Thursday, August 25, 2016


Entertaining a guest from Holland on his first trip to America required a lot of mini-trips to places you had to put on the list even if it meant you were only going to get a taste of what that place is about. Since we were based in Madison, not a first choice on many first trips to America to-do lists, a trip to Chicago with its big city awe seemed essential to countering the small town appeal of Wisconsin. Unfortunately, we'd have to accomplish the trip in a day which was all we could squeeze in and that had to include travel.
Having driven to Chicago on many an occasion we were unwilling to tackle the drive all the way in to the city center. Chicago traffic no matter the time of day is always horrendous. Our option was to drive to Milwaukee and take Amtrak from there right into Union Station. I'm not sure how much time this saved us but even if it didn't save us actual time it saved us our sanity and the possibility of our guest learning a whole new set of curse words reserved for my fellow travelers in fits of road rage.
I'd never taken the train before and I have to say it was a much more civilized way of getting into the Chi-town.
On arriving, Union Station was a bit of a disappointment and this was mostly our fault. The way we exited was a series of escalators with brightly lit acoustical ceilings. It had none of the feel of Grand Central Terminal, or Newark's Penn Station. Had we found the main lobby it would have been a totally different experience. The grand lobby holds all the lush history of other major U.S. train stations.
Once out we started heading toward the Art Institute and Millennium Park but got stopped by the skyboxes hanging out of Willis Tower. Rick and I weren't fans of high places with glass floors but Emmy and Victor, our Dutch guest, were. The lines for access to the skyboxes were edging over the two-hour wait time frame. Since our train didn't get us into Chicago until almost noon and our return trip was scheduled for eight that evening we were a little reluctant to encourage them to make this the only adventure of the trip.
Granted from the skybox they could literally see all of Chicago we could turn around and leave having shown them "all" of Chicago but that would have been a bit of a cheat. We were going to try and talk them out of it until we saw the sign for the miracle pass. For an exorbitant amount of money you could bypass the line and get right in. What the heck, we'd splurge. Turns out when you're twenty scaring yourself to death can be the highlight of any trip. It was money well spent.
We'd hoped for hitting two museums but once we added in time for lunch it became clear that wasn't going to happen. So we decided to head to Millennium Park so that we could at least touch the Art Institute and say we'd been there.
It was a relatively hot day for Chicago so being outside had its negatives. Yet there was sufficient shade to find ways to enjoy Millennium Park watching the local kids playing in the new water feature and then taking in the "Bean".
The Bean, designed by Anish Kapoor, has become an icon for Chicago. Its simple shape but seamless reflective surface astounds every time I see it.
If you don't take a picture at the Bean then you haven't done Chicago.
As cheap as I am I was willing to try to figure out the El and how we could get to the Museum of Science and Industry but everyone else said I was crazy. So we hopped a cab and headed south past Soldiers Field to the Museum of Science and Industry. We got there an hour before it was to close so it was a race to see what we could. My memory of the museum was from my childhood with the eyes of kid. The museum has its draw but it does fair better with a family with kids under the age of twelve. We watched how a tornado forms and saw some chicks hatch but the Art Institute might have been the better choice.
Once the museum closed at five we got in a cab and headed back up north to Navy Pier. The Pier is always crowded with tourists from every part of the world.
It's lined with dinner cruise ships making it seem almost tropical if you're looking out over Lake Michigan.
We grabbed a quick dinner at a Mexican restaurant, sat down and had a chat with Bob Newhart (you can actually talk to him form an app on your phone) and then realized we'd need to head back to Union Station to make sure we were on time for our train back to Milwaukee.
I don't recommend trying to do a city like Chicago in eight hours. There was plenty we missed but the purpose was to give our Dutch guest enough of a taste of the city to want to come back. In that I think we succeeded.
Welcoming Democrats to Chicago Convention, 1968
Art Shay, photographer
Represented by Ann Nathan Gallery

