Saturday, June 21, 2008

Gimme' some Art now, ya' hear?!!!

This is the second art-related travel article I am posting on my blog. The Chelsea Hotel article is from 2007. The following article is from my trip to North Carolina earlier this month, and I will edit it to a shorter version of the original 10're welcome.
When I stood to leave the small table at the Coffee Cafe, I grabbed my shoulder bag from the floor before I realized the strap had somehow come to rest on the inside of my chair leg. And as I raised the bag, my chair tipped over, partially "clearing the table" next to us. Fortunately, the couple seated there had left seconds earlier. I paused, attributed the incident to pre-jet lag and thought: "Yeah, starting out to be another normal trip."
After having just spent $24.63, (plus tip), for two breakfast sandwiches and cappuccinos(!), I couldn't help but try to envision what the American Airlines "$5 Lunch Pak" that we would be buying somewhere over Arizona , would consist of. What I do know, is that anytime the word package is abbreviated to Pack, or in this case, Pak, you can bet the contents inside have also been "abbreviated" proportionately.
I personally don't mind in-flight meals, and actually look forward to being served a salad, for it is one of those rare times when I can eat a garden salad using just my fork, as the lettuce has already been cut small enough to fit inside my mouth on the first attempt, unlike my experiences in college cafeterias and the restaurants we presently frequent.
If I were still teaching Fine Art, and we voted to go out on strike, I figure by now teachers and certainly artists are so used to living on the outer fringes of the economy, why not demand something that at least has a glimmer of hope of being rectified? So, my protest sign would read: "Cut The Damn Lettuce Smaller!" The reason I enjoy international flight meals, is
because on KLM, some of the meals come with chopsticks, which tells me we're probably going to have a fairly smooth flight.(?)
Ok, so we're now about an hour into our SFO to Raleigh via Dallas flight, and the food cart
(sorry, the snack cart), is approaching our row. Since I've already programmed my mindset and taste buds to expect a couple slivers of meat small enough to fit inside a bean shooter, sandwiched between two slices of rye cocktail bread, you can imagine my surprise when handed turkey and swiss on a full sized bagel, plus a packet of Hollandaise sauce to eventually squirt on it, and most likely my pants. I say "eventually", because as I was cussing and failing to open the Homeland Security customer-proof sauce packet, my wife informed me that I had purchased the last snack of any kind! Several of the 30 or so passengers around us were noticeably and rightfully upset at not even being able to buy a pack of peanuts or a cookie!
A few minutes into the movie, I preferred to stare at the AZ/NM landscape below, and I wondered why some blue-chip site artist like Christo and Jean Claude hadn't taken a front-loader and "etched" several large, (as in 2miles by 6 miles), waffle-sole boot prints about three or four miles apart, across the vast flatlands we were flying over...come to think of it, a woman's high heel shoe print would be even more interesting, and certainly easier to replicate.
Maybe Jean Claude could orchestrate that project and Christo could "work the phones" and get the permits.(?)
On the last leg of our flight, I found some used tissues and a candy wrapper in the magazine storage in front of me as the attendant was reciting her ..."in the event of..." speech. But she got my attention with her "P.S.", we're apologizing "up front" if we run out of snacks or drinks before all of you are served...sorry." Now I'm pissed, which triggered an epiphany for me- If the airlines don't even clean the plane between flights as a public health gesture, of course they're not going to be concerned about restocking food or drinks except in First Class! And at that moment, I realized the most effective outlet for me to register my rage and complaint, was to modify my would-be teacher's strike sign to read:
"Cut The Damn Lettuce Smaller!...and Make The Airlines Carry Enough Snacks!"
We landed in Raleigh, rented a car, and leisurely headed south-east to attend our joint-family sometimes annual reunion at Emerald Isle. Our family reunions are no different from yours, so I'll spare you that boredom, except to say that ours began in the 1970s, and over these many years, we've arrived in all kinds of weather and various modes of transportation, the most memorable/regrettable being around 1975, when we rode from our then residence of Tulare, CA to my hometown of Logan, WV...on a Trailways bus. However the grain of wisdom that we gleaned from that 12- day round trip ordeal, is to never again board any bus whose route takes more than an hour to complete, or isn't an on-off-on tour bus of a major city.
From Raleigh, we arrived in Wilmington around noon and in dire need of a cappuccino, which we finally located at the ILM airport.(don't ask.) When I gave the waitress our order, she said: "Alright, now you know that a cappuccino is just a shot of espresso with steamed milk on top of it,right?" To which I gave her a hesitant"...Yeah.? She smiled and said: "I have to tell you, 'cause a lot of customers bring them back, thinking they're getting a regular coffee." I said:
"Next time they bring one back, tell them that if they want a regular coffee, they need to order a "mocha frapa cupa al pacino." She smiled and scurried off to make ours.
I have to say that these reunions have given me a whole new appreciation for driving through small towns and seeing the newest "must have" lawn object or current trend. This began about 12 years ago, when I noticed some very large white crosses made of 6" diameter steel, always painted white, usually in groups of three, and often taller than the church that had purchased them. Unfortunately, these garish eye-catchers could have been so much more appealing if the traveling salesman had offered them in 6" square-stock and in cor-ten steel, which, over time, produces its own velvety rust finish that requires zero maintenance, and much more visually akin to the "old rugged cross" than these reminders of the EXXON/SHELL School of Esthetics.
Then, about four years later, as the crosses became in more demand, I turned my attention elsewhere, and witnessed the "plywood granny" phenomenon! These stick-in-the-ground
cut out plywood figurines are cut in the shape of a rotund female who is bent at the waist and seen from the back, exposing her raised skirt, colorful frilly pantaloons and usually polka dot knee socks, all seen from the back, as if to suggest that she's harvesting or planting flowers or veggies. Unfortunately, like the plastic flamingo craze that refuses to die, "granny" could be seen in some rather strange places, like in the middle of a well manicured lawn with nary a plant nor veggie in sight. This struck me as a bit weird, unless she became a silent advertisement icon for the Senior Citizen red-light district.(?)
And "granny" may have been just half of the Duplin County Renaissance, because at about the same time, "Mobile Marquees" made their appearance, and spread in popularity faster than kudzu across much of the South.
These small steel and plastic framed two-wheeled trailers housed a two-sided plastic marquee large enough to display 3-4 rows of 8" plastic letters on either side. Inflatable wheels and a trailer hitch were standard, but options such as interior back lighting for nighttime advertising were an option as well. Cheaper than a 4' x 6' neon sign, much easier to change and maintain, two-sided, completely portable, and chained to the front of your business or nearby hydrant or tree, made these boys truly one of those "Now WHY didn't I think of that!" inventions. And they appeared on most every primary and secondary road around. However, the one feature that the traveling salesman neglected to remind his sea of customers, is that none of these "sure fire customer magnet" devices would fit through any shop or business door during that less-than-festive time of year called...hurricane season!
My own guess is that more than a few of the mobile marquees experienced a "clean slate" transformation during the first major storm, clearly demonstrating that the REAL money to be made from these things probably went to a relative of the traveling salesman-the one who sold 8" plastic replacement letters. (I've included a couple of jpegs that show some of the surviving mobile marquees.)
And after these many years, I think I've unraveled the mystery behind the reason a person will spend countless hours and labor in often 95 degree weather and 80% humidity, getting their front lawn into near-putting green condition, just to park a vehicle on it- And I figure that by parking on the grass, you create the illusion of your vehicle sitting on one of those carpets inside a dealership showroom, and by some bizarre form of osmosis by association, the grass, over time, actually regenerates the vehicle back to its once pristine showroom condition.(?)
To be continued...

