Monday started late. Didn’t get outta bed until noon. Went out to a laundromat, whose name was “Laundromat.” Had a pastry, coffee, and cookie from a little bakery here in Brooklyn. While I was sitting on the bench out front I watched what appeared to be some low-level mob activity. All very exciting.
Laundry done, I headed back and eventually went uptown to Museum Mile. This is a long chunk of 5th Ave. across from the northern end of Central Park where there are a bunch of museums. I had my heart set on getting to the Whitney Museum for their infamous biennial of contemporary art, but time and tide were against me and I was too late in the day. The Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum called.
The Cooper-Hewitt is part of the Smithsonian. It’s based in Andrew Carnegie’s old mansion, which is exactly as beautiful and huge as it sounds. They had free hours from 5pm-9pm, so I was set.
I hoped they had a permanent exhibit, Smithsonian style, an historical survey of design. “Design” in the Cooper-Hewitt sense largely refers to functional and ornamental household goods–dishes, furniture, textiles, that sort of thing. No survey. Instead they had two exhibits going.
The first was devoted to European glass from 1900-1940, mostly stuff from Austria, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. Beautiful stuff. It charted the transition from art nouveau to art deco, from clean almost-minimalism to more ornamentive styles. The one piece to transfix me was a glass decorated with a calendar, the months in tall narrow columns around the outside. At the top of each month was a zodiac symbol, then the name of the month, and then a 3×11 grid of numbers. No days, just numbers. But Sundays and holidays were in a different style than the rest. The calendar was for 1919, and then at the bottom of the class was Venus riding a dolphin beneath a legend reading “1920”–bottoms up, new year coming through. Beautiful work, fantastic design.
Upstairs was the second exhibit, devoted to Russell Wright. I never knew about this guy. From about 1930 to 1965 he was Martha Stewart. He and his wife conceived and promoted a new lifestyle they called “Easier Living.” It was essentially an effort to shed the hidebound formalities of British fine dining and instead embrace a simpler, rationalist approach suited to the small apartments of American cities and middle-class life without the benefit of servants. The Wrights created innovative lines of dishware (including American Modern and Iriquois China), furniture, and decorative items. It’s beautiful stuff. Their descendents can be seen in the friendly austerity of Ikea, Target, and of course Martha Stewart.
Wright was heavily influenced by the surrealists in his younger days, and in part this helped him throw off the shackles of the past. Looking at all his work, it was like a giant puzzle piece fell into place for my understanding of 20th Century American design. He was the crossroads where surrealism, art deco, the Eameses, and Martha Stewart met and shook hands. It was a revelation and then some.
That night we went to Galapagos, perhaps the coolest bar I’ve ever seen. It’s in an old mayonnaise factory in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. There’s no sign, of course, just a brilliant red light that projects up the side of the building above the door. Inside is a large reflecting pool, maybe 10’x20′, above which is a rotating art exhibit. It’s dark, with red lights in the corners and spots on the art. The reflecting pool is filled with india ink, not water, so the surface reflects rich, saturated colors, just beautiful. Inside the main space, dozens of candles dot the walls for illumination. There’s a stage at one end shielded by a curtain, not in use that night. Then there’s a backroom performance space suited for an audience of forty or so.
We were there for a monthly event called Phat Tuesday, curated by a friend of Mike’s named Boo. Boo got up and introduced the evening’s artists. The main performer was a guy dressed as a nurse, using an Austrian accent, who sang cabaret between the other sets. Then a woman came out and did a dance with two fire brands while a guy played conga; she was unexceptional, clearly a skilled dancer but perhaps still new to working with fire. After her was a performance artist. She came out slow and slinky to weird, gothy music, her long frizzy hair covering her face, and for a glorious moment I thought she would reveal to have no face at all, just a smooth featureless surface. No such luck. Instead, after a minute she took a razor out and appeared to slice open her breasts through her dress. White fluid poured out and down the dress, as if her breasts had been full of milk. Then she opened a slit in the stomach part of the dress and produced a fish, which she sent on a little platform up to the ceiling. She interrupted this performance to ask, quite straightforwardly, if God was in the audience. A woman volunteered. She asked God to pull the rope to raise the platform. Once this was set up, she resumed her performance. Afterwards we debated whether this was intentional or just a technical glitch she had to fix halfway through her number. Following her was a sleight-of-hand magician, a passable technician but with tremendous energy and excitement. He did some card tricks and such and got a lot of laughs with his performance. Finally, a dancer came out whom we referred to as the Ass Pirate. His leotard left his butt hanging out, and he came to our row in the audience and slithered past us, waving his ass in our faces. Then he danced a while, ate some soap, and crawled out under a tablecloth. It wasn’t very impressive, but he was clearly a long-time professional dancer. So while his piece wasn’t very memorable, his skill was exceptional.
This morning we got up and went to the Simon & Schuster building downtown. There we met with Rachel, Mike’s editor, and shot her and several other editors talking about the worst jobs they ever had. This is for another video piece, and it went well. We also shot a piece of Mike in their amazingly ramschakle office supply closet. The woman who used to manage the closet left and they didn’t name a replacement, so soon the staff took all the good office supplies and just left behind a mass of junk. Mike said it was like the supply closet went feral.
We returned to Brooklyn and ate at place called Ferdando’s Foccaceria, a very old little Italian restaurant apparently once frequented by Sinatra. I had a fantastic sausage and ricotta sandwich. The floor was made of unmatched tiles, quite beautiful and run-down all at once. Lots of great tilework in this city.
J-M went to bed for a while and Mike and I headed out to see Resident Evil, which we hoped would be spectacularly bad. It was, in fact, terrible, groaningly so, but not quite hilariously awful. In the lobby of the theatre near the concession stand there was a little pedestal with a popcorn-butter dispenser sitting on it. Above it on the wall was a piece of paper. An employee had typed this thing up on the computer, printed it out, put it in a plastic protector sleeve, and taped it up. It read: “Welcome to our popcorn topping dispensing center.”
Tonight we all went to another Italian place here in Brooklyn and had another scrumptious meal. This place was so authentic you knew it was closing time when the owner and the old bartender changed into jogging suits. Fans of The Sopranos should be familiar with this fashion statement.
Back at the apartment, more movies, ice cream, and flavored seltzer. Is there no end to this hedonism? We watched Zoolander, which proved to not be as funny as I had once dreamed it would be, and Heist, the David Mamet flick, which was not as good I hoped but still something to see.
Tomorrow afternoon we have a meeting with the theatrical producers. There’s suddenly talk of us shooting a television commercial for the show. I’m slightly skeptical but curious. It would mean staying longer than I’d planned, but it may happen. We’ll see.
Happy news on the hosting front: the marketing firm hired by the producers has a web host we can use that will handle the traffic, and they’re going to pick up the bill for the duration of the show. Very happy news indeed.
Now it’s four in the morning and time for bed again. There’s so much to do here–not exactly a vacation. But we’ve made good progress. In Seattle I hear it’s snowing.