Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Balenciaga Exhibit With Hamish Bowles

Cristobal Balenciaga
TD and I recently attended the press preview for Balenciaga: Spanish Master at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute. This show, about the famous couturier who grew up in Spain and then worked in Paris, was conceived by fashion designer Oscar de la Renta who is the chairman of the Institute, and curated by Hamish Bowles, Vogue's European Editor at Large. We did a video tour through the exhibit and had the pleasure of talking with Hamish about the show which you can watch at the end of this post. You might remember that we talked to Hamish during our visit to the Met's Costume Institute.

The Queen Sofia Spanish Institute promotes awareness and understanding of the culture of the Spanish speaking world in the United States. Certainly, Cristobal Balenciaga, born in a small fishing village on the northern coast of Spain in 1895, is one of the stars of the Spanish arts. His father was a fisherman and his mother took in sewing. As a boy, he was interested in sewing and his talent was spotted by the most prominent woman in town, Marquesa de Casa Torres, who became his patron and client. She sent the teen to Madrid for formal training in tailoring, and proudly wore the results. Balenciaga designed clothes in Spain for the aristocracy and royal family until the Spanish Civil War forced him to move. He opened his house of couture in Paris in 1937 and worked there until he closed it in 1968, dying four years later.

Due to his training in technique and construction, Balenciaga could drape, cut and fit his own patterns so he was able to create new shapes – balloon, cocoon or funnel shapes that stood away from the body. Instead of a lot of ornamentation or decoration, the clothes had a simplicity which was loved by the chic women of the time, including the Duchess of Windsor, Princess Grace and Babe Paley.

Harper's Bazaar observed that Balenciaga
"abides by the great rule that
elimination is the secret of chic."

Balenciaga himself was an enigma, giving only one interview in fifty years. Known for the rigor his discipline, he was called the "monk of fashion." Coco Chanel said, "He is the only true couturier among us." Cecil Beaton commented that "Balenciaga is "fashion's Picasso," referring to another great artist from Spain.
Enjoy this video visit to the exhibition and my chat with Hamish Bowles:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Walk Around the Guilford Green

(Click on photos to enlarge)
TD and I had a nice, relaxing weekend in Guilford, Connecticut, where my parents live. The weather was spectacular, warm temperatures and clear blue sky with golden leaves fluttering to the ground. When we visit Guilford, we always like to go down to the historic Green which is surrounded by stores and churches. On Saturday afternoon, we parked the car and took a stroll. As I have noted here before, Guilford was founded in 1639 so for hundreds of years people have enjoyed beautiful autumn days on this green.
A painted door and a colorful chair welcomed visitors at the shop Flutterby.

A big tree and a little car.

We always stop into Breakwater Books, a good independent book store.

They have the most charming children's book department.

We sat on a bench and ate a sandwich. It was quiet and peaceful. In New York City at times it seems like we're going 100 miles an hour so it was nice to sit and be still. As the afternoon progressed the shadows lengthened.

Leaves crunched underfoot as kids walked by.

Yellow dazzled against a grey house.

Pink rugosa roses were hanging in as long as possible.

There were pots of pansies and mums at the shop April Rose.

This house reminded me of, you guessed it, 611.

We walked down a parallel street, Graves Avenue I think it was. Leaves sparkled down the way

and overhead.

The beige and blue colors on this house were echoed in the fading hydrangea blooms.

Why did the chicken cross the road? I don't know, but she did right in front of us!

Back on the Green the sun was offering a final bow.

TD walked on ahead.

The scene was breathtaking. Thank you Guilford for a lovely rest.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Japanese Feast

Practically every Friday night for many years, TD and I get sushi from the Japanese restaurant Sukura Hana on Hudson Street between Jane Street and Horatio Street. After a week of work it seems like a very relaxing thing to do, a way to treat ourselves. TD also gets three pieces of shrimp sushi for the two cats – they're spoiled, I know. The proprietor there, Floyd, is a warm and welcoming host. When we lived on Jane Street, TD used to go in to the restaurant to order and bring it home. Since we moved to 15th Street, we order it over the phone and have it delivered so we don't see Floyd, but he takes our order every Friday on the phone.

Well, on Saturday night Floyd invited us to a sixth anniversary party at the restaurant. We toddled over around 9 and got one of the last available tables. Floyd welcomed us with a glass of white wine, and then the procession began:
First we started with edamame, boiled soy beans crusted with salt. You suck the beans out of the pods.

Then some shumai, comfy steamed shrimp dumplings.

Bingo: a plate of lobster

followed by a plate of king crab.

Then came sushi in rainbow hues

and California rolls of avocado and tuna.

