Archive for July, 2008

Art Behind the Pleated Facade

The Bronx Museum of the Arts

The Bronx Museum of the Arts

Two architecture students from Poland were telling the woman at the front desk that they almost didn’t get to see The Bronx Museum of the Arts during their New York visit — the museum was not listed in any of their guidebooks. They discovered the museum on the internet, and standing in the lobby, they were stunned at the architecture. It’s good they did not miss it because there is a lot to see here.

The Bronx Museum of the Arts

The Bronx Museum of the Arts

The Bronx Museum’s exterior is striking. And inside, four exhibitions are currently on view. I too was shocked. Really, I had expected a converted apartment building or a greying nondescript building, a bit of a rag tag structure.

Intersection of the Grand Concourse and 161st Street

Intersection of the Grand Concourse and 161st Street

Approaching the museum from the Grand Concourse builds momentum. The Grand Concourse itself feels grand. I felt that the minute I turned off of 161st Street. Walking along towards the Bronx Museum doesn’t feel unlike being on Park Avenue walking toward, say, the Asia Society. I think the Grand Concourse may be wider than Park Avenue (the GC is an eight lane thoroughfare) and the apartment buildings are lower so it appears more open with more sunlight.

Approaching The Bronx Museum of the Arts

Approaching The Bronx Museum of the Arts

The exterior of the Bronx Museum is pleated like an accordion. From top to bottom. Blocks away, it gleams white but it is silver, made of brushed matte steel.

The Bronx Museum windows

The Bronx Museum windows

In the depths of the pleats are glass windows, narrow ones, that too, run from sidewalk to rooftop. The museum was designed by a Miami based architecture firm, Arquitectonica and opened in 2006. The museum used to be housed in the corner building, a former synagogue, and before that, it was in the rotunda of the Bronx County Courthouse down the street.

The Bronx Museum of the Arts 2nd floor space

The Bronx Museum of the Arts 2nd floor space

The second level is available for special events and public gatherings. The terrace has three human scale sculptures by John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres. The work is inspired by actual Bronx residents. The leaves and branches of a very large and very old apple tree rise over the terrace checkerboard wall.

Sculptures on Terrace of the Bronx Museum

Sculptures on Terrace of the Bronx Museum

The third level is home to the museum’s education department, classrooms and media lab. The museum, I learned, is still expanding. The rest of the permanent collection is in storage awaiting proper exhibition space. The museum will expand further back, one block over to include additional galleries and a Children’s Art Garden. They will, however, build around the apple tree. (See the finished Bronx Museum Project: Arquitectonica –> Projects–> Cultural / Institutional –> Bronx Museum of the Arts)

Ok now for the art. Three of the four shows close on Monday, August 4th. Only How Soon is Now is open until August 18th. So get there soon. A word of caution, the museum notes that the work exhibited in the front gallery may be unsuitable for younger viewers due to its subject matter and visual imagery.

The lobby is a spacious two story gallery space. You step in and the viewing begins. Activism is Never Over, a fabulous wall mural painted by Lady Pink, the best known female graffiti writer, Doña, Muck and Toofly. The mural honors the women on the front lines of women’s history. Respect is given to an incredible range of woman from Yuri Kochiyama to Uta Hagen to Shirley Chisholm to Martina Navratilova, amidst lotus flowers and even a painting of Gloria Steinem with a Playboy bunny over her shoulder.

The mural is part of the exhibition Making It Together: Women’s Collaborative Art and Community featuring women artists from the 1970s who challenged the art world’s leading venues by exposing the near absence of art by women. These artists formed coalitions and collectives, fostered inclusiveness, creating databases of women artists and presented their work in woman infused spaces. I totally remember the The Guerilla Girls posters, the woman’s head hidden within the gorilla mask while holding a peeled banana. A lot of artist’s names were new to me and a few were new to me in their roles as activists: Faith Ringgold and her daughters Michele and Barbara Wallace. Judy Chicago. Ah yes, The Dinner Party. Probably my first exposure to “feminist art”. I remember my high school humanities class trip into downtown Chicago to see her “V-a_g-i_n-a Plates”. The anatomical likeness completely eluded me, I think I remarked, “They’re very colorful.” Only years later did I realize, “Oh. That’s why I needed the permission slip from my parents.”

A counterpart to the Making It Together exhibit is Highlights of the Permanent Collection: Women Artists featuring photographs by artists such as Carrie Mae Weems, Ana Mendieta and Adrian Piper. This exhibition felt too small to me. I was happy to see these artists right here in the Bronx, but hopefully the museum has more of their pieces packed away in their collection.

