Tag Archives: manhattan

SCOPE : THE ART RUSH

 

At this time of year, New York is all about art. With exhibitions and fairs all over town, it’s impossible to see it all. It’s not even recommendable to try. Moderation is the only gravy that makes anything digestible.

SCOPE can be considered one of the smaller art fairs. But even on opening night, where it’s press and vips only, the place was packed. Add the fact that many participating galleries tend to overload their booth with as much art work as possible, it is still a very over-sensory experience.

The fair is held in a part of the otherwise empty old post office. There must be reasons, unknown to me, why they don’t use more of the empty space available in that huge building. And when all of the visitors are queuing at the same time to get a drink, it becomes impossible to circulate and do what you came here for: see some art.

Anyway, pushing my way through thirsty crowds, I have tried to pick out some works that I found to stand out for the simple reason that they almost disappeared between overly loud pieces that were screaming for attention.

 

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A CENTURY OLD LADY

Never make the mistake of calling her a station. She’s a Terminal. And that’s final.

Although her high-rise neighbors have dwarfed her through the years, Grand Central Terminal is still standing proudly in the heart of Manhattan. And this year, she celebrates her one hundredth birthday.

The sunbeams falling through the cathedral-like windows are guaranteed to bring an ever-changing spectacle of light and shadow.

The scene of many a movie, Grand Central has become a familiar sight. Every day, thousands of commuters and tourists alike pass through the Grand Concourse. Commuters rush and look down. Tourists freeze and look up.

With a century long history, Grand Central has some great and curious stories to tell. The clock on the front side of the building contains the largest Tiffany glass known in the world. At the time of the inauguration, the sculptures of Minerva, Hercules and Mercury formed yet another global first in terms of size: 48 feet (14,6m) tall.

When you look up to the ceiling, you see a starry sky. It’s certainly one of the distinctive features of the Terminal. Small detail: the constellation on the ceiling is not as we see it from Earth, but rather as God must be seeing it from heaven, above the stars. Get it? Some say it’s because the ceiling was based on a medieval manuscript. Others say that we should finally except that huge mistakes are from all times.

Whatever it was, we are glad we can see it. Some ten tears ago, the ceiling was dark and the images blurred by what was thought to be coal and diesel exhaust from the trains. When the cleaning team started to wash the ceiling and examine the dark sludge, it appeared to be nicotine!

There’s this special Track 61. It continues to the depths of the nearby Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. It was specially built for President Roosevelt. It was said to spare him the walk from the Terminal, but even more to hide the fact that he was moving around in a wheelchair.

Grand Central is home to the famous Oyster Bar. This iconic place is a reminder of the days when New York was thriving on the oyster industry.

The Terminal is more than a transportation hub. There’s plenty of businesses and bars. It even boasts the Vanderbilt Tennis Club. The latest acquisition is an Apple Store right on the Main Concourse.

The Lady may be one hundred years old, she definitely keeps pace with modern day technology and reinvention.

 

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the wild west side of manhattan

 

NATURE CLAIMING BACK WHAT IS RIGHTFULLY AND NATURALLY HERS

 

It is hard to imagine that at some time, in Manhattan, there were trains running at street level.

In 1847 a rail track was built along the West Side. Men on horses went in front of the trains and waved a flag to warn all other traffic at every crossing. But to no avail. Accidents happened all too often. That’s why in 1934 the tracks were elevated.

The High Line was born.

Rather than running over the avenue, it pierced through buildings, making it much easier to load and unload all kinds of merchandise in every warehouse or factory the trains ran through.

From the 1950s onwards, trucks replaced trains as important means of transport. The High Line became redundant and a part of it was demolished. The very last train to run on the remaining part was in 1980.

The High Line was closed and forgotten.

Until the 1990s. A photographer, ignoring all the ‘No Trespassing’ signs, climbed the High Line. What he found was wilderness, an almost uncanny sight of how nature had reclaimed what was rightfully, and naturally, hers. In less than ten years, a green jungle had sprung up and claimed its space in the middle of the otherwise so concrete jungle. Flowers, shrubs and small trees had slowly taken over, turning the High Line into a long and natural hanging garden.

It was the beauty of this discovery that has saved the High Line from complete demolition. With the ongoing trend of bringing back green spaces into our cities, this was a unique opportunity not to miss out on.

In the last couple of years, two stretches of the renovated walkway have been opened to the public. And with overwhelming success. It offers splendid views of the city and a 1 mile (1.6km) long path to wander along, safely above all traffic.

Another half a mile is waiting to be restored and opened to the general public. It is the last section that still hasn’t been touched since the complete railway track system was shut down back in the 80s. This part of the High Line is a curve that embraces the Penn Station shunting yard.

The next years the whole block will be undergoing an extreme make-over, a project that is to alter New York’s skyline!

But in the meantime, this last patch of wilderness can be exceptionally visited. Sculptor Carol Bove is exhibiting seven of her works.  Guided visits are organized, but reservations have to be made in advance and the number of visitors is restricted. (see images of the artwork in my upcoming post)

Man is capable of beautiful things. Like the landscaping of the popular aerial greenway, part I and II. But the third part of the High Line proves that beautiful things can also happen when man does not interfere. When nature is allowed to grow, flourish and impress.

Plans are that the newest part will be kept as “natural” as possible. Let’s hope they will. If only to leave that bird’s nest we saw in peace!

 

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The Grid of Manhattan

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The first time you come to New York, especially as a foreigner, you are surprised by the sight of that little tourist map you get. Streets and avenues, that’s all there is to it.
The map looks like it’s been drawn with a ruler. And, in fact, that’s the case. To understand why that is, we have to go back in time and down to the southernmost point of Manhattan. That’s where the Dutch arrived in their sailing ships. They saw the place and must have liked it. It surely wasn’t the skyline that did it. More surely the treeline. Anyway, they stayed. New Amsterdam was born, first as a small settlement, and then grew bigger. A couple of houses here and there, a street that connects them, but no plan was followed. It’s the organic way European medieval towns grew. A collection of houses, maybe a square or two and curving streets running through it.
It must have been fun here. More and more people came. And the English wanted to live here too. They found that “New York” sounded better. The place was soon bursting out of its bounderies. It was time for some serious expansion. But the only way was up. They came to an “agreement” with the local “manhattan” tribe and bought the rest of the swampy island for “a dime or two”.
Some iconical modern times urban planning was in the making: the grid. The most simple street plan imaginable. The streets run east to west. The avenues run south to north. The streets get numbered south to north. The avenues east to west.
If you take a good look at your tiny map, you’ll notice this one crooked street that seems to stubbornly break through this otherwise so perfect plan. Broadway. It has always been a broad way, even during the Manhattan tribe times. And, should we say miraculously, it has survived.
This explains Manhattan’s grid. And also the more meandering streets downtown. It’s the only place in Manhattan where you can get lost, where you can have a hard time finding the right street. No such thing on a checkerboard, where you only have to know how to count in order to find your destination.
It’s simple. Very simple. But sometimes also boring. Every block has the same length and width. Walking the street has no surprise. No unexpected twist in the road. If it wasn’t for New York’s very distinct districts, neighborhoods and landmarks, it would be an extremely boring city to walk in.
What am I saying!? Twice a year, the grid allows us to witness the Manhattanhenge phenomenon, where the low rays of the setting sun align perfectly with the city’s streets.

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