Sometimes rebellion is as simple as a pair of bright red boots with matching handbag. A flare goes up. Color, like hope, may be contagious on an utterly drab day in February. Inspired, a young woman in weathered Uggs checks out a spring shoe window display, perhaps imagining a new red pair of her own.
King of the Mountain is serious business in Manhattan. It's not easy ruling the unruly kingdom (ask any builder or Wall Street trader). Usually, kids are on the losing end of the city's scale. Tall buildings shrink them down to mice. Elevators threaten to eat their tiny hands and sneakers. Dogs bark or growl nose to nose. Even kind strangers engulf like giant lampposts. But every now and again—on a swing, a parent's shoulders, or atop a manmade snow hill in Central Park—perspective reverses. Buildings become Lego blocks. Traffic runs on Matchbox toys. A snowscape becomes a moonscape; the sky tastes like cotton soup. Suddenly, the city is entirely theirs.
Public art is never static. People, traffic, birds, squirrels, weather and time of day all change things up. Take, for example, Ai Weiwei's 37-foot-high steel cage in Washington Square Park (until February 11, 2018). By day, it was a total selfie magnet for tourists. At night, it ruled the park. Darkness transformed Weiwei's center silhouette (modeled after a 1937 gallery doorway by Marcel DuChamp) into a beckoning giant keyhole. Floodlights on the arch turned park walkers into miniature moving cut-outs. Perhaps the conjoined couple in the cage had just stepped out to explore the world around them? I wondered if they might snap back into place at dawn, like two missing puzzle pieces.
New York City's public art performances are seldom singular. Passersby often jump in with their own twist, like this street mime in gold sequins and metallic face paint perched inside Ai Weiwei's giant Victorian birdcage structure near Trump Tower. With 300 outdoor sculptures installed across five boroughs from October to February, 2018, Weiwei's work— "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors" —evoked the global refugee crisis and the divisive nature of borders and walls. The mime wouldn't say, of course, if he was going meta on Weiwei by impishly layering a migrant street performance on a public art performance about migrants. Or was it simply a great spot for tips? I had so many questions and he had so few answers. Just a signaled preference for peace.
Lately, everyone and everything seems to be getting louder. Yelling on cable news, ALL-CAPS on Twitter, amped-up music, you name it. My hunch was confirmed this week by this New Yorker piece by Amanda Petrusich. She notes in it that ubiquitous dynamic range compression is "the audio equivalent of writing in all capital letters," that "productive discourse has been reduced to simply securing the most deafening bullhorn," and even the ocean "is getting progressively less quiet." Noise pollution, like other kinds, is stuck on high.
One way to turn down the volume is to remember that whispering also commands attention. I've seen teachers quiet a noisy classroom by lowering, not raising, their voices. At the Women's March 2018 in New York City on January 20, the protester in the photo above stood out in a crowd with a cheek sign tinier than a button. Quirky and memorable, it proved you don't always have to shout to be heard.
Balloons are not for the faint-hearted. They wilt, pop, fly away and teach children the true meaning of tragedy. Here, I saw two dozen helium balloons hanging like golden fruit in the leafless branches of a lonely sidewalk tree. This was not on purpose. But for karma's sake, I decided to pretend it was. The cheery cluster looked like a big bunch of grapes ready for harvest. They shimmered like soap bubbles. They gave the street a festive party mood that triumphed over freezing temperatures, trash and slush on a grey January day. All you had to do for things to look up was look up.
Women's shoe choices often give mixed messages. At the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, actresses wore #TimesUp black gowns with precarious stilettos. High shoes lend power but are destabilizing. It's so much easier to protest in flats.
Not all flats are created equal. I stumbled across a high-end shoe sale and wondered if, as with social media, shoe designers had to shout to be heard. The parade of wallflower racks held the inane, the insane, and the downright hilarious. There were leftover platformed Timberlands with a stainless steel retainer tip, a burgundy brogue with a pink feather and rhinestone side buckle, and gold-dipped booties tied up with a dainty bow. You had to smile. The ultimate punch line was a zipped fake foot in a red stiletto heel that made me think of the creepy 1971 movie, Klute.
Maybe outrageous times call for outrageous footwear. But the Golden Globes showed that when it comes to silhouette, some shoes are just too beautiful to #resist.
I don't know about you, but I'm mighty glad to have 2017 in rear view. I share Whoopi Goldberg's 2018 resolution: "To be more resolute." I look around for inspiring images of fortitude all over. Above, Fernando Botero's mighty "Eve" in the Time Warner Center projects an air of unshakable strength. Naked but not vulnerable, she towers over scores of bundled-up winter shoppers seeking shelter from the record cold.
As the New Year approaches, the thought of changing up things appeals. This morning I peered out the window through the bottom of my unfilled water glass like a sailor with a spyglass. It turned a rooftop water tank into a bird and nearby buildings into canyon walls. Little kids lean back on swings, spin in crazy circles and look at the world upside down through their legs. They play with perspective on a daily basis. I want to do more of that this year. By refreshing our view, we refresh ourselves, too. What could you see differently?
A friend of mine once looked out her window in deepest night and saw a parade of elephants underneath. She described it to me so vividly that I almost stole it as my own memory. It turned out she wasn't dreaming. The only way to get the Ringling Bros. elephants to Madison Square Garden each year was to walk them across Manhattan when the streets were empty. Her vision of pachyderms on Park was real.
