Friday, October 29, 2010

Tuba and a Latte Redux

I was down at Stuyvesant High School this morning tagging along after my ninth grade daughter on Open Class Day. Other parents were in evidence, though fortunately not all the possible 7000+ parent body. Those of us sitting in on my daughter’s classes looked a little shell-shocked as we tried to process long-forgotten lessons in Spanish conjugation, congruent angles, the human digestive system, sentence patterns, blind contour drawing, Plato’s Republic and a debate about censorship by the Philosopher

Cup of the Day #41
by Gwyneth Leech, 2010
Sumi ink on white cup

Between classes was not-so-rapid transit via escalator and stairway from fourth floor, to tenth, back down to third, up again to seventh and finish on first (four minutes allowed for each transition). A typical schedule, but the Friday before Halloween, not a typical atmosphere as bewigged and costumed students thronged by.

The highlight of the day for me was band class. A parade of rather dented brass instruments came out of the instrument closet, crowned by four wonderfully battered tubas. My daughter perched on her chair, dwarfed by her tuba and pulled from her school bag the mouthpiece bought just weeks ago. With no fanfare, Mr. Winkel raised his baton and 60 instruments began a cacophony that resolved quite quickly into a note. B flat scales were requested and played with increasing accuracy and ensemble. Then, briskly, they were on to page 16 of the band book. Was it? Could it be? Did I recognize the Jet Blue March? (All right, I have never heard it before, but it was definitely a march).

“Ok”, said Mr. Winkel, “bass line only, please”. 
And the oompah pahs of the tuba section shook the rafters!
I was proud, and granddad smiled down from trombone heaven.
Really, I am impressed. Take 60 bright kids, add 60 instruments they have never played before, put them in a room with a skilled music teacher and stir. Six weeks later you have the makings of a real concert band.

The latte this time was bought after school, a few blocks away in the World Financial Center, at the end of a breezy walk along the stunning Hudson River esplanade in Battery Park. I stopped into Financier Patisserie and ordered a decaf Columbian/African blend. It came in a paper cap with a Solo Super Traveler, slide-open-and-close, patented plastic lid. Truly, the world is full of wonders. 

The Esplanade, Battery Park, NYC
Photo by Alistair McMillan

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Latte Under the Golden Trees

Cup of the Day #40
Midtown Grid by Gwyneth Leech, 2009
Colored ink on white paper coffee cup

Here's the thing about New York - this big beautiful city stretches away in every direction, a vast candy box of delights - new sights and sounds to be had by walking just a little or taking a short subway ride to a new place. Yet, we run like hamsters on our usual routes until we don't see the exrtraordinary ordinary any more.

Kimon Nicoliades, in the Natural Way to Draw, sets the advanced student on a quest to train the eye - go out and look, come back and draw. My mother was a great adherent and did some of her most marvelous travel paintings after she got home again.

Julia Cameron, in the Artist's Way makes the Artist's Date a central tennat of her work book. Go forth to do anything that pleases you once a week, but keep your eyes and ears open. Once back in the studio the ideas will flow.

Well, my Artist's Date right now is a twice weekly trip to Columbus Circle for physical therapy on the left (drawing hand) elbow - now finally on the mend months after the grocery-carrying tendon strain. Here in the offices of Professional PT, deep in the bowels of the Time Warner building below Whole Foods, I submit to the strecthing, pummeling, weight ligfting and icing by a team of therapists and assistants.

Then aching and exhausted from supination and pronation wrist exercises and biceps curls with giant weights (OK, 1 lb in each hand) I stagger across Columbus Circle to buy a croissant and a latte from Café Ferrara's kiosk outpost at the entrance to Central Park. Then I wander with eyes lifted up to the magnificant trees and across the green lawns carpeted with golden leaves where figures seated on rocks and benches give a great feeling of depth and distance.

30 minutes later, brimful of ideas, I am ready to take the subway down to the painting studio for a day in front of the canvas.

