Diego Rivera’s Controversy

November 28, 2011 · Posted in Reviews · Comment 

The destruction of Diego Rivera’s mural Man at the Crossroads is a controversial matter because it epitomizes the infringement upon the freedom of expression, but whether the action was right or wrong is dependent on a person’s perspective on it. When he was commissioned to create a mural for the nearly completed Rockefeller Center by the Rockefellers during the Great Depression, Rivera had to centralize it around the theme “man at the crossroads looking with hope and high vision to choosing of a new and better future,” which gave origin to the mural’s name. However, Man at the Crossroads received much criticism and disapproval due to its propagandistic intentions favoring communism over capitalism, made evident by the portrayal of both ideologies. On the right side, communism is depicted as being peaceful and structured, with its iconic symbol Vladimir Lenin unifying people through the joining of hands. In contrast with the left side, capitalism is depicted as being more violent and chaotic, with John D. Rockefeller Jr. drinking liquor and being surrounded by women drinking and smoking, policemen on horseback beating down protesters and soldiers carrying bayonets and flamethrowers.

The Rockefellers should’ve anticipated his style of art and “personal additions” based on his prior murals, such as The Uprising and Pneumatic Drilling, which were based on the Mexican Revolution and the defiance against authoritative individuals and the labor and construction manifesting in a depression-ridden New York City respectively, both reflecting communism and his convictions. It seems as if aesthetics were far more essential to the Rockefellers than ethical values; otherwise, a different artist should’ve been chosen to undertake the task. Instead of abolishing the elements of communism from it, Rivera proposed to counteract the portrait of Lenin with a portrait of Lincoln, but was rejected, paid for his efforts and forbidden from Rockefeller Center. Another reason for his dismissal was because of the portion featuring Rockefeller drinking during Prohibition, which greatly offended the Rockefellers.

Although it is understandable as to why many Americans were against it during the time of its fabrication, with the Red Scare and the potential threat of communism encroaching upon the foundation of their daily lives, capitalism, this fear should not have instituted the mural’s demolition. Rivera was conveying his expressions and ideas like many other artists, but they were against the conventional beliefs that Americans held. A lesson that emanates from Rivera’s incident, still relevant to this very day, is the appropriateness of political and social values in works of art or other things such as movements during specific periods of time because people will make judgments on anything, whether it be an art piece or decisions made by politicians, based on current events and surroundings.

Tokyo String Quartet – The Four Musketeers of Music

November 5, 2011 · Posted in Reviews · Comment 

To watch four men fueled by a deep commitment to chamber music perform with intense conviction and emotion was awe-inspiring and evoked internally hidden feelings to physically manifest. An ensemble comprising solely of string instruments, with one member wielding a cello, two members wielding violins and another member wielding a viola, the strokes, down-bow and up-bow, were moving in an orchestrated manner to produce melodies dictated by particular paces. At certain points, the melody being played was in allegro (fast) or adagio (slow) or in some other tempo. The passion infused into the music can easily be seen from the swaying motion of their bodies.

Nowadays, choreographed music videos rid the accompanying background music of its “authenticity” because these videos cannot capture the true feelings experienced by the singers / musicians at the time of composition. Formerly a cello player, I was intrigued at the quality of the music due to the long duration of the pieces before any rosin was applied to the bows to maintain the coarse horse hairs’ firm grips on the strings of the instruments. I did not question the tuning of the instruments, for usually high temperatures are the main cause of the strings becoming out of tune in a smaller interval of time. Although the music reminded me of the scenarios in Looney Tunes cartoons in which Elmer Fudd would creep towards Bugs Bunny, visual animations would have distracted audience members from the “audial” roller coaster ride they can only be understood through rhythm and tempo, not by flashy lights or unreal situations seen in contemporary music videos. Being born in a generation that does not appreciate music the way older generations do, this event exposed me to the clearly-evident distinct difference between the “young people’s” perception and the “old people’s” perception of chamber music.

