Taxi Cab: New York City from the Rear Seat

THE REAR SEAT: Answering Questions and Asking Questions.

The Journey of a New York City Taxi Cab

By: Al Orensanz, PhD; Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

taxi cab, new york city, angel orensanz foundation for the arts

The New York City taxi cab serves as a conduit between destinations, but also the interwoven lives of individuals within them.

Most of our day-to-day information accumulates through idle conversations, and it infiltrates our awareness unexpectedly. We interact constantly and randomly with people who talk to us or who listen to us. We are educated through radio and TV broadcasts, and we are constantly alerted by our cellular phones, iPad messages, radio transmissions and commercial ads blinking from the skyscrapers. Throughout the city, we are exposed to taxi cab drivers, vendors, compatriots, old colleagues, spouses, children, receptionists relatives and neighbors.

We traverse the city by taxi cab. Points of interest are brought in by the kaleidoscope of the streets, advertisements, shop windows. The curiosity grows and a decision has to be made: should I engage or retreat? I still have some 30-odd minutes of taxi traveling left. Let me ask the driver. He is most likely talking on a device that I do not see.

taxi cab - new york city - angel orensanz - angel orensanz foundation for the arts

“Light Matter” by Angel Orensanz. The commute, even by taxi cab, can be the venue for inspiration and art.

Darkness engulfs us both. He has the front window available to scout and evaluate traffic strategies. I can see the sides but not my rear window view. My options are very limited. His are much wider and diversified. The driver initiates a conversation with me. The surroundings act as a backdrop. Our conversation gets more intense and specific as our trip progresses. The backdrop of the city moves and evolves as traffic weaves around us, providing context. The centerpiece of the discourse is a reservoir of memories, references, adapted anecdotes that are formulated and adapted to this specific moment and circumstance.

You never ride a taxi twice; you never talk to the same taxi driver twice. The streets are the same, and the buildings blur and dissipate in the immediacy or the distance. The speed renders the faces imperceptible. My attention splits and divides as I interact coincidentally with the driver and the city around me: on-going conversation is syncopated and distracted every few seconds.

Inside a New York City taxi cab, the darkness surrounds both parties. Conversation is either inevitable or avoided at all costs

Inside a New York City taxi cab, the darkness surrounds both parties. Conversation is either inevitable or avoided at all costs

The questions and answers are all stereotypical. We do not see faces but we hear our voices. With that alone, we can establish a bridge of communication. Obviously, our allocated time is short; the view of our faces is limited therefore is not engaging. The context of the streets and roads we circulate speeds ahead of us fast and uncompromising. There is very limited time for self and mutual exploration. Most of the time we instinctually agree on a common subject matter inconsequential for both sides.

The last moments of engagement come when the trip is ended; and we both descend. These are very short moments, seconds, of the encounter. But they are crucial, ceremonial and engaging.

taxi cab - new york city - angel orensanz - angel orensanz foundation for the arts

“Light Matter” by Angel Orensanz. The voyage as a source of inspiration.

While the departure from inside the taxi is uneventful, the farewell is reduced for the most part to the paying of the fare. The departure at the airport is marked by the eventful ceremonial of many other departures and arrivals: the suitcases, the trunks, the flowers bouquets, the gift-wrapped boxes, and the garments.

taxi cab - new york city - angel orensanz foundation for the arts

The New York City taxi cab.

The departure within the city streets and the departure at the airport have very different ceremonials for both the driver and the passenger. The taxi ride within the city has the specific limits of a domestic movement that remain within the domain of the immediate. The trip to the airport has the flare of a departure away from the confines of the routine, the familiar and the controllable.

We never look back to the departing taxi cab as it pulls into the street, having deposited us at our requested destination. The expensive and weary routine has been completed. Whether en route to an airport or twenty blocks home from work, the departure from the rear seat, from the interplay of questions and answers, results in a ever-hopeful forward glance to the journey ahead.

Musicians. We. LOVE. Katy Gunn & Fred Baker – New York Music

Musicians. We. LOVE. – KATY GUNN and FRED BAKER take on the New York Music scene.

by: Zoe V. SpeasThe Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

The “We. LOVE.” series at the Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts is proud to present a new chapter - Musicians. We. LOVE. This week, we’re excited to introduce to you the talents and stylings of Katy Gunn and her brother Fred Baker. 

