The remarkable saga of the Chinese in America is one of prejudice and progress, marked with fierce struggles against injustice and precedent-setting legal cases. An ongoing exhibition at the New-York Historical Society (through April 19, 2015) excavates intriguing materials to document the history of these conflicts, drawing on cartoons, adversarial proceedings in immigration offices and family archives to tell heart-rending stories.
Opinions from period voices track the evolution of attitudes. The African-American statesman Frederick Douglass summons the ultimate American vision of inclusion formulated shortly after the end of slavery: “The voice of civilization speaks an unmistakable language against the isolation of families, nations and races, and pleads for composite nationality as essential to her triumphs.” Continue reading
Since 2013 the Rockefeller Foundation has been celebrating its 100th Anniversary with a focus on resilience, a theme devised to match its mission of global engagement with big problems. Judith Rodin, the president of Rockefeller Foundation has even found time to write a whole book, The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong. Mayor de Blasio has an Office of Resilience and Recovery run by Daniel Zarrilli, and New York has won a place in the 100 Resilient Cities Project which is trying to build stronger urban systems to resist catastrophes before they happen. But the waters are rising, and New York has been drenched again and again. Can human actions defy the cycle of damage and the predictions of future devastation proclaimed with every conference on climate change and disaster’s aftermath? Continue reading
The artist Marisol Escobar sculpts figures that are big and blunt, or bright and shiny, or whimsical and eerie. She has been called a New Realist, a surrealist and a Pop artist. Born in 1930 of Venezuelan parents, her friends and companions and mentors have included Hans Hofman, Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning.
The current exhibition at New York’s El Museo del Barrio is on view till January. Traveling from the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Tennessee, the exhibit features some terrific portraits, juxtaposed with works on paper that reveal a slanted take on the family. Curator Marina Pacini has selected a brilliant sample of Marisol works to reveal the streak of pain underpinning the dazzling surfaces. Continue reading
Snazzy musical numbers, snappy dialogue and souped-up friction between bureaucrats and scientists make Atomic: The Idea that Shook the World a sizzling treatment of the history of the Manhattan Project.
Leo Szilard is not the best-known maker of the Atomic Bomb but his dramatic story highlights the high-pressure situation from 1936 to 1945. The play’s run off-Broadway at the Acorn Theater ties to a surge of public interest in the Cold War era. This week is the 75th anniversary of the August 2, 1939 Einstein-Szilard letter to Pres. Roosevelt alerting him to the necessity to move quickly to beat the Nazi regime to the development of an awesomely powerful new weapon. Continue reading
Cold warriors of the 1950s achieved one of their most macabre victories by frying Ethel Rosenberg in the electric chair, not for sharing atomic secrets, but simply as leverage to coerce her husband Julius to reveal sources.
Joan Beber’s play, “Ethel Rosenberg Sings: The Unsung Song of Ethel Rosenberg” at the Beckett Theatre until July 13th probes gender politics and personal story. This lively and intelligent exploration doesn’t flinch at setting Ethel’s story to music, since as a smart Jewish girl from the Lower East side bursting to escape the confines of immigrant horizons Ethel (Tracy Michaelidis) saw herself on stage “hitting a high C.” Undercover Productions and Perry Street Theatricals give this rendition of “straight from the spy files” of history an imaginative twist by framing it with prison politics and interracial casting that bounces the themes in an echo chamber of past and present. Continue reading
Bells ringing from a forest of steeples, horseshoes striking cobblestones, boat whistles in the harbor, Yiddische mamas scolding children from tenement windows. These are instantly recognizable noises that evoke a historical time and place, adding up to what today’s historians sometimes call a “soundscape.”
In today’s cities when the most characteristic sound may be the giant crash of falling brick walls as old buildings are demolished, soundscapes are a precious way of experiencing history outdoors. This heritage is particularly relevant in urban settings where so many layers of the city have gone missing. Continue reading
Quietly, a line of singers circled a lone tree on the edge of the Harlem River, in the shadow of the 145th Street Bridge, late Sunday afternoon on September 29. The group swelled in numbers as the shadows lengthened. Hums, moans, soft cries and low tones began to form a chorus of spirit noises as the performance “Saved” got underway. Continue reading
Rosewood Lion. India. Clinton Howell Antiques
Lions, toucans, dolphins, dogs, cocks, — critters galore tread the echoing halls of the Park Avenue Armory in this year’s annual Spring Show, NYC of Art and Antiques.