October Day on the Mall
Central Park, 2010
Photo by Gwyneth Leech

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Afternoon Tea With Julie Andrews: The Sing-Along Sound of Music

Pity our neighbor, the filmmaker Angelo Guglielmo; our younger daughter’s favorite show is the Sound of Music. Almost every morning, the CD goes on and she joins in with gusto. I keep turning down the volume, but she loves to belt “Climb Every Mountain” with the abbess. He must hear it through the apartment wall. 

Indeed. That’s why he phoned the other day to ask if we knew about the Sing-Along Sound of Music coming up for one night only at the AMC 25 Cinema on 42nd Street. “You have never been?” he exclaimed. “Gracie will LOVE it. I have done it a bunch of times. It’s a real thing. You will see”.

Cup of the Day #39
Blue Moon Cup by Gwyneth Leech
White-out pen and Sumi ink
on blue and white printed cup, 2010

So there we were at 6PM on a school night, doing homework in the back row of the AMC, and getting ready the afternoon tea we had smuggled in her Hannah Montana backpack, my large Celestial Seasonings English Tea from the deli miraculously unspilled.

I have a particular affection for the Sound of Music. Aside from the fact that it is a nearly flawless movie in every way, as a teenager I spent a summer month in the grand mansion that is the Captain’s movie abode, a real historic house called Schloss Leopoldskrön outside Salzburg. My dad, a law professor and a lover of travel, had co-founded a global faculty for the study of international corporate and market law and the Schloss was the site of that year’s Summer Seminar. He was teaching with the family in tow. So I can tell you with great authority - The gazebo was built for the movie, but the grand entrance, the golden ballroom, the terrace and lawns, statues, lake and stunning mountain view – all real.

And here, for the first time since I was a kid, I was going to see the movie on the wide screen. People packed into the theater buzzing with excitement, some in costume (here a nun, there a Black Shirt). We heaved a collective sigh when the first misty views of the Alps came on the screen. Then, as the tiny figure of Maria is seen coming over the saddle of an alpine meadow, orange letters popped onto the screen and every last one of us burst into song.

Well, it wasn’t all that tuneful, especially Grace’s contribution, but we sang every last song and chorus. The audience cheered, clapped and laughed in all the right places. Each arch expression and Machiavellian maneuver of the baroness’ received their hissing scorn, as did the Nazi bad guys. And the addition of a misplaced quote or whistle from the audience added an unexpected layer of hilarity.

In a happy daze at 10PM, we walked home in the company of new friends: a little girl and her mother who sat next to us during the movie, the girl a child actress up from Florida for a Broadway audition. Home-schooling with her mom, the Sing-Along Sound of Music was her homework that night.

As I was tucking Grace into bed, I asked her which was her favorite scene.
“When the kids hide in the lobby,” she replied without hesitation.
You mean in the big house?
“No, in the lobby,” she repeated indignantly.
Oh, I get it. Grace has no idea idea what an abbey is. But, true New Yorker, she has seen plenty of lobbies!

Captain and Maria in the Gazebo. Sigh.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Koons' Balloons

Smile Cup

Cup of the Day #38
by Gwyneth Leech
Colored Ink on white cup
with black printing, 2010 

While passing by the Mies Van Der Rohe building on Park Avenue the other day, I noticed one of Jeff Koon's gigantic balloon dogs in the lobby - fairly filling the space with shiny bravura. The building, the dog and the people going in and out were all clean, shiny and full of confidence - as if market implosion and financial woes were a thing of the past, New York City on a solid rebound.

Last Spring I had a different kind of encoutner with a Koon's Balloon.
It was a rainy afternoon. I was on my way to the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan to help set up for a public school fund-raiser in the Grill Room.

I had gotten off the train at the Chamber Street station, turned West down a down a side street and entered Amish Market, a large fancy food store that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Amish. They do, however have a very nice bakery, and it being afternoon tea time I treated myself to a Bigelow English Tea to go, and a sumptuous mixed fruit tart worthy of a French Patisserie.

