Thursday, October 16, 2014

LINCOLN CENTER CRAFTS FAIR AND THE MUD PEOPLE OF UNION SQUARE

AUTUMN CRAFT FESTIVAL AT LINCOLN CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
For two stunning weekends in October, the area around the Paul Milstein Pool just south of Illumination lawn and dotting a circle around a little park named for the corporate donor, Barclays Capital Grove,
craftspeople from around the globe set up their tents and display their art and crafts. For some of us attendees there's a fine line between art and craft. For others there's so much distance between the two you can push a trailer loaded with Jeff Koons creations right down the road that separates them.
This fair is and has always been called a crafts fair. There's been no pretension to call it anything else. On the weekend we went there were photographers and a splattering of painters and printmakers but the emphasis was on the wearable and home accessory categories.
When you entered the plaza and rounded the central fountain strains of Johann Sebastian Bach spun off the violin being played at the entrance to the fair. I guess if you're hosting a fair on the grounds of Lincoln Center adding a little free classical music is apropos.
Textiles were a major player at the fair. If I wore women's clothes I would have been on some of these jackets like a duck on a June Bug. I loved the multiple textures and hand-painting on this one-of-a-kind piece by Iona Loyola. It's as if it surfaced from under the Caribbean waters lapping the shores of St. Barts dripping with tendrils from the sea.
A bit more wearable was this vision in indigo. Layers of dyed cotton and linen drape and swag creating real New York sophistication. Pair this with a simple pair of black leggings and your Louboutins and you can be on your way to anywhere.
Men were not left out of the wearable mix. These scarves by Margo Petitti made from wools and cashmeres were luxurious to the touch and a little left of traditional in their patchwork construction.
Another vendor we've followed for years, C. Joseph Clothiers, had hangers laden with her fashion for both men and women. Her wools, cashmeres and tweeds woven into jackets, sport coats, scarves and shirts always seem to make it onto our Christmas must-have lists year after year. There's a definite vintage vibe to her designs that set them apart from the rest of what's out there.
Hats were another big seller at the fair and felt and felted details were showing at a very high profile, but my favorite was on the tiny side.
Traveling all the way from Key West, HATS by Judi was a visual hit with me. Everything from her graphics to her displays played with my funny bone and drew me right into her booth.
Judi Bradford's engaging personality was what kept me there.
She had stories about every hat she had placed on a mannequin or hung mobile style from the metal structure of her tent. In Key West there's a niche market for people where custom is indistinguishable from street wear. There's also the Brits willing to strap on a fascinator for any dress-up occasion.
I'm not sure how well she faired with New York based customers willing to don one of her hats but these pieces were just beautiful to look at whether you wanted to wear it or just display it.
A smattering of glass blowers took to the fair
along with a couple of painting devotees of photo realism.
On a warm day in early October before the New York leaves have had a chance to transform into autumnal brilliance the fair was a great Saturday afternoon divergence.

THE BAG PEOPLE OF UNION SQUARE
After the fair I took off for a solo trip into lower Manhattan. I popped out of the subway at 17th Street and Broadway in the midst of the Saturday Farmers Market. I was going to head down from there and into Soho but my direction was diverted as I was swept away by a sea of cellphone photographers following
a troupe of blind-folded mud people each one gripping a fist full of brown paper shopping bags. They were doing a Zombie walk threading themselves through the crowd and around cafe tables of unsuspecting diners trying to grab a light bite or the opportunity of sitting down for a moments rest from a day of site seeing.
The mud people seemed destined to continue up Broadway on their way to the shopping mecca of Herald Square. I'm not sure if they were a protest group trying to point out the evils of consumerism (I saw no painted protest signs) or a performance piece being taped by an incognito collection of photographers.
Once I had pried my mind off the shear magnetism of the situation and was able to disconnect myself from the throngs of entranced observers each with their cellphones held as barriers between reality and the capturing of a pixel moment, I stopped and let the mud people do their slow mechanical march around me, then I left.
One of the benefits of having moved to Madison but sharing our time with New York City is that a part of me is now a tourist in the city. Unlike many a native I can't spend down time sitting around in our apartment. There's a constant itch to capture every moment in the city. I walk around for hours and because I do I get the gift of stumbling on jewels of the city like the Mud People of Union Square.

