Category Archives: manhattan

Soaring with Pigeons: The Event of a Thread at the Park Avenue Armory

The current art experience transforming the Park Avenue Armory has people swinging through the air in the massive drill hall’s 55,000 square feet, with a giant swath of fabric billowing in the center of it all. It’s called The Event of a Thread and is by the artist Ann Hamilton. I’ve been three times since it has opened (I always must take the visitors to the best in NYC immersive art) to relax under the mesmerizing white sheet or soar on one of the creaky wooden swings.

When you enter the installation, you see two people reading into microphones with pigeons on either side. Their voices are being transmitted to speakers contained in paper bags around the room that look like sack lunches someone has forgotten. If you get to the installation about 20 minutes until it closes, an opera singer steps out on a balcony and sings, and then the pigeons are released to fly to their coop suspended above the hall. It is really quite beautiful. The recording of that song is then played when the installation opens the following day.

The Event of a Thread

The Event of a Thread

The Event of a Thread

The people on the swings definitely dictate the dynamic of the space. Once I went and it was mostly children, making it feel like a dreamlike playground with lots of gleeful screeching. However, when it’s mostly adults, people who probably haven’t been on a swing in years, maybe decades, it gives it a whole different feeling of nostalgic joy.

The Event of a Thread

The Event of a Thread

At the opposite end of the room from the readers is a writer at a table who is scribbling out a response to what is happening in the hall. They can see the installation reflected in a mirror above them that tilts with a swing. I wish I could have applied for this position, just look at the awesome fuzzy coat/cape the color of pigeon feathers they get to wear!

The Event of a Thread

The Event of a Thread

The Event of a Thread

One of the most amazing parts of the installation is the way the 42 swings are connected to the ceiling, in this really complicated lattice of chains and weights. There are even a couple connected accordions wheezing up there to give it a sort of strange soundscape. The lighting is also a great detail, with a long rectangle illuminating the exact path of each swing. At the end of the day, all of the light in the armory gets quietly darker except for those oblong forms on the floor.

The Event of a Thread

The Event of a Thread

While The Event of a Thread would be lifeless without the swinging people, I think the best place to experience the installation is beneath the cascade of white fabric. Looking up is entrancing as it is pulled this way and that in an erratic flow depending on how high the people are soaring on their swings. On a busy day, a whole herd of people are collapsed there, with some of the paper bag speakers transmitting the rambling narrative of the speakers, who are reading poetry, philosophy, scientific texts, and other selections. It’s all very meditative.

The Event of a Thread

I’m excited to see what 2013 brings to the Armory, as I was continually impressed with what I saw there in 2012, including Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s The Murder of Crows, Tom Sach’s Mission Mars, and Philip Glass’ Another Look at Harmony. If you happen to be in NYC this week, you have until January 6 for The Event of the Thread. Pictures don’t really do it justice, but hopefully if you can’t make it, this recap gave you a bit of the ethereal experience.

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Discovering Columbus from a Living Room High Above the City

Most major cities have them, those figures of triumph and history perched high up on columns above traffic circles that are labeled with their names. But aside from the names, what can we actually know of this statues of men (as they are almost always men) several stories up from our eye levels? Well, currently if you’re in NYC you can go right up to the stone Christopher Columbus who is perched above the busy Columbus Circle on the southwest corner of Central Park. Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi’s installation “Discovering Columbus” has surrounded the 13-foot-tall Columbus with a living room supported by scaffolding, where you can lounge on a couch and watch CNN while getting a close look at this usually distant sculpture.

This week, me and my friend Hannah paid Columbus a visit. You have to first climb up 75 feet of stairs surrounding the granite column that supports the monument by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo. The giant Columbus rising up from an ordinary-looking coffee table and taking up a good portion of the room is immediately amusing, and most people seemed inclined to hang around and spend some time in the presence of the comically oversize marble colossus.

It’s hard to tell from my photos how high up we are, so here is a 1907 shot of Columbus Circle, not too long after the statue and its column were erected in 1892 to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. You can see some street cars drive by its base, and a lot of buildings that have since disappeared. And maybe a ghost in the lower left corner??? One can only guess.

Since Columbus has been standing proud with one hand on hip for over a hundred years, he’s experienced some weathering and decay, and the art installation doubles as a preservation effort. Yet despite the years, there were still surprising details of the statue, like the buckles of his shoes and wrinkles of his clothes, things that would be impossible to discern from below.

I should mention that the wallpaper in the room was also hilarious, with a crazy mix of Americana, from Devil’s Tower to Michael Jackson to McDonald’s.

The view from the platform was also amazing, looking to the park and up along Broadway. I love these views that you never expect to have, and here was a view that was once that of the stone Columbus alone. Now we can join him in his stoic gaze at the tumult of the city that has risen up to his level in the decades of his watch from on high.

If you’re in NYC, you have until December 2 to visit him!

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Not Much Occult, But Lots of Ornamentation at the Masonic Grand Lodge of NY

You have to give it to the Masons, they know how to do up secret meeting halls right. Or not terribly secret, as the Masonic Grand Lodge of New York on 23rd Street in Manhattan is actually a pretty open place. I recently took a tour of some of its 12 elaborate meeting halls, and other spaces such as the library above overseen by a golden George Washington. Designed by architect H. P. Knowles, it was completed in 1912, although it had some extensive renovations in the 1990s.


While not quite as over-the-top as the Scottish Rite Temple I visited in Guthrie, Oklahoma, it has its share of pipe organs, ornate ceilings, and some symbolism embedded in its decoration. But speaking of Oklahoma, look at who I saw in the foyer: Will Rogers! Apparently the bust came all the way from Claremore, Oklahoma, where there is a Masonic lodge where he was a member, and is now named after the actor and writer. Along with his bust, there were paintings and photographs of other famous masons all over the lodge, such as FDR and Houdini.

Most of the meeting rooms are rather similar, with rows of chairs below sort of garish, but lavish, paint jobs, as well as some chairs for important people and a pipe organ. There are also the “G” symbols all over and the unfinished stones sitting near the altars.

Here is an organ in another meeting room, along with one of our informative Masonic guides. What might be most crazy about the lodge is that it is in the middle of Manhattan, but has a worn and spacious feel totally contrasting to everything around it. I guess the Masons were at least connected enough for some good real estate.

If I understood correctly, each of these lodge rooms is for a different chapter, as there are quite a few Masons in NYC, although perhaps not as many as there once were as we seem to be in a decline for secret societies. Or as I far as I know, it’s quite possible they are flourishing without me.

The most ostentatious of the lodge rooms had this sort of Renaissance look to it, complete with chandeliers and clouds painted on its ceilings.

The most stunning room is the ballroom, which has a glass ceiling and other elements by a designer who worked on the Titanic, and apparently executed some of those details on the doomed ship.

Want to see the Grand Lodge yourself? Good news, they offer free tours every week. It’s definitely a curious place worth exploring, and who knows, you might find out some delicious secrets. Probably just a lot of grand rooms, though.

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