04/02/13 10:06am
Explorers Club_New York City_Interior-008

Inside The Explorer’s Club

Every event we’ve attended at The Explorer’s Club has left us feeling like we learned something new about brave new worlds in our well-traversed planet. Last week we attended the screening of VICE’s Far Out: Agafia’s Taiga Life, about the last remaining member of a family of Russian Old Believers who fled to Siberia’s vast taiga in 1936 to escape a life of persecution under Stalin. The family did not even know World War II had taken place until they were “discovered” by oil-seeking geologists in the late 1970s. Agafia was born in the Taiga in 1943, and VICE travels 160 miles into the Sayan Mountains to learn about her lifestyle and what she thinks of the “outside” world. (more…)

09/20/12 11:31am

Have you ever taken a tour of the secrets of the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Well, that’s exactly what you’re going to get here. We’re sharing all the little known facts we know about the museum. This is less about the unparalleled art collection, for which guides abound, but more about the tidbits that make the building like none other in the city. It’s about its architecture, its rich history, and the hidden gems to look out for on your first, second, and umpteenth visits to the museum. Rather than one building, the Met is more like a jumbled collection of wings and various building campaigns. Over almost a century and a half, several prominent architecture firms played major roles in the museum’s growth, while many others also had a hand in the countless modifications, renovations, and additions that make the Met what it is today.  (more…)

09/04/12 2:14pm

The 18-foot, 1.6 ton pink and aluminum sculpture that has found a home in front of The Standard Hotel in the heart of Downtown Manhattan has been titled, rather appropriately,  Big Kastenmann, which is German for “Big Box Man.” The huge, rectangular, behemoth-like structure, a creation of the Austrian artist Erwin Wurm, has already grabbed a lot of eyeballs from  Meatpacking District residents  and tourists. The surrealistic piece joins the ever growing list of outdoor art sculptures in New York City since, hidden amidst the city’s various neighborhoods are several artistic delights.

Erwin Kurm’s “Big Kastenmann” towers in front of the Standard Hotel in the Meatpacking District. (Picture via The Standard)

While most of us may dismiss the notion that the statue of a communist revolutionary could exist in the bustling metropolis that is New York City, a cursory glance at the roof of the Red Square building in  the exciting and eclectic East Village neighborhood  would certainly be a surprise. Standing on the roof is an 18-foot statue of Vladimir Lenin which was built in the erstwhile Soviet Union by Yuri Gerasimov. With his arm outstretched towards the Manhattan skyline, it is quite an interesting sight as one walks around this trendy neighborhood.

From the top of the Red Square building, Lenin seems to be beckoning all those who can see him in the Lower East Side. (Picture via Flickr | bitboy)

The Upper East Side neighborhood in Manhattan  has several museums that are home to several pieces of art, but there are some pieces of artwork which don’t need a ticket to be seen. George Delacorte commissioned artist José De Creeft to create the Alice in Wonderland sculpture near the East 72nd Street entrance of Central Park, as a tribute to his wife who used to read the Lewis Carroll story to their children. Today it is a favorite haunt of both adults and children, with the latter loving the opportunity to climb over Alice, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and other famous characters.

Alice’s antics with the Red Hatter and all of the other characters from Wonderland are captured in this sculpture in Central Park. (Picture via Flickr | Benjamin Rabe)

Also check out the Alamo, also called the Astor Place Cube in the heart of the trendy and fashionable East Village neighborhood. Made of steel and weighing about 1,800 pounds, the Alamo is a huge black cube that measures eight feet on each side. A creation of Bernard Rosenthal, the cube with its protrusions and indentations on its side is mounted on one of its corners, which continue to dazzle visitors who wonder about its unique sense of balance. However, what most people don’t know about the Alamo is that with a little effort, it can be rotated on its axis–how’s that for a neat trick to show your friends visiting the city?

Bernard Rosenthal’s “Alamo” continues to dazzle and confound New Yorkers and tourists alike with its amazing sense of balance. (Picture via Flickr | serenitbee)

These are just a few of the many fascinating sculptures that can be found in the streets of New York City. If you know of other artwork on the streets of Manhattan, let us know in the comments below.

A version of this article first appeared in Elegran Edge, a blog of Elegran Real Estate and Development.

Get in touch with the author @thisisaby.

08/31/12 1:47pm

Two years ago, we heralded the return of  private apartment concerts with the likes of Philip Glass and Misha Piatigorsky, which were not unlike modern-day salons of a bygone Paris. So when one of our favorite wine  connoisseurs, The Noble Rot aka Jonathan Cristaldi of L Train Luncheon and Dine Titanic  fame, told us of a secret wine tasting for #CabernetDay to be held in an undisclosed location on the Upper East, we were obviously in.

