Sinatra Drive between Fourth & Fifth Sts., Hoboken
Thursday, July 24, free, 7:00
At the May 2012 Thanks Jimi Festival in Wrocław, Poland, 7,273 guitarists set the world record for most people playing the same song, Hendrix’s “Hey Joe.” On July 24 at 7:00, Hoboken’s Guitar Bar will attempt to set a new high when they bring together instrumentalists of all skill levels in Sinatra Park to play Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” The world record attempt will be led by the Guitar Bar All Stars, teachers and staff of the popular Guitar Bar and the nearby Guitar Bar Jr. The setlist will also feature some combination of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane,” Patti Smith’s “Gloria,” Outkast’s “Hey Ya!,” Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash’s “Jackson,” Hank Williams’s “Jambalaya,” the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” and “Jersey Girl.” Feel free to just show up with whatever instrument you want; you can get a song tutorial here.
Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing, fourth and fifth floors
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Wednesday - Sunday through August 10, $15
Art Off the Wall: “Ai Weiwei: According to What?,” July 24, $15, 6:00
Over the last decade, Ai Weiwei has become the most famous, and arguably the most important, artist in the world. The multidisciplinary artist and activist, the son of a poet and activist father, helped design the National Olympic Stadium, aka the Bird’s Nest, for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, was beaten by police in Chengdu in 2009, had his influential blog shut down by the Chinese government that same year, then was arrested in 2011, his whereabouts unknown for eighty-one days as people around the globe demanded his release. Through it all, Ai, who has been under house arrest since 2011, has remained steadfast in his dedication to challenge belief systems, question the status quo, and explore social issues in his art. All that and more is evident in the impressive “Ai Weiwei: According to What?,” a touring survey that is in the midst of its final stop at the Brooklyn Museum, where it continues through August 10. “Rather than thinking of my projects as art, they attempt to introduce a new condition, a new means of expression, or a new method of communicating,” Ai tells Kerry Brougher in a Q&A in the exhibition catalog, in which he references Ludwig Wittgenstein, Andy Warhol, Confucius, Donald Judd, and Sergei Eisenstein in a few short pages. “If these possibilities didn’t exist, I wouldn’t feel the need to be an artist.”
The exhibition began in 2009 at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo but continued to morph as it made its way through North America toward Brooklyn, where several pieces have been added. Upon entering the Brooklyn Museum’s front lobby, visitors are greeted by “S.A.C.R.E.D.,” six iron boxes that contain detailed re-creations of scenes from Ai’s imprisonment — being led into his small cell by guards, being interrogated, eating, sleeping, using the bathroom, under constant surveillance — instantly turning the Beijing-based artist into a heroic, bigger-than-life figure. The rest of the show, spread across two upper floors, confirms that Ai is indeed a hero, his sculptures, photographs, films, repurposed found objects, and installations all having political, historical, and social relevance, dealing with individual freedom, human rights, and the search for the truth.
There is critical meaning behind every work, sometimes obvious, as in the marble “Surveillance Camera” and photographs in which Ai shoves his middle finger at Tiananmen and the White House, and often less clear at first, as in “He Xie,” a pile of more than three thousand porcelain crabs gathered at the center of a room. The piece references a dinner of river crabs that Ai, who could not attend because of his house arrest, organized shortly before his Shanghai studio was going to be torn down by the government; the title of the piece sounds like the word “harmonious,” which echoes the communist phrase “a harmonious society.” Ai consistently values people above material objects, mocking monetary worth. In “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” three photographs depict him letting an ancient ceramic vase fall from his hands, smashing at his feet. “Stacked” consists of hundreds of silver bicycles in a dazzling array, not only evoking the popular means of transportation in China but the mass production of consumer goods, in this case made by a company called Forever.
Ai has spent much of the last few years investigating the aftereffects of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, in which poorly constructed buildings, including schools, resulted in approximately ninety thousand missing or dead men, women, and children. For “Straight,” Ai had workers take twisted steel rebar from the sites of the building collapses and pound them back into their original straight form, then laid them out in a vast landscape that appears unfinished, as more bodies need to be found and identified. The victims of the earthquake, who have been mostly ignored by the government, are given back their identities in “Sichuan Namelist,” an inkjet print listing casualties, and “Remembrance,” a nearly four-hour recording on which a voice reads the names of the students who died in the tragedy. The children are also memorialized in “Snake Ceiling,” in which hundreds of children’s backpacks form a serpentine figure lurking above.
