Monthly Archives: May 2010

Drumming @ TEDxPotomac

I spent a good day at the TEDxPotomac conference yesterday. I look forward to writing it up in some detail, but that’s going to have to wait until next week.

I’m heading out of town for the weekend for Abbie’s wedding, and although I have a post or two queued up, I haven’t had a chance to recap my TEDx adventures in the proper detail.

In the meantime, enjoy this video I took of participants drumming up a storm! (And yes, that’s Seth in the middle there; he was my guest at the conference.)

Shy Bird

Bird at the Central Park Zoo, NYC

Most of us cannot help imputing personalities to creatures that have a face. If there are eyes to meet or evade, mouths to curve or snarl, we are going to see an expression, and posture contributes to the effect as well.

To me, this bird is cautious and diffident. It is reserving judgment as I am undoubtedly not to be trusted.

Gertrude’s Daughters

Women Meeting in Bryant Park

Was it a study group? An organizing meeting? A writer’s workshop?

I don’t know, but I am sure there was something appropriate about the motherly (although also decidedly non-maternal) presiding statue of Gertrude Stein.

Perhaps she’s the patron saint of bloggers as well:

A diary means yes indeed.

And this describes me so well, it’s scary:

I do want to get rich but I never want to do what there is to do to get rich.

A useful antidote to existential anxiety:

There ain’t no answer. There ain’t gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer. That’s the answer.

And finally, the immortal truths:

To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.


You look ridiculous if you dance
You look ridiculous if you don’t dance
So you might as well

A Tower

Bank of America Tower, Manhattan

This is a building that looks, from a distance (see thumbnail below), as if it were born in Dubai. At street level, however, the Bank of America Tower reflects its neighbors in a pleasingly geometrical fashion, and clads its lobby in warm golden tones of welcome. It’s a modern edifice that suggests that it might actually be pleasant to work in.

You know, if we could get past that whole financial meltdown thing.

[Update: A quick visit to Wikipedia suggests that it's also one of the most environmentally responsible skyscrapers yet built. Designed by Cook+Fox LLC, apparently its grand opening is May 20th, two days from now.]

Amber Lamp

Amber Lamp

Today we take a little break from New York City. This monochromatic image makes me think of Chinese screens or sumi-e, but with a gilded, Western twist.


Jeff Koons' Balloon Dog (Red)

My parents were both sculptors, good ones. They were highly-skilled figurative artists and meticulous in their craft. They cared both about aesthetics and about the emotional import and intellectual meaning of art.

And they despised Jeff Koons. He was responsible for ugly, junky, kitschy things. (I use the term “responsible for” advisedly, as he didn’t make the artwork himself, but had it manufactured according to his specifications). Like Warhol before him, he made a mockery of the hallowed enterprise of fine art. He was a relentless self-promoter. He fed off pop culture, and reappropriated its icons with abandon and glee. The acceptance of his objects into the temples of High Art was infuriating, and the obscene prices paid for them baffled and dismayed them (at one point a Koons piece fetched the highest price of any artwork in history at auction). Koons epitomized everything that was banal, misguided, and downright wrong in the art world.

My brother and I encountered this piece, Balloon Dog (Red) (1996, I think), in the lobby of a Park Avenue building. It is huge, shiny, a curious metallic-orange red. It’s a giant improvised toy with an impeccable finish (although a layer of dust has, shamefully, accumulated on it). Light, ephemeral ballons have been given permanent solidity. Utterly incongruous, but immediately engaging. We know this thing, it is familiar, but its scale and its surface render it new, “make it strange” (as Diaghelev or Schopenhauer or Brecht or T.S. Elliot ~ The Google can’t agree who it was ~ exhorted that artists must do). It is both delightful and uncanny; you have to smile, but maybe you’re a little unsettled too. As Koons himself reportedly remarked, it’s not just a toy, it’s also a trojan horse for the art world.

I was well-indoctrinated by my parents, and so it is a bit uncomfortable for me when I find myself deciding that this is, in fact, a brilliant piece: beautifully made and very thought-provoking. It gives the viewer occasion to ponder both about his or her own life experiences and relationships to toys and childhood parties (for example), but also to ask what art is and what it’s for. The object is indisputably aesthetically pleasing and also entertaining as hell.

What more do you want from a work of art?

[This article in the Guardian about Koons makes for interesting reading.]

Porter’s Piano

Cole Porter's Piano at the Waldorf-Astoria, NYC

I came across this beauty in a lounge area above the Park Avenue entrance to the Waldorf-Astoria. This is the piano upon which Cole Porter wrote many of his American Songbook classics, in his residential suite in the hotel. It is easy to imagine this lovely instrument in a gracious living room, surrounded by swells and gals making witty conversation who pause to listen and admire as its owner debuts another brilliant tune. Its surface speaks of both smoke and the loving-care of lemon oil.

A sign above the keyboard admonishes visitors not to play the piano. I hope, however, that every now and then some highly skilled musician sits down on the bench and makes it sing once again.

The Passage of Time

New Yorkers are almost always moving quickly. The preoccupation with time is palpable, even tourists are keeping track of how much longer they have in the city. In an era when wristwatches are becoming more and more anachronistic, I imagine that they are still selling well in Manhattan.

Interior Space

While I was in New York, my brother and I did a walking tour of some of the city’s most unusual and beautiful indoor spaces. Alas, I neglected to note the name or address of this particular atrium. The security service stopped me the moment that I raised my camera and told me that I had to get permission to photograph. I went to the building management office and asked the receptionist there whether I could take some pictures. She asked me, “for whom?” (She may not have said “whom.”) I said, “Me!” “Well, I don’t see why not.” I thanked her and went back out to the atrium.

I lifted my camera to take a picture, the security guy stopped me again. I told him I had permission. “The office hasn’t called us.” Aaaagh. He dialed. I stood waiting. Then he nodded and said “Go ahead.” So I did.

This is one of many, and the only one that shows the underlying symmetry of the design.


Polar Bear Ballet

I was really tempted to swap out the onlookers’ inane comments (yes, that’s me) for a little Richard Strauss waltz á la 2001: A Space Odyssey.