Monday, August 31, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Standard Hotel exhibitionism inspires cover story on voyeurism in NYC. [Metro]

The closing of Cafe des Artistes--"the death of an intrinsic part of old New York." [NYT]

"We Live in Public"--remembering the silicon 90s, when our Webbed life today was forecast in an underground Soho bunker. [NYT]



At Spike Lee's party in Brooklyn for Michael Jackson. [Gothamist]

Slacktivists rally outside Christodora, asking to be adopted. [SG]

The Howl Festival kicks off this week. [BB]

Buying a bra on Orchard Street. [HNY]

Fear of a Hip Planet?

I've spent the past weekend wondering about the reader response to my post on the subway art party. Though I know the hipster issue is a controversial one, I was surprised by how many comments came with such a high intensity of violent rage--so much, I ended up declining quite a few.

I keep thinking: Why should hipster artists get more vitriol than the antics and behaviors of drunken frat boys, bachelorette partiers, Sex & the City clones, real-estate developers, etc., who have turned New York City into a gated suburban community?


Dash Snow

As TIME recently wrote, "Hipsters manage to attract a loathing unique in its intensity. Critics have described the loosely defined group as smug, full of contradictions and, ultimately, the dead end of Western civilization."

I've always had mixed feelings about hipsters. Some of them seem like just an alternative brand of vapid, super-consumers, while others seem like kids trying to do something creative in a city that no longer supports creativity. I often cannot tell the difference.

But there has long been some version of the hipster in the city--Beatniks, Hippies, etc. What's different now? Why the intensity of loathing today?

I have to think it's the state of the city itself.


Warhol & Basquiat, by Michael Halsband

If the hipsters had arrived in 1989, they would have moved into the East Village, LES, and Soho, decorated their lofts and walkups with neon paint and street trash, thrown parties where people dressed up in goofy costumes, and spent their days making mediocre, but earnest art. You and I might have been among them.

If Warhol came to New York today, he'd live in Brooklyn and his silver wig, tinfoil walls, and oddball friends would inspire mockery and rageful derision.

Because today, the city has been torn to shreds by hyper-gentrification, split into an "us and them" border war as neighborhoods and homes are lost year after year. Every newcomer is already suspect, whatever their intentions. People are hurting, scared, and angry. We've watched buildings fall, glass towers rise, favorite shops and shopkeepers vanish, friends and family get evicted. We've watched the city lose its soul.



To the defense of young hipster artists in this divided city: They've stepped in an unavoidable hornet's nest. It's common knowledge that artists are often the first to gentrify outlying territories, laying the groundwork for the upscalers who will push them out, too. But are they aware of their role in the process?

Ultimately, the question is: How does a young artist come to this city, as it is today, to make and display art that disturbs, delights, and de-stabilizes its viewers--as art should strive to do?

If hipsters are the ones bringing new and/or upsetting ideas in art and alternative culture to a city suffocating in suburbanism, shouldn't we at least engage with them?


Steccato's flickr

Friday, August 28, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Rally tonight with the Slacktivists at the Christodora. [EVG]

Irrationally exuberant Brooklyn condos in danger. [Gothamist]

The story of how Hell's Kitchen didn't become Clinton. [CR]

More gunfire in the East Village. [NMNL]

Michael Jackson's Neverland ride is for sale at Coney Island. [ATZ]

Street art in E. Williamsburg. [NYS]

Art Party Train

Last night, I rode along on the MOVE! art party train, an event put together by the Lowbrow Society for the Arts, for "experimenting with the use of public space, playing with the traditional means of how people view art, and ultimately bringing a bit of magic to an unsuspecting rider's daily journey."





The party gathered near the New Museum, then rode the J train from Bowery to Broadway Junction. Many of the hipster partiers wore costumes. They drank beer and ate mini donuts. They filled three subway cars. They handed out flowers and played old gin-joint music from the Great Depression with banjos and accordions. Some of the music was very good.