New York Music

Musician. We. LOVE. Katy Gunn in performance.

FOLLOW THESE LINKS for a sampling of Katy Gunn’s track, “Beautiful Things” and Fred Baker’s “Pocket Full of Detritus”.

New York Music

Musicality as an inherited trait: Katy Gunn practices the violin with her older brother.

I’ve believed for a long time that musicality is an inherited trait as specific and definite as brown eyes vs. blue, or a crooked thumb vs. straight.

Katy and Fred have the gene, it’s undeniable, and while they both trained from their youth in classical violin and guitar respectively, today they’re searching for the soul of the city in their respective songwriting and poetry-rap explorations in the world of New York music.

New York Music

Fred Baker performing his unique style of what his sister refers to as “poetry-rap”

I first encountered these musicians at a private concert hosted by the Lower East Side’s New York music venue - the Living Room – a gorgeously intimate “talent incubator”  established in 1988 by Jennifer Gilson, who owns it with her husband, Steve Rosenthal.

Katy Gunn was one of the last few performers to have a night at the Living Room before it closed its doors temporarily.

It was not Katy’s first time at the venue—she has performed there before with other musical groups—but the evening was made even more special by the invitation I received by two wonderful members of the team at NOoSphere Arts on East Houston Street in the Lower East Side. Founding Artistic Director Sol Kjøk and gallery manager Annemarta Mugaas are friends of Ms. Gunn’s and have adopted her as a musician-in-residence at NOoSphere, where the brother and sister team have performed frequently in the past, often in conjunction with performance art and dance pieces sponsored by the gallery.

New York Music

Katy Gunn and Fred Baker perform at NOoSphere Arts on E. Houston Street in the Lower East Side.

Before I first parted the curtains to the private backroom performance space where Katy and her brother were performing, I was expecting a fully stocked band complete with percussionist, strings, guitar, and back-up vocals.

New York Music

Katy Gunn performs at the Living Room in New York’s Lower East Side with Fred Baker and vocalist, Thea Beemer.

When I stepped into the room and found only Katy and her brother and vocalist Thea Beemer, I was amazed. The trio created such fullness and variety of sound through Fred’s work on the sound pad and Katy’s ability to sing and orchestrate her violin simultaneously as Thea harmonized seamlessly with her melodies.

New York Music

Musicians. We. LOVE. Katy Gunn, New York Music.

The problem with my music,” said Katy of this complicated blending process, “is that there’s so much wacky instrumentation and orchestration—it’s a challenge to make it work live.

Through use of live sampling, Gunn’s multifaceted sound elicits the intimacy of a jazz/blues background, with an infectious pop/electronic dance beat.  The lyrics she composes touch on a variety of issues, from religion and faith (“All the People”) to the obsessive and all-consuming nature of love (“Beautiful Things”)—they speak to the search of an artist trying to understand the world and New York music through louder questions, and more colorfully.

“The more we divorce ourselves from religion, if art doesn’t replace that idea of spirit, we’ll all be in trouble,” Gunn says.

Learning about the process and resultant navigation of the New York music world can be an overwhelming experience, even sitting across from Katy Gunn and Fred Baker at a cozy Thai restaurant on the Lower East Side. Especially when she doesn’t seem to recognize it as such in the least.

Katy Gunn - New York Music

from – Katy Gunn’s photoshoot in Brooklyn.

As I ask her about the process she undergoes to develop a new song or new lyric idea, and she begins to explain – with difficulty, at times – I’m comforted to realize that it’s the same challenge, the same difficulty even that I face as a writer, grasping at wisps of an idea in the hopes of weaving it into something resembling a story.

It starts as an imprint,” says Gunn. “One I keep coming back to. I get a beat down, and then find lyrics that match with that rhythm. Sometimes I’ll wake up after sleep with ideas and I’ll try to go and find them again. When it’s something, I’ll listen to it and think, ‘I must have heard this somewhere before…’”

I’m nodding and swallowing heaps of Pad Thai at this point. I think Katy notices my far-off expression and dismisses my confusion with a sweep of her hand. Then she says something to me and to Fred that I’ll remember forever. Especially his response.

