Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Road Trip Montreal and QC: Photos, Food, Gardens, Dinosaurs and Monster Trucks

We’ve only driven through Canada once on our way to a family reunion in North Dakota from Connecticut, crossing at Niagara Falls. The drive was uneventful, flat, boring and the roadside hotel room a filthy disaster. We refused to let that be our impression of the Northern territories.

On this next excursion we decided to visit Montreal and Quebec City and the experience was a 180˚ difference. Spending three nights at the Holiday Inn on Sherbrooke in the heart of Montreal was a good call. From Philadelphia it was a nine hour drive, unfortunately we hit 5:00 rush hour traffic coming into the city but easy to negotiate. We left the car parked for three days and could walk or use the subway. Montreal is like any mid-size city but with some obvious differences; 1) people speaking French Canadian 2) a ton of coffee and pastry shops and 3) a bicycle-share system with adequate cycling lanes and wide streets and very / pedestrian friendly. We arrived on Thursday evening, freshened up and hit the street looking for a restaurant on Carolyn’s hit list. Had a decent dinner at some posh restaurant on Saint Denis. The food was delicious but rather than splurge for dessert at the restaurant we decided on a nearby chocolate shop that serves drinking chocolate. I don’t like to spend all my money in one place, no matter how great the food or atmosphere, its good to change things up, spread out and have new experiences, an integral part of travel. Drinking chocolate is awesome and sitting outside in the cool night air lent itself to a warm delicacy. It may be a bit too heavy a dessert for some but most shops offer a wide selection of chocolates varying in sweet and darkness.

Montreal is a great town for walking. The shops are abundant along Rue Saint Denis and Saint Laurent. Plenty of places to eat, have a drink or sip of coffee. Most retail shops are open until 8:00 or 9:00pm on week nights and Saturdays. Plenty to see and do. One interesting observation is that a high end clothing store or home furnishing store is next to a much more affordable store. This creates a decent mix of people from all brackets of society. That delineation between poor, middleclass, and wealthy is a little less obvious. Overall it appears to raise the bar and disseminate a healthy form of social order through participation and observance.

For our extended weekend we rolled into town in the middle of Le Mois de la Photo á Montréal, The Space of the Images from September 10 – October 11th. The event is an international biennale on contemporary photography (includes video) that features 24 solo exhibitions and public space interventions by artists from 13 countries. Le Mois de la Photo á Montréal is an important event that brings together artists, curators and other specialists for exhibitions, conferences and forums. All the exhibitions look very interesting and we could only see a few. Three notable places where Vox, the originators of the biennale in 1989, showing a DVD by Yael Bartana (Israel and Netherlands) called Summer Camp + Awodah (2007) about an Israeli pacifist organization on Palestinian land where buildings had been demolished in 2006 and their effort to reconstruct.

Private commercial contemporary galleries Galerie Pangée www.galeriepangee.com/index.php?lang=en in cooperation with the Aperture Foundation in Vieux Montreal (the old city) had an excellent show Edge of Vision – The Rise of Abstraction in Photography. Included Ellen Carey, Michael Flomen, Charles Lindsay, Edward Mapplethorpe, Chris McCaw, James Welling and Silvia Wolf. Of these artists, all of which were accomplished, Chris McCaw’s Sunburn prints were very interesting. Using extended exposure times he is capable of burning linear patterns across the surface of the photo sensitive paper. The images are large black and whites and the process and apparent control is fascinating.

Michal Rovner had a retrospective at the DHC Art Foundation for Contemporary Art
http://www.dhc-art.org/ . The building itself, four floors, three dedicated to the exhibition with a skylight and open air shaft running down the backside of the glass elevator to the first floor allowed a decent amount of ambient light to illuminate each level. Exhibition spaces could be partitioned off and since much of Rovner’s work is video projected onto the surface of sculptural objects, the rooms had to be dimly lit. The exterior light imposed no problem. Each floor was thematically dedicated to a specific type of Rovner’s work, the top floor featuring some large still photographs and a DVD projection with seating. His work requires no critical or theoretical prefacing. The viewer ‘gets it’ immediately from the imagery an can choose to explore further. The DVD shows various large scale (up to 4 floors or more) urban office and store front projection installations that captures by passers on the street unawares and gathers their attention. Some of the performance/installation documentaries where politically overt, literal and set against rural arid open spaces running along patrolled borders usurped by the scale and elements of nature. The painstaking and methodical assembly of an square white stone open air structure roughly 12 -1 5 foot high with a door and central area that resembles a sanctuary is disassembled and reassembled in various locations across the globe. This was an beautiful, amazing and memorizing feat of engineering and patience that transcend Rovner’s other work with the human form as a metaphorical relation to microscopic behavior.

