Wednesday, February 10, 2010

SNØHETTA, at The Scandinavia House

Some of you may know that my mother was Norwegian. All of you should know by now that New York is literally a babel of many languages, and a mall of many nations; there is no surprise in discovering a "stranger" every day here in New York. Yet I do try to get people to refresh themselves by taking a break from the mad rush of every day life; I try to get many New Yorkers themselves to just slow down and take a closer look at all the "familiar" strangers around them.

So, one day last week I took a friend to see an exhibit of extraordinary architecture of Snøhetta at the Scandinavia House, at 58 Park Avenue at 38th Street. Walking in we were greeting by the very welcoming expanse of the restaurant Smørgas Chef, which is now in its most appropriate venue, although it's in many locations about town, ranging from Stone Street to Greenwich Village.

But let's take a look up stairs on the third floor ... at the new opera house in Oslo:

It almost appears to be wading in the water! But that is also a terrific recapturing of the common waterfront for the residents of Oslo for whom that area had been a disheveled and forbidding spot. In fact, as the structure seems to dip its wide toe into the sea, we are reminded that the water in Norway is considered common property. No one can "own" beach or waterfront. This building, in accord with Snøhetta's green ethos, supports that mood entirely.

"In 1987 the landscape architects Inge Dahlman, Berit Hartveit and Johan Østengen contacted landscape architects Alf Haukeland, and architects Øyvind Mo and Kjetil Trædal Thorsen to join together to make a collaborative studio. The idea was to incorporate architecture and landscape architecture into one design process. The studio was placed above a “brown” beer hall in Storgata in Oslo where they used to hang out. The beer hall is called "Dovrehallen" which means the "Dovre’s Hall". Dovre is the mountain area where Snøhetta is the highest peak. The collaborative took the name Snøhetta Arkitektur & Landskap."

But their very first real big contract came almost as soon as their firm was established, after they won the competition for the design and construction of the library in Alexandria, Egypt. It was conceived and executed with the aid of an American from California, Craig Dykers, who is now, with Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, one of the two principals.

The New Library of Alexandria also hosts a number of institutions:

• The Academia Bibliotheca Alexandrinae (ABA)
• Arabic Society for Ethics in Science & Technology (ASEST)
• The Anna Lindh Foundation for Dialogue between Cultures, the first Euro–Med foundation based outside Europe
• The Institute for Peace Studies (IPS) of the Suzanne Mubarak Women for Peace Movement
• The HCM Medical Research project (located in Shallalat premises)
• The Jean-Rene Dupuy Center for Law and Development
• The Arab Regional Office of the Academy of Science for the Developing World (ARO-TWAS)
• The International Federation for Library Associations (IFLA) Regional Office
• The Secretariat of the Arab National Commissions of UNESCO
• The Middle Eastern and North African Network for Environmental Economics (MENANEE)

Already receiving over 800,000 visitors a year, it seems also a force for peace as well as learning.

So, what does all that mean to us New Yorkers? Don't we have a great library too?

Well, the New York Public Library doesn't include anywhere as many separate organizations, although Library employees once ran a Co-operative General Store in the building's basement. The store opened June 9, 1920, and carried everything from stockings to sardines. It sold groceries and general merchandise, canned and fresh foodstuffs, produce, tobacco products, even clothing and sewing notions.

And while it may not attract quite so many people to itself during a year, it's busiest year was 1929-1930 when as many as 800 to 1000 people would be in the main reading room (now known as the Rose Reading Room) at any one time - with people standing in line waiting to get a seat. In fact, the busiest day in the library was December 30 when 8,939 books were requested.

And you know what?! Norbert Pearlroth, the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Researcher from 1923 to 1975, found all the information for the newspaper feature using the huge collection in the Library's Main Reading Room. A speaker of several languages with a prodigious memory, Mr. Pearlroth came to the Library each day, and relied on serendipity to find his amazing facts. It's estimated that he reviewed 7,000 books each year (that's 364,000 in 52 years)!

Whew! Believe it or not!

Yet, this is just a little digression. I'm not bringing up Snøhetta's wonderful work just to point out the wonders of our glorious library. It is a fact that Snøhetta has done work around the world, but its two headquarters are in Oslo - and at 25 Broadway in New York City. Why? Because they have been awarded the commission to design the Museum Pavilion that will serve as the entrance to the Memorial Museum:

The Memorial site is conforming to the master plan that was drawn up by Daniel Liebeskind, for which he won the design competition (not for the Liberty Tower he put in there that has been replaced by David Child's tower - which simply has more rentable space).

So, the world is coming together, slowly but surely. Be patient - have faith: it will be built!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Art in New York - in DUMBO

Many of you have heard about DUMBO, Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, but how many of you have ever been there? Did you know that the corrugated cardboard box we know today was devised there by Robert Gair in 1890 - and that the community was so famous for his creation it was then originally called Gairville?

Cardboard boxes are still with us, of course, but "Gairville" is not - except as signage on certain of his buildings. One of them, however, is certainly visible and even famous: the Clock Tower (not to be confused with Watchtower! Wait for another post about that - in a few months) which is visible to the left as you cross from Manhattan on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Instead of cardboard boxes being made in this building and many of the others, they are being received by new residents who have moved into these buildings, making them their quite fashionable homes in one of the thriving and comfortable residential mixed use areas in this city.