Closing the Generational Gap

September 28, 2011 · Posted in Reviews · Comment 

The tribulation and sadness experienced as a result of the loss of loved ones are difficult to overcome. At some point in life, there is an acknowledgement of this fact that one can no longer suppress these over-bearing feelings and because of this, the pent-up emotions can be poured onto paper in the form of words, aesthetically and structurally crafted to convey messages that any other person can relate. The “First-Year Common Reading Author Visit” event at Whitman Auditorium enabled Brooklyn College faculty and students to gain insight into the mindset of Edwidge Danticat through the discussion of her memoir, Brother, I’m Dying. Even though her main intention in writing it was to converse with her deceased father and uncle, the memoir’s popularity and powerful themes including the terrible consequences of political intrusion on families make it somewhat of an essential, mandatory reading when used as a didactic tool. By sharing it with previous and future generations, she hopes that they won’t be absorbed into or be ignorant of their pasts, but rather, confront and embrace them.

Haitian proverbs are brought into the discussion to elaborate on the underlying themes and intentions in her autobiography. One notable proverb, “When you see an old bone on the road, remember it once had flesh,” delineates how one should not look down on people, for one would lose a sense of humanity, since the “bone” was once a person. She wanted to put the flesh back on the bones of her uncle and father because they were diligent and vested their hopes in their children. She pays tribute to her family and acknowledges and never forgets the sacrifices made by older generations. Immediately proceeding after is a reading of two excerpts from her memoir: the first one, “Transition,” talks about the moment when she gives birth to her daughter and names her after her father; and the other one, a folktale, describes how a daughter had a difficult time coping with her father’s death. Both excerpts accentuate the theme of the continuous cycle of life and death.

Transitioning from the discussion phase to the question phase, noticeable moments included someone mistakenly classifying her book as a novel and her joking about how her memoir should be assigned as mandatory reading to all immigration workers (Homeland Security personnel) in the near future. When asked who or what she thinks was responsible for her uncle’s death, she explains that the immigration system is broken and medical assistance was not provided when required. When asked if she was able to find closure in writing the book, she states that she wanted to write it before she forgot her memories since they were very vivid in her mind at the time. Although she wasn’t able to find closure, it served to be very therapeutic and cathartic to her. She addressed numerous issues that were not made clear in her memoir, and so, the event helped to alleviate the curiosity caused by the many unanswered questions in classroom discussions.

Coney Island and High Line “Site Observation” Assignment

September 26, 2011 · Posted in Site Essay, Site Observations · Comment 

Art is contrived from the imaginations and creativeness of people, with the intention of provoking emotions and thoughts within others and reflecting on the recreational and cultural aspects of society. Upon visiting the High Line and Coney Island, both located in New York City, it was a “liberation” from the conventional lifestyle and congested city. The High Line’s and Coney Island’s present designs preserve parts of their historical predecessors, but combines natural elements with a meditative atmosphere and exposure of a different side of life with a freedom of expression mentality that is associated to it respectively.

Approximately a century ago, Coney Island was fabricated by men as a result of the altering attitudes in society, transitioning from a strict traditional lifestyle established by Victorian ideologies of maintaining discipline and abstinence to one with an essence of being more lenient and unserious. People were supposed to work diligently and dedicate all leisure time to work. However, with the evolution of transportation and the rise of labor unions, it enabled them to set aside some money and time for themselves. Amusement parks were created to allow people “to live inside a fantasy” and to explore the side of the world they couldn’t experience in the comfort of the city, such as horseback riding, which “is a form of sophistication not available to the people who replaced the original visitors” and because “real horses can never coexist in adequate numbers on the same island with the new visitors,” artificial horses were utilized (Koolhaas 10 and 37).