If searching out contemporary art The Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal located at the Place de Arts featured three excellent shows; 1) a group exhibition with Christine Davis, Adad Hannah and Franz West 2) Betty Goodwin: A Critical Survey through the Prism of the Musée Collection, and 3) Projections Series: Music Video featuring music videos directed by electronically savvy and creative artists. The Music Videos seemed to garner the most attention in the basement level by the book store. A huge cavernous space was illuminated by the work of Jaron Albertin, Arcade Fire, Battles, Jim Canty, Kaiser Chiefs, City and Colour, Patrick Daughters, Feist, James Frost, Dave Gahan, Emily Haines, Irena & Vojtech Havel, Thomas Köner, Vincent Moon, Vincent Morisset, OneInThree, Radiohead, UVA (United Visual Artists), Wild Beasts and Roel Wouters.
http://www.macm.org/en/index.html The show had us both transfixed for at least 40 minutes, but that is the nature of music videos, especially if they are done well, sucking you in to feed the ADD fall out of contemporary society that lurks within us.

Vieux Montreal, next to the shipping port and aquarium, is rather touristy but has some excellent galleries and great places to eat. The cobble stoned narrow streets and tightly packed store fronts has a European flare. There is a decent balance between old and new architecture. Red brick and crumbling stucco buildings are outfitted with contemporary interiors and innovative additions that reinvigorate and breathe life into otherwise heavy stone and mortar construction. Hundred year old buildings cross fade seamlessly into a metal, glass and fabricated additions, a beautiful extension of history both old and newly written. One of Montréal’s gems does not necessarily reside in a place, object or attraction but in its approach and procession to create a city that correlates in feel and look and is embodied in its communities. For the most part a conscious and respectful display of self interconnects with the clarity and design of the city.

The city is also known as a university / party town. McGill University is in the heart of it all at the base of the Parc Mont Royal. The city transformed on Friday and Saturday night as doors that during the day where shut and locked opened with crowds spilling onto the street. The lounges and beer houses were energized. Although there are a few stumbling and boisterous characters on the street, the trade off is a vibrant and thriving nightlife, a symbol of economic prosperity. It also makes for an enjoyable and entertaining walk back to the hotel. 

Saturday we checked out the Botanical Gardens. In any city we search out the gardens. It makes for a relaxing reprieve from the concrete jungle. The Gardens are next to the Olympic Park and stadium built for the 1976 Summer Olympics. This amazing sci-fi saucer building and tower with cables to retract the dome was an added bonus on our way to the gardens. I love the visibility of the tower from different vantage points in the garden. 

On the top of Carolyn’s list was Jean-Talon Market in the little Italy section of town. After a long afternoon walk in the botanical gardens a subway trip up to the market capped a perfect day. Rated as a #1 market in the northern hemisphere it did not disappoint with plenty of high quality food to eat. Talon is big but easy to see everything there is to offer. A local spot and very few tourists it was a great place to watch people on their daily rounds prepping their pantries for days ahead. We walked away with a basket of mixed berries, a couple of pastries, coffee and fresh bread. We walked back toward our hotel through the residential neighborhood. It’s very similar to Philadelphia row homes but split into two levels with black wrought iron or wood steps that lead from street level to terraces on the second floor.

Sunday we headed off to Quebec City but took a slight detour to the top of Parc Mont Royal. Along the route there are some spectacular views of the city. A great place to get out of the city. From the park it was a two hour drive to QC. Parked on the street and spent the afternoon around the Parliament building and Old City. This walled portion of town is very touristy and reminiscent of European streets extending to the banks of the Saint Lawrence River. Rue Saint-Louis takes you directly to Cháteau Frontenac and boardwalk like terrace, a central area for tourist activity with a great view of the river. Though just outside Old City along St Louis are several patio restaurants for a meal or drinks and soak up the afternoon sun. We opted not to stay in QC but a 15 minute drive on the countryside at a spa/hotel called Auberge Quatre Temps in Lac Beauport. I would recommend staying a couple nights at this place.

