Tag Archives: art

Election 2012: The White House Landscape Artists

6 Nov

In honor of the upcoming election, here’s a bit of trivia:::

The grounds at the White House in Washington, D.C., were designed by Calvert Vaux and Andrew Jackson Downing.  While Downing was American, Vaux was British.  After Downing was killed in a steamboat accident (I kid you not), Vaux went on to work with Frederick Law Olmsted.  Together they designed Central Park and Morningside Park in Manhattan and Fort Greene Park and Prospect Park in Brooklyn.  Is it any wonder that he cited the Transcendentalist author of “Nature,” Ralph Waldo Emerson, as one of his influences?

I took a group Church Hopping to the Church of the Intercession in Washington Heights, part of New York City, where Calvert Vaux was commissioned to to do landscape work on the cemetery grounds.  You can read about it here.


Recap of My Reading at the InterArts Summer Showcase

28 Jun


Friday’s InterArts Summer Showcase was a blast!  So much creativity filled the room.  I left feeling so inspired and wanting to be more experimental and collaborative.

There were ten of us presenting.  Four of us were representing the literary arts — personal essay, poetry, argument — while others were photographers, digital artists, singers, hip-hop artists, painters.  As evidenced from the picture above, one artist made a 3D film.  I was impressed by the quality of the projects and the thought process that had gone behind them.  I bought the poet’s chapbook, and if I were richer I’d love to own some of the art.

We each got eight minutes to present.  I’ll admit it: I was nervous.  I’m not a performer, and even though I write about myself a lot I don’t actually enjoy the spotlight.  But, I knew I had a story worth sharing.  I’m not typically a humor writer, but my story had a few funny moments in it, and I began to relax and enjoy myself as I heard the audience laughing.  When I got to the clincher at the end, I even heard someone audible gasp!

…And then my friends showed up.  I was the first presenter of the evening and even though we didn’t start on time, most of my friends missed my reading entirely.  I felt so bad!  Two of them had gotten stuck in rush hour traffic for two hours, another had cycled an hour and a half from another state, someone else had dragged along a friend who was visiting from out of town, and someone whom I had just met at NYFA‘s literary mingle had gotten stuck at work.  Some of my other friends were there, though, and my always-supportive and encouraging sister was there.  Afterward a group of us went out to a pub, so I got to at least catch up with most of them.  Some of them I hadn’t seen in 7+ months!  I’m so thankful for such great friends!  I know attending an arts event isn’t everyone’s ideal Friday night, and it meant a lot to me that my friends were supportive enough to travel–some of them from other boroughs, some from other states–to support my writing.  Awesome friends!

Gripster: 2011 Coney Island Mermaid Parade & Greek Mermaid Myths

20 Jun

I hit the beach for the first time this year for the 2011 Coney Island Mermaid Parade.  I’ve been going for a few years now, so I was kind of surprised when friends asked me what it is.  It’s pretty much what it sounds like.  It’s kind of like an all-mermaid version of the Village Halloween Parade.  A lot of the outfits are scandalous, but the parade is so much fun!

The Coney Island Mermaid Parade is the world’s largest art parade.  It was founded in 1983 by the same not-for-profit arts organization that produces the Coney Island Circus Sideshow.  The official website describes the Coney Island Mermaid Parade:

The Mermaid Parade celebrates the sand, the sea, the salt air and the beginning of summer, as well as the history and mythology of Coney Island, Coney Island pride, and artistic self-expression. The Parade is characterized by participants dressed in hand-made costumes as Mermaids, Neptunes, various sea creatures, the occasional wandering lighthouse, Coney Island post card or amusement ride, as well as antique cars, marching bands, drill teams, and the odd yacht pulled on flatbed.

You probably know that Neptune is the Roman version of the Greek god Poseidon, the god of the ocean.  (If you’re curious about Poseidon, check out my blog entry “Gripster: Portlandia, Hipsters, and Greek Myth.”)  What I was curious about was mermaid Greek mythology.  I always think of the sirens that the cunning Odysseus outwitted as mermaids, when in fact they’re actually half woman, half bird.  So what does Greek mythology actually say about mermaids?

