboard, wood polyester stuffing, Styrofoam and wire. In Seiden’s work, the layering of graphite on paper had a dense materiality.
Though there was much more we wanted to see, we stopped for a cold drink and a Mexican snack and the three of us shared our impressions of our afternoon’s long ramble through what amounted to only a mere sliver of BOS. We hope this report and the photos below give our readers a sense of how working artists have come together to forge a strong creative community in Bushwick, while it continues to evolve in new ways. / / more. . . click through to see all 50 + photos
Earlier this year, my wife Kyle Gallup created a sketchbook for the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project, and it is now part of a traveling exhibit. This ambitious project, which invites work from artists all over the world, is written up in today’s New York Times with an article that includes a slideshow. Click on this link to see more of the images from the sketchbook that Kyle created.