The Bronx Museum’s Teen Council curated a small exhibition of photographs by Jamel Shabazz who captured much of the hip hop scene, as well as everyday life and people on New York City streets in the 1970s and 80s. They also interviewed him for the museum’s DVD series of artists interviews. You can sit at one of the iMacs and watch the entire interview.

The featured exhibition How Soon Is Now? is the work of 36 emerging artists selected from a pool of 600 applicants to the museum’s Artist in the Marketplace (AIM) program. There is a lot of work here and a lot of different media. I was surprised at the number of works requiring headsets. I do not pretend to understand everything that I see when looking at contemporary art. I have to feel something and to respond to some human element in a work and even better if it makes me laugh. I hate leaving a gallery or museum feeling the weight of the world from what I’ve seen.

That given, one of the most memorable pieces is Living Room from artist Jeanne Verdoux who uses line drawings and shadow. Tacked to the wall is a folded sheet of white ruled paper, maybe ledger paper, that becomes both screen and stage for an animated line drawing of a woman, in her bra and panties, who rises from a chair and turns on a lamp. It’s an absolutely quotidian task, but I could not stop watching it. The only audio is the sound of the lamp clicking on. The projector and dvd player are set up on a black folding chair a few of feet from the wall. It is all very clever and very simple.

Another piece of note is Michelle Frick‘s Avian Intensive Care Unit. A big pile of clear tubes, sacs, pouches, glass vials, the outer wrappings and packaging from various medical equipment, is surrounded by small white birds hooked up to IVs through their beaks. Or are they IVs morphing into birds? The accompanying sound of chirping birds and a thumping heartbeat fills the space. It is both a fragile and disgusting display.

I appreciated the seating accompanying those works with video. That way I could sit through the entire piece Still from Sing Along by artist Ra di Martino. A man and woman sit facing each other while listening to Percy Sledge belt out When a Man Loves a Woman. The two do not know each other. They say nothing the entire length of the song, but their facial expression and body movements do. It’s nearly impossible not to sing along to that song.

I remember the colors of Cosme Herrera‘s Frost, a painting on wood with images of trees routed into the surface, figures in various interactions with the trees: dragging trunks or tearing the bark.

Brendan Carroll‘s piece Black Coffee–No Sugar is a series of 98 Polaroids of Jersey City, with a typewritten anecdote, in italics, across the bottom of each photo. The photos evoke a small, rural deserted town of yesteryear and the anecdotes appear random in no sequential order and not from the same voice. But looking at all the photos made me want to hold on to my Polaroid One Step even longer and ferret out a few packs of film–before there are none left.

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July 30, 2008 at 3:11 am Leave a comment

The Writers Bench

I thought the Writers Bench was a writers workshop or collective of sorts here in the Bronx. And I was ready to sign up. Silly me. A deeper Google search, however, led me to the truth. The writers bench is yes really a bench — at 149th Street and the Grand Concourse 2 / 5 subway station, but its writers did not use pen and paper. How could I have forgotten The Big Guy asked me?

Writers Bench at 149th & the Grand Concourse

Writers Bench at 149th & the Grand Concourse

My husband had told me about the Writers Bench…where he sat with twenty other boys in the late 70s early 80s. They were graffiti writers and the bench on the 2/5 train platform, the last bench at the back of the train on the uptown side, was their meeting place. Those boys came from all over the city. The Big Guy came up from Brooklyn. They’d cut class, meet up with fellow writers and hang out for hours. This station was the ideal vantage point. It was the intersection of the 2 and 5 train lines.

Arriving 5 Train at 149th & Grand Concourse

Arriving 5 Train at 149th & Grand Concourse

They could catch the trains passing by with their paintings emblazoned all across the sides. The Big Guy was known as Spin back then and I asked him if he took any photos. He took a few but has since lost them. One of his trains, a piece titled “Dump Koch”, has a cameo appearance in Henry Chalfant’s documentary Style Wars when a photo of it is placed in the hands of the mayor himself. Koch looked over the photo and replied, “I guess I must be getting to them.”

C. at the Writers Bench

The Big Guy at the Writers Bench

Here is the bench today and at the top photo. The overpass between the Uptown and the Downtown is gated shut. A cop sits nearby in a tiny booth. (He eyed us suspiciously). And of course the redbird trains no longer fly through.

Recently The Big Guy got lucky. A friend called up and said he’d found a photo of one of his trains.

C.'s Spin Train

The Big Guy's Spin Train

July 20, 2008 at 1:46 am 6 comments

Chasing the Bronx Waterfalls

With the city all abuzz about The New York Waterfalls, I set out to find the waterfalls right here in the Bronx. I knew of three sites already. Then a call to the Bronx River Alliance led me to two more. And the staff further hunted down the height of the fall drops for me as well. I am thankful for their resourcefulness, my waterfall chase was all the more fortified.