Armed with my version of an extravagant expenditure in a paper bag, I went out again into the dreary wet to walk the several blocks to the World Financial Center on the Hudson River. My route took me down to a little plaza that faces the fences surrounding Ground Zero. There, to my surprise was one of Jeff Koons' enlarged balloon toys, fabricated at incredible expense for  the artist by Carlson and Co, a foundary which had gone out of business just the month before.

I have been fascinated by Jeff Koons since I first saw his work in an East Village art gallery called International With Monument in 1986. That show included J.B. Bourbon bottles in the shape of a train and silver plated. Art? Why not. It was in an art gallery. And guess what - that piece sold at Christie's for $5.5 million in 2004.

Much later, his giant Flower Puppy appeared in Rockefeller Plaza. Delightful. My kids loved, I loved it, everyone loved it.

These shiny balloon things first hit the market almost 15 years ago as the Celebration series, sold for big bucks by Gagosian Gallery. Collectors snatched them up. In 2007, talking about extravagant expenditures, Gagosian himself bought back Hanging Heart at Sotheby's for over $23 million. Very cool - kitsch for billionaires!

That wet, cold afternoon in the Spring one of those same sculptures did not look at all cool to me. It is nearly, if not the only piece of public art down there, facing the tall ugly fence which still surrounds the site of the World Trade Towers hole in ground. And on my way to a public school event designed to replace funds lost to heavy municipal budget cuts, fallout from the market crash of 2008, the billionaire's plaything looked like nothing more than a drab, half-deflated party favor left on the floor when the fun and games are over.

Six months later, I am wondering, is it possible that the party is back on?

 Jeff Koons "Balloon Dog (Orange)" in Seagram lobby. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

What is Your Luxury? A Healthy Dose of Art and Coffee

I have been getting some flack lately about the money I spend on fancy coffees. Well, it is only one a day. My nerves can't take more than that. OK, maybe throw in a deli cup of tea in the afternoon. I feel rich when I drink my brew out in the world, which I wrote about in Café Saltz. Today I walked to an appointment, 12 blocks each way - not spending $4.50 on public transportation - and bought a fancy Organic Rooibos Ambrosia cup of tea for $2.00 on the way back. See, I am actually saving money.

  Cup of the Day #37
by Gwyneth Leech, 2010
Sumi ink on white cup

Honestly, a girl has to have some luxury and what else can we afford in this crazy expensive city?

It's me and Holly Golightly drinking coffee from a paper cup in front of Tiffany's. I love the opening sequence from the Audrey Hepburn movie, by the way. And yes, I do walk up to to 57th Street and 5th Avenue to look at the windows of Tiffanys - and Bergdorf's - on a regular basis. Because if you love installation art those windows are where you can get a regular dose of the best.

So, the truth is I am a penny pincher and hate to spend. Which is why my experience down on the Lowers East Side at Alix Sloan Gallery the other day was so strange and unnerving: I almost bought a painting! I went for the opening of Mia Brownell's show Stomach Acid Dreams and fell in love with a small painting in the rear gallery called Still Life with Helix. Like the other paintings in the show, it is a luscious mix of bravura still life painting technique, abstraction and science. Oh, the shining fruit! What grabbed me was a delicate strand of DNA twisting through the central axis, made up of brilliantly painted grape stem.

Against all reason, I wanted that painting. And at under a $1000 I could conceivably buy it. All I would have to do is cancel our family's self-employed person's health insurance plan which drains well over a grand from our coffers each month, maybe go to one of those high deductible plans where you pay as you go and gamble that your health costs are less than $20,000 a year. Think of the art collection I could have. Think of the artwork I could have amassed by now, if it weren't for 10 years of NYC health insurance premiums.

Throwing caution to the wind, I actually went to the desk to tell them to put a red dot on it -

but it was already sold.

"Still Life with Helix" by Mia Bownell
11" x 9"
oil on canvas