During the ride, most of the non-hip subway riders tried to ignore the party, doing their best to stay hidden in digital pods. They went on reading their religious books and playing their video games as if nothing was happening.

Yet others participated, clapping along to the music or indulging in a little face-painting. Women commuters took flowers from the hipsters and tucked them behind their ears. Parents held up their children to see the fun.



As we moved further along the J line, the locals became understandably less amused. The racial and socioeconomic divide became starker. At Broadway Junction in East New York, we stepped out to a quiet elevated platform, intervening with a different reality. The group of mostly white partiers clumped together, away from the mostly black neighborhood people waiting for trains.

One of the singers struck up his band to sing "The Lady Is a Tramp," announcing, "This song is about how money's not important!"



A man said to a group of partiers, saying with a bemused smile, "This is not the stop to be doing this kind of thing. Don't you know where you're at?"

"We're in Brooklyn," said the partiers.

"This is not a good stop," he said. "Don't you think if you were here all alone, you'd be mugged right now?"

"I don't believe that," said the partiers.

"Believe it. You don't know where you're at."

"Yes, we do," said the partiers, "This is our train, too. We ride this train every day."

The partiers danced at the platform's edge, before the backdrop of coming trains and the signage of a gravestone manufacturer.



Back on the train, heading home, the party broke out into ebullient chaos, with kids hanging from the handrails and swinging like monkeys from the ceiling. There was something exciting about watching this scene, the sheer madness of it, the music and stink of beer, the giddy carelessness.

As if there was nothing else in the world, and no other people, but this party, these bare limbs swinging, blood rushing to the head.

All but a few of the partygoers got off at Kosciusko. I stayed on with a couple of stragglers. The empty subway floor was covered with confetti and loose change that had fallen from the acrobats' upside-down pockets. Dimes, quarters, nickels. I counted a couple of dollars on the floor.

Around Marcy Ave., a black man eating from a bag of Dipsy Doodles stepped on the train. He looked around once, looked at me, then got on his knees and picked up every piece of fallen change.


Click here for more photos

Thursday, August 27, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Young professional men who can't get laid are looking to hire "wing-women" to help them. [HG]

The experiment to luxurify W. 8th St. may be coming to a crashing halt. [Eater]

More public nudity hijinks--gone awry. [Gothamist]

Meet the Man in the Van in a short film by Sean P. Dunne. [EVG]

Naked City

I keep thinking about the sexual exhibitionism of the Standard Hotel guests and why, as much as it has captured the national attention, it isn't quite as compelling as one might hope.

First, a quote from Penelope Green's 2007 New York Times article "Yours for the Peeping," on the proliferation of glass towers in the new New York:

"City life has always been to some degree a public performance, and one of its pleasures is the opportunity to catch a glimpse of other habitats, to watch the movie of others’ lives through a half-drawn curtain, as Jimmy Stewart did in 'Rear Window.' But in the same way overheard phone conversations used to be tantalizing until cellphone use reached saturation point — 'I’m on 14th and Fifth,' bellows the guy into his Bluetooth, and your ear — ogling other people’s apartments is no longer so appealing..."

In the old New York of Rear Window, we do catch glimpses. Of Miss Lonelyhearts and her candlelit supper for one.



Of Miss Torso with her balletic legs and many suitors. Of luckless pianists, giddy newlyweds, bored housewives, and violent husbands. All of them unaware they are being seen. All of them caught in flashes and moments, half-hidden by curtains and brick walls. In the blanks, we are left to fill in the story for ourselves, using our imaginations. That is what the gazed-upon city as depicted in Rear Window was all about--the creation of mystery.



At the High Line's Standard Hotel, there is no mystery. The hotel management, like a film director, directs its guests to strip nude and perform sexual acrobatics before the windows. Said their Facebook page, "We encourage you to exercise your inner exhibitionist... It's all about sex all the time, and you're our star."

What stories are we meant to create from these scenes? These aren't glimpses we catch of people caught unawares in their everyday life, but wholly exposed performances staged like the dullest of movie scenes. In his direction, the luxury hotelier lacks the depth and nuance of Hitchcock.

