Friday, February 27, 2009

Rock Me Like a Hurricane

We have a truly incredible new addition to this city, by one of the most talented architects around at this point. It's the new Armani store at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Sixth Street by Doriana & Massimiliano Fuksas, which opened last week. It's Fuksas' first completed project in New York, and I couldn't be happier that he's made it here. Evidently I'm not the only person to feel that way, because all week they've had visitors stopping by just to look at the interiors, if not to shop.

--All Armani images courtesy Studio Fuksas.
I was hoping to get my own photos of the store, but that's prohibited, unless I want to travel down the long, bumpy road of dealing with Armani Corporate's PR department. Luckily, it was photographed beautifully by the Fuksas people, and I'm not convinced I'd have taken significantly different shots, myself. The employees were extremely nice and helpful, though, perfectly willing to chat with me and offer advice ("take the elevator to the top and walk down"), information, and their impressions. Most of them seem to really adore working in such a stunning space. I know my own reaction every time I climb the similarly, albeit not as elaborately sculptural stairs at the Metropolitan Opera. As many hundreds of times as I have, I never get sick of it.
--Photo courtesy New York Cliché.
The grand gesture of the whole thing, which everyone is buzzing about, is of course the staircase. Fuksas conceived it as a whirlwind sweeping up through the center of the space and thereby connecting all the different levels. 
A second, smaller staircase down to the lower level greets the visitor right upon entering the front door, but this is only an hors d'oeuvre.
The real magic happens further inside.

On the ground floor, it reads more or less like a true spiral. 
It gradually widens as it reaches the top floor, stretching and elongating its lines like gloriously white pulled taffy. 

This as much as anything amplifies the drama of the procession up or down the stairs. Every step offers a whole different perspective, lines converge and diverge; its forms continuously shift making the experience ceaselessly intriguing. 
It was constructed in sections with a tube metal frame covered with steel mesh and then sealed with what, according to the press release, sounds like a kind of polymer resin. 
It was then brought in in pieces, and assembled on site like a giant puzzle.

If I had to find something, I'd say I wished the concept had been more fully integrated into the spaces on either side of the staircase. There was a wonderful design opportunity presented by this tornado that could have extended into the layout of the adjacent spaces, even the furnishings. Wind-swept walls and displays cast out from the spiraling wind storm. Ramps and stairs permeating through the volume, undulating sensuously from level to level and morphing into shop floors. Continuing the spiral out into the surrounding spaces would've helped it feel more like a cohesive part of the whole interior. I'm particularly thinking of another very recent project by UNStudio, which I feel accomplished this beautifully: their MUMUTH Music Center in Graz, Austria. At Armani, the staircase instead reads as a somewhat isolated sculptural event stuck into an otherwise commonplace stack of shop floors. 
Granted, some of the display cases respond directly to the curves of the stair, but they border on looking like a forced afterthought.

On the other hand, perhaps the staircase becomes considerably more dramatic because of its singular feel in the design. The angular, without question beautifully designed display racks and relatively rectilinear floor arrangements create a foil, a simple backdrop against which the highly sculptural staircase can truly reverberate. It stands posed in the center of the towering volume like a gorgeous runway model in an exquisite Armani gown, frozen in time. Its sinuous curves ribbon and fold and drape down around one another as if perfectly tailored to do so. 
And in its defense, perhaps an entire store treated to this kind of folly would be far too overwhelming, disorienting, and distract from the merchandise--though I do believe a careful handling of surface textures and materials could have counteracted that--the architecture already threatens to upstage the clothing, as it is.
If you find yourself in the neighborhood, I highly recommend stopping in to see this majestic interior. I only glanced at the menu, but the café looks delicious, refined, and very classy. 
That's if you need a culinary excuse to go.