That circus folded in May, 2017, but our collective fantasy of seeing elements of the greatest show on earth lives on. This year's Bloomingdale's New York celebrates it with windows themed to the new P. T. Barnum movie, "The Greatest Showman." You can step right up to view the bearded lady (above), the snake charmer, the fortune teller and the trapeze artist all captured at work and play. The store's message is of fabulous individuality, inclusion, and, of course, shop until you drop. No elephants required.
I've seen just about everything lugged on a city bus, from musicians hoisting 6-foot-tall double basses to millennials with unassembled furniture. This was my first live Christmas tree though. The passenger swiped himself on and positioned his fragrant cargo in a seat in the back. I hoped the miniscule bus forest might inspire a round of holiday carols ("Deck the Halls" would have been nice), but the M5 bus is no La La Land. So I closed my eyes, breathed in deeply and imagined I could smell fir boughs all the way home.
You'd have to be very jaded or a retail atheist not to get excited by the visual artistry in New York City's holiday windows. Each year Barney's, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue create bedazzling sidewalk displays that in my mind outperform the towering spectacle of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Bergdorf's theatrical stage sets—perhaps due to the architectural scale of the actual window frames and the bottomless talent of visual director David Hoey—are usually my favorite. This year's BG masterpiece windows (slideshow here) are no exception. Fanciful, elaborate and technically superb, they celebrate the city's great cultural institutions like The New York Philharmonic, above.
In the window, a cascade of neon instruments light up in sequence and crescendo visually to full blast. Prismatic perspective shows how symphonic music pours out, around, and over you. A flamboyant and flame-haired conductor ignites the scene with back turned and arms raised. My secret fantasy is that as she conducts, she shatters something—not the window—but the notorious gendered glass ceiling of most of the world's great symphony orchestras.
What's that sound you hear? It's a #metoo army of stiletto heels grinding glass shards into grains of sand. Applause, please.
I like to think there are trolls with poles underneath. If there were fish, what would they look like? Maya Lin's gorgeous and sensual Storm King Wavefield, above, is awash in living contradictions. Grass swells like water. Ocean waves mimic mountain ridges. An artist-designed tide flows to nowhere. Weeds, waves and rows of distant trees part like a classic landscape painting into fore, middle and background. And everywhere, shade upon shade of mysterious purple rust. I crave this beautiful decay, before the white.
I'm obsessed with purple in nature. Right now, fields and leaves are rusting into deep purple. I see a purple rain of farmer's market vegetables: cauliflower, carrots, Peruvian potatoes, yams, radishes and of course eggplant. Purple is the color of royalty, but it's also a sneaky disrupter. Add purple to a pastel bouquet or dinner plate and it looks sexy and subversive. I once knew a teenager, Alice, who painted her room from floor to ceiling in dark purple. Surely she'd appreciate the rebellious cauliflower above.
New Yorkers can be a funny bunch. We're proud of the larger-than-life traditions here—Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Times Square New Year's Eve, Fourth of July fireworks—but the truth is we watch most of them on television like everyone else. I regularly give thanks that I can do the Macy's Day parade in my cozy kitchen while I clean up from the night before and cook for the day ahead. But if someone with a direct view invites me to their apartment, I give in. There's nothing like having a giant balloon practically smack you in the face. Seen from above, the careful coordination of the parade's diligent rope handlers are as incredible as the floating cartoons. Like orchestras and sports teams, its a harmonic convergence. For one handler's personal take on how it all happens, read here.
I'd like to ask this car its name. It's not often you run across a heavy Cadillac Escalade with a sport car's soul. I saw it parked on a side street and stopped to admire its cartoonish grin and purple side-eye. In front, a big smile ran underneath its grill and headlights looked like eyes. You had to laugh. It's funny how often we assume that big hulks are serious or tough. I'm always surprised when I see a very large man cradling a tiny Yorkie. And I'm not sure I'd have the guts to cover a large expensive car in funny graphics. But driving is less lonely and parking is more fun when your car feels like a pet. Here, God is in the "details." Or, I should say, detailing.
Sometimes when New England fog rolls in off the coast overnight and wraps inland maples in a morning blanket of infinite drips, you can't help but wonder if you mysteriously woke up inside a painting. Photo above unaltered. Morning, yes.
Autumn is the twilight of the seasons. As the time changes and the daylight shortens, I try to embrace the moody beauty of the dark (though what we really want to do is mourn the passing of the light). The melancholy spirit of this antiquated 69th Street Transfer Bridge on the Hudson River, shot at sunset, illustrates this. Neither useful nor elegant, its hulking presence glowers at the gaily-lit cruise ships sailing by. Its rotting pier frowns like a mouth missing half its teeth. Its century-old wheel and pulley obsolesce in the shadow of a super-tall building crane. And yet, it's just exquisite, isn't it?
Halloween decorations usually feel whimsical to me. This year they feel like an exorcism. Maybe that's why I'm seeing more city people and their buildings than ever before all dressed and accessorized in honor of the hallowed evening. If the real world already feels full of scary demons, ghouls and orange clowns, why not mock them (and our anxiety) with over-the-top satirical costumes and building decorations? Putting it all out there in super-fake unreality takes our fears down a notch. I saw this frozen, bleeding motley crew on a lovely townhouse front and you know what my first thought was? Congress.
Buttoned-up usually refers to a finely tuned operation or a conservative manner. Buttoned-down is typically conventional. But definitions crumble when the buttoned (down or up) item in question is an outgoing red apron. This self-proclaimed people person and cheerful greeter at the cozy Breads Bakery near Lincoln Center wears a hu-manifesto made of upbeat buttons given to him by customers. Here, personal resistance takes the form of being polite, loving, democratic, and musical theater-going. Not to mention offering strangers a visual hug.