In this glass slab, a man opens his towel and blandly displays his penis to the crowd below.


photo: NY Post

Another shows off his magazine-glossy muscles and tighty-whities.


photo: NY Post

Men masturbate in tandem. Couples press against the glass while having sex. Nude women pick up lamps and wave them in front of the window to call attention from viewers, "Look at us!"

All of them have paid hundreds of dollars to be in those high-flung fishbowls. And all of them stand as close to the glass as they can get, where every murky aquarium-green window frame is the same, each scene starkly similar to the next.


photo: NY Post

None of this is as sexy as Hitchcock's Miss Torso in the arms of a sailor. Nor as seductive as the red-haired man smoking a pipe in his pajamas in Carson McCullers' short story "Court in the West Eighties," another classic of urban window voyeurism.

In the Rear Window city, in its tenement backyards and apartment-house courtyards, drama unfolded like an old striptease, piece by piece, simultaneously revealing and disguising. The uninvited viewer felt furtive, yearning, filled with the thrill of voyeuristic taboo. Like Jimmy Stewart, he longed to know what was happening behind the curtains. Like Grace Kelly, she could spin from it a romantic, tragic tale.

Each window was a world--unique, colorful, half-hidden--loaded with possibility. In those old windows, we saw not flat-screen-TV objects, but subjects like ourselves.



There are 8 million stories in the naked city. What story are the High Line's naked people trying to tell us?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Twitter is for old fogies. [NYT]

Queens bakery exporting to Alabama. [Curbed]

More naked pictures of High Line show-offs. [Gothamist]

Celebrating 3 years of Pour House pub crawls in the EV. [EVG]

Kamp coins a new one: "smugavore"--for those self-righteous foodies out there. [DK]

Yunnies on Canvas

I picked up a copy of Adbusters and came upon the work of artist Terry Rodgers, large-scale paintings of affluent youth, posing at parties in states of calculated undress, scenes that could equally come from a clothing catalog or a mainstream porn mag. It could be any night in the condos of Manhattan, after champagne bacchanal brunches in MePa, and in the luxury hotels that dominate the low-rises of the Lower East Side.

Are they critiques or celebrations? You decide.


from Standing Watch (click to see large, all may be NSFW)

"In this world of wealth, the survival of which depends on its subjects' obedient consumption, individuals are reduced to harboring superficial human relations. Fallen prey to desires that neither bodies nor available luxury seem to satisfy, each of the beings that crowd Terry's paintings is self-centered--the body on display and the gaze introverted. They all seem to have crafted their appearance so as to render it as sleek, chic, and delectable as possible. From their being only a marketable image remains, the one which will give them their life credentials in what Guy Debord has named the Society of the Spectacle.

Terry Rodgers gives us a taste of these ritual gatherings--festivals sans festivity--where participants seem to have abandoned life as a meaningful experience, and replaced it with a material enterprise. Petrified by the power of their own stare, they have become the lifeless idols of an era driven by consumption."
--Catherine Somze


from Stealing Scenes

"Rodgers’s characters seem primed for an orgy, if they could only notice one another."
--Cathy Byrd


from Palace of Automorphic Delights

"My hope is that ultimately these paintings show fragile, genuine human beings trying to make something of what they are confronted with. Each of them is unique in their individuality—in their hair, their eyes, their lips, their hands—and they are all separately struggling and often finding merely surface solutions and ephemeral escapes to the timeless riddles of consciousness."
--Terry Rodgers, artist's statement

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Obama is reading Richard Price's LES novel, Lush Life. [Slate]

Standard Hotel promises to do their best to stop the free nudie show. That should be interesting. Will they use nude-detecting cops on the High Line? [Curbed]

For the love of a Red Hook slaughterhouse. [Eater]

"...if Manhattan gets to have shitty overpriced bars with obnoxious, inconsiderate patrons and their friends from Boston, well goddamn it LIC residents should have the same rights." [NYCB]

Guss' pickles get porny with Heeb. [Grub]