Armani Fifth Avenue
Doriana & Massimiliano Fuksas, 2009

©2009, Ryan Witte

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cities in Flux

This recent article in The Atlantic by author, Richard Florida is really one of the most thorough, insightful, well-researched, and in the end, hopeful descriptions of what Depression II will mean to this country. It's a bit of a long read, but I highly recommend it. As much as I dreaded the implications of what I was thinking, in a be careful what you wish for sort of way, I have long believed that New York needed a major calamity to restore it to what it once was. One might have thought 9/11 would have been sufficient. But Dubya told everyone to just go out and shop, and people from the backwoods of Mississippi who think the island of Manhattan is populated solely by freaks, deviants, and mortal sinners suddenly started going around wearing I ♥ NY t-shirts with some kind of temporarily manic patriotism.

It will be tough for me to describe without you hearing it in the voice of a crotchety old man whose tirade begins with "baaack in myyy daaay..." and I'm sure everyone who sees the evolution over a span of decades to some degree longs for the way things were. Don't get me wrong, I've seen a lot of exciting changes, too. It's still mildly tragicomic to think how different a place this was when I first started spending a lot of time here--around 1990--and moved here to stay a year later.

A walk east from Noguchi's Cube at Astor Place after dark was a singular adventure. St. Mark's Place was a string of grimy little fetish clothing stores and dusty punk record shops lined with unwashed panhandling squatters with rainbow Mohawks and their girlfriends with too many piercings. "Um, Punk is almost as old as I am, time to move onI'd think to myself, and rumors that many were the product of cozy upper-class suburban families just trying to be "edgy" and "stick it to the man" led to a feeling of contempt at the hypocrisy of their lifestyle. But when they were gone, replaced by marauding hoards of drunken NYU frat boys with their white baseball caps turned backwards hunting for their next date-rape victim, I really started to miss Mohawk Guy and Piercings Girl. At least they were there. At least they weren't Gap clones. And even if Punk had become formulaic, at least they were trying to be somewhat counter-cultural.

I don't hold NYU in the highest regard, anyway. First they wanted to tear down Edgar Allen Poe's historic house on Washington Square to build some bland dormitory monstrosity. They were prevented, but then they did succeed in tearing down one of the greatest monuments to New York's Music History for a bland dormitory monstrosity: the Palladium. Not only was it one of the best club spaces I'd seen, it was also one of the most extraordinary places I'd been. The room for the main dance floor was enormous, you'd look up into the soaring expanse of the hall, and hanging from the ceiling were two giant golden cupids that seemed to be hovering weightlessly in mid-air. The Doors played there along with countless other incredible acts over the years, and it was the last remnant of what was once New York's great theater district. I wouldn't have minded quite as much if the building NYU put up in its place had been exemplary architecture, but I guess that was asking too much.

Of course we got over to Avenue B, but really, you just didn't go any farther than that. Avenue D was like an uncharted wilderness of mystery and unknown dangers. Even as late as, say, 1995, I got mugged between First and A after hours (it was no big deal, I didn't have much on me and wasn't hurt at all--my feeling is "if he's resorting to this, he clearly needs this $40 more than I do"--he made an obviously empty threat, I said "whatever, I don't have anything else," and walked away). Now there's just about nowhere on the entire island of Manhattan that you can't safely go. "So...where's the problem?" you ask. One has to consider what this means in terms of the cost of living and how that affects the character of the city.

I had friends who shared an apartment on Eleventh Street between A and B. It was the entire floor, and this was no railroad layout. You walked into an entryway, a giant hallway between the two ends of the apartment. It was probably eight-feet wide if it was a foot, and practically a room unto itself. They had two full bathrooms, at least one of which had a sort of cheap Jacuzzi-style tub. Their kitchen/ living room area was probably as big as my entire apartment is now, and this is one of the biggest places I've ever lived. The two bedrooms together took up about the same amount of space at the other end. You know how much rent they were paying per month? $1000.

One thousand dollars. Very literally, I don't even think you could rent a closet for $1000 in Manhnattan now. The same goes for nightlife. There is no place for small, underground clubs and bars that can bring in new and innovative acts. It's just not cost-effective. No little storefront art gallery can last with up-and-coming young artists. The vast majority of them have been cast out into the outer boroughs. In Manhattan, it's either a big, bland, corporate affair or it's just not going to survive. 

