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The Conservatory Gardens at Central Park

July 5, 2010

The Conservatory Gardens in Central Park are located at 105th Street and Fifth Avenue and look like they’ve just come out of a story book. There are three gardens, an Italian garden with a huge spouting fountain and wisteria pergola (apparently, this garden is the backdrop to many wedding photo sessions), the French garden with the Three Dancing Maidens fountain (bottom right photo) and the English garden with a fountain dedicated to Frances Hodgson Burnett (author of “The Secret Garden”, top left photo). Each garden has a different style of plantings — the English garden looks kind of wild and has rosemary planted among zinnias and hydrangea while the French garden has orderly patterns of lavender neatly trimmed. On a warm summer night the paths were almost empty and it was the perfect place for a walk.

The Gardens are open from 8am to dusk and can be accessed through a gate on 105th Street and Fifth Avenue or the 106th Street gate within Central Park. You can see the official website here.


Albrecht Durer at The Morgan Library

June 25, 2010


Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) Portrait of the Artist's Brother Endres, ca. 1518, Charcoal on paper, background later washed with white lead

The Morgan Library is home to a gem of an exhibition on Albrecht Durer’s drawings, Defining Beauty: Albrecht Durer at the Morgan, which is running from May 14 through September 12.

Presented in the intimate Clare Eddy Thaw Gallery, the exhibit includes eleven works on paper consisting of eight drawings, and several prints including engravings and even a woodblock print with original woodblock. In addition, Durer’s extensive treatise on proportion is displayed as well as the Nuremburg Chronicles, one of the first illustrated world history books.

I have always loved works on paper because they tend to be smaller in scale than paintings and thus really invite close study by the viewer. The Morgan’s exhibit was definitely well-suited for contemplation as the smaller number of works allowed time for slow observation of each one. The highlight of the show is Durer’s engraving of Adam & Eve (1504) along with his preparatory drawing for it and treatise on human proportions. If you are already familiar with Durer’s engravings, his drawings present a warmer style than his typical mechanical precision. You can almost see his hand hover over each stroke; but while each line isn’t robotically straight, he still manages to keep some of his trademark precision in his spare use of line that conveys fantastic depth. The only modern artist that I believe is even comparable in terms of attention to detail is (surprisingly) Takashi Murakami and his meticulous workshop. As opposed to Durer, they create a lot of their work using computers so my mind is blown when I consider Durer alone at a 16th century desk with his charcoal pencils…

Toy Pianos and love of magical sounds

June 8, 2010

I had never heard of toy pianos as an instrument anyone took seriously until today when I discovered Phyllis Chen and Margaret Leng Tan, both pianists who have made their way in the music world by mastering an instrument meant for children… In fact, Tan claims that anything that sounds good on a “normal” piano sounds BETTER on a toy piano! I recommend one of Phyllis Chen’s performances (“Suite for Toy Piano” by John Cage), which you can listen to here (she switches to normal piano midway and then back again and you can see what a talented pianist she is, the toy piano just makes everything sound so easy!).

Only when I listened to more did I suddenly notice that Yann Tiersen uses the instrument extensively in the Amelie soundtrack. There is a very cute video with him performing the song La Redeconverte from the soundtrack  here (a must see since it is accompanied by a frolicking Totoro). It definitely is a charming sound and so quirky! I hear that Phyllis Chen sometimes performs in New York and I think it would be nice to make an evening of dessert and toy pianos (somehow they seem to go together).

Seven Days in the Art World, Sarah Thornton

June 6, 2010

Seven days in the Art World is a head-whirling tour of the myriad groups that drive today’s increasingly complicated contemporary art market. Author Sarah Thornton’s five year long foray into the depths takes you to a hierarchical Christie’s auction; a coffee-fueled crit session at the California Institute of the Arts; the competition for the prestigious Turner Prize; the offices of Art Forum (a leading art periodical); Takashi Murakami’s art studio in Tokyo; the Venice Biennial; and the Art Basel art fair.