“Ai Weiwei: According to What?” also includes dozens of Ai’s photographs from his time in New York City; repurposed furniture that comments on Chinese tradition and the actual map of the country; his film Stay Home!, about a woman who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion when she was a little girl; the installation “Ye Haiyan,” in which Ai has collected the belongings of a women’s rights activist who keeps getting evicted from her home; a video documenting his “Fairytale” project, in which he brought 1,001 Chinese people, from all classes, to Documenta in Kassel; and works that detail his brain injury suffered at the hands of police. The exhibition is splendidly curated by Sharon Matt Atkins, allowing plenty of space for contemplation of these bold, inspiring works by an artist who is not afraid to speak his mind, fully aware of what the consequences might be. “The relationship between thought and action is the most important source of human wisdom and joy,” Ai says at the end of the catalog interview. “With both, the process of turning art into reality is the path to happiness. It’s like a game. Only through this process can we understand who we are. So the game will continue.” The captivating exhibition — which is positive and delightfully engaging despite the serious nature of so much of its subject matter — makes you want to be part of that game. On Thursday, July 24, there will be a special evening “Art Off the Wall” program, consisting of a talk by Matt Atkins at 6:00, a presentation and workshop by the Asian American Oral History Collective at 6:30, Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai’s multimedia spoken-word piece “Ai Weiwei: The Seed” at 7:30, and a Chinese calligraphy workshop and DJ set at 8:30. (To see Ai answer questions from museum visitors, go here.)
Cedar Lake Theater
547 West 26th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday, July 29, and Wednesday, July 30, free, 7:00 & 8:30
In the last few odd-numbered years, Chelsea-based Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet has presented a summer intensive where dance students work with the sixteen-member company to create an immersive 360° installation in which the performance reaches into a variety of physical spaces. This summer, recently promoted artistic director Alexandra Damiani has created Cedar Lab, an initiative in which five of the dancers will choreograph new pieces; the works-in-progress will be unveiled to the public for free July 29-30. “As we reach our ten-year anniversary, this is an opportune time for Cedar Lake to consider where we would like to go in the next decade,” Damiani, who was ballet master under pervious artistic director Benoit-Swan Pouffer, said in a statement. “By investing in the talent of our dancers, who have time and again proven themselves to be insatiably gifted individuals, I hope that Cedar Lab will open new creative doors for our dancers and reinforce our position as a leading voice in the creation and performance of contemporary dance.” The five dancers — Jon Bond (The Devil Was Me), Navarra Novy-Williams (three solos for women), Matthew Rich (dance film), Joaquim de Santana (gender-defying duet), and Vânia Doutel Vaz (seven dancers exploring communication) — will not just choreograph the pieces but work with lighting, set and costume design, and music and sound to get the full experience. The shows will take place at 7:00 and 8:30; admission is free, first come, first served.
While the weather continues to be unpredictably crazy, it’s been nothing but blue clouds at the southeast entrance to Central Park since late winter. Yes, that’s right — not blue skies or white clouds but sky-blue clouds, offering a Magritte-like vista nearly three dozen feet high. In March, Swiss-born, New York-based artist Olaf Breuning installed “Clouds” on Doris C. Freedman Plaza at Scholars’ Gate on Sixtieth St. and Fifth Ave., a half dozen polished and painted aluminum clouds in different shades of blue, posted atop what look like ramshackle ladders that evoke a shaky stairway to heaven. The clouds were based on a childlike drawing by Bruening, inspired by a 2008 project in Italy in which he had cranes and cherry pickers lift six cloud constructions to the sky in order to take a photograph; he initially drew blue clouds instinctively, then decided to leave them that color and not make them white. For New York, the clouds will remain up for approximately five months, through August 24, appearing to change color as the weather goes from stormy to blazing hot, with gray skies giving way to bright, shiny days. The clouds also interact with the park entrance, particularly now against the lush green background. Breuning often infuses his work with a childlike wonder and playfulness, as evidenced by such whimsical exhibitions as “The Art Freaks” and “Small Brain Big Stomach,” shown in recent years at Metro Pictures in Chelsea, and his colorful “Smoke Grid,” which exploded at Art Basel in Miami in December. “Clouds” manages to spread a little sunshine even on the darkest days, especially if you catch them at just the right angle, melding into the real sky above one of the most popular places in the city.
UMBERTO D. (Vittorio De Sica, 1952)
Socrates Sculpture Park
32-01 Vernon Blvd.
Wednesday, July 23, free, 7:00
We don’t think we’ll ever stop crying. Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist masterpiece Umberto D. stars Carlo Battisti (a professor whom De Sica saw one day and thought would be perfect for the lead role; it would be Battisti’s only film) as Umberto Domenico Ferrari, an elderly former bureaucrat who is too proud to sacrifice his dignity in order to pay his mean-spirited landlady (Lina Gennari), who rents out his room by the hour while he’s out walking his beloved dog, Flag, and trying to find some way to get money and food. Umberto D. is befriended by the boardinghouse maid (Maria Pia Casilio), who is pregnant with the child of one of two servicemen, neither of whom wants to have anything to do with her. As Umberto D.’s options start running out, he considers desperate measures to free himself from his loneliness and poverty. His relationship with Flag is one of the most moving in cinema history. Don’t miss this remarkable achievement, which was lovingly restored last decade by eighty-six-year-old lighting specialist Vincenzo Verzini, known as Little Giotto. Umberto D. is screening July 23 in Long Island City as part of Socrates Sculpture Park’s free summer Outdoor Cinema series and will be preceded by live music; Italian food from Pomegranate will be available for purchase as well. The sixteenth annual series continues through August 27 with such other international fare as Matías Piñeiro’s Viola, Linda Västrik’s Forest of the Dancing Spirits, and Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins.