Everybody was so glad when they cleaned up Times Square, and granted, it is safer, but at what cost? Being there at night, when it's as bright as noon and everywhere you look is in constant, vibrant, high-tech motion, I'm convinced I'm in the very center of the universe. But I avoid it like the plague. What's there for me? Musicals stolen from Disney films, musicals stolen from John Waters films, musicals lamely patched together from songs by ABBA, songs by Billy Joel, songs by Johnny Cash, songs by Lieber & Stoller...and by the way, just how many more of these half-assed excuses for a Broadway show do we really need? Doesn't anybody actually write their own music anymore? And what happened to the likes of Tommy and Hair? Virgin. Gap. Disney Store. Old Navy. Starbucks. Olive Garden. If I really wanted this crap, I'd live in the suburbs and shop at the mall. I hate malls, and I have no use for corporate clones. That's why I live in New York and not the suburbs. 

The only other redeeming element I've found is Sam Ash, which is still the best store for musical supplies in the city. When required to visit, I dread the fifteen minutes it takes me to navigate shuffling, morbidly obese, picture-taking tourists and their seven children down every block. A little danger would be good for this city. We wouldn't lose our tourist trade, it would merely be concentrated into discrete and avoidable pockets, leaving the rest of us an oasis of our own. A little more diversity would be even better, to make this the vibrantly creative place it used to be. We'd been the absolute apex of the global art world at least since the 1940s, and I can't help but blame Guiliani for all but destroying New York's ability to welcome and support a creative underground.

It's ironic, too, because most people from the middle of the country still have this sense of terror that death awaits them around every corner of the city, even though our crime rate is far lower than the cities from where most of the American tourists come. The Atlantic article points to Detroit, which, not surprisingly, has one of the worst crime rates in the country. The author suggests the possibility that Detroit and cities like it could very well become ghost towns unless something radical is put into place, perhaps as a result of the government bailout. It seems strange to consider a city of that size being just completely abandoned. How long does it take a city to crumble to dust? The Roman Coliseum is still more or less standing, after all.

©2009, Ryan Witte

Friday, February 13, 2009

Neck Sculpture

I had sort of told myself that I wouldn't be going too far in the direction of Fashion Design here. I figure there are enough people discussing it in alternately sappy and intelligent ways everywhere you look. Granted, jewelry is a different art form altogether, but it's definitely a close cousin. I think the recent show at the Metropolitan Museum deserves a post, however, because it's the work of Alexander Calder. I'm struck again by the synchronicity of this show chasing the tails of the one at the Whitney, but it was inspired by the donation of four of Calder's elaborate necklaces to the Met in 2006 and started out its tour at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. Nonetheless, it complements the Whitney's show beautifully. The press release calls this the very first show focused solely on his jewelry. I'd say it was about time.

Bracelet (1948)
--All photos courtesy the Met.
He made his first jewelry at the age of eight, and continued throughout his career, but the majority of the pieces in the show are from the 1930s and '40s. The year of 1940 seems to have been especially prolific. They became extremely popular and sought-after, with good reason. His designs had to have been disgustingly hip in the '40s, the simpler pieces included, even if they hadn't been by a renowned artist.
Bracelet (1945) and Bracelet (1940)
Apparent in his jewelry, much more than in his sculpture, is how strongly influenced Calder was by Primitivism. A good number of the pieces have an obvious African tribal sensibility to them.
Necklace (1940)
The larger necklaces are so conceptual and huge, as the exhibition text notes, they make the wearer a living artwork herself, almost a work of performance art, and compete with her other garments for the spotlight.

Necklace (1940)
The most impressive pieces have protrusions that fully cantilever off the wearer's body into the surrounding personal space. From them dangle perfectly balanced metal bars that tilt and sway and swing whenever the person moves.
The Jealous Husband (1940)
I'd find it hard to believe guests at a cocktail party would be able to talk about anything other than the Calder necklace this woman was wearing.

Bracelet (1940)
The only thing I could possibly bring myself to find wrong with this exhibition is that I wish it were larger. It takes up only two relatively small rooms of the Modern wing. It's a good number of pieces, and so inspiring in its unique perspective on one of my favorite artists, it left me wanting more.

