Friday, March 2, 2012

U.S. Tour 2012: Part Two: Art, Food, Art, Food

My, how things change. There are now so many galleries clustered over by the waterfront in Chelsea that empty storefronts post "This is not a gallery" signs and this building seems to boast its dichotomy of tenants. Although really, who's to say Moleskine and Stella McCartney don't produce art of a sort?

I was over to look at a show of some early works by Ned Smyth at Salomon Contemporary, which was reassuringly difficult to find. Small room, too, although they may have more space than I saw. Smyth, whom I interviewed about a year ago, is best-known for his public art, began his career with pieces made from concrete which were quite unlike anything anyone had seen before: straight lines and arches placed in classical proportions. They were abstract, but also partook of the dimensions of the Renaissance Italian palazzos he'd seen as a kid accompanying his art historian father to Europe. I shot some pictures, and I'd like to say the reason the tops are cut off is to preserve the copyright, but it's mostly because it's the best I can do with a phone.

Another reason these photos don't work is evident from my having seen the originals: the placement of each object, simple as it is, is crucial. That third work, for instance, is way off. I stood in the wrong place, or else I was looking at it wrong, and I didn't get it. The photograph doesn't communicate the proportions. At any rate, this show is part of a series Smyth is curating for Salomon, and I'll be back at the end of the month to see one by my old friend Dickie Landry and to see his solo performance at the Guggenheim.

As long as I was down there in Artland, though, I decided to go looking for another show I'd read about which interested me at the Pace Gallery. (Also, I have to admit, the fact that it was advertised on banners attached to the lampposts didn't hurt in jogging my memory.) I'd taken part in a very late Happening by Alan Kaprow at one of the New York Avant-Garde Festivals while I was still in high school, a collaboration with Karlheinz Stockhausen that also involved Allen Ginsberg and who knows who else, and by "taken part" I meant that I was there. A lot of the Happenings were intended to break down the barrier between "performers" and "audience," although, as I realized when I finally found the right branch of the Pace Gallery (a very sniffy young man at the first of their locations I found gave me the address, just a few blocks away and then asked me if he should write it down, obviously thinking I was senile) not all of them were. I hadn't realize the extent to which Red Grooms and Jim Dine had been a part of the scene, either, but one thing this show did was make it crystal clear that written documentation and descriptions, and even blurry contemporary black-and-white films don't capture what it was like to be there while these things were happening. Pardon the pun.

The other thing I wanted to do while I was on the first part of my U.S. trip was to hit the Strand Bookshop. 18 Miles of Books! the awning says, but I didn't find any of the ones I was specifically looking for. Browsing, however, found a couple, thereby proving my oft-cited adage that you can't browse a bookstore with a browser. The rest of my browsing I'll save for the fantastic Book People in Austin, which is a dangerous place for me.

At that point, I realized that all this walking (I'd walked all the way from the hotel, through two galleries and gotten misdirected by Google on my phone) had made me ravenous, so I solved that with a big bowl of ramen in a spicy broth with ground chicken in it and a six of gyoza to start at a place called Ramen Takumi at 90 University Place, between 11th and 12th St. The gyoza were feather-light, crunchy on the bottom, with a flavorful pork filling, and the noodle soup was astounding. I haven't had ramen this good since I was in Tokyo in 2001. Check it out.

And I finished the day out with a visit to a Thai place which had come highly recommended, Zabb Elee, in the East Village. It was a mixed bag: the spicy mixed seafood salad had a wonderfully piquant dressing, the little hunks of pickled garlic were a nice touch, but the squid was inedibly hard. Lighter touch, folks! I'm still curious enough to go back, since it's a novelty serving food from a region in Thailand that hasn't generated a lot of restaurants in the U.S. Fortunately, it did in Austin, where my friend Sappachai and his wife Mam eventually opened three stunning restaurants featuring this cuisine. Recent news has them divorced, so I'm waiting to find out what that means to their restaurants, since she got two and he got one.

I'll find out soon enough: I leave tonight for Austin, and have a whole afternoon ahead of me to do more exploring, but I have to check out of the hotel now. Stay tuned as the U.S. tour 2012 moves to Texas for a couple of weeks.

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