We feel a special affinity for Chakaia Booker’s new installation “The Sentinels,” five works that line Broadway’s Garment District Plazas just north of Macy’s. When we were growing up, our family ran a tire and auto repair business on Utica Ave. in Brooklyn, so the smell and touch of vulcanized rubber is in our veins. The project, sponsored by the Garment District Alliance and the New York City Department of Transportation, consists of five pieces that the Newark-born, New York City-based Booker, working with fabricator Alston Van Putten Jr., fashioned by first employing design software to come up with a scale model, then using stainless-steel tubing, recycled rubber tires, and power tools to put it all together. Situated along the pedestrian plazas on Broadway, the pieces evoke industrialism, labor, and environmentalism while honoring the African American experience; it also serves as a reminder that the area was formerly open to cars, but the only rubber currently allowed on that part of the street is Booker’s art.
The five works — “Shapeshifter,” “Gridlock,” “Take Out,” “One Way,” and the brand-new “LBD Duty Free,” created for this installation — offer a welcoming presence that invites passersby to investigate their intricate details (though no touching is allowed), as Booker and Van Putten Jr. were able to turn the tires into all kinds of twisting shapes that recall sewing and patchwork quilts as well as a kind of unique playground (but no climbing allowed). Particularly effective is 2008’s “Take Out,” which recalls a wonderfully framed painting looking up or down bustling Broadway as well as a mirror that makes it feel like you’re looking at yourself. “Placing these sculptures in the Garment District suggests a cross pollination, and cultivation of current, past, and future behavior,” Booker explained in a statement. “I hope this installation helps create a sense of community progression, symbolizing how this neighborhood has grown into the vibrant, creative, and artistic center it is today.” The black and gray color palette is also quite a contrast to the artist herself, who wears colorful head wraps and dresses. When we were at the Domino Sugar Factory last month seeing Kara Walker’s spectacular Creative Time project “A Subtlety,” we suddenly found ourselves standing next to Booker, whose dazzling outfit provided a stark contrast to Walker’s central white “mammy” sculpture. (You can see a photo of Booker at the show here.) Booker, whose “Manipulating Fractions” was part of the recent “Fact of the Matter” off-site Socrates Sculpture Park exhibition at the 1285 Avenue of the Americas Art Gallery, will be at the actual Socrates park in Queens from July 28 to August 1 leading the children’s outdoor art workshop “Build a Meal,” in which participants will sculpt a balanced meal using clay and other materials; preregistration is highly advised at 718-956-1819.
Greeley Square Park
Broadway between 32nd & 33rd Sts.
Daily through August 1, 11:00 am - 9:00 pm
We are absolute suckers for the spate of trendy food courts popping around the city, from the indoor Todd English Food Hall at the Plaza and the brand-new Hudson Eats in the World Financial Center to the pop-up Mad. Sq. Eats by Madison Square Park and Smorgasburg in Brooklyn. You can also catch us now at Broadway Bites, which continues through August 1 in Greeley Square Park by Macy’s. More than thirty vendors are selling their edibles; you can start with a pastry and a cup of joe from Breads Bakery, then move on to a slice of pizza from Roberta’s, a bulgogi burger from Asiadog, a rice ball from Arancini Bros., barbecue from Mason Jar NYC, takoyaki teriyaki balls from Mimi & Coco NY, a variety of meatballs from Mighty Balls, gluten-free veggie fare from Two Tablespoons, or a burger and truffle fries from Bar Suzette. There’s also California street food from Jicama NYC, Asian street food from Hong Kong Street Cart, Indian from Chutney, Thai from Bangkok Bar, Colombian from Palenque, Korean from Seoul Lee Korean Barbecue, Turkish from MMM Enfes, Mexican from Mexicue, cured meats from Charlito’s Cocina, empanadas from La Sonrisa Empanadas, sandwiches and beer from Mayhem & Stout, Brazilian cuisine from Carnaval, healthy Japanese fusion from Onigiri by Tampopo, and tacos from Brooklyn Taco Co. For dessert, our favorite is Macaron Parlour, but you can also try delights from Stuffed Artisan Cannolis, Nunu Beers & Scoops, La Newyorkina, Gelato Ti Amo, and Melt Bakery. As with Mad. Sq. Eats, it’s worth making a trip to this outdoor food court, not just stop by if you happen to be in the area or are going to or coming from Macy’s, Penn Station, or Madison Square Garden. In addition, we recommend taking your food just a few blocks north on Broadway and find a table amid Chakaia Booker’s public art installation, “The Sentinels,” a collection of sculptures made from tires and tubing.