©2009, Ryan Witte

Monday, February 9, 2009

Plastic Art

Now on view at the Whitney is a smart little show by curator, Carter E. Foster called Synthetic, all about the introduction of new media--namely acrylic paint--in the 1960s. It's only fourteen pieces from the permanent collection on display on the second floor, but it's very tightly controlled and nicely done. Here are some of my favorites.

Frank Stella, Gran Cairo (1962, synthetic polymer)
--Image courtesy
I really like this period in Stella's career, a bit more than his late works which to me seemed to get a bit messy. When I stare into the center of this canvas, my brain wants to see in perspective, like a series of different colored apertures extending back into space to a vanishing point. His use of color facilitates this because he runs through the color spectrum, from indigo to red and then reverses it back to indigo. The color spectrum is a pre-existing phenomenon with its own physical characteristics, outside of this painting. Since he goes from indigo to red and back again not once, but twice, he's setting up a pattern of movement that one would expect continues past both the outer edges of the canvas, and further off into the distance, past the conceptual vanishing point. There's also not a single visible brushstroke; the applied paint is extremely flat, increasing the impression of pictorial representation as opposed to the physicality of the paint.

A few moves draw a sharp contrast to this, though. First of all, in between each of the bars of color he's left the raw canvas exposed, drawing attention to the fact that this is, indeed, paint on canvas. He's also left visible the pencil lines that demarcate the bars, again calling attention to the process rather than the resulting image. Another aspect is that the canvas is perfectly square, and therefore intimately connected to the forms of the image. The squared off bars of color are virtually inseparable from the physical object of the canvas onto which they've been painted.

Roy Lichtenstein, Little Big Painting (1965, oil and synthetic polymer)
While Lichtenstein really was one of the first artists to venture into Pop, only to be overshadowed by Warhol a couple of years later, and I respect his innovativeness, I've never been a huge fan of his comics work. This painting, however, is just brilliant. To represent the act of applying paint with a brush as a graphic symbol, but executed in paint, is working on so many different levels. It's like two mirrors facing each other, their reflections going on into infinity. What's interesting about it, also, is that some of Lichtenstein's brushstrokes are visible in this piece. There's this complicated conflict between seeing the real brushstrokes that make the painting a three-dimensional object and the fact that they have to disappear in order to see the symbolic representation of brushstrokes, which is conceptually thoroughly two-dimensional. This would be far less interesting had he painted, for instance, an enlarged photorealistic image of brushstrokes. The fact that the symbolic brushstrokes are cartoonish amplifies their complete two-dimensionality.

Lynda Benglis, Contraband (1969, pigmented latex)
--Photo courtesy artnet. This is not exactly the same version on display at the Whitney, but conceptually, they're indistinguishable.
The title of this piece is probably very telling. The most interesting thing about this, in my opinion, is that the medium hasn't been applied to a surface object. Rather, the medium is the one and only object. Is that what the "contraband" is? A medium that should have no place in the oil-dominated traditions of painting? Or is it a woman creating artwork in a male-dominated field? In this way, the work becomes the most intimate expression of the artist, herself, and her relationship to the exigencies of her field. Is the canvas a phallic symbol in and of itself, upright, rigid, penetrating the gallery space and staking aggressive claim to its embracing wall expanses? Doesn't any work of art do that, including this one, staking claim to a part of the floor? It's laid down flat, prostrate, and can be removed at will. It speaks of a certain weakness or at least fragility in the sense that paint applied to canvas has made a permanent mark that cannot be removed. This is especially acute next to the piece by Morris Louis, whose washes of color have soaked right into the canvas, becoming one with it. On the other hand, if one approaches the gallery floor as the "canvas" onto which this medium is applied, then there's a great strength in its flexibility. This piece is not attached to one canvas, but can stake its claim to any space, anywhere with equal success.

Chuck Close, Phil (1969, synthetic polymer)
--Image courtesy smag.
This is Philip Glass, the Minimalist composer, for anyone who wouldn't recognize him. The two of them had been good friends after meeting in 1964; the photograph was taken four years later. Glass composed A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close in return. The Metropolitan Opera, incidentally, incorporated Close' portraits into their launch of Glass' Satyagraha, which is beautiful, and showed a bunch of them in the Schwartz Gallery.