Next day, stopped to get gas along Highway 20 and were treated to a Dinosaur and Monster Truck show. It doesn’t get any better kitsch than this. Took a major detour through the Adirondack Mountains. The trees where just beginning to change. Checked out the Olympic ski area and stopped in Lake Placid for a walk to the lake and a cup of coffee. Looks like a great mountain town and a place where I could definitely spend some time. Very beautiful. From there it was a blaze back home driving until 1:00am. After many trips abroad I wanted to get a small compact car. It makes everything easier especially parking and maneuvering in a city. We bought a Scion XD and we love this car, small and stylish. I wanted to see how far I could stretch the gas mileage. On the highway the average was between 40 and 42 mpg (includes some drafting off passing trucks doing 75 – 80). Overall a great and relaxing 5 day road trip. 

Monday, September 28, 2009

NY Standard Hotel

Supper hot Standard Hotel and Highline Park on the West side. Carolyn and I went up for an evening retreat of cultural activities and decided to book a room at one of NY’s newest locations in the famed meatpacking fashion/nightlife district. We never know what to expect and have no expectations other than have a good time no matter what cards we are dealt. The reward for this traveling disposition was exceptional. We heard cynical and skeptical comments about the building from other architects and designers as being over designed, too hip, blah, blah.. Well, a thing is what it is and subjectively I did not find it that over the top. From the moment we walked through the yellow turnstile doors it was a comfortable experience and very unpretentious. It may be a subjective experience and depends on what you bring to the table and what baggage you arrive with (not the bags you packed). It is similar to walking a fashion runway from the front door through the lobby. Your destination is a one of several small desks that remind you of small airport and the staff is awesome, with there own unique style they immediately adjust to your demeanor and make you feel right at home. This is what a hotel experience should be like. You can tell it is a new space and staff adjusting to the accommodations but working outside your comfort zone and trying to get it right is what life is all about. It’s more interesting that way. They don’t have the “its not my job” attitude, the job gets done period and from our observation the people do enjoy working there. It was August, a hot muggy 90 degree day and the bell guy uniform was a pair of shorts, collared short sleeve dress shirt, and what looked to be a pair of brown Florsheim dress shoes. That closed the deal on my opinion of the place. A humane and comfortable solution and everyone is happier.

Once in the room, 14th floor, nice size with a queen bed, 32” flatscreen, I-Pod hook-up and an amazing floor to ceiling view of Manhattan and the Skyline Park below. The Standard seems to be famous for not only these spectacular views from the inside out but also at night for the outside in. If the guests are so kind as to not close the curtains, passersby on the street below can possibly catch an X and XXX show. An added bonus to spice up an otherwise puritan based society. The view and ambience created by the city lights was so inviting we slept with the curtains open.

The Meatpacking District and surrounding areas have a slew of great restaurants but we tried the hotel restaurant, The Standard Restaurant located on the ground floor just under the Skyline Park. Great food, great service. It seems to be the hottest spot in the area. The restaurant featured an outdoor bar and massive patio area and the place packed and energetic all night. As the night wore on the limo’s and flashy cars started rolling in. A great neighborhood for an after dinner walk. The people watching is phenomenal. A view of the elevated hotel from the street confirms the

The hotel has a small indoor lounge and in the evening, the doors open to an enclosed patio featuring cushy outdoor chairs, tables and ambient lighting, A fabulous place to hang and talk or possibly have a business meeting (not as noisy as the restaurant outdoor bar).