New York Music

Katy Gunn and Fred Baker, in performance.

“Anyone can do it, if you put your mind to it,” Katy Gunn assures me. Fred looks up from his curried chicken and rice dish and lifts an eyebrow. “Not anybody,” he adds firmly, and she doesn’t argue. Just smiles.

The truth of the matter is that Katy and Fred do what they do for the same reason that an artist creates, or a writer composes, or an actor takes the stage.

“When I do it well, it’s the only thing that makes me happy,” says Gunn.

“I’m totally paranoid leading up to it, but if it goes well, I’m lost in this lovely place—there have been times I’ve performed when I find myself in a separate world, watching it all happen. There’s no self-identity. It’s a living meditation.”

Listening to her music – and to the music of other up-and-coming new singer/songwriters of the New York music scene – is to participate just as fully as performing it. You become aligned with the artists’ message, you’re rooting for them, like noble underdogs fighting for the survival of art in the face of an increasingly oppressive Gotham City.

Follow Katy Gunn at her website for updates about performances, music downloads, and album releases!

Zoe V. Speas is a writer and editor for the Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts. Follower her on tumblr and twitter.

Banksy Street Art: The End of an Era

The End of an Era: A month of Banksy Street Art in New York

by: Zoe V. SpeasThe Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

Banksy Street Art residence in New York City - from October 27 in Greenpoint.

Banksy street art residence in New York City – from October 27 in Greenpoint.

October has been a busy month in the art world. We had a government shutdown, a Banksy street art residence, and consequent reactions ranging from outrage to a revitalization of  the question of defining art.

It all ties together, really, and that’s what I wanted to talk about before Halloween hits us full-force tonight and it’s November before we know it or remember how it came upon us so quickly.

banksy street art

The shutdown. Remember when that happened?

(Hey.  Remember when THIS happened?)

The first piece I wrote for the Angel Orensanz Foundation was a discussion about the definition of art, creatively entitled, “What is Art?” I scratched it out in a pitifully banged-up notebook during the long train ride from Richmond, VA to Penn Station, NYC.

I talked about how art is fundamentally dramatic—there are countless full-length theatrical dramas and comedies featuring characters that are artists or connoisseurs of art because of this quality. Whatever definition you assign to art, I believe it must allow for the drama and the conflict that is created by putting brush to canvas, hands to clay, etc. We thrive off of this drama, we need it, and we live for it because it illustrates the constant questions that percolate beneath the surface in us from day to day.

banksy street art - angel orensanz

Tahir Square. Angel Orensanz. Politics in art.

Too bad our society isn’t crafted to allow for the necessity of art.

In fact, we spend a lot of effort and money marginalizing art into something to do with leisure or entertainment. But there’s a difference—a monstrosity of a difference—between leisure/entertainment and art. Leaving the theatre after a production of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal or Shakespeare’s Richard III, I’m certainly not at my leisure. Entertained? More like slapped in the face by humanity.

By the way, those productions I just listed? Totally playing right now in NYC. Check them out. You’re welcome.

So, of course, when the government shut down for the first time in seventeen years, what’s the first thing to be cut from funding?

banksy street art

Always the first thing to go: shutting down the museums, shutting down the government.

The National Endowment for the Arts. In other words, the museums—the culture hubs, the “non-essentials.”

And in the middle of that conflict, Banksy comes to New York City for a self-curated artist’s residence and stirs the pot for us.

Banksy - Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts - New York City

Banksy street art at Yankee Stadium. October 30, 2013.

Banksy’s street art residency is called “Better Out Than In: an Artist’s Residency on the Streets of New York”, and beneath the stencil-outline header, a quote from Paul Cézanne triumphs the mission statement of the work.

All pictures painted inside, in the studio, will never be as good as those done outside.

I’ll say that perhaps the “outside” to which Cézanne referred might be of a slightly different context than the interpretation apparent in the Banksy street art, but in terms of impact? Banksy’s been spot-on.

banksy street art

“Better Out Than In” – Bansky street art residence in NYC. October 2013.