According to myth, Alexander the Great’s half-sister is a mermaid.  Thessalonike was born to King Philip II of Macedon and his concubine, Nicesipolis, in 252 or 345 BC.  According to legend, Alexander the Great bathed Thessalonike’s hair in life-giving water that he retrieved on his quest to find the Fountain of Immortality.  When her older brother died when she was only nineteen years old, Thessalonike tried to drown herself.  In death, Thessalonike transformed into a mermaid, according to legend.

Mermaid Thessalonike lived in the Aegean.  She stopped ships, asking, “Ζει ο Βασιλιάς Αλέξανδρος?” (“Is King Alexander alive?”)

If the passing ship answered, “Ζει και βασιλεύει και τον κόσμο κυριεύει” (He lives and rules the world), she calmed the waters.

If the ship answered anything less positive, she caused a severe storm that would spell death to all sailors.

I took some 2011 Coney Island Mermaid Parade pictures.

I hear 2011 is the year of the mermaid trend.

2011 Gabby Awards: Stephen Antonakos, Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

7 Jun

I am extremely thankful to the Gabby Awards for sending me tickets to attend the 2011 Gabby Awards, a celebration of “Greek America’s Best and Brightest Stars.”  The website describes the Gabby Awards as follows:

The Gabby Awards were created to celebrate and reward the excellence Greek Americans have achieved in various fields. Founded in 2009 to also celebrate the 15th anniversary of the launching of Greek America Magazine, the Gabby Awards serve as the “Oscars®” of the Greek American community.

The 2011 Gabby Awards were held on Ellis Island, and there were special, star-studded events all weekend to celebrate.

On Friday, June 3, the American College of Greece hosted a cocktail and art exhibition to honor Gabby Awards Lifetime Achievement Award winner artist Stephen Antonakos at Lori Bookstein Fine Art.  I’m a huge fan of Stephen Antonakos’ art.  I love modern art in general but I’m particularly entranced with the idea of using neon in fine art, as Antonakos does.  Neon — symbol Ne; atomic number 10 — comes from the Greek word “νέον,”  which means “new one.”  Neon was discovered by British chemists in 1898 and made into advertising signs first in France in 1912.  It wasn’t until 1923 that neon signs were bought in the U.S.  Antonakos, who was born three years later in 1926 in Greece, move to America in 1930 and thirty years later, in 1960, began using neon in his art.  According to the Gabby Awards:

Antonakos “discovered” neon in 1960 when he was intrigued by the light emanating from midtown Manhattan neon signs. From there, he made neon his primary medium, developing his individual contribution to modern art.

I was hoping for a whole roomful of neon sculptures, but there was only one, Plea, at the Lori Bookstein Fine Art gallery.  Plea is a red rectangle, hung vertically on the wall.  Neon light emanates from behind it, making one reconsider the shape, color, and even significance of the red rectangle.

The sculptor of light, Antonakos, says:

My use of neon is really my own.  I began with it around 1960 and very soon it became central to my work.  The geometric forms, usually incomplete circles and squares, were a tremendous excitement to me.  It is very difficult to separate light from space — even when the art is directly on the wall.  For years I have been investigating the great subtlety and range of neon using forms that haven’t changed that much since the beginning.  It’s spatial qualities interest me — formal relationships within a work and with the architecture of the room or building and the kinetic relationship that viewer may feel in the space of the light.  I feel that abstraction can have a very deep effect visually, emotionally, and spatially.

Stephanie in front of Gabby Awards Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Stephen Antonakos' "Drawing/Neon For The University of Massachusetts" (1978, Colored pencil on paper, 38" x 50")

As this quote indicates, Antonakos’ artwork is about more than just neon — it’s also about shape.  At first, some of his works seem simplistic, but upon closer inspection they are brilliantly thought-provoking.  Take for instance, Drawing/Neon For The University of Massachusetts, also up at the gallery.  On top of white paper sits the outline of a circle, done in red pencil.  Except, it’s not a circle at all — there circle never closes, never completes.  It’s very nature — unending — is interrupted, challenged.