Awakening to 7:00am dawn light (lifted my head off the pillow and with one eye barely open caught a glimpse of the city, muttered a couple of complimentary words and my head hit the pillow for another hour). Once showered and dressed, had a croissant, fruit and coffee at a local French eatery we cruised Skyline Park. The elevated ex-train platform wraps its way past dilapidated brick warehouse buildings and cinderblock facades with interesting views of the waterfront and Chelsea neighborhood. Still under construction the park literally resides under a construction sight adjacent the Standard Hotel. From our room we had an interesting view of a concrete skeletal shell of a future hotel or office building. The project we are told is at a standstill due to financial constraints. I really enjoy buildings under construction. There is something about the raw and gritty reality of the object without its smooth polished skin. It’s a very textural reminder of how a city becomes and seeing a thing in a state of creative process is more interesting than the finished product. The most amount of information and experiential activity resides in the process. At night the bare bulbs lighting each floor awash the space in a beautiful somber and relaxed mood. 
By 9:00 am the park had a fair number of people. You can tell the architectural and design junkies from the typical tourists and locals. A lot of families, especially that early on a Sunday morning. There is distinct separation between the street below and park. Both exude there own characteristics. From sustainable tranquility with pockets of greenery to the hardened rough and dirty surfaces of a distant underworld. The park abruptly comes to an end with a chain link fence and the sight of future construction. A series of stairs are installed by a large billboard and parking lot with cars on lifts that extend to the height of the park, quickly bridges the two worlds, as you descend to the street below and back into the mayhem of NY.

If you get a chance, walk the park and check out the Standard. If you can spend a night, even better.

A good art exhibition to check out is the Dan Graham: Retrospective at the Whitney. The show is another confirmation that he is one of my favorite artists. Conceptual language and performance based art can sometimes come off as hokey. Graham is dead serious and does it very well. His mirror and reflective glass installations that intend to distort perception are very interesting and even more relevant today as architects are going to greater lengths to explore materials and physiological effects of spaces on there occupants. With advancements in architectural modeling and engineering through computer technologies buildings can organically twist move and shift to accommodate the perceptual gestalt of the participating community. Architecture is no longer an imposed art.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

MAD Noguchi

Some great New York picks to stimulate your creative side and push the parameters are the Museum of Arts and Design or MAD (great acronym) on Columbus Circle Manhattan and on the flip side or other side of the bridge at a complimentary pace is the Noguchi Museum in Brooklyn. Visiting the two places in the same day, only minutes apart afforded me the opportunity to make some interesting observations. There are more similarities than dissimilarities between the work being shown in either building.

Visiting MAD all floors had something amazing to offer (www.madmuseum.org). This place will get the creative juices flowing. The jewelry featured on the first floor in the Tiffany sponsored galley hits all levels but most impressive are the drawers installed beneath the glass cases that contain hundreds more necklaces, earrings and bracelets from all over the globe. Opposite that is a temporary exhibition guest curated by Karim Rashid called Totally Rad: Karim Rashid Does Radiators, showcasing some of the most unique and innovative methods by designers to heat your home or office. Most of the designs are counter to preconceived ideas of what and how a typical radiator operates and can be. Each one, in the right environment would be a sleek stealth fixture in any room, all operating as a form of minimal sculpture. My favorite radiator is by Stefano Ragaini called Ciussai, 2005, made of coiled stainless steel hose hanging from a metal hook on the wall. Its applications really push parameters. Depending on the length of the coil you can snake it through the room, under covers etc. and bring the heat directly to you. A fabulous and simple solution. The values are like bathroom fixtures and the hoses attach like a garden hose (simple screw on and off). For anyone messing with plumbing and moving a hundred pound plus radiator, this is magical.
At any exhibition I tend to gravitate, appreciate and love works that offer a solution or possibility to explore ideas in my own work. I also have an appreciation for low brow art and design, work within my own realm, of being able to copy or emulate and live with. Large monstrous installations and super size paintings or wall art can be and usually are no more thought provoking than smaller works. Size is a relative sometimes egotistical on the artist’s part believing that their work has some historical relevance and will be collected by cathedral like institutions for preservation. First the work needs to be good, and secondly museums collect to have a complete historical representation not because the work is necessarily good. I do like work that is within the scope, size and understanding of being human. It would be nice to come home to an eight foot tall painting but for most people and their homes it is unrealistic.  
The artist Sol Lewitt was very much into this communal and shared response to his own work. The scale of his work can vary and if you choose to investigate all the permutations of the geometry you can cover all the walls of your home. Even though he sold the instructions for his wall drawings at auction, he really encouraged people to go out and do there own drawings, to find beauty in the color and forms and on some level emulate his work. I think this is the sentiment of most artists and designers. To copy, to have someone emulate your own work and engage in the creative process and spirit is a real from of flattery and encouragement. It is education and enlightenment at its finest.