Sunday, August 14, 2016


Every morning when I get to the subway I pick up one of the free newspapers the city puts out. They're just big enough to hold your interest on a single trip although I save the Sudoku and crosswords for later. On Thursdays there's usually a section on what's happening for the upcoming weekend. That's where I saw the blurb on Free Fridays at the Frick. Beyond free admittance there would be lectures, music, refreshments and sketching materials provided in the Garden Court. I thought why not? The museum was to reopen at six after they had ushered out all the regular visitors. I had stopped at Blink Art Supplies earlier in the day to pick up a sketchpad and some pencils. I hadn't done any sketching for quite some time. I was expecting to be pretty rusty.
One of the things I constantly fail to remember in New York is the importance of "free" and the amount of people in New York that this might appeal to. I sauntered over to the museum expecting to get there around the opening at six. I got there at six only to find the line of guests waiting to get in stretched from the entrance to the Frick on Seventieth all the way to Fifth Avenue then up Fifth to Seventy-First and then two-thirds of the way back down Seventy-First. My options were to either leave or put on my New York attitude and accept the inevitable and wait. I decided to wait. It would be an hour and fifteen minutes before I'd get my chance to walk through the front door and get into the Frick.  It had been years since I'd been in the Frick. I'd forgotten how beautiful it is and how stunning the collection. One of the reasons for the long wait was the museum was adhering to a capacity rule. Once the museum reached its capacity no additional visitors were let in until an equal number of visitors had exited. This had its positive side. What it did was make viewing the collection doable, a pleasure and not having that over-crowded feeling.
I started my stay in the Garden Court. I was eager to find a space to sit and get out my sketchpad and pencils to see if I still had any capability of turning lines into objects that other people could identify.
The court reminded me of the Winter Court at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen with its central fountain and covered glass ceiling.
I found the perfect spot to sit and sketch. I sat down on the steps next to a sculpture called "Angel" by Jean Barbet. I figured if I started with an angel there might be some divine intervention coming into play helping my hand control my pencil
Along with the help and inspiration of Barbet's angel and the soothing playing of the violinists
I found the concentration, freedom and fluidity of hand to enjoy scratching the itch of drawing once again.
I had intended on going through the rest of the museum to capture the collection with my iPhone but the Frick has a very strict policy about photography. It's verboten. I managed to sneak a couple of pictures through windows and around corners
giving the museum a very eerie feel as if its former residents had come back to walk through the rooms with us. The collection is best known for its paintings and sculptures but furniture, lighting and the architecture of the building itself, all contributed to the Frick's mystic and deserved reputation.
The simple displays of the Turners, Vermeers, Rembrandts and one of my favorite Renoirs are devoid of the ostentation of a larger museum. There's grandeur but not over stimulation at the Frick.
I didn't leave until it was past eight-thirty. There was still a line going down Seventieth Street, rounding the corner on Fifth Avenue and going well past the outside gardens. The museum was scheduled to close in less than a half hour. These had to be true New Yorkers, willing to stand in line even with the possibility of rejection. You go New York.

They were a middle-aged couple. She was blond, not plain but with a beautiful that was slightly faded. She wore a black dress with silver threads picking up the light of a fading cloud covered dusk. He was at least a few years older and he carried the weight of those years on the torso his bearish body. His hair, what he had of it, was still black as coal. He kept his face scruffy in a way most men a decade younger were doing. He wore a black suit or maybe a tux. He was bent over in way that made it hard to tell.
It was close to eight-thirty when I walked out of Free Friday Nights at the Frick. I was staying at a client's pied-a-terre on West 75th Street, almost directly across the park from the Frick. There's a crosstown bus you can catch on 72nd Street. It's how I got to the Frick earlier in the evening but at the last minute as I stood on the corner of Fifth and 70th I changed my mind and decided to walk back through the park. The night air was thick with humidity leaving only a few people still in the park. Clusters of families: some old, some with baby strollers, many speaking languages I didn't know sitting on benches lining the walks fanning themselves or relaxing weary at the end of the day.
A man with a big hoop and a bucket full of soap was creating iridescent bubbles the size of fluffy futons floating out over the promenade. The only sounds were the spray of the Bethesda fountain and the slow hollow clomp of horse hooves dragging carriages around a predetermined circuit in the park.
It was the sound of the horse hooves and the horse's pungent smell that made me turn to look at the white carriage trotting up next to me.
That's where I saw that middle-aged couple. She was seated on the red leather bench at the back of the carriage. He was on his knees on the dusty floor facing her and holding her hand. The East Indian driver navigating the carriage was dressed in white pants, a striped vest and a top hat festooned with plastic flowers. He kept his focus on his horse flicking his whip slightly to keep his horse moving forward. Our pace, the carriage and mine, kept us in sync as the romantic drama unfolded like a movie beside me. It was a silent film. I had to fill in the dialogue. I didn't want to intrude on their private moment so I watched it with the jerky nature of an old film shot at an odd number of frames per second.
His intensity was only short of tears, Hers was sweet and trembling and then I saw the ring. Lit by the streetlamps that had just come on, a sparkle flashed from the ring and streaked across her face. I turned my head feeling too much the voyeur. I didn't see the kiss. I don't know if one even happened but as the carriage started to make it's turn on its designated path and I parted heading directly across to Central Park West I found my voice and whispered loud enough that they could hear, "Congratulations".
She beamed and he said, "We've been married eighteen years today".
Doorman at 969 Fifth Avenue, 1938
Berenice Abbott, photographer
Represented by Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC

Thursday, August 4, 2016


We have a new client who loves wallpaper. This is somewhat of a flash back. We don't get too many clients with an affinity for wallpaper. Most clients see it as old-fashioned, a harkening back to parents and grandparents and god knows none of us want to be looked at as trendless and stodgy. So I had to do some research, some sole searching and some eating of crow  to find out that wallpaper especially used for feature walls is trending big time.
The simplest use of wallpaper gives a room texture and interest. Imagine this bedroom without the damask inspired wall behind the headboard. Many times I've been stumped as to how to add drama and intrigue to the wall behind a bed. Unless you're taking the headboard up to the ceiling or at least significantly up the wall, that wall can look unfinished and it can dwarf the bed. A curved headboard exacerbates the problem making the use of artwork look as if it's balanced on a pinhead and very uncomfortable. The simple pattern of the wallpaper in this room designed by Valerie Grant Interiors fills the wall in a way no piece of art could.
Wallpaper can also enhance the sense of place and the design inspiration in a way paint alone can't do. Not only does this paper image begin to tell the story of this room but it reinforces the serenity and Asian philosophy that encompasses the space's design aesthetic.
This was the image that started the conversation between my client and me. In making suggestions for a formal dining room in muted greys with touches of silver and gold I came across this image. I thought that in lieu of artwork, adding a dramatic wallpaper on one of the walls would draw one's attention into the room in a way the furniture alone couldn't do.
I had almost forgotten how we had used wallpaper in some previous projects. I found this mural at Anthropologie. It helped to define this nursery in a manner that said childhood without being a themed bedroom, the kind of bedroom that would grow out of fashion after a few months. I'm sorry but making a kid's room into a pirate ship or a Barbie dollhouse loses its charm in seconds and the poor kid is saddled with those Power Rangers long after the kid has moved on to something else.
AliExpress is a company with a division reproducing important pieces of art in sizes big enough to cover an entire wall. Not many of us can afford a real Botticelli and trying to fake your way with reproductions is very tacky but taking important art and blowing up to full wall size can be impressive without resorting to the trick of forgery.
Another technique that comes in the form of wallpaper is the collage.  A  paper consisting of old master drawings and etchings transports this room into a time and place beyond what a few framed pieces on a taupe wall would do. Here scale makes an impact that is hard to ignore.
We employed the same technique using vintage sheet music and posters to a wall in a conference room we designed for a division of Sony Music in Noho in New York.
This use of a map is another way of bringing a sense of place into a room. Even though this is a reproduced map blown up to a huge scale I've also seen this done with vintage maps collaged to fill a wall.
Photographic imagery covering the entire wall can turn an ordinary wall into a true signature wall. This blow-up of concentric cords of rolled up magazine pages adds color and focus.  Even if this wall was painted a single impactful color it wouldn't have the same effect and joy this image brings.
Not surprisingly the comics have also come into play with this wallpaper available through Komar for Disney. Whether you're a kid or an adult this paper is on the edge and very trendy.
Paper has hit the 3D trend and the illusion is breathtaking. The elegance of this wall gives me chills. Produced by Artistic Art Forum the deco inspired trompe l'oeil is mesmerizing. I could look at this wall for hours.

Seascape Fresco, Rome, 2010
Michael Eastman, photographer
Represented by Edwynn Houk Gallery