Lucy's fans get sad when their favorite bar goes on vacation. [EVG]

Yet another beating on 7th Street. [NMNL]

The New Yorker's Nick Paumgarten writes and talks about Governors Island. [GIB]

Biography Bookshop

They're not vanishing, just moving further east on Bleecker--all the way to Cornelia Street. Their new place at 266 Bleecker, across from the still-vacant Zito's Bakery, is set to open sometime this week. It's shaping up quick, with walls of bookshelves already half-filled and French doors that will open onto the street.


the new place, "bookbook"

Though I'm glad they managed to survive, I'll miss them from Bleecker's western end. There's one day of the week when my travels take me by Biography, and I always stop to browse and often buy among their open-air tables of great books at incredibly low prices.

Luckily, they're not leaving this spot until January, and the two shops will co-exist until then.



Rumors about their move began a year ago, when Kate/Jack Spade announced a takeover of their neighbor's spot. In June, the bookshop confirmed the rumor with signs in the window, posted here.

Biography has occupied this prime corner for nearly 25 years. Since they moved in, their end of Bleecker has gone from warm and neighborly to cool, glassy Rodeo Drive East, packed with multiple copies of Marc Jacobs stores and other high-end chains. In fact, it's Jacobs who will be taking their place next year, right across from the Magnolia Bakery.

Prominently advertised sales of the Sex & the City book helped attract hordes of cupcake munchers into the store--whether they spent any money is a question.


Sex & the City tourists browse between cupcakes & dildos

For awhile, there was hope Biography would stay. In February, the owner told New York, "I talked to our landlord a couple of weeks ago and I said we needed to extend our lease and he didn’t really say no... we both assumed that I wouldn’t be able to afford what Ralph Lauren is affording. Or maybe even they’re not affording it."

But the ubiquitous Marc Jacobs is affording it. Whatever the rent is, it's high. Wrote The Observer, "the new tenants at the former Biography Bookshop can look forward to paying eight times the lease owners Chuck and Carolyn Epstein signed ten years ago," on a street where some retailers are paying $80,000 per month.



Without Biography, there will be no reason left for me to walk down this end of Bleecker--and I am not alone in that sentiment. As one employee told The Observer, "The locals have no reason to walk down this street anymore, I mean, who wants a thousand dollar purse?” (A customer added accurately, "The neighborhood will be a retail wasteland hellhole without them.")



The new location will be bigger and better organized, with an expanded selection. I'd like to say I'll visit all the time, but I rarely pass through that end of Bleecker. My weekly walk--and my bookshelves--will be less alive without them. I'll have to find another path.

Monday, August 24, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Shuttered icon Vesuvio will at least remain a bakery--but will the angry neighbor be happy about continued food smells? [Eater]

John Strong packs up his freakshow and leaves Coney. [ATZ]

Mosaic Man attacked by drunken middle-aged men on Tompkins Square Park. [NMNL]

On the scene of an EV murder. [EVG]

Fat-unfriendly review of JC Penney draws ire from the Times. [NYT]

How to beat Bloomberg. [RS]

Keep time with the clocks of Yorkville. [FNY]

Native name for Manhattan--and favorite of Walt Whitman--appears on subway sign. [NYS]

Bagatelle-Lure

As I showed in my tour of the Meatpacking District's lost leather locations, what used to be The Lure is now Bagatelle, that site of infamous bacchanal brunches, where guys who work in finance get together with girls who work in fashion to flaunt the burning of their bail-out packages.