When visiting Coney Island, I noticed how Luna Park has been restored to a more modernized look and there was a small firefighter ride, alluding to the Midget City Fire Department that ironically fought the big fire of Dreamland (Koolhaas 49 and 76). The area the Steeplechase Park once occupied for its mechanical horses has now become a Minor league baseball stadium for the Brooklyn Cyclones, with the Parachute Jump being the sole survivor of the park. The external layer of paintings comprised of various colors on walls of buildings along the boardwalk and particularly trash cans portrayed the positive, fun, and exciting appearance of Coney Island, which is emphasized by the use of bright colors, and gave their “accommodations” life, a glossy texture, and additional significance. Street performers could be seen preparing and perfecting acts that told stories not through words, but through movements. Coney Island’s beach provides a natural touch to its surrounding “synthetic” environment, but because of the beach’s physical relative closeness to the urban setting, it is overshadowed.

If one were to juxtapose Coney Island with the High Line, the natural elements of the High Line conspicuously stand out because of its elevated position, which isolates it from the rest of the city. An “elevated rail line” that was previously an “abandoned relic,” was resurrected based on a plan that “struck a balance between refinement and the rough-hewn, industrial quality of the High Line” (Goldberger). Unlike Central Park, the High Line was conceived in a natural way, in that wild plants invaded it without any interference, while Central Park was “cosmetic in many ways,” in which its plants were all planted by humans (Gopnik). When visiting the High Line, I was truly amazed at its transformation from the Sternfeld photo shown in Gopnik’s article that shows “what spring in New York actually looks like when it’s left up to Spring” to a promenade with planting areas consisting of the original plants that were initially there and some introduced by humans, stone plank flooring and fountains that make up the irrigation system used to help water runoff travel to planting beds, viewing platforms to look down on the city and perceive it as being more ordered because of how most garbage on streets looked miniscule to the eye, large areas set aside for performances, etc.

An intriguing structure I encountered was the “Still Life with Landscape” sculpture, which incorporated feeding spots and birdbaths to represent the relationship displayed between the plants that inhabit the High Line and the High Line structure itself. Bisected by the promenade, forming an open gateway, people can physically interact with it while walking through it. The “Digital Empathy” sound tracks installed in the park’s elevators, fountains, and bathrooms were also unique to me because they caught me off guard in the sense that the content of the messages was warm and caring, but the way it executed the delivery of them was through a technological voice that sounded very cold, presenting how two very contrasting things can coincide with one another. The open space of the High Line allows people to momentarily elude New York City’s limited land and constantly growing population and is accentuated by the empty lots and partially vacant residencies that surround it. Gopnik mentions how it is the “most peaceful high place in New York.”

Coney Island and the High Line exhibit the difference between the artificial and natural. However, even though Goldberger and Gopnik emphatically point out the natural state of the High Line prior to its construction, with all of the wild plants growing there naturally without any interference from humans, they are still technically growing on a man-made structure. New York City will forever be a fabricated environment as a whole, and the idea of nature residing in it can somewhat be considered futile, for its original foundations were long disturbed and uprooted by previous generations.



Works Cited

  • Goldberger, Paul. “Miracle Above Manhattan.” National Geographic April 2011: 122-137. Print.
  • Gopnik, Adam. “A Walk on the High Line.” The New Yorker May 21, 2001: 44-49. Print.
  • Koolhaas, Rem. Delirious New York. New York: Monacelli Press, 1994. Print.

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High Line: A Rebirth

September 26, 2011 · Posted in Site Creative, Site Observations · Comment 

I remember the day so vividly. The clouds shielding the sun’s rays, the wind whipping my skin, cold to the touch, and the rain pouring heavily, my clothes absorbing the droplets like a sponge, I started walking slowly towards the High Line from the subway station, not equipped with a much needed umbrella. I was in search of an answer. I wanted to take my usual stroll on the Coney Island boardwalk, but the artificial fun nature created by the amusement parks and colorful trash cans would only distract me in my quest. The streets were empty and the buildings appeared gloomy, with the only place with a positive atmosphere being the Starbucks that was directly to the right of me, which was packed with diverse groups of people, many of whom were hanging out with their friends or family members. I wished I could be like one of them, being surrounded by loved ones and sharing the laughter and happiness together. However, my world was turned upside down.