Snuff Mill Waterfall at NY Botanical Garden

Snuff Mill Waterfall at NY Botanical Garden

The Snuff Mill Waterfall (7 ft Ht) at the NY Botanical Garden Located on the Bronx River, this waterfall is technically a dam, constructed to power the neighboring Snuff Mill built in 1840. The water wheel is no longer there, but the brick factory building is. The Snuff Mill was on the estate owned by the tobacco producing Lorillard family in the mid-late 1800’s.

Rock Garden Cascade at the New York Botanical Garden

Rock Garden Cascade at the New York Botanical Garden

Rock Garden Cascade at the NY Botanical Garden One of the gardeners told me that the rocks for the waterfall were placed by hand in the 1930’s. The Rock Garden is off the beaten path of the garden and on some days a tranquil oasis. When visiting the garden, make sure to request the All Garden Pass in order to gain entry to the Rock Garden.

River Park Waterfall

River Park Waterfall

River Park Waterfall (13 ft Ht) at 180th Street & Boston Road near the Bronx Zoo entrance.This too is technically a dam situated on the Bronx River. The park, with a large playground for kids, is a very popular neighborhood spot for summer barbecues and parties. The day I visited, a couple of daredevils were walking along the rim of the fall. And yes, they did jump in, despite the no swimming policy.

Twin Dams Right Falls

Twin Dams Right Falls

Twin Dams (about 10ft Ht) at the Bronx Zoo near the Bronx Park East entrance. This site was a total surprise find, thanks to the folks at the Bronx River Alliance! Unfortunately, my camera does not have a lens wide enough to capture both dams. When facing them, the dam on the right has a more classic waterfall drop and is best viewed from the Mitsubishi Riverwalk Outlook.

Twin Dams Left Spillway

Twin Dams Left Spillway

The left spillway is best viewed from inside the Zoo, near the Bison Reserve. The Mitsubishi Riverwalk, marked by a totem pole, is free and located outside the zoo near the Bronx River East entrance.

I saw all five falls on the same day and I was on foot. I did hop on the bus for some of the way. It can be a good stretch of walking for some, but is certainly doable. I walked away from the Bronx waterfalls more aware of how much life and activity once existed along the Bronx River. The water mills powered by these Bronx River falls were major manufacturing hubs and many early settlements branched out of these mill sites. Apparently as many as twelve mills from the mid 1700s, producing flour, pottery, snuff and narrow woven tapes dotted the river’s edge. It is hard to imagine the water wheels in action given the modern day surroundings, but certainly not difficult to enjoy where they once were.

Update: Waterfall is used here with a romantic regard. All Bronx River waterfalls noted here are actually dams.

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July 16, 2008 at 1:51 pm 24 comments

Capturing the Moores

Before moving to the Bronx, I rarely visited the NY Botanical Garden. It took too long to get there on the train from our corner of Manhattan, and simply put, it wasn’t in Manhattan. But now we visit often and it has become our Central Park (when we don’t feel like roller blading).
Currently, twenty massive bronze and fiberglass sculptures by Henry Moore are placed all over the garden. The work is very sensual — gleaming curves, round organic shapes.
Yet I noticed that most people when photographing the sculptures stand far away from them, missing the vitality on the surface of the pieces — the range of color from bone to olive black to amber gold.
And the surfaces are often not so smooth at all, but lined with hash marks and grooves, some like rocks, some like tree bark. I like to get very close, to touch and to stand under them (where permitted). Take a photo and enter it in the garden’s Henry Moore Photo Contest.

July 9, 2008 at 1:14 am Leave a comment

Trolley Ride

Last Wednesday evening I boarded the Bronx Culture Trolley for a tour of spots to see art in the Mott Haven and Bruckner Antiques District of the South Bronx.

The Trolley runs the first Wednesday of the month and makes a loop of the lower Grand Course beginning and ending at the Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos Community College on 149th Street. The Trolley ride is free, as well as admission to all the venues featured on the tour.

We rolled up the Grand Concourse with tour guide Ellen pointing out the points of interest: the main Bronx Post Office with floor to ceiling murals in the lobby, Franz Sigel Park, the Bronx Borough Hall and Court House, the two Yankee stadiums and Joyce Kilmer Park.

On board, a young woman started singing and was joined by the soft beat of drums. They were Jose “Dr. Drum” Ortiz with two young people, Marilyn and Wilson, all musicians from BombaYo. Not a permanent fixture on the trolley tours, they had joined the tour like everyone else and this evening they were sharing the Afro-Puerto Rican rhythms of Bomba with us. They sounded great and provided the perfect sounds for our tour. Ellen was delighted to have them on board.