All of a sudden art—regardless of how you define it—emerges as a buzzword, a hot topic, the spark that ignites a city of people, young and old, desperate for a cause to impassion them enough to speak out.

It’s impassioned me, anyway.

I’ve spoken to gallery owners, artists, event planners, businessmen, and students about Banksy street art in New York this past month and I encountered no one who had nothing to say, no comment to add. In fact, the topic has served as a jumping-off point to larger issues of politics and society and the boundaries that divide generation from generation.

For myself, I have always been loath to discuss political leanings with friends and acquaintances—the ensuing arguments inevitably evolve into a loop of misunderstanding and personal affront. I prefer to stay within the realm of art and theatre where I feel comfortable arguing my beliefs—and yes, maybe that makes me a coward, being afraid of engaging in a dispute for fear of defeat or humiliation.

banksy street art

Banksy’s Greenpoint portrait being painted over by a masked woman. Which is the graffiti – the Banksy street art or the silver paint obscuring it?

Graffiti does ruin people’s property and it’s a sign of decay and loss of control,” the mayor said, “Art is art, and nobody’s a bigger supporter of the arts than I am–you running up to somebody’s property or public property and defacing it is not my definition of art. Or it may be art, but it should not be permitted.” 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, October 2013.

And yet, this October, I found myself spewing fire over the contradictions arising between vandalism and art, between art as a necessity and our unhesitating cessation of its funding when goings get tough, between the opinions of the Mayor of New York and the arts community of his city.

Banksy’s residence brought me to a single, perhaps obvious conclusion:

If I argued before that art is fundamentally dramatic, then it also must be deeply political.

I’m going to risk sounding like a college sophomore writing a term paper and quote the dictionary at you here—a definition of the word political“relating to relationships of power between people in an organization; to affairs of the state or government.”

Relationships of power between people. Yup. Sounds about right.

Art becomes the venue through which people can argue rights of individualism and power upon a level playing field. There are no mayors, governors, nor presidents: only personal expression and paintbrushes. And regardless of what you think of the Banksy street art and its artistic merits, his residence challenges us to question our relationship to one another, to our government, and to the city walls that house and protect us. 

Call it graffiti or call it art.

It was swift, it was dramatic, and it defined the month of October for me and countless other New Yorkers. Happy Holidays, everyone.

Artist of the Week: Basquiat

He made an impact on the art world on the 80´s, when artists began to be seen as celebrities. Born in 1960 from a Haitian dad and a Porto Rican mother, Jean-Michel Basquiat was a talented, self-taught American artist. He began his career as a graffiti artist in New York City, and developed into a neo-expressionist, primitivist painter.

The artist, who had spend his childhood in Brooklyn, but used Manhattan as his canvas and sold tshirts and postcards as a way of living, focused on suggestive dichotomies, using text and image, drawing and painting.

In fact, some of Basquiat´s drawings are pure writing. Symbolism was also a big part of his work, in fact, Hery Dreifuss Symbol sourcebook was one of his references, along with the book Gray´s Anatomy, Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks, and Brentjes African Rock Art. Also incorporated in his work was his anger, which he translated into social commentary about power structure, racism, colonialism, etc in his art.

In 1976 he began spray-painting with his friend Al Diaz under the pseudonym SAMO, who got attention from Village Voice, it was the start of a successful career. Four years later, after his friendship and partnership with Diaz had already ended, he met Andy Warhol at a restaurant and showed him his work, the pop artist was impressed and the men later collaborated. Also in that year, Basquiat participated in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition just off Times Square, at 41st Street and 7th Avenue in which approximately one hundred artists participated.  In 1981, Rene Ricard published “The Radiant Child” in Artforum magazine, which brought Basquiat to the attention of the art world.

In 1982 he worked in California, in Larry Gagosian´s studio in a series of paitings, an year later he would collaborate in another series with Andy Warhol, the projects were paintings with surfaces dense with writing, collage and imagery. The collaborations with Warhol continued until the pop artist died in 87, one year later, Basquiat would also die, but not before leaving his legacy of graffiti inspired paintings.

