Archive for the 'Art' Category


Off the wall

Frank is ... top of the heap?

At the corner of S. Broad and Wharton Streets in my neighborhood, a Frank Sinatra mural was recently unceremoniously covered up by a new building.

This is what it used to look like:

He had it his way for years.

I don’t happen to care about this particular mural, though I imagine many in my old-school Italian neighborhood do. And it is a bit odd to see Frank’s head and shoulders peeking out awkwardly over the top of the new structure.

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Fish and Slips

NYC subway fish artHere is a piece of subway art that’s had me distracted and bothered for some time now.

As you can see, it depicts a subway car as a zeppelin-cum-flying fish.

The fish, transporting all kinds of bizarre characters, floats gracefully above some version of New York City. There’s a knight, a couple of aliens, a guy playing the saxophone, a woman in a red dress with a giant lizard on a leash, a boy and a girl making out, a painter, a couple of punk rockers, a ballet dancer, a guy reading the newspaper, and a business man falling out an open door.

I’ve seen every one of those characters on the subway before. Almost. OK, so substitute a soldier for the knight, and a couple of clowns in full make-up instead of aliens. Plus, anything goes on Halloween. And it wasn’t a woman with a lizard, but I did once see a man pull a lizard out from his pant leg and try to get some teenage girls to play with it, eventually by tossing it at one of them. (That’s not a euphemism. I am talking about a reptile. It bounced off the girl and landed on its back on the floor.)

I know this is supposed to be a representation of the width and breadth of humanity that depends on New York City public transportation. (Oh, look at those characters. Isn’t New York a wacky place? Aren’t we crazy? We love us! And there’s an echo of Atomic Age futurism and industrial hope. But there’s something about that businessman that bothers me.

Forget about what it might mean, e.g., the recent failures of American finance, artistic hostility toward briefcases. I’m talking about the execution of the cartoon itself. It’s very stylistic. The artist was clearly careful in his or her choices, holding to certain ideas of perspective and geometry: the mechanical shine to the fish, the shapes of the buildings and bridges, the boats on the river.

NYC subway fish picture close-upBut look at the businessman’s arm.

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What Hands Can Do




Sometimes I think we get so caught up in the ordinariness of every day that we lose sight of the poetry around us.

Sometimes I think that ordinariness is exactly where the poetry is.


The Power of the Pen?

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Does this mean anything to you?

I volunteered to help at the will call for the 19th Annual Art Show preview gala last night. We get some rich folks who are annoyed by waiting in line, no matter how short, for anything. Spending thousands for a pair of tickets buys you some privileges, no doubt, but it does not raise you above the laws of physics or supply and demand. Happily, most people are willing to understand that quick and simple procedures for ticket pick-up are meant to prevent chaos and that everyone needs a ticket, whether they buy it or it is given to them.

One gentleman last night with two tickets needed a third. He was dressed rather well, and he spoke perfectly good English, but he was hard to understand because his voice was raspy, like a harsh whisper. (I’m guessing he spent many of the last 60 years smoking prodigious amounts of tobacco.) So we were having a hard time understanding what exactly he wanted to do. His last name starts with C, so he went to my line, “A-L,” first. I explained that if he bought two tickets, and if he had both of them in his possession, he would need to buy the third. I directed him to another line where he could do so.

This isn’t what he wanted to hear, but he was disinclined to explain further. He stepped away and came back moments later, this time to another will call agent, saying evidently that a gallery owner had left a ticket for him. She had nothing under his name and directed him to the event organizers, also seated at the will call table, who had a record of every ticket.

Minutes later he was back, complaining to my companion that the organizers had been no help to him. Evidently he had visited the coat check, as well, because he had in his hands a dog-eared letter, which he unfolded and placed on the table in front of us.

“Maybe this will give you some insight into my character,” he said, proudly but not arrogantly.

The letter, printed on White House stationery and comprising two, maybe three very short paragraphs, was nearly falling apart. He had used it before.

“Sir, I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t have any tickets for you.”

“Do you know whose name is on that letter? See?”

“Sir, I—”

“Look: Who signed that letter?”

I sneaked a glance and saw a squiggle that I can see might have signified “George W. Bush.” Mr. C was getting indignant. Whatever anger he could muster came out as a stage whisper. Was he insulted that we weren’t bending to his will?

“Sir, I see that it’s the president,” she calmly explained. “But this has nothing to do with this event. I don’t have any tickets for you.”

“Well, I— What’s your name. I want your name,” he demanded.

“My name is printed on the card pinned to my chest,” she said, unperturbed. Was he going to report her? Have her fired from a volunteer job? You’re not allowed to volunteer here — ever again! Oh the shame of it! Be my guest.

She directed him back to the event organizers, and he angrily shoved off.

Who knows what that letter even said. I didn’t read it. I didn’t care. All it really proves is that he knows who the president of the United States is. I do too. And that’s not going to get you a ticket, no matter how rich you are.


La Linea

Metta il resto della linea qui!

Who remembers this guy?

If anyone is looking for a highly effective and entertaining way to waste some time (apart from reading this), I recommend checking out a series of cartoon shorts called La Linea. I guess there were about 100 of them made by an Italian cartoonist named Osvaldo Cavandoli in the early ’70s. In each episode, he draws a single white line, of which the ill-tempered main character is a part, and he presents him with various sadistic obstacles and the objects he uses to overcome them. And it’s all in jibberish, so there’s no need for translation.

When I was little, I’d see one of these little clips every day on an embarrassingly memorable kids’ morning show called The Great Space Coaster. These things still crack me up. I could watch them all over and over. I love the très européan hand gestures and the simple expressions of emotion, especially when he turns to cuss out the cartoonist.

One can find them on the French TV5 Web site or, naturally, on YouTube, where there’s even a naughty sex-themed episode available. (I didn’t see this one as a kid!)

Here’s a good one:


Hwy 55 Goes Digital

Waka waka waka. Someone in Minnesota has Pac Man fever.

Being from the Midwest, I’ve spent a lot of time on highways. Mesmerized by the dots and dashes racing toward me and passing under my car, I have often imagined what Pac-Man might feel like.

Someone with a lot of yellow paint has made this daydream into a two-dimensional reality in Minnesota. The Star Tribune reports that someone has painted a large Pac-Man on Highway 55. Ironically, this act of whimsical vandalism may actually aid the highway patrol in slowing down lead-foot Minnesota drivers — at least for that short stretch of road.

the untallied hours