THE GALLERY
Cheetah Who Shops, 1939
B. C. Parade, photographer
Available at www.photographersgallery.com

Thursday, October 9, 2014

THE NEW CLUB MONACO

A NEW DESIGN ICON EMERGES ON 5TH AVENUE
I have for a long time considered myself a Banana Republic kind of guy, a bit conservative but stylish enough to feel comfortable throwing a scarf around my neck in summer when its only purpose is to add a bit of fashion flair. Being an interior and furniture designer you approach everything as if it needs a little fluffing. Do these colors work together? Should the carpet match the drapes? Can you serve Chinese food straight from the container or do you need to get out the serving bowls when you've got guests? The eye never stops looking and the mind never stops churning out makeovers and facelifts.
When I'm walking down the street I've always got an eye to the designing of the department store display windows, the crowds of sophisticates and eccentrics walking in the opposite direction, and the architectural details dripping off the tops of buildings lining the street. I've only peripherally been watching the renovation of Club Monaco on lower Fifth Avenue, as I said I was more a Banana Republic kinda guy...until now.
J. Crew may have positioned themselves as being a little more preppie, Banana Republic a little more traditional while Club Monaco bought into a European vibe. All three had similar price points and were popular with both men and women in the twenty to thirty-five age group but their differences were slight rather than major. It was time for one of them to bust out, a risky leap.
Stores like Bloomingdales and Barney's have tried to set up mini-me satellite department stores to little or no success. The concept of multi experiential shopping is nothing new but doing it right is not an easy task.
Well, welcome Club Monaco.
I might not have even gone in if they hadn't tricked me with a side entrance for what looked like a separate shop,
Toby's Estate.
Through the window and what drew me into a backwards walk was the rack of International newspapers hanging on a tiled wall as if a bit of Paris had been sewn back into the fabric of New York.
Then beyond the newspapers a wisp of French roast wound its way around a beautiful cafe dusted in white like the confectioners sugar sprinkled on the pastries behind the counter's glass partition.
The mood was vintage commuter where you stood to grab your double expresso before catching the last train to Greenwich.
A few more steps up a short flight of stairs and the experience continued into a tiny flower shop
replete with exotic terrariums you can carry out in a cylindrical dove grey box with the label Polux Fleuriste.
Mixed in with the scent of peony were a set of upholstered tub chairs snuggling up against a marble fireplace
in the midst of a library of books which turned out to be an annex of the Strand not previously known for such elegance.
It was at this point I realized I had entered the new Club Monaco from the side rather than it's more substantial front entry as two large arches framed portholes into the main fashion salons. Club Monaco moved from being a member of the mid-sophisticate trio into a category all by itself.
The transformation was so well thought out. Their brand was no longer identified solely by its fashion product but by creating a multi-layered experience including French roast, copies of Elle Decor's The Height of Style by editor, Michael Boodro, and the scent of tea roses.
Women's fashion dominates the top floor with niches designed to segment their collection into rooms labeled the Shoe Shop, the Dress Boutique, and the Weekend Shop.
Ionic columns support a ceiling dressed with filigreed medallions hovering over a marble floor. Clearstory panels define the perimeter boutiques
along with spacious fitting rooms stylishly appointed in a way a Century 21 would never think of.
The wrought iron encased central staircase leads down to the men's collection, a stark contrast to the white envelope of the women's main floor.
The dark grey palette with touches of gold is anything put intimidating. It's a manly display without feeling like you need to be Tom Brady to saunter down the steps into the cavern of haute design.
Even a case filled with vintage Rolex is not enough to make you want to leave in fear of price tags way beyond your income.
It only adds to the excitement of discovery at every turn.
It's a no pressure environment where even the check out counter looks more like a bar than a till for taking your money.
Club Monaco got it right. The crowds of an expanded age range of clientele speaks to its eminent success and I'm one of them now sporting a beautiful sport coat styled sweater I couldn't leave without. If style is your boyfriend, Club Monaco is where he hangs his hat.