People laugh when you fall on your ass. What’s humor? – Basquiat

sources: wikipedia, artinfo





Mid-Week Zing!

Hey Guys! It’s the middle of the week which can totally be a drag, but here’s a blog for for some edge, and some creativity!

So, if you’re a struggling, up and cominartist don’t be discouraged! Keep it going in light of the example left behind by Jean-Michel Basquait, who was a NYC street artist who made it big time. Basquait was born in Brooklyn of 1960, to a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican descended mother. He started out drawing cartoons at a young age, and eventually as he matured so did his art skills. Basquait invented his SAMO graffiti character and once he moved out, started selling hand painted post-cards and t-shirts, along with forming a band called Gray. He soon develops a unique style that combines an African style with his own symbolic style, creating a completely new artistic style. He was able to exhibit some of his work in a group exhibition where you guessed it, he was noticed by new York art critics and put him on the artistic radar! From there on Basquait made a name for himself in Europe, New York and Japan, and continued his artwork. He also was the youngest artist to ever exhibit his work in major galleries. So don’t let that spray can go to waste, keep the art going and who knows you could be the next Basquait!
Now for all you lovely people who are bored and just need a creative edge, look no further than your own phone, put that camera to use! Photography is an amazing type of art, and all you have to do is capture a great moment; be at the right place at the right time. That’s been proven to work for Richard Prince, a famed photographer who’s known especially for his cowboy series. In the series Prince depicts everyday cowboy life through amazing photos. What may seem like nothing extraordinary in day to day life, are actually the best to capture and convey in a photograph. So the next time you’re bored just grab your camera and stick it in your pocket, or whip out that phone and take a snapshot, you never know what you’re missing out on until you see it through a lens!

It is time to be outside (artful weekends)

Finally, it is Friday! And it is time for the Angel Orensanz Foundation blog to share suggestions for what to do in New York City this weekend, because we want you to have a very artful one.

First off start Saturday with Summer Streets! Along the route (that goes from downtown Lafayette St to uptown Park Ave) you will be able to enjoy Urban Art, provided by DOT(New York State Department of Transportation), like LOVE TV by Australian artist Rebecca McIntosh and art producer Victoria Johnstone an interactive work that explores people’s love for places, individuals and things; Bench Press by BroLabCyclo-phone by Marcelo Ertortguy and Sara Valente, a bike-powered band of musical instruments and Bus Roots by Marco Antonio Castro Cosio, a mobile garden. To see the whole schedule for summer streets in New York City, just click here.

After strolling along this route, you can make your stop on Central Park to enjoy some music. The bands Carolina Chocolate Drops, Buckwheat Zydeco and Abigail Washburn, in their Summerstage performance at 3 p.m.. To check the whole schedule for Summerstage, just click here.

Don’t feel like being outside? No worries, you can head to Brooklyn to enjoy the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival, in St. Francis College, features 54 independent filmmakers—both first-timers and Hollywood vets—who have lived and worked in the borough. To check the schedule, just click here.

On Sunday, how about a trip to MoMA to enjoy the opening of The Quay Brothers installation? Titled Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets the exhibition showcases the London-based godfathers of alternative animation Stephen and Timothy Quay better known films, never-before-seen moving image works and graphic design, drawings, and calligraphy.

Don’t feel like going uptown? No worries, there are many places to see art in NYC. Take the ferry to Governors Island where you can enjoy “Graphic Design now in Production” an exhibition of posters, books, magazines, typography, branding and film and television graphics created since 2000, organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City and displayed on building 110

Finally, the Downtown Dance Festival starts this weekend; you can see the schedule here. Also, The Fringe Festival is back for another year! The calendar is here.

And last, but not least, we hope you have a lovely and artful weekend and we want to remind you , a month (and 2 days, to be more exact) from  now we will be presenting Angel Orensanz’s Burning Bronze exhibition in our gallery! You shouldn’t miss it! More info is coming soon, so get excited!