The first stop was The Bronx Museum of the Arts. On trolley nights, the museum is open late and hosts book signings. A few passengers got off and more riders boarded.

Then we turned the corner to the Bronx Blue Bedroom Project, an art gallery in the actual blue bedroom of artist Blanka Amezkua.

We sipped cool tamarind juice while looking at the featured installation “Pillars/ Uptown Nannies” by artist Gabriela Alva Cal y Mayor. Every month the exhibit changes (The Bronx Blue Bedroom Project, however, is closed in August). From there, a few of us walked down to the Alexander Avenue Antiques District. We stopped into Books, Notes and News at 137 Alexander Avenue, a book shop owned by Ben Cobbs. He has many rare as well as general titles. In building our own book collections, he advised us to buy two copies with dust jackets and to keep the dust jackets clean. “You’ll keep one copy for yourself when you sell the other one,” he said. And just upstairs, well up five flights, in apt. 10 is LR Studio, in the home of photographer Luis Rosado. This artist single handedly transformed a crumbling floor-through apartment into a gallery space where he also lives. Next door is Alexander’s Cafe, where I was told by one Bruckner Ave resident that it is perfect for taking dates.

On Bruckner Blvd, we stopped in Haven Arts Gallery where on exhibit are photographs by twenty New York press photographers. One memorable photo is of a recoiling Mayor Giuliani seated in the back of his limo when a homeless man approaches the car.

By this time it was dark and we still had a couple of more stops to make. A half a block away, we could see the lights in the windows of the Bronx Museum Project Space where visual artist Darcy Dahl had just installed his show “Insula”. He uses video projections and various scrims to bend the images and reflect the light around the walls of the space.

Our last stop was to the Bruckner Gallery in the rear of the Bruckner Bar and Grill. The gallery is exhibiting “Departure” the work of five photographers who met at The Point, a community arts organization in Hunts Point. They formed a collective and their work is about exploring social issues in their communities. We arrived in the middle of the opening night party and the space was pumping with music from the band, Chewing Pics, whose lead singer Naima was a contestant on America’s Next Top Model. Our group had since missed the last trolley pick up back to Longwood, but no worries, we walked to the subway and said our goodbyes.

July 8, 2008 at 12:09 am 1 comment

To Market , To Market

I import about 99% of my groceries from Manhattan. On a given Saturday morning, my movements are highly predictable by those that know me: I am in some state of getting to or coming from the Union Square Farmer’s Market. A trip there is a fix for me, it sets my weekend on the right foot and if I miss it, I’m cranky the rest of the day, possibly the entire weekend. I go even when my fridge is full with yellow and red chard, flowering thyme, Boston lettuces red and green, chocolate mint, garlic scapes, rocambole garlic, lamb’s quarters (wild spinach), zucchini, crab cakes, black sea bass, smoked pheasant sausage, fresh lamb sausage with pomegranate, cumin and ginger and on and on… I know a few of the farmers by sight and my fish guy calls me “Barracuda” after I told him how I reeled one in on a fishing trip in Jamaica. I haul everything back to the Bronx on the 6 train in freezer bags fitted with ice packs. Of all that I miss about Manhattan, the Union Square Farmer’s Market is at the top of my list.

So when the opportunity came to get to the NY Botanical Garden Farmer’s Market, I could hardly wait.
This greenmarket is on Wednesday days only from late June to late October. I had a free day to go and so did my neighbor Sue, so we hopped on the bus. The market, just inside the garden entrance at the Mosholu Gate, is tiny with three farmers and one baker. I recognized two stands from Union Square. The prices are comparable to Manhattan. Even though my fridge was full that day, I bought fresh bread and more zucchini anyway. Sue bought gorgeous strawberries and rhubarb for a crisp. The best part of the trip was sitting under the majestic Tulip Trees that lead to the luminous Mertz Library Building. Families arrived and children were doing cartwheels on the lawn just behind the Do Not Walk on Grass signs. We sat and talked until we noticed that Sue’s rhubarb leaves were beginning to wilt.

The New York Botanical Garden is free on Wednesdays for strolling the grounds only. This added benefit makes the trip even more worthwhile on a gorgeous summer day. Sue’s strawberry rhubarb crisp with a surprising twist of cardamom, toasted almonds and orange zest was delicious and I regret I didn’t take a bigger piece. Toting my many bags of groceries and ice on the 6 train from Manhattan is exhausting. I’ll have to figure something out…The other Bronx greenmarkets are on my list to check out and I’ve read there’s a food coop in the South Bronx. Surely, the Union Square market bounty will be tricky to find here in the Bronx. If anything I’ll keep going down to Union Square just to be called ” Barracuda”.

July 3, 2008 at 11:45 pm Leave a comment

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