I lost everything that I had known and loved. My friends left me one by one, submitting to death and its subordinates, comprised of diseases and cancers. My family members were always so busy, with my parents working nonstop and my older siblings always hanging out with their friends and preoccupied with their schoolwork. I was looking for a rebirth, an understanding of the agonizing pain that I’ve kept jarred up inside of me for all these years, and learning how to confront it, the High Line seemed like an ideal location due to the natural elements it exhibited. Its elevated state would isolate me from the urban setting, allowing me to think clearly without any interruptions. After crossing many streets, I finally reached the entrance of the stairs that would lead me to the site of my possible rebirth. My clothes were completely drenched at this point and my countenance had an obvious look of depression plastered on it. Without much hesitation, I walked up the stairs, one step at a time, not looking back.

Upon reaching the surface of the High Line, the rain subsided and I noticed the rail tracks incorporated into the stone plank flooring. The stainless steel rails and glass gave it a “clean and shaved” appearance. There were many planting areas scattered around, containing embedded rail tracks and soaked plants with leaves that drooped downwards, with the water droplets dropping in a periodical manner. The benches, made up of a combination of protruding stone planks, metal, and wood, waited for someone to sit on them to give them meaning for their existences, but there were only approximately ten people walking around, primarily using the High Line as a short-cut to get to their destinations a lot faster. I began walking down the narrow path, looking down and noticing how the stone planks served as an irrigation system, permitting runoff water from the rain to travel to planting areas, quenching the plants’ thirsts.

After walking through a tunnel enclosed by a brick building, I continued to pass more planting areas and passed a gathering area with rows of wooden benches descending downwards, culminating with three affixed sheets of glass that allowed people to look down on the traffic flow below. I kept my concentration on the promenade, preventing my eyes from moving in the direction of the tall buildings surrounding the High Line. Suddenly, my eyes were mesmerized by a drinking fountain with a heart inscribed on its push button, which caused me to feel even more tribulation because of what the heart symbolized. I walked towards the fountain, pushed the button, and lowered my head to drink some water. A computer generated voice was emitted from it, but its cold sound and the concerned message it was trying to convey confused me. Why was it using a cold sounding voice to convey a warm message? Perplexed, I took my last mouthful of water before moving on.

As I proceeded on, I stopped momentarily to examine a sculpture called the “Still Life with Landscape,” which was divided by the pathway. It resembled an open gateway produced from thin steel rods, but when I saw that it had bird feeding areas and showers, I was able to understand that it was more than just an art piece. It served a crucial role for the little sparrows residing in the various plants of the High Line. When I noticed a lone sparrow looking around, probably for its “friends” and “family members,” another sparrow flew down from above and perched itself near the lone sparrow. Coincidentally, the two both flew to same feeding area with small black seeds, and together, they feasted on them. The way the sparrow joined the lone sparrow made me realize that although my friends may not physically be with me, they each live in a small place inside of my heart. Although I am not a religious person, somehow, I have gained this notion that my friends are looking over me from above. A cathartic and therapeutic experience, I found the answer I was looking for and felt as if I was reborn, more confident than ever before. The clouds dissipated and the sun shined down upon me, signifying the completion of my rebirth.


A Revolution Against Artistic Tyranny

September 25, 2011 · Posted in Reviews · Comment 

Fluxus was more than a movement; it was a revolution, a new approach to art, against the constraining standards of past traditional artists, to liberate art from the common perception of “sophistication” bestowed upon it by present-day people, derived from modern art museums. These “institutionalized prisons” only intensified this image of art by dividing works into different sections such that each one was comprised of those most subject-related, followed by a certain arrangement of objects and an implementation of a “no-touch” policy. However, if George Maciunas, the founder of the Fluxus movement, was to visit the “Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life” exhibit at the Grey Art Gallery at NYU, he would have been extremely disappointed and condemned the curators who orchestrated this “funeral” for Fluxus.