The hidden art treasures of NYC

We showed you the boat graveyard in Staten Island and the hidden subway station and today Angel Orensanz Foundation would like to share with you another NYC secret! This time it’s a collection of museums that are not in your New York City guide. The MET , the Guggenheim, those are all great, but you can find real treasures in the little art spaces that not many people are familiar with.

To pay homage to where the Angel Orensanz Foundation stands, the first little treasure is a museum right in our neighborhood that will keep you up to date with all the stories of the Lower East Side. It’s called the Tenement Museum, on the corner of Delancey and Orchard streets. The museum offers tours inside an old tenement house, promoting historical understanding through a deep trip back into the past of the neighborhood and the lives of the families that lived in the building, with each floor recreating the history of a different family. They also offer tours in the neighborhood, so you can see what has changed (certainly the Angel Orensanz Foundation is one of the places that exemplifies this change) in the Lower East Side.

Angel Orensanz has experimented with various arts, including the moving image. Luckily there is a museum in Queens that celebrates just that. The Museum of the Moving Image embraces a wide range of materials related to the film industry that goes from the earliest nineteenth century optical toys to the latest in digital art. The museum explores all the phases of the making of the moving image, with interactive exhibitions showing of contemporary and classic films, hosting discussions, exhibiting unique collections and more. It is definitely an experience you shouldn’t miss in NYC.

Also in Queens,  get to know the “Global Graffiti Mecca”5 Pointz. It is not so much an official museum as it is an outdoor art exhibit, where aerosol artists from all over the world come to paint colorful graffiti pieces on the walls of the 200,000 sq. foot factory building.

Finally, take a trip to Brooklyn to check out the little museum which shouldn’t be missed called The City Reliquary. It’s located in the Williamsburg area and it displays many NYC artifacts, connecting the past and the present of the city.

Sources: matadornetwork

A weekend of art in NYC

Finally it is Friday, and to celebrate we are going to share with you ideas of what to do here in NYC. Since it will be a sunny weekend, go up the rooftop of MET to enjoy Tomás Saraceno Cloud City, a modular structure made out of transparent and reflective materials. The components create mesmerizing illusions and you can climb the stairs within the structure to the uppermost modules to have a whole new perspective. But, before you go, make sure to check the museum guidelines for the exhibition here.

While in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations at the Met, a fashion focused exhibition that compares two great fashion designers from different periods in time, but with similar views. And did you know that The Angel Orensanz Foundation had it’s fair share of fashion too? Alexander Mcqueen, one of the greatest designers of our time showcased his first American fashion show right here!

After the MET, head out Downtown to Pier 16 to enjoy a night of dance with the US premiere of the Canadian choreographer Sylvain Émard’s Le Grand Continental. A piece of contemporary dance outdoors that brings together 150 new yorkers in a big dance choreography. After watching the show, you can start dancing too, for a DJ dance party will follow, this time with wordily known Chico Mann that brings Afro beat and Latin styles together to make you dance like no one is watching.

On Sunday, make your way to Brooklyn to enjoy some more art in the Brooklyn Museum. Start with Keith Haring: 1978 – 1982, an exhibition that celebrates the early years of one of the best-known American artists of the 20th century. The Morris A. and Meyer Shapiro Wing holds 155 works of the artist on paper, videos and archival objects from Haring‘s career. After enjoying this talented American artist, go down to the forth floor for some sculptures in the exhibition Rachel Kneebone: Regarding Rodin, in which the British artist alongside her works with French master Auguste Rodin. Showcasing 15 pieces from Rodin and eight from Rachel Kneebone the exhibition highlights her shared interest with the French artist for representation of mourning, ecstasy, death, and vitality in figurative sculpture. The centerpiece is Kneebone‘s largest work , and was inspired by Dante‘s Divine Comedy as The Gates to Hell, from Rodin was.

To finish the day, you can stroll down to the Brooklyn Bridge Park to enjoy Photoville in Pier 3, where you can appreciate photos in over 35 containers in the photography village created by the idealizers of the project. Finally, if you still have energy, enjoy a free screening of Jaws in The habana Outpost.

We hope you have a great weekend!

sources: designboom, brooklynmuseum, brooklynbridgepark, metmuseum, rivertoriver, artjetset, nymag