Michael Namer opened his installation gallery in 2007 after discovering a wall of graffiti art in a building that he owned at 151 Wooster Street. His first exhibition was a collaborative effort, after uncovering this treasure trove of work from such talented names as Basquiat and Keith Haring. Over the years, issues of sustainability and "green exhibitions" drove Namer to represent artists who streamline the amount of energy and the types of materials they use. When moving uptown recently, Namer continued to have his eye on emerging artists. On one of the days that we popped in, we observed the installation of twenty pieces by the owner of the acclaimed event lighting company, Bentley Meeker. For this installation at 151, he has combined his knowledge and creativity in the lighting design world and created an exhibition of twenty canvas pieces, titled 186,281 (the approximate number that represents the speed of light in miles per second).
Babycastles, randomly named in honor of a Japanese pastry, is a gallery and community venue for video game designers. However, according to Todd Anderson, one of the members of the Babycastles collective, Babycastles is about more than just gaming. It is an “incubator” of fresh artistic thought, a place to go with unconventional ideas to be welcomed by individuals who can see those concepts into fruition without red tape and hefty price tags.Using his own story as a case study, Todd told me about how he moved to New York from Chicago in order to pursue digital poetry, a relatively new genre that plays with the interaction between technology and language (for example, using a keyboard to control the delivery of a poem in the same way a conductor guides an orchestra). Todd turned to Babycastles, inquired about hosting a monthly poetry event, and was met with great support. He found a home for his art, and has been invested in Babycastles ever since.Sharing a building with Hack Manhattan, Babycastles hosts a wide variety of events for all ages including concerts, lectures, game launches, and even yoga. The Babycastles team curates exhibitions that spotlight independent video game designers and define their work in the larger context of fine arts. Oftentimes, custom game cabinets are built to accommodate the works on display.Game creators and other artists are invited to apply for the Babycastles residency program, which allows them to take advantage of the bright, sunlit co-working space and receive inspiration from an artistic community where they can freely test their latest ideas. For an application to the program, check the website; new members are admitted regularly.
Since 1901, when Ginsberg and Levy, Inc. began, the Levy family has garnered a distinct reputation specializing in American antiques primarily from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Though the art world lost a great man in early 2016 when Bernard Levy passed away at the age of ninety-eight, his son and grandson, Dean and Frank, are successfully carrying on the family business that changed its name to Bernard and S. Dean Levy in 1973.Frank, who appeared quite enthusiastic to be continuing the gallery as its fourth generation owner, explained that while the gallery contains a few pieces of English furniture that once lived in American homes, everything else was made right here. This is rare in the antique business, where European works usually have the strongest showing. I was interested to learn that some of Frank's favorite pieces are the framed needlework that decorate the corners of the first floor. He told me that the surviving needlework was mainly done by girls between the ages of eight and fifteen. The nice thing about needlework, Frank pointed out, is that collectors often know who made it, since their names are worked into it, and after a while it is easy to start to recognize different schools and teachers of needlepoint.Frank spoke to me about growing up in the family business. "As a kid, you learn that these things are heavy," he said with a smile as we walked by a seventeenth century wardrobe. From a young age, Frank found the history of each antique fascinating. "I've always liked American history," he admitted. He then went on to reflect that as a boy, he and his brother would play football with an antique highboy in his parents' room, which provided "a perfect goal post." When he was in his twenties, however, he began working for the family business and started to become more interested in the clues that told him when and where something came from. Most of the pieces are from the eastern seaboard - Frank told me that the taller ones usually come from the South, where inhabitants wanted heat to be able to rise, and the shorter furniture comes from the North, where lower ceilings helped keep the heat inside. As for where the impressive collection is found, "Things show up everywhere." Frank found one piece at an estate three blocks away, whereas a chair from Rhode Island was discovered at an auction in California.In addition to my conversation with Frank, I also had the pleasure of speaking with Melanie, a gallery employee, who shared with me that despite being on a side street, the gallery gets a fair amount of walk-ins. Recently, a man stopped in who commented that he was "taken with the portrait of the sheriff" in the window. Most of the gallery's customers, however, are collectors and frequent visitors. Bernard and S. Dean Levy has helped to build not only private collections, but countless public ones, including those at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. The company is also proud to have helped to furnish a few historical house museums or help them to recover original furniture that was lost over the years.Touring the gallery with Frank, which is vaguely arranged chronologically, we began on the top floor. It is here that I discovered that many of the newest pieces from the nineteenth century are from New York, and made by three primary cabinetmakers - Duncan Phyfe, Michael Allison, and Charles-Honore Lannuier. Frank showed me how he "looks for little clues to find out where something is from and when," showing me a drum on the leg of a table made by Duncan Phyfe that indicated that it came from a specific phase of his career. He then pointed out an elaborately decorated knife box. When Tom, the Manhattan Sideways photographer, commented that it looked like it could have come from the Art Deco period, Frank agreed, saying, "styles come back."The fourth floor has furniture from the same period and a bit earlier, but with an emphasis on the country. Much of the furniture came from Connecticut and New Hampshire and was made from birch and maple trees. Frank indicated a dower chest that had a hidden signature from its maker, John Saltzer, etched into a painted urn on the side. We also saw an old lead-lined wine cooler with a stopper at the bottom which let out water. On the third floor, there were even earlier pieces, including one with a completely fictitious historic plaque claiming that it had once belonged to Martha Washington. Laughing, Frank said that if everything attributed to Martha Washington actually belonged to her, she would have needed far more houses to store her collection. The second floor had an impressive array of grandfather clocks as well as a desk with an extraordinary removable hidden compartment that allowed the owner to keep important documents in a safe space that could be removed from the desk in case of fire. When we returned to the first floor, we had traipsed through one hundred years of history, told in the language of furniture. It reminded me that Bernard and S. Dean Levy can boast a more-than-hundred year history of its own. "I'm proud we've been around this long," Frank concluded.