Made of glass, paint, leather, rosewood, bronze, silver and precious jewels these fanciful creatures are testimony to the enduring pleasures of the animal kingdom as a theme in art and design. And since the ASPCA is the sponsor and even beneficiary of a portion of some sales at this year’s event, tracking the artistic fauna forges a trail through the riches of an extravagant spring ritual. Continue reading
Victoria Woodhull 1828-1927
Love was too important to be left in the hands of the state, thought Victoria Woodhull. And she said so, at Steinway Hall just off Union Square in New York City in 1871, speaking to a packed audience on the principle of “social freedom,” the code word for the right to choose your sexual partners.
“Yes, I am a free Lover, I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long a period as I can, to change that love every day if I please.” The audience went wild. Continue reading
Gordon Parks bought his first camera in a pawn shop and got his first real photography job at the New Deal’s Farm Security Administration (FSA).”American Gothic,” his bold arrangement of a White House cleaning lady with a mop in front of a flag, got him in trouble on his first assignment.
As a multifaceted creative artist, Parks stacked up firsts again and again in a long career that has been seeing numerous tributes over the past year. 2012 was the 100th anniversary of his birth, and exhibits are still underway. Continue reading
On New Year’s Eve the cigar smoke was thick on the sidewalk in front of the famed jazz club, the Lenox Lounge. Men in tuxes and women in clingy gowns stepped out of white stretch limos, three deep on Malcolm X Avenue, a.k.a Lenox Avenue in Harlem, as blue notes popped from the chromed doorway.
A huge bejeweled crowd could be glimpsed dancing and drinking through the wide octogon window. Continue reading
Scape Studio. Plan for Oyster Reefs in NY Harbor
As people blow dry the mold from basement walls and vacuum Sandy from corners and carpets, city activists gathered in a forum sponsored by the Municipal Art Society and Columbia University’s Center for Urban Real Estate, called “Sink or Swim: Waterfront Restoration in a Post-Sandy Era.”
Columbus steers over Central Park
The enormous thirteen-foot tall explorer is steering the Santa Maria
right over Central Park. Tatzu Nishi’s “Discovering Columbus” allows visitors to climb 75 feet up the column in Columbus Circle to see the famous statue up close. Nishi has surrounded it with a living room stage set, furnished with modern accoutrements from Bloomingdale’s, that gives a truly odd twist to the experience of seeing the pock-marked monument set atop a coffee table.
Controversy over Gertrude Stein continues to fester and boil, even after the great public acclaim for the Metropolitan Museum’s The Steins Collect show. Michael Kimmelman’s review in the New York Review of Books (“Missionaries,” New York Review of Books, April 26, 2012. also his July 12 letter in response to criticism) revived old charges that Gertrude was a Nazi sympathizer. Kimmelman gave an overview of the exhibition, which focused on the early years of the Leo and Gertrude Stein in the ebullient art scene in Paris. Continue reading
As downtown Manhattan assesses damage, more specifics are being reported, especially in low-lying Zone A. The Museum of the City of New York (MCNY), which is running the South Street Seaport Museum ,says that the storm surge waters soaked drawers of metal type in the Bowne and Co., Stationers. Continue reading
Hurricane Sandy’s damage to historic areas was concentrated along the waterfronts, islands and harbor in the New York area. Information is quite sparse at present, since power is still lacking in many places, and officials have not made damage assessment tours. Continue reading
As New Yorkers still struggle without power in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it plunges us right into the heart of a discussion about the historic waterfront. Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Vision for the 21st Century, proclaimed in 2002, the crumbling infrastructure along the Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfront that once served the port of New York should be harnessed for a variety of development schemes. Continue reading
Armory Armoire. Carol Hepper
Architectural white elephants are a specialty of large urban areas, and armories form a particular subset of these: rife with possible new uses, dauntingly expensive to reclaim. In recent years New York City’s Park Avenue Armory Conservancy has refurbished its 1881 building and turned it into an exciting new space.
Its theatre programs have featured amazing performances with audiences moving on rails for Die Soldaten, or viewing the vast Peter Greenaway multimedia interpretation of Leonardo’s Last Supper. Dance companies, concerts and artistic programs are flourishing and a partnership with the Williamsburg, Brooklyn Art and Design High School gives high school students access to a historic preservation program. Continue reading
DuMond House, Hurley, 1690
The town of Hurley — or what’s left of it after the Ashokan Reservoir sent much of the sprawling township to a watery grave — celebrated its 350th anniversary on September 15th. Jazz, roasted corn, artichokes marinated in white wine with chunk style garlic, and merry shouts of the kids popping balloons and reenactors popping muskets filled the air with smells and sounds of festivity. Continue reading
1853 Singer Sewing Machine
Material culture stormed the British airwaves several seasons back when the BBC broadcast “A History of the World in 100 Objects.” Accompanied by a popular website which actually allows listeners to see images of the objects selected from the world class collections of the British Museum, the series fed an untapped appetite for history in small bites. Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum observed “Telling history through things is what museums are for.” Continue reading