Since I can't find any photos of The Lure, I thought it might be fun to pair descriptions of their Pork party along with photos of Bagatelle's brunch party. Perhaps some frisson will emerge from such a mix. All quotes are from Guy Trebay's 1999 Voice article The Other White Meat. What a difference a decade makes.


photo: NY Times, Michelle V. Agins

"If you've been living on Mars, you'll want to know that the Lure is a large and intentionally grungy leather and s/m bar in the meatpacking district with a permanently installed slave-training cage, handcuffs suspended from the ceiling, and a predominantly gay male demographic. Tonight's more various crowd stands as a kind of testament to millennial gender blur, and the signifying power of costume."


photo: Nightclub City

In that cage, a boy "hung by his hands, wearing nothing but a loincloth and a crown of thorns. Oh, and several buckets of cow's blood...purchased at a nearby meat market."


photo: Guest of a Guest

"There'll be some mighty unusual objects headed in rectal directions this evening, including an electric device called a Violet Wand. This novelty insertion, which occurs about 2 a.m., follows a series of $5 per person spankings."


photo: Steven Ekerovich, Guest of a Guest

Friday, August 21, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Man on the street Tim Murphy works out with David Barton at the Astor Place "mega-gym palace," a place for people with style who "don't want to go to a place that looks very un-stylish." [NYM]

Thor hammers Dreamland--shutters Coney attractions for being late on the rent. Says "Bah humbug!" as he does it. [RS]

Bloomberg and Doctoroff even more corrupt and evil than you previously imagined, as the Times exposes their criminal plot to kill Willets Point. [QC]

Yet another peek-a-boo, I see you, shit-and-shower boutique hotel coming to town--and on the Bowery. [EVG]

When yunnies attack (each other)! [Gothamist]

Don't miss seeing Katie Couric spliced with Britney's bush--on view at PS 1. Apparently, it's good, old, kid-unfriendly fun. [CR]

The guy who took a Meatpacking sex club and turned it into a luxury lounge is taking over the Hog Pit. [Grub]

Who's painting portraits of Dash Snow all over downtown?

from salim's flickr

5 Rose's to Jamaica

I got an interesting comment today, saying that Krystyna, formerly of Five Rose's Pizza, "has semi-retired and now lives in Negril Jamaica where she still makes the best pizza on earth! You can find her at the 23-7 Bar on the beach in Negril happily making pizzas and sipping Pina Colodas! See you in Jamaica!"

Could it be true? Krystyna had planned to return to the East Village after a vacation in Poland--has she really gone to Jamaica? And not the one in Queens.


from my 5 Rose's post

This "food and sports" blog states that: "23/7 is a sports bar owned by a New Yorker named John who said F*ck it, I'm moving to Negril. Its located right on the beach and has all the sports needs of Americans and Europeans... The New Yorkers will be happy to know that they moved a retired pizza lady from NYC out there to cook authentic NYC pizza available late into the night."

I had to know for sure.

I called 23/7 in Negril and spoke to co-owner John Maire
, who confirmed the rumor. John lived in the East Village most of his life. He ate at the 5 Rose's for 20 years and even delivered pizzas for Krystyna. She cooked for his wedding. With the neighborhood turned to "bullshit," John got out. He brought Krystyna with him, convincing her that the beaches of Negril were a lot warmer than Poland.

John says the pizza is still excellent and made with yeast he brings down from Moishe's Bakery on Second Avenue. And Krystyna is happy. She got on the phone with me and said, "Jamaica is better for me. I love it here. Not like New York--forget it, Honey!"

Forget it, indeed. Take a look at Krystyna's new view from this "Safe Haven for Sinners":


from Queen of Subtle's flickr

Black Acid Co-Op

At Deitch Projects in Soho I wandered through Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe's "Black Acid Co-op." The Times called it "an immense, labor-intensive, maniacally contrived walk-through environment. A warren of some dozen rooms, interiors and passageways, it includes a burned-out home methamphetamine lab, a red-carpeted gallery of pseudo-artworks and a hippie haven."

That sums it up, but the emotional experience of walking through the installation goes deeper. Quite simply, it fills you with delicious dread.



Moving from room to room, stepping through holes hacked in the walls and, in one case, through the back of an open refrigerator, is to walk through a vivid dystopia, with all of that world's attendant anxieties.



From a freaked-out wig shop, you go through a newspaper-strewn hall into a meth lab, into a trailer that's been burned from an apparent explosion. It stinks of charred plastic and foam. Another room is covered with filthy carpet remnants and peeling paint.