Thornton’s background as a sociologist and student of Art History uniquely equip her for the study. Her descriptions of the major players in the game of art today are intimate and she manages to present a variety of different viewpoints from art students (“creative is a dirty word”) to collectors (“that Warhol just wouldn’t hang well in my house, it’s too yellow”). However, despite her insider access and claim to being a critical observer, she was unable to always preserve the distance needed to analyze without being attached. She often reveres her subject and fails to question the excessive egos that are paraded before her. Takashi Murakami and his obsession for perfection and almost godlike perception of himself is the prototype for all the characters in the book who are at the center of the worlds they create: Christie’s auctioneers as they carefully set up the room to commandeer the highest price for a masterpiece; Cal Arts students contemplating each others works for hours at a time without leaving the classroom; buyers at the Art Basel fair secretly sneaking in early to nab the best works before any one else sees them (that was before the crisis, of course). Thornton’s descriptions lead one to believe that this is an invulnerable way of life. While it does seem to be biased at times, the book provides an invaluable snapshot of the dynamic contributors to the contemporary art scene and a fascinating voyeuristic peep into places no one else would be able to go.

Sarah Thornton has her own website here.

Flowers of early summer…

May 23, 2010

The Gentlewoman

May 13, 2010

I stumbled upon The Gentlewoman at my favorite newsstand along the way to work and I bought it immediately without looking inside since I just loved the cover (yes, I know not to judge a book by its cover but we all know magazines  are a different story). As it turns out, I was lucky enough to have inadvertently scored the very first issue of the biannual style magazine about “modernity and women that are just fantastic.” With more words than pictures and only an artful smattering of advertisements, the periodical is structured around in-depth interviews with woman of substance in the style world and includes interviews with legendary designer Phoebe Philo of Céline, architect Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA (architects of the New Museum on Bowery), artist Jenny Holzer, (of the Times Square LED banner fame), winemaker Sara Pérez (of Mas Martinet and Cims de Porrera) and London DJ Princess Julia. In addition to these pieces there are quirky fashion spreads by renowned photographers such as David Sims and others. I found the interviews to be candid and the different perspectives on style refreshing. It was nice to read a magazine without being bombarded by consumer culture/glammed up pop icons and the minimalist aesthetic is striking.

The magazine’s website is here; for a glimpse into the premier issue’s lovely pages click here. The manly counterpart to The Gentlewoman is the Fantastic Man Magazine, which already has quite a following.

Mast Brothers Chocolate

May 12, 2010

New York City’s only “bean to bar” chocolate maker, the Mast Brothers converted an 100-year old factory in Williamsburg (where else?) into a workshop for handmade chocolate bars. Combining their loves for travel, photography and cacao, the brothers made several trips to South America and Africa before starting their venture. Now, they source their beans from family farms and coops around the world including Madagascar, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador. Rick Mast previously worked in restaurants around New York City (including Gramercy Tavern and SoHo House) and Michael Mast worked in film prior to pursuing their shared passion for chocolate. My first bar was the Dark Chocolate + Fleur de Sel combination and I could feel the grainy bits of sea salt on my tongue. At first I was skeptical, but the salt really brought out the flavor of the cacao and made it tantalizingly tasty. On top of the allure of trying new chocolate, I could hardly resist the beautiful packaging (which is only further enhanced by the lovely gold foil inside).

Their delicious concoctions are available at Dean & Deluca, Eli’s, Whole Foods and Murray’s Cheese (which is how I found it, at Grand Central Market). Visit their website here to order bars or learn more about the homegrown company. Of course, they also have a Facebook page. And if you’re inspired to try the combination of salt and chocolate out at home, there is an amazing chocolate chip recipe adapted from Jacques Torres (the chocolate maker Rick Mast was previously apprenticed to) here on the NYTimes.