Monday, September 24, 2012

Barclays Center Officially Opens in Brooklyn

The Warhol Archives

Just a postscript on the previous Andy Warhol entry: I've written a lot about him over the years (which makes sense, since he was the ultimate NYC artist) so you can check out this link that will take you to all the old posts.

"Regarding Warhol" at the Metropolitan Museum

Recently the family and I went to the new exhibit at the Met, Regarding Warhol, an interesting hybrid show of work by the legendary artist and those he influenced.

Andy Warhol was perhaps the most famous American artist of the last fifty years. If anyone defined art in NYC and America in the 1960s and 1970s, it was this Pittsburgh-born transplant who married the avante-garde, almost Dada-esque sensibilities of the counter-culture with the world of commerce and pop culture.
His paintings were of Campbell's soup cans, Marilyn Monroe, and totally unknown people. He was unabashed in making art that people either loved or hated. Besides paintings, he also made movies -- very, very weird movies -- of people sitting at a table doing nothing, or making love, or (as we see in this show) a nearly eight-hour single shot of the Empire State Building. Either you found his work the aesthetic equivalent of a warm hug or a cold slap -- or both. That was the whole point.

Andy Warhol was an artist who became more than just his work -- he became an icon, an idea, an inspiration. And that's the whole point of this exhibit.
Many of the other artists featured in this exhibit are, to be honest, people I never heard of. Except for one -- Jeff Koons -- perhaps the most famous and controversial artist Warhol ever influenced. While the Warhol work is (obviously) great and classic, I honestly found the work of the other artists rather uninteresting and unmemorable. When it comes to Koons' work, I find it less funky than boring and anti-septic. I honestly don't know why his work sells so well.

Still, I would urge you to see this exhibit for two reason. First, it makes you realize what a truly great, revolutionary artist Andy Warhol was and how his work managed to be both of his time and timeless. Second, the exhibit has perhaps the most beautiful ending of any exhibit I've ever gone to anywhere. I won't give it away -- you gotta see it yourself -- but it makes the whole experience worth it.

This exhibit has generated a lot of controversy (like the master himself) so I would recommend reading them here and here.   

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Occupy Wall Street: 1st Anniversary

It's hard to believe but it was only a year ago that Occupy Wall Street -- or OWS, as it became known -- suddenly sprang to life and took over the national psyche.

What OWS was (or is?) is very simple: it was a group of Americans who felt totally shafted by the current economy and wanted to shed light on the enormous income inequality that exists in America today. This was represented by people literally occupying a private/public park in Lower Manhattan day and night. 

They called themselves "the 99%".

Like any social/political movement, OWS immediately caused controversy. Those on the political left praised it as grassroots movement against "the Man." Those on the political right called it basically a movement of, by, and for society's losers. Needless to say, this debate rages on more than a year later.

Yours truly had and has mixed feelings about OWS. The fact that people were able to grab the attention of the public and the media and start a national dialogue on income inequality in this country is a great thing. Before OWS, this issue had never received the widespread attention it deserved and has now gotten. But my problem with OWS, like any "movement", is that its legitimate message can sometimes come off as nothing more than rage, that the messengers themselves don't do themselves any favors by ranting. That's why I've never been a joiner of "movements" -- very often the messengers cannibalize the message. 

Last year, just as OWS was cresting in its public attention, I wrote a blog post about how NYC has become a corporate city and how it doesn't matter who we elect, it is and will probably always be so. Also, one of the things OWS showed is how the "liberal/conservative" schism in this country sort of misses the point: while one side may be socially liberal and the other side socially conservative, both sides are basically corporate and this shafts working and poor Americans no matter what. And how, no matter who we elect, this "corporate state" will only continue to thrive -- here in NYC and everywhere else. 

So I'm pretty sure that, a year from now, no matter if we have a President Romney or still have President Obama, OWS's message will still resonate.  


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Welcome to NYCHALand!

This blog is dedicated to the NYC of our hearts, minds, and souls as much as to the real city of metal, concrete, and pavement.

One of the fun things about this blog is exploring the undiscovered places -- both literal and figurative -- that exist within the city we love. Cities within the city, if you will, that thrive around us, next to us, and in which many of us live too.

But there is one city within NYC that most readers of this blog don't know about, including yours truly. It's a place that almost 92% of New Yorkers -- let alone tourists -- never go to. It's a city that exists in many neighborhoods but is separate from just about all of them. And it certainly doesn't thrive.