Glass was unknown at the time, and Close says he didn't want to be painting famous people like Warhol was. With this one he really becomes one of the first Photorealists, because it was about the conflict between the sharp precision of the photographic image and the free expressiveness of the paint used to replicate it (or lack thereof). I actually find some of his later work to be more interesting, because Close to the paintings, it's so impossible to determine what the image is; you have to step back a few feet. But proximity is a central theme for all of them. With this one, since it is such a relatively undistorted translation of the photograph, I tried to slowly pull back until I'd gotten far enough away from the piece that I could no longer tell that it was paint applied with a brush. It's in a smaller room, and with my back against the opposite wall--possibly twenty-five or thirty feet away--I was almost far enough, but not quite; certainly the knowledge that it is a painting clouds my perception of it. I couldn't really get Close enough to this canvas that it wouldn't read like the gigantic image of Philip Glass, which is quite different from my experience of his other works.

Nonetheless, Close's work addresses beautifully fundamental aspects of painting: the nature of seeing, perception, representation, and interaction with the works. One has to have a very specific and guided locational relationship with the work, as a body in space, as a figure/ spectator in the gallery environment, in order to find that transitional moment between the physical painting and the subject it represents.

Next to the Chuck Close was a piece by Joe Zucker called Merlyn's Lab (1977). It's chunks of cotton soaked in synthetic polymer and stuck onto the canvas to create a sort of chopped up landscape. It's just downright ugly and I don't want to talk about it. Yes, I realize words like "ugly" have absolutely no place in discourse on art. I thought for this show a much better choice than the Zucker would have been an artist I discovered many years ago at one of the Fifty-Seventh Street galleries. His canvases were huge and he used the most enormous globs of, I believe, acrylic paint. So enormous, they looked like they'd been squeezed out of a paint tube twenty times larger than normal. His colors were fascinating and many of the paints were iridescent or metallic, in colossal textures; the globs stuck out from the canvas nearly three or four inches. It was like a close-up view of an abstract expressionist painting blown up to a much larger scale. It's been a long time since I saw these pieces, and I couldn't find the artist in my files, but his work was amazing. If anyone knows the artist to whom I'm referring, please refresh my memory.

Peter Halley, The Acid Test (1992, synthetic polymer)
I really loved this one. This image doesn't half do the piece justice, the colors are so disturbingly vivid that it's almost painful to look at it. Each block of color appears to be on its own individually stretched canvas, and then perfectly, precisely assembled together like a puzzle. The two largest fields of orange and blue have a nubbly texture of Roll-a-Tex. The surrounding panels are entirely flat and uniform.

Halley's work would seem to be about flows of visual, aural, or narrative information and how that information is disseminated, collected, and processed. A very narrow and extremely simplified vocabulary of industrial, architectural, and electronic symbolism is treated to complex color relationships to describe uniquely specific ways of seeing and emotional reactions to what is being experienced. It's an unfortunately convoluted way to describe what he's doing, but his work is a bit difficult to categorize. In this piece, the two largest "cells" are open entities with a good number of "conduits" flowing from and around them. The colors are somewhat exuberant from his palette. Considering other titles of his works like Nirvana, Stairway to Heaven, and Beck, my best guess is that, in addition to the obvious LSD connotations, this refers to the Canadian rock band, Acid Test who toured with Nine Inch Nails and appeared prominently in the film Highway 61, which was released right around the time he started work on this painting.

Cory Arcangel, Super Mario Clouds v2k3 (2003, hacked Super Mario game cartridge)
The most recent piece in the show is a fantastic addition because it's basically a medium that couldn't even have been imagined in the 1960s or earlier. Arcangel hacked the first Super Mario, giving this a delicious Lo-Fi quality. While quite a bit more peaceful and serene, it very much reminds me of circuit bending, which is what happens when uber-nerds take way too many drugs and discover their old toys, or the sounds of Ate Bit, who've created entire EPs using only a Gameboy. Wonderfully full-circle about the inclusion of this work, in a very Pop sort of way, these clouds are much like the background music of Super Mario, which has permanently and inexorably seared itself into most of our brains. One look at them and I imagine 99% of museum visitors instantly recognize where they've seen those clouds before.