Artdom's favorite place to crash-Continued.

Before telling you about the "Circus Room", a short Preface:
Like San Francisco's earthquake retrofit ordinance, NYC adopted a similar ordinance, with a 2007 deadline for completion. Wellll,(as Jack Palance might have whispered), most every business involved, waited until the last minute to shell out hundred$ of thou$and$ of dollars for necessary "up to code" repairs. This explains all that scaffolding you walk under and into as you walk and gawk throughout Manhattan and the other boroughs.
The Chelsea Hotel fell into this group as well, so each morning at 8:01, workmen were on the exterior scaffolding or balcony that holds the large neon sign...just opposite our room, making
repairs to walls, window sills and/or door jambs, as well as the large sign.
This is not a problem if you don't mind getting dressed, showering or trying to talk while hearing workmen discuss the ups and down in their lives and career choices accompanied by a background of a morning radio talk show host at full volume.
(There are road signs posted throughout Manhattan that warn motorists of a $300(!) fine for honking their horns, yet construction workers can play their radios at full volume with impunity.(?)
Like all Chelsea Hotel rooms, the ceilings are 12' high, and in our "Circus Room", the window frame that housed our air conditioner, was about 3' wide and 8' tall. The material used to construct the curtain for that window, had to have come from Ringling Bros., as it was as close to striped canvas,in feel and color, as any painting that ever came out of the Op Art school. The colorful(?) stripe patteren could best be described as somewhere between what Roy Lichtenstein might have chosen for pajamas, and a bar code as seen through the eyes of a rabid dog.
However the most interesting feature of this single curtain panel, was that it had to have originally been made for a window much wider than 3', and since it was fully lined, probably weighed in around 12 pounds or more. Since we wanted to run the a/c unit whenever we were
in the room, each morning we'd get up before the workmen arrived, and we'd make a large roll of the bottom four feet of the curtain and pile it back on top of the a/c unit, where it had been when we went to bed the previous night. And within thirty minutes, the vibrations of the a/c unit would "walk" the pile of curtain over to the edge, and finally come crashing down, completely covering the a/c unit and four or five inches of the floor.
Realizing that taking matters into our own hands was not enough, on our second day of museum and gallery hopping, we stopped at a Duane Reade Drug Store,( There's one every half-block throughout Manhattan), and bought a dozen of the largest, most industrial-looking safety pins we could find. And each morning before we left for the day, we'd remove the safety pins and pile the curtain atop the a/c , knowing that the housekeeper would find it exactly where she expected it to be, completely covering the a/c and part of the floor. We did this for the next six days.
The Chelsea is 10 stories tall, and most every wall, stairwell and passageway has art hanging on it. Most by current tenants, but also dating back for decades by then residents. The roof is a sculpture garden, but was locked during our visit. However, we began at the front desk and walked up all ten floors, taking it all in. Some artists have their business cards pinned up with their work. The subject matter truly "covers the waterfront" as far as every school or "ism" throughout Artdom being represented. There are also installations that make you wonder if you're looking at an artist's visual statement, or just their uncontrollable fascination with plastic picnic ware. One floor even had an on-duty curator in the form of a calico kitten that
mostly slept under a large canvas painting of Mao Tse Tung, prompting my wife to offer: "Look, Meow Tse Tung!" The portrait was further proof that Mao still reigns as "Extreme GI Joe".
You come away from all this work, and you wonder, if this is the kind of stuff they show in the hallways, what does the stuff that they really care about look like, for none of these works are done by hacks or Sunday Painters. To be continued, as we are house sitting in Brooklyn in July, and plan on visiting the Chelsea to see if my "guerrilla art" piece is still part of the hotel's permanent collection...(?)