Even though you know it's "only art," your gut tells you to get out. These are the places where people are tied to radiators, tortured, and ritualistically slaughtered. Get out--before the owners come home.

The flimsy floor thumps with footsteps--and you jump.



Some relief from anxiety can be found in a red-carpeted, white-walled art gallery, but you don't want to linger here--it feels too clean, not charged enough. So you plunge back in. Down to the basement. It's a Chinese herbalist's shop, but nothing makes sense here, either. A rack of T-shirts are airbrushed with lurid pornographic images. Are those glass implements dildos or medical devices? What here is real?



A postmodern spook house for grownups, "Black Acid Co-op" feels like a trip into the mind of a sociopath. Each step takes you deeper into the pockets of misery, confusion, and violence that lurk there. For a little while, you have stepped into another person's brain. It's not a pretty place to be--but it will take you out of your skin.



See more photos of Black Acid Co-Op here

Thursday, August 20, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Another Burritoville rises from the dead--next to a former Burritoville! On 23rd and 8th Ave... If they all move back to their old vicinities, maybe the dead Bald Man spot in the EV will be a new old Burritoville?


As the Brooklyn ice-cream wars rage on, Mister Softee says ice-cream haters tend to be "New Age parents whose kids can’t seem to do anything without them." [NYT]

Welcome back Fedora! [Eater]

Reverend Billy makes the ballot for mayor of NYC. [LM]

SuperDive's frattiness beloved by TONY. [EVG]

Advertisers get even more obnoxious--as DirectTV is dropping these football-related "welcome mats" on everybody's doorstep across the Village:




Zoe Beloff

Yesterday, I published a post on Zoe Beloff's "Dreamland" exhibit at the Coney Island Museum. Today, I follow up with an interview with the artist. (On 8/29 at 4:30, attend a discussion with Beloff at the Coney Island Museum.)


In the book that accompanies the show, you say you have a long-standing fascination with Freud and Coney. How do you see the two going together?

In many ways the entrepreneurs of Coney Island and the father of psychoanalysis were worlds apart. The amusement park owners and designers in Coney Island aimed to exploit or tap into the fears, desires, and lusts of the public for commercial gain. The fantastic rides and attractions of Dreamland, Luna Park, and Steeplechase clearly did this. From the Tunnel of Love, to the Insanitarium and Blow Hole Theater to Hellgate and Creation, even their names are richly evocative of primal urges repressed in daily life. Attractions like the Freak Show or “Burlesque by the Beach” continue this tradition.

Freud, on the other hand, was one of the great discoverers of what we call the unconscious. His goal was therapeutic--by helping people understand their inner lives, he aimed to cure their neuroses. I myself am interested in attempts to graphically manifest the unconscious. I see my project in a psychoanalytic light, as a way to make manifest the dreams and desires of several generations of New Yorkers who lived, worked, or played in Coney Island.


photo: Brad Paris

You clearly have a love for the found object. What it is about other people’s lost images and ephemera that inspires you?

I think of myself as someone who creates a dialog with the past through these things. To come back to psychoanalysis, long before I started this project, I collected old home movies. I see them a little like Freud understood dreams, jokes, and slips of the tongue—as an avenue into the unconscious. I think amateur movies often say much more than their makers ever intended and I want to bring that to light.

My interpretation is necessarily shaped by the fact that photographs and films have their own integrity. They speak. On the other hand, because so much is lost and unknown, they allow me a space to dream. Between the object and my interpretation is always, by necessity, a void. And in that void, I want the viewer to ask questions: Was that person really who I say they were? Did they have those thoughts and feelings? I hope people will ask themselves how much we can really know of others through the remains of their lives, through images and objects, cast off, lost and forgotten.

My husband, Eric, is always worried that I will be attacked by some stranger who has wandered into my exhibition and recognized a relative and feel that I have horribly misrepresented them: “My great aunt Mary was never a member of any psychoanalytic society, she was a church-going lady!”


photo: Brad Paris

I’d love to see Mr. Grass’ vision of Dreamland constructed as part of the future Coney. Do you think it is more or less possible in today’s New York than it was in Mr. Grass’ time?