THE GALLERY
Barbara Mullen (Blowing Kiss) Harper's Bazaar, circa 1950
Lillian Bassman, photographer
Represented by Staley-Wise Gallery

Thursday, October 2, 2014

TALIESIN EAST

A BENEFIT FOR A GENIUS
Taliesin, the word is Welsh for "shining brow". Frank Lloyd Wright thrust his Wisconsin home into the brow of a hillside and then named it Taliesin. The area just south of Spring Green is geologically known as the "Driftless" area, an area carved by nature's sculptural tools with deep river valleys and rolling hills. The majesty of the area rolls over the landscape like a royal robe lined with sugar maples instead of ermine.
This is the third iteration of Taliesin. The first building was a commission from Wright's mother to build her a home at a time following Wright's departure from his apprenticeship under Louis Sullivan. Wright was ready to hang out his own shingle but initial commissions were slim.
It was Wright's idea to have his mother donate the property to him after a scandalizing affair with the wife of a former client made it impossible for Wright to continue work from his Chicago studio. He felt compelled to take his paramour out of the Chicago spotlight and set up housekeeping closer to his family home.
The landscape of the Driftless area in Southwestern Wisconsin is breathless and to Wright's credit the perfect place to move a mistress who otherwise would be set drifting and untethered in an unfriendly world.
We received an invitation from one of the Wright Foundation board members to attend a fund-raiser on the estate.
It was held in the early evening on the cusp of autumn. It was a warm evening without a breeze. We were told to be at the Wright visitor center just prior to the event where shuttle buses would be provided to take us up to the grounds and the estate. Rick and I had talked for years about going to Taliesin but the limited visiting times and the length of the tours were a deterrent to edging the trip up higher on our bucket list. The benefit turned out to be the ideal opportunity to make the journey and cross Taliensin East off our list.
Once we stepped off the shuttle bus we had complete access to the estate roaming through room after room and taking our time to walk the grounds and observe the glorious vistas that I'm sure inspired Wright's work.
Guarding the entrance to the estate is a pair of Chinese Foo Dogs. At the beginning of the Taliesin history Wright spent much of his time on site with his projects leaving the estate to function primarily as a repository for his growing collection of Asian art and sculpture.
Whether in the gardens
or inside the estate elements of the Far East grace ledges and stand sentry at the entrances to the home and studios.
Culture seems to ooze out Taliesin like molten chocolate out of a soufflé. Art is in evidence at every turn and the anticipation of live music is carved into every piece of furniture. Nightly concerts were a ritual that followed Wright, his family and his students everywhere he laid down his hat.
The unique vision of Wright can be seen in this music stand and chairs we found in the main living room, perfect for a quartet of violins or winds with lighting that wouldn't disturb Mr. Wright as he lounged in repose to their sonata.
The availability of music to pour out of every room was evident in the artifacts that remain, a piano here, a harp there waiting for the evening musicians to pick them up and entertain a man who needed constant stimulation.
The house itself is in need of constant maintenance. The structure was built primarily by students, not craftsman.
Kids for the most part having their first experience with the construction end of architecture. It was never intended as a permanent structure but as a learning tool.
The third and now final building is built of indigenous limestone, a series of wings spread out around lush courtyards and water features. Wright placed himself in the company of a handful of additional artists who are credited with developing a new genre in their field, people who have reached outside the box and brought something new and previously unseen to the table. For Wright it was the Prairie Style and Taliesin was its spark igniting a movement.
Wright was not a very tall man. This might have led to his creating ceiling heights that would make taller men have to bend as if in reverence when entering his buildings.
The low entries are actually an Asian design principle where one is supposed to enter a small space prior to being allowed the privilege of experiencing the large space at the end of the entry.
As the sky began to paint a pastel background and as the mosquitoes began to turn us into their buffet
we took cover in to the interior trying out some of the furniture that was only possible due to our invitation to an intimate affair.
The evening ended on a speech by Wright's grandson, Tom Wright. He never candy-coated his appraisal of his grandfather. He presented him as both a distant demanding man obsessed with work and his mission and a creative genius pushing excellence out of everyone he came in contact with. Genius still lives in a tiny "driftless" slice of Southwestern Wisconsin.

THE GALLERY
Frank Lloyd Wright in His Workroom at Taliesin, 1956
Ed Obma, photographer
From the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