Works from MADs permanent collection are beautiful, complex and thoughtful (though not always contextual and meaningful of the time) emphasizing quality and craftsmanship over ideas and contemporary materials . Many of the works emulated everyday objects and applications such as bowls, vases, cups, baseball bats, human like figurines, etc. They are forms and objects that do not contend or move our thinking outside the life that we already know and emotionally relate and respond to. It is work that is on the cusp of design and/or art but not pushing the parameters of either discipline. Two works that stood out in this collection were Alya Serfaty’s Trust, 2008, made of transparent glass filaments encased in a polymer web.
 The description suggests we call it a “defining membrane” but beyond that it is an coral like wall sconce/sculpture and one of the most organic and delicate objects in the show. It alludes to being in a state of growth, ready to breathe and oscillate. Knowing the materials and viewing the soft and tranquil coagulations of the surface memorize like staring at clouds.

Currently Carolyn and I are searching for ideas to create an outdoor sculpture for our small garden. The second piece that grabbed our attention and presented a possibility was an open bowl like structure by Gyöngy Laky called Red Birds, 1988, assembled with pieces of red plastic coated electrical wire and twigs. It is the combination, process and transformation of common objects into something that is more than the sum total of its parts, one defining attribute of an aesthetic progression.

Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary on the fourth floor is a must see show at MAD. Every work in this exhibition stands alone as something extraordinary. Carlo Marcucci presents a Lewitt like super clean geometric wall hanging in a corner space made from squid ink spaghetti, noodles and wood. Crazy gold and silver plastic toys, ornate over the top super post-mod contemporary Roccoco sculptures by Hew Locke makes you take a second and third look at what the hell is going on with those things. You can’t help but smile. Subodh Gupta shows a Robert Irwin like ellipse, but without the illusion and guesswork. It is a half sphere 8 foot round, 36 inch deep armature attached to the wall with hundreds of polished stainless steel pots, cups, ladles, bowls, etc. One of my favorite artists is Tara Donovan, using thousand of stacked buttons to create a freestanding sculpture that looks like a 3-D topo map or some kind of stalagmite. Other feature works include a tire sculpture by Chakaia Booker and thousands of bottle caps, small pieces of metal and wire are used by El Anatsui to create a 96 x 324 inch wall hanging. Second Lives will help push anyone push the parameters with materials.

In contrast, after a bite eat in Columbia Circle with a view of the MAD building (nice piece of architecture, better interior layout than the New Museum) we headed across the bridge to the Noguchi Museum (www.noguchi.org). Since this was the Brooklyn studio of the famed sculptor Isamu Noguchi, he was responsible for much of the appeaance and grounds of the existing museum. In contrast to the sleek upscale style of MAD this building grounds a visitor in the fact that this was once an actual working studio space. A very budget conscious renovation that accomplishes just enough to show the work as Noguchi intended. We relate because there is a commonality and interconnection that forces one to not just look but participate, to dance in synchronization with the aesthetic rhythms and reverberations that the work emits. Noguchi knew when something worked, when he connected with nature, He polishes the stone surfaces but also leaves areas unpolished as to allow the work a place to escape, to free itself from control. These are the areas of absolute hope, of nature in its rawest state and it is at these points that nature connects with the work. Because he allows the stone and wood to appear as the materials that they are (not painting or blocking the surfaces) Noguchi’s art comes closest to competing with nature. Olafur Eliasson’s mechanized NY waterfalls were impressive on paper and print. Cropped and controlled the promotional photography made for interesting images but in person it was a huge effort for a small impact. The sum total did not exceed its parts. The waterfalls became unimpressive once experienced in the context of a vast urban landscape. But like any artist Eliasson has his hits and misses and Noguchi is no exception. His stone sculptures are human size and hold their own, giving nature a “run for its money.” Rather than compete with or emulate nature he compliments and extends its beauty. Working with and connected through the materials. He is one of those rare artists that deserve a bit more attention. His approach, ideas and art can be an important study in order to create and bring meaningful and proportionate objects into the world.