Artdom's Favorite Place to...crash!(?)

Ok, its around 2AM New York time. Our ride from JFK to Manhattan was engaging enough, but after spending an entire day to travel from SFO to JFK, we poured out of that blue shuttle van in front of 222 W. 23rd. St. feeling like a couple pieces of stale Cajun beef jerky.
However, the minute we stepped into the Chelsea Hotel, we were immediately awakened by the lobby decor visuals, for how many other hotels have a major work,
("Dutch Masters"), by former resident and world renown artist, Larry Rivers, hanging in the lobby? This was exactly the sort of energetic "juice" we had hoped to experience, and were not
As a practicing artist for over 30 years, and retired college Art Instructor, I, and my wife, an avid reader, were elated just to be standing at the registration counter of this truly historical and sometimes home of world renown artists, writers dancers and musicians, some of which, such as Thomas Wolfe, Henry Miller, Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas and Brendon Behan are
recognized with large brass plaques on the front of the hotel. Other celebrity/residents not recognized with plaques, but remembered more for their "brass balls" reputations, include
Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Syd Vicious and numerous others.
The first room we were shown had an obvious problem, in that the door knob came off in my hand as the clerk was leaving.(!) My mind immediately flashed back to Bod Dylan's lyrics from
Desolation Row..."about th' time the door knob broke." which, in some perverse way, made me feel "chosen". However, the clerk apologized and said because of the late hour, we could stay in another room, which had a kitchenette and was much more expensive, for our original agreed upon price of $239. No problem.
As soon as we entered the second room, Janet and I didn't care if the door worked or not, for we simply HAD to stay in this room, which I immediately named "The Kafka Suite." Most of the walls were painted an ultra-gloss bile green color, which would normally repulse even me, but atop this weird slime-like background, were large 6" to over 14" stencil-painted cockroaches, beetles, flies, moths, lady bugs, spiders and dragon flies...each painted a different fluorescent color!
We were sure as hell awake now, as we stood there gazing about the room in total amazement while thinking about Franz Kafka's famous short story "Metamorphosis". This being our first real introduction to unrecognized local artistic energy, we were immediately rejuvenated to the point where we figured that in order to take full advantage of the situation by experiencing dreams and/or nightmares from Metamorphosis, we'd need to have a late meal of sorts, to guarantee restless sleep. In short, something that came served with a side order of onions! So, we tossed our bags on the bed and bolted downstairs out the door, and into the street.
We only had to walk a couple of real city blocks before we came to a small bar-b-que joint
where we experienced for the first time, fried onion strings, which are Vidalia onion rings cut to 1/8" wide, deep-fried, and served by the half-pound...with a fork...and delicious beyond description! Again, just one of the small things that make NY such a memorable place!
So, after nearly a pound of strings and a few beers inside us, we waddled back to the
Kafka Suite in anticipation of encountering Gregor Samsa during the night. However, fortunately or unfortunately, neither of us ran into him during our 10 hours of undisturbed sleep. I emphasize undisturbed, for when the Chelsea was built in 1885, it was designed to accommodate visual and performing artists who could practice their talent without disturbing other tenants, so they made the walls 12" thick!
The following morning, we were unable to convince the manager, Mr. Bard to rent us the Kafka Suite for less than $400, and were moved to a smaller room on the third floor near the rear. Though visually less interesting, this room certainly proved to be much more "interactive", which after the first morning's "roomarobics", prompted me to label this one the "Circus Room".