Who remembers Aaron Burr as anything more than Quick Draw McGraw shooting down the near-sighted Alexander Hamilton at dawn in 1804? But there is much more to the man, as Gore Vidal revealed in his intriguing 1973 historical novel, and other subsequent scholarship.
Two aspects of Burr’s varied career stand out in today’s world. First, his treason trial that closely examined issues of what counts as an act of war against one’s own government. And second, his relationships with a series of highly intelligent and accomplished women, reflecting his high opinion of the female sex and its potential. Continue reading
The tragically short career of Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) has created a penumbra of martyred glory around his work. This must give him a chuckle wherever his spirit looks down on the shuffling hordes trekking to view his work reverently installed at the Brooklyn Museum.
Basquiat was born as a spray-can wielding street artist who liked mess, disorder and chaos. How different was he, when beatified by art gallery recognition and patron purchases? In his art world heyday he got his fine new designer clothes just as stained as his thrift shop threads from his early days. Continue reading
The digging, crashing, smashing and clanging will echo over the East River for a couple more years, as Cornell Tech builds a new campus on Roosevelt Island where the Goldwater Hospital stood since 1939.
The patients, many confined to wheel-chairs, have been moved to Coler Hospital at the North End of Roosevelt Island, or to the renovated old North General Hospital in Harlem (now the Henry J. Carter Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility). Continue reading
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