The Land Where St. Patrick Walked

March 17, 2011

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue is the world’s biggest, noisiest, happiest celebration of Ireland and its patron saint. Between the dancing, drinking and green hair, it is easy for an observer to think that those who hail from “the land with 40 shades of green” have always been welcome and accepted here.

But the story of the Irish in New York has many a tragic side. Most terrible is the reason that so many Irish citizens arrived on our shores 150 years ago; they were fleeing the disaster known as An Gorta Mór (the Great Hunger). The devestation began in the late 1840s, when a virus attacked the potatoes planted in the fields of the land where St. Patrick had walked.

Cheap, filling, and easy to grow, potatoes were an essential source of nutrition for poor, rural Irish families. When the virus caused the potato plants to wither and their crops to fail, it wasn’t long before starvation set in.

The Great Hunger, also known as the Great Potato Famine, lasted from 1845 to 1852. During that period approximately one million Irish people died and two million more emigrated, many of them landing in New York Harbor. Now, in a quiet corner of Battery Park, near the spot where those desperate survivors arrived, stands the Irish Hunger Memorial.

Created by New York artist Brian Tolle, the memorial opened in 2002 on a quarter-acre of land shaped to resemble a burial mound cut from an Irish hillside. The base of the memorial is made of slabs of concrete interlaced with bands of plexiglass-covered metal bearing excerpts from reports, poems, songs, sermons and letters describing the desperation and destitution of the victims of the famine. These are intermingled with information about world hunger today.

After walking around the base, visitors walk through a short, dark corridor where recorded voices recite facts about the Hunger and emerge into a small atrium lined with stone walls. A dirt path winds up the hill past thirty-two massive stones, each marked with the name the Irish county that donated it, a roofless stone cottage, wildflowers and grasses, all imported from Ireland.

Every aspect of this small patch of land is significant and symbolic; even the size of the space reflects the Irish Poor Law of 1847, which denied relief to those living on land larger than a quarter of acre. Small, subtle and enormously moving, the Irish Hunger Memorial helps illuminate the wonderful, terrible history of the Irish in New York City.

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Approaching the memorial from West Street

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Closer to the entrance

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Plantings overhanging the concrete

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Through the entry corridor

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Words on the walls

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More quotations on the walls

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The words stretch on

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Climbing the hill

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The view from the top of the hill

CRG Gallery: Brian Tolle
The New York Times: A Memorial Remembers The Hungry
New York Magazine: Irish Hunger Memorial
NYC: Battery Park
Battery Park Conservancy


No more photos! No more photos!

September 1, 2010

“No more photos!,” cried the guard, waving his hand in front of my camera. “No more photos! The museum is closed! You go now!”

Well, not exactly closed, but almost. It was 5:20 and the Metropolitan Museum of Art was getting ready to shut its doors for the day. I was part of the throng heading towards the main entrance when the guard saw me pause at the entrance to the Greek and Roman galleries to snap a picture.

I responded to his excited command with a smile and a nod. I briskly moved forward again, keeping my camera in hand but concealing it from the guard’s gimlet eye.

As I hurried out of Greek and Roman, I captured this shot of a tourist inspecting the work known as Fragments of a marble statue of the Diadoumenos (youth tying a fillet around his head), ca. A.D. 69–96.

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Viewing a Roman statue

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Fragments of a marble statue of the Diadoumenos
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Greek and Roman Galleries
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Greek and Roman Art


The Last Word

August 16, 2010

In 2008, when the magnificent but crumbling 1887 synagogue on Eldridge Street was restored, it was renamed the Museum at Eldridge Street. Currently, on the lower level of the Museum, near the tiny gift shop, an odd structure stands against one wall.

Made of brown cardboard, it resembles a tall, rectangular honeycomb. Tightly rolled slips of white paper protrude from most of the cells and a nearby sign provides both an explanation and instructions.

There are always things left unsaid. The perfect ending to a conversation with a stranger. A clever comeback in a debate with a colleague at work. A farewell bid to a loved one. Missed opportunities to get in the last word. What do you wish you had said? Now is the time to say it.

Please feel free to remove a white-side out piece of paper and share your last word, returning it to the honeycomb with the red-side exposed. You may also read the last word of other participants, but please be sure to return all pieces of paper.

Here are some of the Last Words that were left in the cardboard chambers. Please excuse the poor quality of the photos; they were taken with my phone.

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The cardboard honeycomb

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Why does my mother still not know

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Your my sister!

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A farewell bid to Betsy

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Please forgive me

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I hate pie

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Boo freaking hoo

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All I want for my b-day

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I miss you very much

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Je souhaite tout le bonheur

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I wish we could have really talked

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Te estrano monita

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Thank you for everything you have done.

