555 Seventh Avenue Plaza
“Could it be that living through the time of coronavirus will reconfigure the organisation of fashion, fundamentally changing how brands practice their role? I hope it can be so,” Sarah Mower writes in a March 25 article for British Vogue. During the pandemic, many fashionistas, from major corporations to DIY home sewers, have stepped up to make masks, gloves, and other items for health-care workers on the front lines of the battle to stave off the infectious disease known as Covid-19.
The garment industry has been a centerpiece of American ingenuity since the 1800s. An enormous influx of immigrants around the turn of the twentieth century toiled in the industry, often in sweatshops churning out clothing and other items. Israeli-born, New York-based artist Judith Weller honored the immigrant employees with her eight-foot-high statue The Garment Worker, a tribute to her father, a garment industry machine operator. Weller expanded the piece from its original twenty-four-inch height; the large-scale sculpture was commissioned by the Public Art Fund and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and donated to the city of New York by a wide range of garmentos, from Anne Klein, Bill Blass, Ellen Tracy, Liz Claiborne, and Ralph Lauren to the Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers Union, the Association of Rain Apparel Contractors, the Jewish Community Fund, the Ladies Apparel Contractors Association, and United Tool, among others. “When I was a little girl, I recall seeing him at work,” Weller said of her father at the time of the installation, which was initially scheduled to run from October 31, 1984, to the following Halloween but is now permanent. “I utilized what I know of him as well as my memory in creating the sculpture.”
The bronze man, wearing a yarmulke, sits determinedly at his sewing machine, carefully stitching fabric. He’s focused on his hands, which delicately push down on the material; the table he works on is open to reveal his legs and feet. The drudgery is apparent on his stern face, as is his dedication to his task. Perhaps today the man would be making masks and gloves to save the lives of New Yorkers and other Americans. “The human figure expresses my struggle, anxiety, frustration, yearning, and hope. It offers unlimited and inexhaustible possibilities,” Weller explains in her artist statement.
The Garment Worker continues to work every day in the shadow of the giant button and needle that lean on the Garment District Information Kiosk at the corner of Thirty-Ninth St. and Seventh Ave. (Fashion Ave.). He is no mere relic of the past but a reminder of who we all are and where we came from, and what we can do to maintain the country’s ever-more-fragile infrastructure.
“The big question is whether this spontaneous surge of human spirit, practicality, and creativity will grow strongly enough, for long enough, to turn fashion’s priorities around,” Mower writes in British Vogue. “Will this nightmare time actually become a historic and positive turning point, converting both industry producers and wearers to, literally, a new way of seeing and valuing clothes? There’s a possibility that all these weeks of staying at home will result in discovering a streak of waste-not creativity we never knew we had.” That evaluation is right on the button, hitting the . nail on the head.
If only we had a hero like Balto now, a brave sled dog racing to deliver a magic elixir that would save us from the deadly coronavirus. There’s no medicine yet to cure the world of COVID-19, but in 1925, Siberian husky Balto, leading the team of musher Gunnar Kassen, galloped into Nome, Alaska, with a diphtheria antitoxin to help defeat a horrible outbreak of the killer disease.
Named after Norwegian Sámi explorer Samuel Johannesen Balto, who traversed Greenland with Fridtjof Nansen in 1888, Balto was born in Nome in 1919 and died in 1933 in Cleveland, where his remains are mounted in the city’s Museum of Natural History. On December 17, 1925, Brooklyn-born sculptor Frederick G. R. Roth’s statue of Balto was dedicated on a small outcropping of rock west of East Dr. and Sixty-Seventh St. in Central Park, near an underpass north of the children’s zoo. The regal dog stands proudly, tongue out, eyes eagerly anticipating his next job, his front paws higher than his back paws, giving him a noble position. His ears, back, and belly have lost some of their original dark color because kids and adults rub them for good luck. Balto himself attended the statue’s unveiling, with Kassen. On the rock below the classy canine is a plaque that reads:
“Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles over rough ice across treacherous waters through arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the winter of 1925. Endurance Fidelity Intelligence.”