Cultural exchange has been at the heart and soul at this non-profit institute since its opening in 1991, and its move to 13th street in 2000. Tenri Cultural Institute provides Japanese language classes, countless evenings of chamber music, and cultural and community-minded art shows in their gallery space. Not only do they spotlight Japanese exhibitions, there is a constant focus on a myriad of cultures. The ambience of the large gallery is always changing, project manager, Yuji Okui, told me. New York is the center of everything global, artistic, and social, Yuji explained, "that is why we chose to open this center here. It is prime territory to reach out to an international community and open the lines of cultural communication."
The School of Visual Arts, a fine arts institute, has buildings scattered throughout Manhattan. At this particular location, however, they regularly display artwork from current and recently graduated MFA students. The MFA program has a rather "democratic" focus. We found all of the art to be accessible, both through its presentation and its inspiration, and we felt as though popular and familiar visual mediums were emphasized. Comics and infographics shared the same walls with more classical line drawings. Signage and 3D were brought to the level of high art and another room hummed with the electricity of four television monitors playing loops. Although the gallery space is small, the pieces, themselves, were charged with ready and apparent meaning due to their use of popular visual media.
A city landmark and a slice of Old New York, Pete's Tavern has been serving food and draft beer uninterrupted since 1864. It does not take much to envision Pete's as it was a century and a half ago. The scarred, carved bar, the high-backed booths, tin ceiling and functional 1950's register are reminders that this was once the favorite haunt of writer O. Henry, a speakeasy, and a pre-Civil War "grocery & grog." Walking through the rooms, one can also discover hundreds of photos of people from our past - James Cagney, Mickey Mantle, and celebrities of today, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Adam Sandler. To drink here is to drink half in the past and half in the present.
New York has more than its fair share of yakitori houses and sushi bars, but this Japanese transplant is concerned with presenting its American diners with Teishoku, or home-style cooking. This chain, which opened in Japan in 1958, features nourishing, traditional fare, where a "healthy body and mind" are top priority. Throughout Asia there are over three hundred restaurants, and as of 2012, New Yorkers can dine in the light, airy interior of their elegant US flagship restaurant.
Ken Giddon likes to say that he went “from riches to rags” by leaving a career as a bond trader to reopen his grandfather’s men’s clothing store. Harry Rothman used to peddle his wares from a pushcart on Delancey Street in the 1920s before moving into a retail space. “He kind of created the concept of a discount clothing store,” Ken remarked. Rothman’s closed for a time after Harry’s death in 1985, but Ken revived the business a year later in a stunning, 11,000-square-foot storefront on the corner of 18th Street in Union Square. “I love being on a side street. It gives us the ability to afford a bigger space while watching the movable feast that is New York walk by every day.” Five years after the shop’s reopening, Ken invited his brother, Jim, to join him. “This is one of the true family businesses in Manhattan.” The store, which carries both casual and formal attire from top designers, aims to make the shopping experience for men “as efficient and rewarding as possible.” To this end, Ken and Jim scour the market, travel abroad, and attend numerous trade shows to find the best brands. “We try to provide our customers with that personal, small-town feel in the middle of the city,” Jim said. Despite Rothman’s more modern look and merchandise, the brothers strive to keep some core elements of their grandfather’s business alive, particularly by preserving his humble approach to owning a men’s retail store. As Harry used to say, “It’s not so serious what we do. We just sell pants for a living.”