September 21, 2014

HE FOR SHE

I've spent the entire weekend immersed in feminist literature, digging into how masculinities and femininities influence influence war and conflict, as part of my graduate school work. Admittedly, I used to have a bit of a negative connotation of feminism, feeling defensive about fighting for women's rights in the midst of all the suffering in the world. It wasn't until I dug into the theory behind feminism that I understood its full breadth. My professor Dr. Sylvia Maier explained it best by saying that gender studies is about emancipation of men and women alike. It is not a divisive issue because we are all affected by it and this very basic inequality is where so many other types of inequality feed off. Another person who just beautifully explained it is Emma Watson, who launched the He for She campaign today at the United Nations as the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. I encourage you to watch it and hope that you'll participate in the He for She campaign. For more information, visit www.heforshe.org.

September 14, 2014

SO YOU THINK YOU WANT PRINCE CHARMING?

Put a Disney Prince in a real-life setting and you realize just how ridiculous (and borderline creepy) these fairy tale ideals can be. This Buzzfeed video is so spot on, I was in tears from laughing while watching it. Click play to start your week off on a funny note!

September 7, 2014

NORTH RIVER LOBSTER COMPANY

Summer is supposedly over but you wouldn't know it from the still rising temperatures here in New York. I'm not complaining—I'd like to hold on to summer as long as possible! If, like me, you're intent on enjoying every last bit of the remaining warm weather in the city, here's a fun activity to try: hop on the North River Lobster Company boat for seafood, sun and sailing on the Hudson River.


We feasted on oysters, black tiger shrimps, Maine lobster, Mahi-Mahi fish tacos and shrimp po' boys as the boat sailed on the Hudson. There was no shortage of lovely New York views as we lunched and boozed. I would recommend getting there as early as possible if you'd like to dine outside, as the outdoor seating was full by 12:30pm on a Sunday. Also, if you have the tendency to get seasick, I would advise you to pop a pill as this is very much a moving restaurant. But if you love seafood and being "out at sea", an afternoon on the North River Lobster Company boat is a fun and unique use of what remains of this summer.

North River Lobster Company docks at Pier 81 near West 41st Street and 12th Avenue, New York, NY.

August 30, 2014

THE SUMMER OF JEFF KOONS

In New York this summer, the highly popular and controversial artist Jeff Koons is holding court.


In the middle of Rockefeller Center, his monumental piece, Split-Rocker, stands in bloom. I found it quirky yet arresting when I first saw it, a gargantuan topiary depicting slices of a rocking horse head and a dinosaur fused into one. As with other Koons sculptures I've seen, I was entertained and impressed, albeit slightly unsettled, by this piece—but I didn't ponder it further until after I viewed Jeff Koons: A Retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

As I walked through four floors filled with Koons' body of work, I began to grasp his fascination with duality and juxtaposition. The first pieces displayed were from his 2013 Gazing Ball series, with two sculptures inspired by classical antiquity and another by classic Americana. The choice of contrasting subjects was the first juxtaposition; the choice of material, chalky 19th century-favorite plaster and the shiny metallic gazing balls of Koons' childhood, was the second.


From there, it was a flashback to the beginning of Koons' career in the late 1970s. In the Inflatables series, I could see the beginnings of what would become his most famous pieces. Koons says he was drawn to these inflatable objects because of the similarity between them and us humans, in that both share a similarly optimistic spirit and that breaths of air keep both alive.


In The New series, the glass-encased vacuum cleaners, relics from the 1980s, were at first confounding then quite entertaining. Imagine that: appliances created for the purpose of sucking up dust, kept dust-free forever! The Equilibrium series held my attention less because of the underlying meaning and more because it demonstrated Koons' fastidiousness at finding a way to keep the basketballs fixed in place inside a water tank (a mixture of fresh and saltwater supposedly did the trick).

Next, on the third floor: Statuaries, in which Koons features stainless silver casts of classical figures and kitschy tchotchkes: Louis XIV next to Bob Hope, a classical Italian woman's bust against a mermaid troll. In the middle of it all, there's Koons' famous piece The Rabbit, a stainless silver cast of the inflatable toy from his earlier work. This sculpture is fascinating for the level of detail put into making a heavy and solid material believably portray a light and airy object. Another interesting juxtaposition in this series: the conscious choice to use a material typically used for cheap everyday things to create costly art.


Banality was a series designed, according to the artist, to free us from our embarassment of the kitschy relics of our childhood. In the middle of a row of life-size tchotchkes was another of Koons' most popular pieces: Michael Jackson and Bubbles. With its porcelain tones and Pieta-inspired pose, Koons meant to convey the sacrifice of self and identity that the late pop star had to go through to be accepted by the public. Another piece that caught my eye was Amore, which combined two of my favorite childhood toys: a teddy bear and Cabbage Patch Kid, arms outstretched in an unsettling plea for love.