Roth also designed the Mother Goose statue, featuring Humpty Dumpty, Old King Cole, Little Jack Horner, Mother Hubbard, and Mary and her little lamb, that resides in front of Rumsey Playfield, as well as the bronze lion at Columbia University’s Baker Field. Balto, who was neutered and therefore could not be bred, has also been immortalized in Carl Barks’s Uncle Scrooge comic book (as “Barko”), in Alistair MacLean’s 1959 novel Night without End, and in Simon Wells’s 1995 animated live-action film, Balto, in which he’s voiced by Kevin Bacon.
Most of us are sheltered at home, but if you have to go out — as of now, parks are open, and sunshine and fresh air are healthy alternatives to being shut inside, as long as you maintain social distancing — stop by and say hello to Balto, although you’re probably better off not petting him. And just imagine him leading a pack bringing in much-needed gloves, masks, respirators, and ventilators, helping humanity once again in another dramatic health crisis.
Since May 2001, twi-ny has been recommending cool things to do throughout the five boroughs, popular and under-the-radar events that draw people out of their homes to experience film, theater, dance, art, literature, music, food, comedy, and more as part of a live audience in the most vibrant community on Earth.
With the spread of Covid-19 and the closing of all cultural institutions, sports venues, bars, and restaurants (for dining in), we feel it is our duty to prioritize the health and well-being of our loyal readers. So, for the next several weeks at least, we won’t be covering any public events in which men, women, and children must congregate in groups, a more unlikely scenario day by day anyway.
That said, as George Bernard Shaw once noted, “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”
Some parks are still open, great places to breathe in fresh air, feel the sunshine, and watch the changing of winter into spring. We will occasionally be pointing out various statues, sculptures, and installations, but check them out only if you are already going outside and will happen to be nearby.
You don’t have to shut yourself away completely for the next weeks and months — for now, you can still go grocery shopping and pick up takeout — but do think of others as you go about your daily life, which is going to be very different for a while. We want each and every one of you to take care of yourselves and your families, follow the guidelines for social distancing, and consider the health and well-being of those around you.
We look forward to seeing you indoors and at festivals and major outdoor events as soon as possible, once New York, America, and the rest of the planet are ready to get back to business. Until then, you can find us every so often under the sun, moon, clouds, and stars, finding respite in this amazing city now in crisis.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, March 7, free (some events require advance tickets), 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum honors Women’s History Month for its free First Saturday March gathering with “Geographies of Gender,” programs dealing with issues of gender, queerness, and color. There will be live performances by Thelma, Christopher Unpezverde Núñez (the autobiographical Yo, Obsolete), Ushamami, DJ Sabine Blaizin, Brown Girls Burlesque (Black Femme Warrior, with Hoodoo Hussy, Chicava Honeychild, Dakota Mayhem, Skye Syren, Genie Adagio, Delysia La Chatte, and Burgandy Jones), Hanae Utamura (A Letter from Future Past [The Pacific]), and Sammus; an artist talk with Naima Green, Caroline Washington, Rin Kim Ni, and Sable Elyse Smith about Green’s Pur·suit, followed by card games using decks with portraits of queer women and trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people; teen apprentice pop-up talks focusing on gender themes in the Arts of Asia galleries; a curator tour of “Out of Place: A Feminist Look at the Collection” led by curators Catherine Morris and Carmen Hermo; a hands-on art workshop where participants can make textile collages inspired by “Out of Place”; a Belladonna* poetry reading with S*an D. Henry-Smith, Giannina Braschi, and Jesse Rice-Evans; and a night market of Brooklyn vendors with goods made by local women and nonbinary artists. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “Jacques-Louis David Meets Kehinde Wiley,” “Out of Place: A Feminist Look at the Collection,” “African Arts — Global Conversations,” “JR: Chronicles,” “Jeffrey Gibson: When Fire Is Applied to a Stone It Cracks,” “Climate in Crisis: Environmental Change in the Indigenous Americas,” and more.
