What do I know from art? Not much, apparently, but I still had a good time.
I went to the Park Avenue Armory on Friday for the last day of a 5-day “Open Studio” featuring the work of Yoshitomo Nara, a Japanese artist who is having a show at the Asia Society.
The armory’s website said that the artist and his collaborative team, YNG, “will undertake rebuilding the structure of the installation work, Home, and Nara will establish a temporary studio to create new drawings and other works that will be included in Asia Society Museum’s exhibition Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool.”
According to WNYC, “Nara's appearance at the installation on Monday elicited sobs from one of his young Japanese fans; they just managed to drown out the sound of drills and hammers.” Sounds like quite a guy.
The site also carried this advisory—which I heard on WNYC as well—“All visitors must wear closed-toed shoes with a hard sole and shirts that cover their shoulders. Hard hats will be provided.”
Hard hats? This must be one hell of exhibit. I promised myself I'd go because every week I read about some off-the-wall exhibit or performance, I plan to go, but end up sitting at home watching TV. This is New York, damn it. You've go to do weird stuff like this.
So as soon as I got finished at work, I hopped on the IRT and headed up to the armory at 66th Street. The ride turned out to be a minor detour down Memory Lane when I got off at the Hunter College stop.
I graduated from Hunter in 1980 and I’ve only been by the place a handful of times since then. The school looks completely different now; they have an entire building there now that was nothing but a hole in the ground back in my day.
I have no real feeling for the place. My college years weren’t a particularly happy time for me and since it was a commuter school, I didn’t actually live there; I just visited. It was like going to the office.
I walked down Park Avenue expecting a huge crowd lined up outside the Armory for the exhibition, especially given that it was the last day, it was free, and it had this funky hard hat rule.
But the place was nearly empty. I wasn’t complaining, of course, I just walked right in, got my hard hat, and headed into the massive drill hall.
The place is huge—55,000 square feet--like an indoor football stadium. And there were all sorts of cranes and other types of construction equipment beeping, honking and moving around the place. It was crazy.
As I watched the construction crew work, I suddenly remembered that I had been in this very hall more than 30 years ago, while a student at Hunter.
Cartier had sponsored an event there featuring several World War I era airplanes. It seems that Louis Cartier had designed the first wristwatch for an aviator who complained that pocket watches were unreliable pocket during long flights.
The wristwatch became popular and eventually pushed out the pocket watch as the way to tell time.
The exhibit was rather impressive, as I recall, and they even had a guy walking around in a pilot’s getup complete with a white scarf, aviator's cap and boots.
Cranes Are Flying
I was shocked at how small and rickety the biplanes were. I wouldn’t roll down a hill in one of those things, let alone fly in one. A hard hat wouldn’t help much if you crashed in one of these planes.
Now I was back here three decades later, more time than you could ever measure on a watch. And wristwatches themselves are on the endangered devices list as they are slowly being rendered obsolete by the cell phone, Blackberry, and similar gadgets.
Most of the area was roped off on Friday and there was a small office area where there were drawings hanging on the walls.
Yoshitomo Nara is heavily influenced by anime and manga and that certainly shows in his work. But what was all this heavy equipment doing here? While I was watching the cranes dismantling something, a woman approached me.
“Are they taking it down?” she asked me.
“It looks that way,” I said. “I thought it was going to stay up until tonight.”
As I was leaving I noticed a young woman apparently telling another visitor what was going on. I couldn’t hear what she was saying over all the noise so I approached her as soon as the guy walked away.
“I’m sorry to make you repeat yourself,” I said, “but what does all this equipment have to do with the exhibit?”
“Oh, they’re just doing some renovations in the hall,” she said. “It’s not related to the exhibit at all.”
Say what? I walked in here expecting some massive modern art spectacular and you’re telling me its building renovations. Bring back the biplanes.
I was about to go home, but thankfully I took a tour around the Armory and I have to say it is a fabulous building.
The armory’s website says it was built by New York State’s Seventh Regiment of the National Guard, the first volunteer militia to respond to President Lincoln’s call for troops in 1861. The “Silk Stocking” Regiment included such big time Gilded Age families as the Vanderbilts, Van Rensselaers, and Roosevelts.
The place has one fabulous room after another, demonstrating quite clearly why they called it the “Gilded Age.” This Armory itself is a work of art.
I later learned that the office housing the drawings was part of the exhibit and been built earlier in the week.
Maybe I’ll check out the exhibit at the Asia Society. I wonder if they'll let me bring my own hard hat.