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I still dream about you

Museum at Eldridge Street
Museum at Eldridge Street: About
Museum at Eldridge Street: Blog
Illegal Art
NY Times: A Final Word


The 31st Annual Museum Mile Festival

June 9, 2009

There are two things I dislike about the Museum Mile Festival:

1) It happens only once a year.
2) It lasts only three hours.

There simply isn’t enough time to take in everything that happens during this event which stretches along Fifth Avenue from 82nd Street to 105th Street — 23 blocks offering nine museums (all providing free admission) along with concerts, clowns, jugglers, face painters, and arts and crafts projects.

In past years I’ve started at the lower end, near the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 82nd Street, and attempted to work my way up but never made it past the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum at 91st Street. This time I decided to start at the northern end of the festival, heading down from El Museo del Barrio at 105th Street.

Unlike the rest of the institutions on museum mile, El Museo does not have its own building. Instead, it is one of variety of Latino arts organizations housed in the massive, block-filling, neo-Georgian Heckscher Building at 1230 Fifth Avenue (other tenants include the Raíces Latin Music Museum Collection of Harbor Conservatory and La Casa de la Herencia Cultural Puertorriqueña).

Although El Museo is currently closed for renovations, the Latin-flavored music issuing from their loudspeakers inspired passersby to dance in the street. Inside the Heckscher Building, through corridors of worn linoleum and flickering florescent lights, they offered a mask-making workshop, a salsa jam session, and promises that they will reopen in the fall.

The next stop was across the street to the Museum of the City of New York, which is charged with a “unique mandate: to explore the past, present, and future of this fascinating and particular place and to celebrate its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. A variety of exhibitions, public programs, and publications all investigate what gives New York City its singular character.”

The current programs are tied to NY400: Holland on the Hudson, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Dutch. In 1609 the Half Moon, guided by Captain Henry Hudson, landed on the shores of what is now New York City. Hudson’s arrival led to the establishment of New Amsterdam and the New Netherland colony.

This was my first visit to the museum and, while I was eager to rejoin the celebrations outside, I couldn’t drag myself away from the programs including exhibits about Manhattan before Hudson’s arrival, the Dutch city, and the acapella concert by the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.

I kept checking my watch, thinking that I was missing the rest of the festival, but remaining unwilling to leave as I learned about the many Dutch influences that continue to touch our lives in New York City today. I lingered at a map that shows areas of the city with their original Dutch names: Breuckelen (Brooklyn), Vlackebos (Flatbush), Boswijck (Bushwick), Conijne Eylandt (Coney Island), Midwout (Midwood), Nieuw Utrecht (New Utrecht). I listened to recordings based on diaries and letters written by the Dutch colonists. I gazed at the rare artifacts, books, manuscripts, maps and globes.

I stayed until the museum was ready to lock its doors for the night. When I got back to the street, the festival was over. The street had reopened to traffic and a few stragglers were using discarded pieces of chalk to make their marks on the sidewalks and walls.

Perhaps next year I’ll take in more than one or two museums during the festival. Then again, perhaps not. Why rush to “get through” a good experience?

I once read a highly-recommended guide to Paris by Rick Steves which included instructions on how to see the Louvre Museum in less than an hour (maintain a brisk pace and glace at certain key works in case your friends back home ask what you thought of, say, the Mona Lisa). When I got to Paris I ditched the book and spent an entire day inside the Louvre, lingering after dark to watch the skateboarders clattering on the stairs and terraces above the Seine. The “in a hurry” crowd never knew what they missed.

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Dancing in the middle of Fifth Avenue

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Drawing in the street

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Another little artist

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Inside the Heckscher Building

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Jam session in El Museo del Barrio

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Viewing the NY400 exhibits

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Photographs of Dutch citizens

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Moving up and down the stairway

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Exploring the galleries

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A figure originally used to hold a compass on a ship

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Looking at Dutch photographs of New Yorkers

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A guide to Nieu-Nederlandt

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Viewing a video about New York history

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Map of New Amsterdam

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Inside the galleries

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The crowd straggles out of the Museum of the City of New York

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Writing on the walls with chalk

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Chalk message on a museum wall

Annual Museum Mile Festival
El Museo del Barrio
Museum of the City of New York
NY Times: Voyaging Up the Hudson to Rediscover the Dutch
NY400
New York City Gay Men’s Chorus


The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill

October 30, 2008

This is the final week of the art installation known as The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill. Located in a former shop in Greenwich Village, the exhibit by secretive UK artist Banksy provides an original view of pets, food and the ways they intersect.

At first glace, it seems that the space is outfitted like a standard pet shop: the walls are lined with tanks and cages, rows of cat food and dog treats. But a closer look reveals that the Village Pet Store contains no live animals.

Instead, there are fish sticks swimming in a bowl, animatronic Chicken McNuggets dipping themselves into a cup of barbecue sauce, sausages wriggling beside a bowl of olives, a rabbit at a vanity applying makeup, and a rhesus monkey, remote control clutched in his paw, transfixed by a television program about gorillas.

