Random Frolics: HeardNY, Museum of NY, and Gargoyles

This is the first of what will be many random summaries of wandering and day-to-day adventures. I tend to get bogged down in research and endless expansion of scope when it comes to writing about the strange and entertaining sights across which I stumble (or deliberately seek out) throughout the week, which results in articles never actually getting posted. These frolic write-ups are summaries, really, with minimal background information or historical context. Some of them will be expanded upon later, and others don’t really afford much expansion. But they will be presented here so that we may, together, enjoy frequent romps through whichever city, town, or wilderness in which we happen to be wandering.

Today’s post sees us ranging up and down Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a part of the city that, for one reason or another, we almost never explore even though it offers a wealth of hidden curiosities to discover.

HeardNY at Grand Central Terminal

HeardNY was an art and dance performance at Grand Central Terminal which half the city — myself included, embarrassingly — assumed was created by well-known spooky musician Nick Cave, who was also in town for a series of concerts about which I did not know until the night before but would have very much liked to attend (I am pretty abysmal at keeping up with concerts). In fact, HeardNY was the work of an entirely different Nick Cave who just happened to be in town at the same time and just happen to be using horses — a subject that could easily be attributed as appealing to musician Nick Cave as well — as the theme of his performance. Ah well, bad journalism (many magazines and blogs reported that the show was staged by musician Nick Cave, not choreographer Nick Cave) and wrong assumptions worked to my advantage. I would not have gone to see HeardNY if I didn’t think it was the other Nick Cave, and I would have missed out on a pretty spectacular performance. A wing of the terminal was divided into two large squares, in which were dancers costumed in brightly colored straw and cloth horse costumes. The show began with a simple equine promenade, much to the delight of the assembled children, who were allowed to pet the horses as the dancers got up close and, uhh, horsed around with them. The horses then split into two, and even more colorful shaggy-clad dancers who had been the rumps took over in a dazzling display of motion and color before finally rejoining their horses and filing out. Absolutely loved it.

Museum of the City of New York

From Grand Central, caught the six train uptown to visit the Museum of the City of New York, to which I had never been. The primary reason for the long-overdue visit was “Designing Tomorrow,” a look at the art and design of the Worlds Fairs of the 1930s — obviously with a focus on the New York Worlds Fair. Unfortunately, museums cling to the “no photography” policy for special exhibits like this, so I don’t have much to offer in the way of visual accompaniment, but here is some stuff I found elsewhere.

The worlds fairs of the 1930s were meant to distract Americans from the crippling miasma of the Great Depression and inspire us as a nation to strive for a better tomorrow built on technology perseverance, industrial innovation, and corporate leadership. The New York fair happened in the late 1930s, when we were on the eve of World War II and the Depression had, while not been licked, at least been beaten back and recovery in progress. The fair was a celebration of can-do ingenuity, modernist design, and futurist optimism. The exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York collects together a wide assortment of photographs and ephemera, mixed with some audi-visual displays and a recreation of Electro, the famous mechano-man.

The rest of the museum was interesting though a lot of it was under renovation to get ready for the spring season. But the exhibit on the future of domiciles in cities was cool, like walking through an issue of Dwell, even if their model micro-apartment dwarfed my first New York apartment. Another wing of the museum was a fantastic walk through the history of activism in New York, starting with abolitionists and continuing on through everything from women’s suffrage to worker safety to gay rights, historic preservation, and bicycle advocacy, among other topics. Wrapped the visit with a 15 minute slideshow narrated by Stanley Tucci about the evolution of New York City since it was just swamp and forest. All in all, a pretty good museum, though I feel like it and the Skyscraper museum downtown need to join forces to become a really complete look at the city of New York.

Random Gargoyle Hunt

Of course, no afternoon frolic is complete without a gargoyle hunt. I have a more organized one planned for when the weather warms up. Until then, here’s an assortment of ghastly guardians and impish devils spied during our stroll up and down the hills between the museum and our next destination, red velvet cake at a place called Two Little Red Hens.

Random Building and Art

And though they are not adorned with gargoyles, there were still some fun buildings and structures along the way, including a great example of one of my favorite big-city phenomena: the hold-out. Those little, old-fashioned houses and buildings flanked on either side by high-rises and skyscrapers but owned by someone who refused to sell their property to developers. And, of course, a few random works of art.