Sadly, I don’t think Mr. Grass’ Freudian Dreamland is any more possible now than it was in 1930, much as I would love to see a 50-foot-high “Libido” pavilion in the form of a naked prepubescent girl, looking out to sea. Grass failed because he couldn’t attract capital. In some ways our culture is more repressed than it was in Grass’ day. Remember that the Fleisher Brothers’ marvelous Betty Boop, the very essence of Brooklyn’s libido, was ultimately done in by Walt Disney’s Snow White. Walt was both anti-Semitic and deeply puritanical (read family values) and it was his culture that triumphed. Grass didn’t stand a chance.

To my mind, the closest thing that came to be realized along the lines of Grass’ vision was Dali’s “Dream of Venus” at the 1939 World’s Fair. Whether Dali knew of Grass’ plan is of course an unanswered question.

Dali actually created his pavilion for the Amusement Zone of the Fair. I think it was the most amazing thing he ever did and it was here he found his true calling as a designer of amusements. It was weird, beautiful, funny, and very racy, with topless young women, “The Liquid Ladies,” swimming around in giant tanks in a surreal underwater landscape. But it was not cheap. Julian Levy, his gallery owner in New York, had to work very hard to find private sponsorship. He finally got money from a rubber manufacture in Pittsburgh who kept trying to persuade Dali to make all the women wear rubber mermaid tails.


photo: courtesy of Zoe Beloff

With all the many designs for a future Coney, what would you most like to see in its redevelopment? What is your “Dreamland”?

I think it is important to remember that the great amusement parks of Coney Island were for-profit ventures funded by major capitalists of the day. To my mind what made them so wonderful was that there were no road maps, so the designers were free to dream up the most fantastic structures, which were in many ways an embryonic version of the skyscrapers of Manhattan (Rem Koolhaas in his book “Delirious New York” describes this well).

However, today we live in an age of transnational corporations where everything is standardized. So what I, and many people, fear is that desperately needed renewal will bring with it the drabbest of corporate culture. As a small example, there used to be a wonderful old candy store at the entrance to the Stillwell Avenue subway. It had all kinds of quirky concoctions. My favorite was chocolate-covered frozen bananas. After the subway station was rebuilt it was replaced by a Dunkin Donuts.

I would like to see the City thinking much bigger. I wrote letters to my elected representatives suggesting, for example, that they hire a major architect or artist to design some great visionary amusement park rides. Koolhaas himself would be an excellent candidate. Something like this would make Coney Island once more an essential tourist destination, especially for the international art scene. It would be great if they could take a ferry to Coney Island (just like one could in 1900) to see something amazing.

It would, I think, generate all kinds of business in Coney Island, from high-end seafood restaurants on the boardwalk to freak shows and other more visceral attractions. Low and high culture should be all mixed up, just the way it was a hundred years ago when Coney Island hosted visiting dignitaries and poor people who could enjoy a hot dog for a nickel.


photo: courtesy of Zoe Beloff

At the end of your book you include two photos of the Trumps surveying their parcel of Coney. The photos stand out because they are not part of the psychoanalytic society project. What are you saying to readers with the inclusion of these photos?

I specifically chose to put this picture next to the acknowledgments page. It was meant as a big “No thanks to…” or rather if you read the caption, “thanks to Fred Trump, Steeplechase Park was destroyed.” The weird thing is that Fred is wearing a large necktie with big polka dots. It makes him look like a clown. So here is this “clown” destroying the “Palace of Fun.” Psychoanalytically, I thought it was interesting.

Since launching your project, have you found additional materials from the Society? Do you think more Dream Films will ever turn up?