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View from the street

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Sign in the front window

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Fish sticks swimming in a bowl

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Chicken McNuggets dip into cup of sauce

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Merchandise displayed on wall

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Menu above front windows

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Leopardskin coat lounging on a branch

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Sausages with toothpicks

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Sliced salami with bowl of olives

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Hot dog with bottle of mustard

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White rabbit with makeup

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Monkey watching television

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Monkey and observer

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Molting bird in a cage

The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill
NY Times: Where Fish Sticks Swim Free and Chicken Nuggets Self-Dip


Post-Bang with Lynda Barry

June 6, 2008

Author, teacher, humorist, cartoonist, muse, Lynda Barry is an American original. She is brilliant, creative, dedicated and inspirational, yet somehow the fame and fortune (especially the fortune) she deserves have managed to elude her.

Instead of being a household name, she is more of a cult figure. While a devoted fanbase worships her every jot and scribble, she still struggles to have her work published and derives most of her income by selling sketches on eBay.

Tonight, Lynda spoke as part of Post Bang: Comics Ten Minutes After the Big Bang!, a symposium on the growing cultural significance of comics sponsored by New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU with the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA). This was a serious academic event which described Lynda’s appearance thusly: “Harvard scholar Hillary Chute in conversation with one of the country’s foremost alternative cartoonists, LYNDA BARRY (Ernie Pook’s Comeek, The Good Times are Killing Me, What It Is).”

I’ll never understand why Americans think nothing of paying $5 for a fancy cup of coffee that lasts only a few minutes, or $100 for a pair of sneakers that will wear out in a few months, yet balk at paying $20 for a book that is sheer genius and will last a lifetime. C’mon, give the red-headed lady some respect.

If you have any interest at all in creativity, writing, conquering the internal demons that prevent you from telling your stories or learning how to be your own muse, please buy (or at least read) What it Is.

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What it Is

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Lynda Barry

What It Is
Lynda Barry’s shop on eBay
Marlys Magazine
Post Bang: Comics Ten Minutes After the Big Bang!
Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA)
Drawn and Quarterly publishers
NY Times: How to Think Like a Surreal Cartoonist
My Shrine to Lynda Barry
National Public Radio (NPR): Lynda Barry on What it Is
Salon: Lynda Barry, Barefoot on the Shag


Click!

May 6, 2008

Did you ever look at something displayed in a gallery or museum and wondered why on earth the experts had chosen to show that? Ever think you could do a better job of selecting works worth displaying?

Well, now you can. Yes, you, too, can judge an art show in a major museum.

Here’s the deal: the Brooklyn Museum, the second largest art museum in New York (and one of the largest in the country) is holding a new photography show that allows the public to participate in the exhibition process.

The exhibit, entitled Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition, was inspired by a book, The Wisdom of Crowds, which says that a diverse crowd often makes wiser decisions than those made by the so-called experts.

For Click!, anyone who is interested can go to the museum’s Web site and, until May 23, rate how well the photographs reflect the theme: The Changing Faces of Brooklyn. The crowd’s ratings will determine which photos will be exhibited at the museum and how they will be displayed.

Um, yes, in case you are wondering, I did submit a photo and no, I cannot link to it on the museum’s site.

From the museum’s Web site:

What do you mean by “the changing faces of Brooklyn”?
Brooklyn, like most of New York City, is in a constant state of change. Population growth and environmental causes have altered the borough’s terrain, transforming commercial and residential areas and impacting the borough’s residents and activity. Considering Brooklyn’s transformation over the years, its past and its present, please submit a photograph that captures the “changing face(s) of Brooklyn.” We welcome a wide variety of visual interpretations of this topic.

Who is on the jury?
Anyone and everyone! We are asking as many people as possible to evaluate submissions. In crowd theory, it’s important that the crowd be diverse, so we encourage people from all backgrounds and geographic locations to participate.

Why can’t I send a link to a friend and tell them to vote for my work?
We don’t allow linking directly to works to avoid having the results skewed by promotional methods. Your work will be displayed without attribution [my name doesn't appear], and all evaluation data will be withheld until the exhibition in June. Although you can’t send a direct link to your work, we want you to encourage friends, family, and colleagues to participate in the evaluation process. Please help us spread the word.

Want to give it a try? Start here: Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition and register on the museum’s Web site. The rating period ends May 23, 2008.

PS: If you do come across my photo (below) I’d appreciate a good rating. Have fun!

Legalizacion Para Todos Los Inmigrantes
Legalizacion Para Todos Los Inmigrantes

Brooklyn Museum: Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition
Brooklyn Museum: Click! exhibit blog
TechCrunch: The Brooklyn Museum Lets the Crowd Curate a Show
Museum 2.0: Brooklyn Clicks with the Crowd: What Makes a Smart Mob?


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