The Gabby Awards points out:

In his long and storied career, Antonakos has had more than 100 one-person shows, more than 250 group shows, and almost 50 Public Works installed in the United States, Europe, and Japan. He is recognized as the world’s pioneer light artist.

Antonakos’ Lifetime Achievement Award was presented the following night at the Gabby Awards, by Helen Evans, the Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator for Byzantine Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  Friday’s event at the gallery was quite lovely, even though I wish there would have been more of Antonakos’ art on view — in particular, I want to see Mani Sky, Arrival, and Transfiguration.

The passed hors d’oeuvres were probably the best appetizers of the entire event.  I’m talking mac-and-cheese croquettes, vegetarian sushi, and other delectable treats, served by charming caterers, who caught on to my dietary choice and looked out for me, going out of their way to give me vegetarian options.

I want to also take a moment to mention Deree, The American College of Greece.  The college’s president, David G. Horner, Ph.D., was there to speak about the college’s esteemed history as “Europe’s oldest and largest, comprehensive, U.S.-accredited academic institution.”  The college offers undergrad, grad, and continuing ed courses.

Congratulations to Stephen Antonakos!  His work will be on display at the Lori Bookstein Fine Art Gallery (138 10th Ave, New York) through June 25, 2011.







Abstract Expressionist New York @ MoMA

8 Apr

As I mentioned, I recently went to the MoMA thanks to the generosity of a friend of mine.  One of the reasons I’d been wanting to go was to see the Abstract Expressionist New York exhibit that’s running through April 25.  The writers of the Beat Generation used to hang out in bars with the abstract-expressionist painters, so I’ve been fascinated by how the literature and visual arts of the 1950s have influenced each other and have done some writing on the subject.

I like this line that was posted on one of the placards in the museum:

With a grave intensity and sense of responsibility the Americans who would later become known as the Abstract Expressionists set out to make art that would reassert the highest ideals of humankind.

It reminds me of how Jack Kerouac said that “beat” stemmed from the biblical beatitudes.

Gripster: Portlandia, Hipsters, and Greek Myth

21 Jan

The new IFC series Portlandia has been getting major press.  My eyes have been rattling around in my head, they rolled back so far.  Are hipsters still in?

But, after seeing this clip about how in Portland the dream of the nineties is still alive, I’m amused.  Plus, I love Fred Armisen.

Portlandia is also the name of a sculpture located at the entrance of the Portland Building (1120 SW 5th Avenue, in Portland, Oregon).  Sculpted by Raymond Kaskey, it’s based on Portland’s city seal, which features a woman, the Queen of Commerce, in Classical garb, brandishing a trident.  Wikipedia quotes The Morning Oregonian as stating on March 22, 1878, that the lower portion of the seal contains a wreath of myrtle.

Sound familiar?

The Greek muse Erato was often portrayed wearing a wreath of myrtle and roses.  Interesting, since Portland is none other than the City of Roses.  Erato, the muse of lyric poetry, is often depicted carrying a lyre; however, Portlandia carries a trident, which is the traditional symbol of the Greek god Poseidon.  The irony here is that with its sheaf of grain, the city seal was supposed to recognize Portland’s agrarian, which a pitchfork would have symbolized.  The similar-looking trident symbolizes fishing, and Poseidon used it to wreck havoc on the land by creating earthquakes.  Of course, the Queen of Commerce is standing by a body of water so perhaps she is also Queen of the lower Columbia River.

Another possibility is that Portlandia is based on the Greek goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite.  Aphrodite is often depicted with myrtle and roses.  She is often positioned by the sea, but she holds a scepter instead of a trident.  Aphrodite is the Greek incarnation of the Phoenician goddess Astarte, whose symbol is the star.  In the seal of Portland, a star hovers above the Queen of Commerce.

It’s interesting the way Greek mythology resurges, insinuating itself in pop culture.  Does this mean we might be seeing Greek hipsters—Gripsters—in Portlandia?

Portlandia airs tonight at 10:30 on IFC.