All delicious! Floyd is from Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States where he learned sushi making. He now lives in Westchester with his wife and two children. Here we are with the man of the hour, our friend:

This is why I love New York.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Judson Dance Theater, Plus Flowers

Round table discussion in the Meeting Room with a slide presentation (click on photos to enlarge)

We had a busy weekend at Judson Memorial, our liberal and artistic church on Washington Square South. The occasion was the opening last Thursday night of an exhibition at the adjacent Fales Library at New York University entitled "A Sanctuary for the Arts: Judson Memorial Church and the Avant-Garde 1955-1977" curated by Joanna Steinberg.

Because, chickens, Judson Memorial Church has a very important place in the history of avant-garde art in the Sixties. Judson was built in 1888-1893 on the designs of McKim, Mead & White with backing from John D. Rockefeller. The church was meant to link the poor Italian immigrants of Greenwich Village with the wealthy residents of Washington Square. But by the 1950s membership had dwindled so the church leaders reinvented the institution as a church that supported experimental artists working in visual art, theater and dance. Young modern artists including Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Lucinda Childs, Trisha Brown, Meredith Monk, Twyla Tharp and many many more were nurtured and grew at Judson in our very own Meeting Room. At a time when even folk singing in the park was illegal, Judson provided a sanctuary for artists with no censorship. Still today, Judson links spiritual, political and artistic activities, describing itself as "a church in the Christian tradition and a sanctuary for progressive activism and artistic expression." Good combination, no?
Here is, from 1960, Claes Oldenburg and Patti Mucha performing at Judson in Snapshots from the City, photo by Martha Holmes:

Before the exhibition opened on Thursday night there was a very interesting round table discussion at Judson (pictured at the top) with several artists recalling their memories of Judson. The composer and violinist Malcolm Goldstein said, "Judson changed the way we thought of ourselves as artists because there was no constraint. It is a fantastic space," he said looking around the Meeting Room. "This was my school and it feeds us forever."

After the discussion we walked over to Fales, two blocks down Washington Square South, to view the exhibition, which is up until January 7, 2011. TD designed a beautiful catalogue for the show which tells the story very well.
Choreographer Yvonne Rainer's Terrain from 1963 with lighting by Robert Rauchenberg, photo by Al Giese:

Then on Friday and Saturday nights, two dance performances in honor of Judson were held in the Meeting Room which included some original dances and some works from the Sixties. TD and I went on Saturday night. Claes Oldenberg, who is now 81 and had designed a colorful poster for the dance performances, was sitting in the front row. The dances were interesting, provocative, challenging – what can I say, they were avant-garde! The crowd favorite was Yvonne Rainer's Trio A: Geriatric With Talking, in which the choreographer, who said she was 76 and wore thick-lensed glasses which magnified her eyes, walked through her renown piece and talked spontaneously about how her body couldn't do the moves anymore. It was clever and funny and touching. You can read The New York Times review of the evening here.

Finally, after the dance performance on Saturday night, Judson hosted a reception in the Meeting Room to thank every one involved in the events and celebrate the occasion. The room was to be transformed quickly from a dance space to a festive party with tables and food and drink. Yours truly was asked to do the decor.

I always follow the motto "KISS – keep it simple, sweetie." We start with white linen table clothes and up-light votive candles that create a flattering canvas which makes everyone look good. To that blank canvas we add color. It was the night before Halloween so I went with an orange theme. I had scoped out some delis in the neighborhood, and the day before the event I went to my favorite one on Seventh Avenue for some orange roses. (A friend asked me if I buy flowers at the crack of dawn in the flower district on 28th Street. I said, no I go to the deli on Seventh Avenue!) But the guy at the deli said had he no more orange roses. Oh no! He went down to the cellar to look. Nope, no orange roses. Then he opened up a long narrow box lying on the sidewalk. Phew, it contained orange roses. They looked quite tiny and I considered not buying them but he had gone to such an effort that I took them anyway. Luckily when I brought them home they opened up larger and larger.

The morning of the event I went to the Union Square Farmers Market and bought branches of pepper berries from the Durrs.

And I bought more than a dozen little orange pumpkins.

At Duane Reade I got some bags of Halloween candy kisses in metallic silver, orange and black which I thought would sparkle nicely next to the votive candles. Here is Bell, inspecting.

I lugged it all over to the church during the day and arranged the elements in vases. We also had some orchid stems donated from an NYU event.

I lined up the vases so they would be ready to go that night.

After the last dance was over, with many good helpers, we quickly transformed the room and arranged the tables.

I got the lights dimmed. If you get the lighting right, you're 80% there. The roses opened up spectacularly.

Here is the buffet table.

It really was a very nice party, pulled off completely by church volunteers.
I liked how the pepper berries mixed with the roses.

I was happy with how the room looked. I wanted to honor the space, in my own way.