©2009, Ryan Witte

Monday, February 2, 2009

Alice's Facelift and Other Sounds

It looks like I will soon be giving tours at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, in addition to giving them at Lincoln Center. I'm very excited to be a part of their team and will likely start appearing there in March. I'm particularly excited about their new show, Fashioning Felt, all about the history of and new design work with...felt. It will also be wonderful to be able to work in a place as stunningly beautiful as Andrew Carnegie's mansion.

Speaking of Lincoln Center, I finally got over to see inside the new Alice Tully Hall.
--Photo courtesy the NYTimes.
It really is absolutely gorgeous. I had my camera with me, but I was fairly certain I'd be forcibly booted out the door if I dared take any pictures. It's coming along great, but there's still a lot of construction work being done in the lobby itself--that is, saws and workbenches and things in there--and it will need to just be cleaned up a lot before February 22nd. Nevertheless, I am just as impressed as everyone else with what Diller Scofidio + Renfro has done with it. The smooth, sensual shapes of the auditorium are wonderful. The backstage amenities are evidently drastically improved. They had run out of money the first time around, so it was a little bit cramped down there. For the renovations they actually blasted away a bunch of bedrock to enlarge the underground facilities.

I also got to see them tuning up the panels on the sides of the stage enclosure. They turn 180° to reveal a felt surface--coincidentally a project that will allegedly be on display at the Cooper-Hewitt--that will improve the acoustics for amplified sound as for film screenings. I heard no music, but I did my own little resonance test with a couple hand claps. It's a smooth drop and a good long dissipation time, maybe around a second and a half or a little longer, lovely for chamber music. 

[By the way, this woman is patently an idiot who doesn't understand the first thing about acoustics and obviously thinks she's very, very sassy for nit-picking every last stupid detail. Of course they've still got bugs to work out. You couldn't possibly do something like this without a little fine-tuning after the fact. Unknowns are the Siamese twin of Innovation.]

Of concern to me is the fate of a couple of the artworks there. A coworker told me about it ahead of time, and I did in fact find the alcove for the portrait of Tully, herself. With the newly wide open glass walls of the lobby, they needed to do something to protect it from the glaring sun, so it's recessed quite a few feet back. Not the prominent position it once had, but entirely acceptable under the new circumstances.

It's Alice Bigelow Tully and her little dog, too, and was painted by Thomas Buechner in 1987.
Tully (1902-1993) was a pilot in the Civil Air Patrol during WWII, which I think is very cool. Women weren't really pilots all that often back then. I actually had to look at their family tree to figure this all out, thanks very much to the nice folks at the Corning Glass Archives. For anyone who doesn't know, she was the granddaughter of Amory Houghton, Jr. ("hoten"), whose father founded Corning Glass Works...i.e. buttloads of money. Amory, Jr.'s neice was the Suffragette Katherine Martha Hepburn, who started Planned Parenthood, and her daughter was, of course, Katherine Hepburn, the actor. That makes actor Katherine Hepburn Alice Tully's second cousin or something like that; I can't quite be sure of what you'd call that relation. Amory, Jr.'s grandson, Tully's first cousin, Arthur Houghton, Jr. was vice-president of Lincoln Center.

Wait, it keeps going.

Under the guidance of Arthur, Jr., Harrison & Abromovitz, architects of the Metropolitan Opera and Avery Fisher Hall respectively, designed the Corning Glass Building (1959). It was said to be the most advanced use of a glass curtain wall at the time, appropriately enough, and the first glass skyscraper to go up on Fifth Avenue.
--Photo courtesy New York Architecture Images, and coincidentally, right behind it you can see the AT&T Building by Philip Johnson, who did the third of the central theaters of Lincoln Center, the New York State/ David H. Koch Theater.