Though presented in two different venues the inventiveness, form and emotional response that is generated by Noguchi and much of the work displayed at MAD are very similar. Both resonate with a cool minimal approach that triggers serenity and contemplation through an extended investigation of form, material and construction. For design and art these are features that, beyond making blatant and overt political and social statements (a gimmick of shock and awe art), are timeless, energized and relate to, not only a human condition but an organic and living condition.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Look at the Organic Grid

While investing methods and tools on how to organize and set project parameters I came across a paper published on the internet by Edwin Tofslie, an Art Director and Designer, that defines a method of organizing and presenting information called the organic grid (tofslie.com/organicgrid.pdf). He uses the internet as an example of visual organic design where information is presented in a format that requires speed, efficiency and usability. The internet is essentially evolving into a tool that mimics the organic attributes of life and how as organisms we move and perceive the world. Tofslie points to another paper written by Benjamin Fry in 1997 on communication design (benfry.com/organic/thesis-0522d.pdf). Fry’s work is more in depth and provides examples that are overlooked from a purely visual perspective. The structure of the internet, when mapped at any given moment, supports a highly complex and dynamic system in a continual state of flux.

Fry’s, “research introduces a process of creating dynamic visualizations called Organic Information Design. This process was developed through the study and analysis of decentralized and adaptive systems, in particular, the traits of simple organisms…By examining how these features make an organic system effective, insight is gained into how to design a visualization that responds to and synthesizes data in a similar manner. The result of the design process is an Organic Information Visualization, a system that augments the perception of qualitative features dynamic data.”

He gets to the heart of the matter of mapping invisible interconnections that not only exist in nature outside the scope of our immediate senses but in the synthetically underlying designs of a technologically interfaced world.

In nature under the rubric cycle of life everything is contingent on everything else, meaning everything posses a necessary and dependent trait that substantiates its own existence. It is a Darwinian mechanism that internet and computer technology models ascribe. The straightest line to survival is to become interdependent. Yet that line is not necessarily straight and most often a series of tendrils leading to other things either giving or taking. A static grid does not have the ability to adapt, contain and map all the contingencies of dependency. An organic grid organizes biometrically akin to nature and is much easier to adapt to than one imposed by statistical and symmetrical uniformity.

Introduce the accretion process in nature where organisms replicate and combine to form something greater than the sum total of their parts. Every particle (atom, molecule, cell, leaf, star, solar system, etc.) is similar but not exactly identical, each possessing their own unique imperfections, hence our own unique features and identities. These imperfections are accentuated when an attempt is made to repeat an action. A personal signature transpires because it cannot occur the same way twice. This is a commonality that identifies the interconnection and interdependence we have with our environment.

Ironically as many designers and artists attest, to pursue a greater scope of possibilities parameters are set in advance to direct the decision making process. Recognizing and utilizing biometric methods of organization plays an important part in the outcome of my projects. To present ideas relating to accretion, a synthesizing process that can evolve infinitely, parameters or restrictions that guide my working processes are set in advance. Without deviation from the set parameters the work could be considered conceptual as defined by the artist Sol Lewitt. Parameters are structured around an organic grid most notably in my infinite drawing series (above) where the outcome of one grid influences the layout and mapping of the next. By plotting points from one drawing to the next I explore possible configurations and the grids continue to evolve without any specific end result. The drawings become a ritualistic means and opportunity to introspect and transcend for a moment. Operating within set parameters they are a document or record of my descions and actions. The act of drawing and the drawing itself operate within a structure that allows for flucuations.

Fry uses the work of artist Mark Lombardi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Lombardi and pierogi2000.com/memorial/lombardm.html ) to illustrate a visually literal example of organic mapping. There are a plethora of examples in art and design. The organic grid, most notably in the form of the internet, can be considered a unifying gestalt of current visual and conceptual aesthetics. It may possibly be one of many signifiers in a cultural and social restructuring whereby pyramidal hierarchy becomes obsolete, slowly eroded and undermined by a system in a constant state of flux.