Yes, I am working on additional material. After it became clear in the in the late 1930’s that his Dreamland Amusement Park would not be built, Albert Grass tried a new way of fusing his love of psychoanalysis and popular culture, another venture. I will be publishing this new work in an issue of Cabinet Magazine that will come out next year, probably the spring.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Grieve has been following the controversial 7th Street Tumor--and now there's a For Rent sign in the window. Today it's the bedroom for two homeless girls and their friendly cat. Tomorrow, this 3,000 sf space may be the next obnoxious bar and restaurant to invade the street.


Save Union Square from death by too much flare--just say no to TGI Friday's. [Gothamist]

In chain stores per acre, the East Village makes the top 5 most chainified in all of NYC. [Curbed]

And the chain stores keep coming as "the recession could have played a role in facilitating the chain expansion." [CR]

Remembering an older Orchard Street. [HNY]

And another old Orchard business dies. [BB]

Get ready for Brooklyn's Michael Jackson block party. [Gothamist]

How weird and scary is Hollister? Mike Albo lives to tell: "We needed to get out of there before we were trapped in this psychic brothel forever. I clutched onto him, and we battled our way past all the beautiful faces. Like sirens they beckoned for us to stop and transfer our lust into $600 worth of distressed denims and 'casual luxury' tees. Stop being so pretty around me, I wanted to scream." [NYT]

Coney Psychoanalytic

For all the deeply depressing events swirling around Coney Island this summer, there is one exciting event you should not miss: Zoe Beloff's "Dreamland" exhibit at the Coney Island Museum.



As the press release states, "In celebration of the centennial of Sigmund Freud’s visit to Coney Island in 1909, artist Zoe Beloff has resurrected the forgotten world of the Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society."

Piecing together bits of history found at flea markets and around Coney, Beloff informs us that the Society, housed in an office atop the Shore Theatre, was founded in 1926 and folded sometime in the early 1970s. It was made up of men and women, most of them working class Jews and Italians, excited by Freud's new ideas about sexuality and the unconscious mind.



With an obsessive eye for detail and accuracy, Beloff brings the vanished Amateur Psychoanalytic Society to life through artifacts and ephemera.

There are photographs and bios of its members (like Stella Weiss, who "had all the makings of a Borscht Belt comedienne," and Eddie Kammerer, for whom "Coney Island was haunted by his mother, forever young and beautiful and out of reach").

There are Dream Films, created by the members, playing on screens. And, everywhere, elaborate plans for a Freudian vision of Coney--a psychoanalytic Dreamland where bumper cars express unconscious drives, and wavy mirrors reveal your deeply buried, Id, Ego, and Super-Ego.



The Freudian dream park was the brainchild, Beloff tells us, of Albert Grass, founder of the Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society. Sadly, Grass' vision for a new park was squelched by George Tilyou, owner of Steeplechase.



Tilyou's rejection letter appears on the wall, typed on ancient letterhead. Grass' notes and sketches (many of them sexually explicit) are stained with coffee rings. Painted plywood boards for a bumper car game, discovered in an abandoned lot, are on display. And the beginnings of a wax sculpture of Freud, found in the World in Wax Musee, are preserved behind chicken wire.



The New York Times published an extensive article, with audio slide show and film, on the exhibit. Explaining her work, Beloff said, “I travel back into the past and explore the world of the imagination, the paranormal... I feel like I’m like a medium, and the voices of the past speak through me. I don’t make it up, I try to conjure it up.”

It is an impressive conjuring. Too good to be true. I asked the woman taking tickets, "Is it real?" She gave me a vague, existential answer, "What is reality? Especially in Coney Island."



The Times asked Beloff the same question, "Did the Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society really exist?"

“That’s a good question,” she said with a smile. “What do you think? Let’s think about interpreting this. That’s what Freud was about, taking real things and recontextualizing them to see what that says about us. Maybe that’s the approach I took.”

As Coney is set to undergo a violent, criminal Disneyfied surgery, I find myself wishing that Albert Grass, Stella Weiss, Eddie Kammerer, and the rest of the amateur psychoanalysts would appear to make Beloff's brilliant vision a reality. New York needs a Libido Funhouse far more than we need yet another (and another) luxury hotel tower.

*Tune in next for an interview with Zoe Beloff*