Buechner (b. 1926) was the first director of the Corning Museum of Glass. In 1972, he was made president of the Museum, president of the Corning Glass Works Foundation, and president of Steuben Glass. He was later vice-president of Corning Glass. I can't imagine how he and Tully ever crossed paths! He wrote a book about Norman Rockwell in 1971. The subjects in his own portraits, Tully included, seem to have this sly little twinkle in their eye. It strikes me as sort of a cross between Rockwell and one of my all-time favorite portraitists, Franz Hals:

--The Laughing Cavalier (1624)
--Image courtesy AP Art History.

Tully had also gifted a bust, Beethoven a la Colonne (1910) by Émile-Antoine Bourdelle for which it shouldn't be too difficult to find a spot.  Bourdelle (1861-1929) was a student of Auguste Rodin and was obsessed by Beethoven. This was one of twenty imaginary portraits of the composer he created to explore the nature of Genius. There's another one of them, The Tragic Mask of Beethoven (1901), at the east end of the promenade level of Avery Fisher Hall. Édouard Colonne (1838-1910) was first violinist at the Paris Opéra for almost a decade and later became a well-known conductor. 

The one piece I'm maybe most worried about is the Yaacov Agam sculpture, Three X Three Interplay (1971):

--Really beautiful photo by Bernard Ente.
Most of you will remember it in its prominent spot at the top of the stairs heading to the old entrance to Juilliard, which...well...doesn't exist anymore. Lincoln Center is narrowing the traffic lanes and widening the sidewalks along Sixty-Fifth Street, so I insist there will be plenty of places where this one could go. Three has a crank at the base so the viewer can actually interact with it and turn the three stainless steel zig-zags around into different positions. Security guard's nightmare? Fiddlesticks. I very much hope, if they reinstall this, that they grease up the gears so it can be easily operated again. The fact that it can be manipulated by the viewer is the very thing that makes the piece such a clever addition to the Lincoln Center campus. I won't bore you with all my theories on why; regardless, it's important, and furthermore what the artist intended.

Agam was commissioned in 1985 to do a mural in the Port Authority Bus Terminal, but I've never been able to determine if it's still there or not. I don't really spend a whole lot of my free time wandering around Port Authority, though.

The piece I'm most hoping will return to Alice Tully Hall has such a delicious story behind it that I'm not going to tell it now, until I know for sure it's back on the wall again. You'll just have to come on my tour to hear it.

I also have a rant. I'm getting really sick of everybody jumping right onto the pissy bandwagon by using the phrase "acoustically challenged" before every mention of Avery Fisher Hall. Fisher is not acoustically challenged, and New York needs to just come to grips with it already. When the absolute master of his profession, acoustician Cyril Harris gutted and redesigned the auditorium in 1976, it became one of the best halls of its kind in the world. Irresponsible journalists who continue to perpetuate this misinformation are simply flinging around silly catch-phrases that have no basis in reality.

I refer you to an article by New York Times author, Will Crutchfield, presumably an unbiased listener. Not only did Crutchfield hear the same orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, playing at both Carnegie Hall and Fisher, but he also heard both Vienna and the New York Philharmonic playing the same piece, Sibelius' Fifth Symphony, at Fisher. This allowed him a great opportunity to triangulate the qualities of each hall, and overall he found Fisher's acoustics to be superior. Even the musicians agree. 

So some say it's not absolutely ideal for vocal performances. It was never intended to be. If you want to hear opera in the perfect venue, go to the Met; that's what the Met was designed for. Fisher was designed for instrumental music, and it's excellent for that. Not that vocalists sound bad, but that shouldn't even be under discussion in the first place. The blind, thoughtless worshipping of Carnegie--heavenly though it may be--and equally baseless condemnation of Fisher needs to stop now.

I was reminded of the talks there'd been to renovate Fisher, yet again, with designs by the great Sir Norman Foster, but the reasons for that weren't acoustic. It was because they'd been playing around with the idea to bring the stage out into the middle of the house, as their temporary set-up in summer has done. Some people preferred this arrangement because it brings everyone closer to the stage for a more intimate experience. I feel it's unnecessary and a waste of money. Tully has that intimacy, for those kinds of smaller performances of Mostly Mozart and so on. Fisher is about the grandeur of a huge symphony orchestra in all its glory, and it performs that role admirably.

©2009, Ryan Witte