But the primary attraction in DUMBO is the galleries and studios of the artists there. In fact, once these buildings had been abandoned by the manufacturing companies 20 and more years ago (Brillo was also made here, and you can still see the railroad tracks coursing through the streets), artists had moved in, many of them from SoHo who were being priced out by up-scale retailers and condo conversions.

DUMBO has been more fortunate, and has retained a large number of galleries, and it's one of them I want to direct you to today: The Dumbo Arts Center (DAC) at 30 Washington Street.

On January 9 I witnessed the opening night of an almost astonishing installation there called Pixelville, curated by my high school friend Peter Frank. As he describes it:

Pixelville is the collaborative project of the sculptor Nivi Alroy and new media artist Shirley Shor. As Israeli women close in age, Alroy and Shor share many experiences and observations, but discovered their common aesthetic and social purpose only recently, once both had relocated to New York.

Immediately, I knew I had to see it - New York helped make it happen!

When I walked in, and I walked from the subway with Peter whom I met by chance right there on the platform, I went right on in to the art. (Peter knows everybody, so he was immediately talking to an artist named Nelson who creates art by cutting hair - yes, it's true: Electric Chaircut.)

At first - what to make of it!

Certainly unusual, and I wasn't the only one curious and perhaps confused. But I have learned that I should reserve my "judgement," and let my feelings inform me before I start to put words and "understanding" to work. I looked at more of this installation.

What is that - a boat? Hmm. I walk on ... I even see some sand at the bow ... I feel there's something like an analogy at work here ....

Good grief! What is this, I asked myself.

And then there was this:

Very very interesting. Now I'm beginning to understand the subtitle to the art: An urban concept in real time.

But there's more!

What I've seen so far is the art of Nivi Alroy, but the art of Shirley Shor seems quite different. Look at this centerpiece of the installation: it's a sandbox, with multi-colored lights projecting an ever-changing constellation of colored lights down onto it - representing, I later learn, the border lines on territory over time as they change with populations building and re-building - and de-building, if you will - over time.

On the left, let's say, the outline of geographical areas; right - people building; center - all over the place!

There are wall-hangings too, some seeming to be two dimensional, but the digital insert changes in time, so in fact it's three dimensional - but with time instead of depth.

And others were three dimensional in the way we easily understand, like this one.

Yes, by now I was beginning to get the feeling that I could appreciate this art. It is conceptual, not really abstract, and it could easily be articulated into a narrative if I were to want to do that.

There is a lot more, and it rewards examination with attention, but with a loose sensibility; let the art work on you. Don't try to work on the art. It will come, I guarantee. Let's meet the artists.

Peter Frank, Nivi Alroy, and Shirley Shor
Pixelville, at the Dumbo Arts Center
30 Washington Street, Brooklyn

So go, visit DUMBO, and see art at the Dumbo Arts Center - and many other places too!

See the world, and Manhattan, from a different perspective.

The Brooklyn Bridge, from DUMBO

Thanksgiving - and Tradition Changes!

Oh, boy it seems like a lot has happened since my last post. I have been simply too occupied to keep up with my blog and newsletter, so for those of you who have been wondering, I will keep you in the loop from now on.

First thing that comes to mind is - Thanksgiving! Remember that? I grew up in suburban New Jersey, Tenafly in fact, so this year I went there for the Traditional Turkey Day Classic - and had a mini reunion of not only my class but others both before and after mine. And those football players - they looked not only young but small!

What was most interesting of course was meeting so many of my fellow team mates from back in the sixties, when we had an undefeated season and were such different people. Many of us wore those football jackets - but my mother had given mine to the garbage man! Here's John Godfrey '66 in his jacket. (I don't know why, but he always looked "concerned." Maybe he was just wondering if he really remembered who we all were!)

So, while John seems to have kept his light brown hair, we can't avoid the fact that most of us are (help!) approaching ... yes, approaching that age, and so it shouldn't be surprising that the star quarterback and captain of my team, Rob Nelson, is sporting a - well, the picture tells it all!

Yes, some of us aren't using Just For Men and are proudly flaunting our pedigree.

There were some class members of other earlier classes who displayed their enthusiasm in proud Tenafly Tiger fashion - but I wonder? Does Ron Wittreich ever wear those pants at any other time?
But then again he's from a class in the forties, so he can do whatever he wants!

This day was a vacation from New York City, a break from the Macy's parade, and a return to my (have to say it!) roots for what they were worth. And I re-encountered many from the "old" days because this game was the last not only of the season but for the league as well. The Bergen County Scholastic League - BCSL American - is being scrapped for something else, and so our "traditional" rival, Dumont, would be playing with someone else.

But what was perhaps a more significant change in our tradition was signaled - pun intended - by the last person to hold the ball in that 34-6 Tenafly victory: quarterback Emma Lieberman.

Yes! That's right, 17 year old senior Emma has been playing football with the boys since 7th grade. The article in the Bergen Record the next day featured her: Tenafly Female QB Makes History. Check her out! Here she is - all 130 pounds of her - handing off to her running back.

So, as the article says, while she may not be the first female football player in the league, she is the first quarterback. Times are a-changin', right?