The next part of the exhibition, Made in Heaven, is not for the prudish. Here, we are thrown into the lusty maelstrom of Koons' first marriage to an Italian porn star (later turned politician, interestingly enough). While I mostly ignored the explicit floor-to-ceiling paintings of the couple, I did like the contrast between the self-love oozing out of Self-Portrait and the couple's rapt absorption with each other in Bourgeois Bust


After that, I was rewarded with a happy and colorful little Jeff Koons Elephant, a welcome visual treat. Again, it's fun to see how heavy stainless steel was made to look believably like a foil balloon. You'll note from the background of this photo that there were also paintings in the exhibition (though clearly from my images, I was far more smitten with the sculptures). This is a glimpse of his Easy Fun-Ethereal series, which started out as collages which were then handpainted with oils on canvas. Here we get a glimpse of the surrealist painter that Koons started out as in his student years. 


It was the perfect segue to the next floor, which contained some of Koons' most exuberant work, the Celebration series. Here you could see Koons' iconic Balloon Dog, the colorful and collosal Play-Doh, and the $23 million Hanging Heart. Play-Doh took 20 years to complete, entailing painstaking effort to make hunks of metal look like pliant clay. The curator's commentary on the guide gave an added dimension to the piece, explaining that what makes this sculpture interesting is that it appears abstract but is in fact incredibly realistic because of how truthful it is to the original subject, fistfuls of Play-Doh piled up by Koons' son.


The next series was titled Popeye – ... a bit confusing as Koons' Popeye ended up being displayed on the outside terrace and not with the rest of the pieces. I quite liked the formidable granite Popeye, detailed down to the anchor tattoo on his bulging bicep, with flowers growing out of his spinach can. The use of fresh flowers with sculptures is, again, a juxtaposition of the ephemeral and the permanent. Also in this series were deceptively simple-looking sculptures of inflatable walruses impaled on trash cans and plastic chairs. While they weren't my favorite, I marveled at how realistic the toys looked (considering the real thing would've been instantly deflated by the objects they were displayed with). Also: that Hulk Organ is actually a functioning organ!


My favorite part of the exhibition was Antiquity, some of Koons' most recent work, which takes figures from the Paleolithic, Greek and Roman periods and fashions them into the metallic sculptures that have now become the artist's mark. Balloon Venus is styled after the prehistoric Venus figures but is made with careful attention to detail to also look like a real balloon sculpture. In Metallic Venus and Pluto and Proserpina, the contrast is now between the rigidity of the metal used and the fluidity of the sculptures' appearance. Flowers are again used, evoking transcience but also giving that funny feeling that we're looking at what must be the world's most expensive planters. Pluto and Proserpina is my favorite Koons piece to date, catching my fancy with the detail and movement captured by a sculpture, much like Giambologna's Rape of the Sabine Women, which captivated me when I first laid eyes on the sculpture in Firenze's Loggia dei Lanzi.


A lot has been said, both effusive and scathing, about Jeff Koons—but there's no denying that he creates stunning art, made with an effort to reach out to everyone and to make art a relatable, rather than intimidating, experience. Whether you are an art enthusiast or simply just enjoy seeing cool things, Jeff Koons' retrospective is worth a visit.


August 13, 2014

WHAT WILL YOUR VERSE BE?


I didn't realize that Robin Williams had carved out a little nook in my heart until I heard the unbidden "No!" come out of my mouth immediately after hearing the tragic news of his passing. From the tributes that have poured in since then, it's clear that he had the same effect on countless people all over the world. We've lost our dear Captain, and we will all laugh a little bit less now that he is gone—but his verse, brimming with that uncontainable energy, poignant insight, and boundless sense of wonder, will always remain.



"They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you.
Invincible, just like you feel.
The world is their oyster.
They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you,
their eyes are full of hope, just like you.
Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils.
But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you.
Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it?
Carpe ... hear it? Carpe ...
Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys.
Make your lives extraordinary."




"But oh, to be free.
Not to have to go, 'Poof! What do you need?' 
'Poof! What do you need?' 
'Poof! What do you need?'
To be my own master.
Such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasures in all the world.




"You'll have bad times, but it'll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren't paying attention to.
People call these things imperfections, but they're not.
Oh, that's the good stuff.
And then we get to choose who we let into our weird little worlds.
You're not perfect, sport, and let me save you the suspense:
this girl you've met, she's not perfect either.
But the question is whether or not you're perfect for each other."




"All of life is a coming home.
Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us.
All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home.
It's hard to describe what I felt like then. Picture yourself walking for days in the driving snow;
you don't even know you're walking in circles.
The heaviness of your legs in the drifts, your shouts disappearing into the wind.
How small you can feel, and how far away home can be.
Home. The dictionary defines it as both a place of origin and a goal or destination.
And the storm? The storm was all in my mind.
Or as the poet Dante put it: In the middle of the journey of my life, I found myself in a dark wood,
for I had lost the right path.
Eventually I would find the right path, but in the most unlikely place."





"To quote from Whitman, 'Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish ...
What good amid these, O me, O life?
Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.'
What will your verse be?"

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