It's called NYCHALand -- otherwise known as "the projects", those enclaves of poverty.

NYCHA is short for New York City Housing Authority which runs all of the public housing projects across the five boroughs. It houses over 400,000 people, almost 8% of the entire city's population, but those are just the official figures; unofficially almost 600,000 people live there. 

Think about that for a second: while 8% might not be a huge share of the city's people and 400,000 a small slice of the 8 million plus folks in this town, NYCHALand houses more people than New Orleans or St. Louis. In fact, you could transport the entire population of the state of Wyoming into NYCHALand and still have room left over for more people. It's that big.

The Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City, one of the bigger neighborhoods in NYCHALand.
The projects have long been a controversial aspect of American urban policy. Initially they were seen as an improvement over the slums and tenements that used to warehouse the poor, places where people could live in a certain amount of dignity while they worked themselves into the middle class. But it all went wrong: the projects basically became exactly what they were might to replace, and became new warehouses for the poor. Few worked themselves into the middle, instead caught in a cycle of dependency on city housing and services, members of the permanent underclass. The projects became havens for gangs and drug dealers and violence. The sound of gunshots became a daily a occurrence for the young and old alike who lived there. When one thought of the projects, one could only think of menace.

The "projects" became a symbol for everything that was wrong with 20th century compassion.  If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the projects seemed like their final destination.

Many cities in the last decade tore their projects down and developed new housing policies to deal with the poor. But here in NYC, the projects remain. NYCHALand exists today much as it did forty, thirty years ago. Over the last 20 years, people have talked about how NYC has come back, better than ever, from the turbulent time of the 1970s and 1980s. Yet when you go to NYCHALand, it's like stepping into a time machine back to that time in the city's history that so many of us want to forget. 

However, NYCHALand might not be much longer. This long, very informative article from this week's New York magazine tells us about ideas some have to permanently change the landscape of the projects. The costs of maintaining them has ballooned and many are saying that perhaps it's time NYC develop a 21st century housing policy.

But what will that look like? What will happen to the people who, as miserable a place NYCHALand is for most, feel like it's the best home they could hope to have? Will a new housing policy for the poor help or hurt them? 

In the years to come, NYCHALand might became yet another relic of the city's past, a place most of have never gone to and hope never to go to but that will be, for good or for ill, a city within a city that was part of the character of the greatest city in the world.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Robert Kotlowitz RIP

NYC in the 1970s and 1980s was an historically rough place. High crime, rising rents, the fiscal crises, AIDS, Ed Koch -- it was tough. But there was one place that was, for many of us living in this city at that time, a kind of mental and emotional refuge. 

It was Channel 13. 

The programming on this local PBS station at that time was glorious. It brought great high culture to the unwashed masses in NYC. Even though I was watching things like "Sesame Street" and "Mr Roger's Neighborhood" on Channel 13 at the time, there were also programs like "Live from Lincoln Center" that presented performances of ballet, the philharmonic and the opera; long before "Downton Abbey" made it cool again, "Masterpiece Theater" was in its prime with shows like "Upstairs, Downstairs", "I, Claudius" and "The Jewel in the Crown"; there were also great news shows like "The MacNeil/Leher Report", "Bill Moyer's Journal" and "Nature"; and there was comedy too with shows like "Monty Python's Flying Circus". I also remember in 1988 Channel 13 had a wonderful series of Saturday nights where they showed old silent movies. And "Brideshead Revisited", the glorious 1981 mini-series that gave the world Jeremy Irons, was the "Downton Abbey" of its day. 

In those down and dirty decades in NYC. Channel 13 was an uplifting and beautiful escape.

The man who made all of it possible -- and who made not only Channel 13 but all of public broadcasting what it is today -- was named Robert Kotlowitz, and he died recently at the age of 87. He had an interesting and unusual background for a TV executive. He was a novelist and magazine editor who was hired at Channel 13 in 1971 basically because he was unemployed and Channel 13 couldn't find anyone else to do the job. It was totally haphazard and accidental but it changed the culture of NYC -- for the better -- and Mr Kotlowitz's legacy lives on.

Thank you, Mr Kotlowitz, for what you did for Channel 13, my family, and NYC back then. Rest in peace.