According to Maciunas, art was meant to be manipulated and applicable in society by challenging artistic expression and provoking various responses from people. Best exemplified by Yoko Ono’s “Painting to Be Stepped On,” a piece of canvas on the floor with its name literally denoting its purpose, Fluxus’ attitude was considered to be insulting and disrespecting to traditional art. Adding on to the anti-conformity was the distortion of every day objects, including the recordings of cacophonies of random sounds, a clock measuring length instead of time, a television set displaying altered electrical current, a strip of clear film continuously looping, etc. Individual sections were labeled to question broad life topics such as freedom and love.

Contrived from a manifesto, Fluxus’ concept was a combination of intermedia and fluidity because of the facilitation of intermedia currents in the process of promoting its form of art to all types of people, regardless of whether or not they process prior artistic knowledge. To grant future generations the privilege of experiencing Fluxus, an appropriate preservation method for Fluxus art pieces must be adopted. Though the issue is controversial and still remains a complete mystery, the Grey Art Gallery desecrated its legacy by following the traditional ways of art museums and failing to enable physical interactions between art and people.


Rudimentary Documentary

September 6, 2011 · Posted in Reviews · Comment 

"The twists and turns of Blues music."

Thursday was a hectic day for all of us. After ending classes late in the afternoon, we had to immediately rush to the Macaulay Honors College Building before the Meet the Artists event began at 6:00. Upon arrival, we signed in before proceeding to the second floor, where the event was held. The event focused on the two documentaries produced by Lee Quinby, a professor at the Macaulay Honors College and Daniel Cowen, a recent graduate, the problems that occur during filmmaking, and how behooving it is to work on projects with others.

One of the documentaries, “Facing the Waves,” was centered on Bobby Vaughn, an entrepreneur who established the FTW surf store in the Rockaways after founding the Von Dutch clothing line and leaving behind a past plagued with gangs and violence, and how he transitioned from his old life to his new life. Even though Bobby Vaughn maintained a “bad boy persona,” he revealed the positive aspects of his personality, in that he was willing to go through the court system, therapy and counseling to regain custody of his son, and helping the Rockaway community by starting up surfing camps for the youth. According to the filmmakers, several filming issues were encountered; Bobby was jumping around, drinking the night before shootings, etc. Also, their diligence is epitomized by how they were able to cut ten hours of footage to make a nineteen minute long documentary.

The other documentary, “True Delta,” was based on Blues music, an indigenous folk music in the Mississippi Delta that could “make someone happy and sad,” and the struggle to keep it alive by passing it down to the next generation. What makes it a struggle is the fact that the new generation may carry out the Blues genre differently because of the changing times and how nowadays, there aren’t as much hardships as there once was. The Blues legends emphasized the positive impact that Blues music has had on the community, by giving the youth something to do besides committing crimes, and helping to unite people. Also, I noticed how there were many river and water scenes. According to the filmmakers, the main purpose of these scenes was to relate the twist and turns of the Mississippi River with the twist and turns of Blues music.

Both documentaries impressed me because the storytelling in each film was done excellently, in that the transitions between scenes were done so smoothly, such that it was relatively easy to understand what was going on, and each film’s picture quality was good, despite the limited amount of resources used by the filmmakers. It was fascinating how the camera shots usually started from the feet and slowly moved upwards to build people’s characters. I was surprised at the amount of time dedicated to producing these two films and the numerous valuable skills acquired, including patience, developing an interview style, listening and silencing oneself, keeping the camera rolling for that one sudden incredible shot, etc. Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close could be related to the documentaries presented, in that they all discuss and convey how people and things adjust to the changing times and surroundings.