Bronx Museum of the Arts
1040 Grand Concourse at 165th St.
Through March 8, free
In 1985, the MTA began its Arts for Transit and Urban Design program (now known as MTA Arts & Design), connecting art with public transportation. But before that, art and transit went together like oil and water; hence the name of a fab exhibit that continues at the Bronx Museum through March 8, “Henry Chalfant: Art vs. Transit, 1977–1987,” the title of which was also inspired by the late graffiti artist SHY147. After arriving in New York City from Pittsburgh in 1973 and beginning as a sculptor, Chalfant was quickly enamored with street art, train graffiti, and hip-hop culture and started documenting it. Since train graffiti was impermanent — in addition to the MTA relentlessly trying to clean trains, other taggers and writers would spray paint right over existing tags — his photographs often became the only evidence of the work, so much so that soon graffiti artists would call him up to ask him to take pictures of trains and buildings they’d tagged. Chalfant would go to aboveground stations such as Intervale Avenue and East Tremont on the 2 and 5 lines and take multiple photos with his 35mm camera as trains whizzed by; he would then develop the photos and splice them together to create panoramic shots of full trains.
This first US museum retrospective, which was curated by Spanish graffiti artist SUSO33 for the Centro de Arte Tomás y Valiente in Madrid, includes dozens of Chalfant’s long, rectangular photographs, hung on the walls one above another, from floor to ceiling, exploding in a glorious blaze of colors and shapes, with wild lettering and cartoonish characters. Among the artists whose work he preserved on film are Dondi, Futura, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones, Zephyr, Blade, Crash, DAZE, Dez, Kel, Mare, SEEN, Skeme, and T-Kid, some of whom are interviewed for a short film made by multimedia, multidisciplinary artist, producer, and chronicler Sacha Jenkins. I was fortunate enough to watch the film, which is screened continuously within a re-creation of Chalfant’s SoHo studio, alongside a graffiti artist who added biting commentary about some of the figures in the film and pointed out one of his pieces as it passed by.
In the back room, a series of wooden structures are covered with full-length cloth murals to replicate spray-painted subway cars at actual size, while dozens of Chalfant’s photos are projected at the top of a wall at one end of the room, roaring into the station, then pulling out, complete with sound effects. Also on view are some of Chalfant’s notebooks and more than a hundred photographs of the burgeoning street hip-hop culture as well as newspaper and magazine articles and other ephemera. “The story of the neglected children of NYC, victims of poverty, racism, poor schools lacking art and music instruction who overcame their circumstances with creative expression, is a powerful and inspiring one,” Chalfant says in the beautiful bilingual catalog. “There are plenty of examples in the various cultures that emerged from the mean streets of New York that have been a powerful inspiration to youth everywhere. I’m happy and proud to be bringing it home.” The catalog also features essays by Jenkins, Sharp, SUSO33, and Carlos Mare.
Chalfant, a Stanford grad whose 1984 collaboration with Martha Cooper, Subway Art, is the bible of the genre and who coproduced with director Tony Silver the seminal 1983 documentary Style Wars, did the world a great service by capturing these works of art, which turned drab silver train cars into canvases of free expression, where men and women on the margins could scream out for all to experience. Be on the lookout for such photos as “Dondi,” “EYE JAMMIE by AOne,” “Mad (by Seen),” “Style Wars by Noc 167,” and “Stop the Bomb.”
On March 6, the Bronx Museum will host a free screening of Chalfant’s award-winning 2006 documentary, From Mambo to Hip-Hop: A South Bronx Tale; advance registration is recommended here. Also at the museum is the eye-opening “José Parlá: It’s Yours,” a major solo show by the Miami-born, longtime Bronx resident and former street artist known as “Ease”; his dazzling paintings and collages require up-close viewing to fully experience his exploration of gentrification and systemic racism while also celebrating street art and the Bronx.
Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Ave. at 36th St.
Friday, February 28, $25, 7:00
In conjunction with its current exhibit “Alfred Jarry: The Carnival of Being,” the Morgan is hosting a special event on February 28, bringing together a wide range of performers celebrating the vast influence of Jarry, the French Symbolist who died in 1907 at the age of thirty-four, having left behind an important legacy of plays (Ubu Roi), novels (Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician), essays (The Green Candle), illustrations, and more. The evening includes musical excerpts from actor Tony Torn and Julie Atlas Muz’s Ubu Sings Ubu, a mashup of Ubu Roi and songs by Cleveland art-punk provocateurs Pere Ubu; a screening of British speculative sculptor Lawrence Lek’s two-minute 2010 film The Time Machine, “a translation of surrealist science fiction into physical form” based on Jarry’s 1899 essay “How to Construct a Time Machine”; “Reading Jarry,” a collaboration between DJ Spooky and Belgian actor and producer Ronald Guttman; and live scoring by DJ Spooky to clips from the late Polish graphic designer and cartoonist Jan Lenica’s 1979 film, Ubu et la grande Gidouille. The program begins at 7:00, but ticket holders are invited to check out the exhibition, which continues through May 10, beginning at 6:00.
525 and 533 West 20th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Through February 22, free, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Doug Wheeler’s immersive light installation 49 Nord 6 Est 68 Ven 12 FL at David Zwirner is supposed to make you feel dizzy, but it’s the Noah Davis painting retrospective that will make you go weak in the knees. The Washington-born artist, who died of a rare form of cancer in 2015 at the age of thirty-two, left behind a dazzling legacy, both in his exquisitely beautiful and affecting canvases as well as his cofounding of the Underground Museum in LA with his wife, sculptor Karon Davis, and his brother, filmmaker Kahlil Joseph. “He made some four hundred paintings, collages, and sculptures, although I think it’s fair to say the deep DNA truth of Noah was that he was first and foremost a painter. His paintings are both figurative and abstract, realistic and dreamlike; they are about blackness and the history of Western painting, drawn from photographs and from life; they are exuberant and doleful in their palette,” museum board member and exhibition curator Helen Molesworth said in a statement.
The works at David Zwirner are simply staggering, breathtaking depictions of primarily black men, women, and children that often include a touch of magical realism. In an untitled painting from 2015, two girls sleep back-to-back on a couch, a partly covered figure at the left, an open door to the right, allowing us to peek into this intimate scene. In Prey, a Modigliani-esque, Giacometti-like faceless woman balances on a mountain, a deer peering off in the distance in front of her. Pueblo del Rio: Stain Glass Pants bursts to life with colorful geometric shapes and patterns that extend to every corner. The pool scene 1975 (8) offers a unique counterpart to David Hockney. Hung side by side, it appears that the pianist in Pueblo del Rio: Concerto is playing for the six dancers in Pueblo del Rio: Arabesque. Mark Rothko is specifically referenced in The “Fitz,” two very different depictions of a house. And in the surreal Imaginary Enemy, a man on fire is walking toward a second man wearing a strange item on his head and stepping on a giant golden bracelet that is taller than him.
The hand of the artist is vividly present in works that are superbly composed with a spectacular use of color, giving the paintings a visceral quality that gets down into your soul. As I walked around the gallery spaces, I saw other viewers who seemed to be experiencing the same power, immersed in Davis’s palpable world view. In the back room, Zwirner has re-created part of the Underground Museum, with two models of shows he was curating, family photographs, a bookshelf, a sculpture of a child by Karon Davis, Shelby George furniture designed by Davis’s mother, Faith Childs-Davis, and a video loop playing Joseph’s BLKNWS, a two-channel alternative news station that will come to BAM next month. The overall museum-quality exhibition is dizzying, in only the best way, a fitting tribute to a supremely talented artist who left us too soon.