The Noble Rot, showing the guests how to swirl a wine glass

With cabernets from Domaine Chandon in Napa the Lenz Winery on Long Island’s North Fork, Kunde Estate  and Owen Roe in Oregon, and food pairings provided by Cathy Erway, author of the book The Art of Eating In and the blog Not Eating Out in New York, the group of 25-30 attendees were more than satisfied. Cristaldi interspersed the evening with tips on wine drinking and the cabernet sauvignons themselves.

Cabernet-soaked cantelope

Asian buns, Taiwanese-style

The apartment featured original vintage French posters, including an oversized one for fois gras. But despite the throwback to an earlier era, #CabernetDay was nothing if ultra modern, featuring its own hashtag, a live broadcast with Toutsuite and conversation with Napa Valley, use of the AG Wines app, twitter handles on the walls, and encouragement to Instagram.

One of the highlights was a ’93 Cabernet Sauvignon from Lenz Winery

From left, Mikaela Flynn of Underground Eats, The Noble Rot, and Harris Damashek of Underground Eats

The event was also co-sponsored by Underground Eats, one of Untapped Cities’ partners and our favorite source for whacky culinary events.  Here at Untapped New York, we’re really looking forward to more of these types of events. In a city where there are just too many events to choose from, the opportunity for an intimate gathering with top-notch food, drink, and entertainment (and to check out some of the incredible apartments in this city) easily trumps many of the other options out there.

See more about The Noble Rot, get in touch with the author @untappedmich.

05/07/12 9:53am

Untapped Cities is an official blog ambassador for Partners in Preservation, a community-based initiative by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to raise awareness of the importance of historic places. Stay up-to-date with Untapped’s coverage of all 40 sites by following our Partners in Preservation category.

The anomaly of a wall of skyscrapers surrounding the verdant Victorian landscape of Central Park is matched by the surprising sight of Cleopatra’s Needle, an ancient Egyptian obelisk rising from a rock outcrop behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During a visit to New York City in July of 2011, the Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass visited the obelisk and noted some damage. He then threatened to “take the necessary steps to bring this precious artifact home and save it from ruin.” A grant allocation from the Partners in Preservation initiative would provide funds for a full-scale cleaning, detailed inspection of the surface and stabilization of crumbling portions of the granite shaft.

Why Cleopatra’s Needle is here and how it got here is an epic tale of engineering brilliance, Yankee ingenuity, clever diplomacy and sheer persistance.


Our story begins with the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III who ordered two great granite obelisks to celebrate his jubilee in 1443 BC. They were ferried down the Nile from the quarries at Aswan and raised beside the portal of the Temple of the Sun in the city the Greeks called Heliopolis. 900 years later they were toppled and damaged by fire when the Persian army sacked and burned the city. That damage is visible today on the east face of the monument. About 10 BC Augustus Caesar ordered the two obelisks brought to Alexandria and raised in front of the Ceasarium, a new temple at the water’s edge dedicated to the newly-deified Julius Caesar. The temple eventually crumbled into the harbor and an earthquake in 1301 toppled one of the obelisks. There they remained, one vertical and one horizontal, surrounded by rubble and wooden shacks, until the spring of 1877 when the mellifluously named Henry Honeychurch Gorringe USN arrived in the harbor for repairs to his damaged ship.


During Gorringe’s stay in Alexandria, he and his crew visited the remaining obelisk (the other was carried off to London in 1875) and talked of how one might move it to America. In 1869 Ismail Pasha, khedive of Egypt, had mentioned the possibility of presenting the obelisk as a gift to the United States and when Gorringe returned to New York he was happy to talk to reporters about the Alexandria obelisk coming to America and how one might go about moving it to New York. After all, Paris had one and London and Constantinople had one and Rome had 13! In 1877 Henry Hurlbert owner of the New York World newspaper, started to raise interest in the project and convinced William Henry Vanderbilt to provide the money. Henry Stebbins, the city’s Commissioner of Parks was on board with his political support. Now Elbert Farman, American consul-general in Egypt began delicate diplomatic maneuvers to secure Cleopatra’s Needle for New York City.

The city’s newspapers ginned-up obelisk fever. A New York Herald reporter wrote, “It would be absurd for the people of any great city to hope to be happy without an Egyptian Obelisk! Why, London, Paris and Rome could point the finger of scorn at us and intimate that we could never rise to any real moral grandeur until we had our own obelisk!” In May of 1879 the khedive provided a letter making a gift of Cleopatra’s Needle to the city of New York.

Lt Commander Gorringe was given the daunting task of bringing the great granite monument from Alexandria to Central Park. The machinery needed to move and ship a stone shaft 69 ft high and 8 ft wide at the base was fabricated at John A Roebling’s & Sons, then in the midst of building the Brooklyn Bridge. In Alexandria, a British-built steamer, Dessoug, was purchased from the Egyptian government and fitted out to hold the 200 ton obelisk and its base, a 50 ton block of stone.

As excavation around the base and steps began in earnest, the site became a center of interest – the celebrated British explorer Sir Richard Burton dropped by along with the German adventurer Friedrich Rohlfs. Resistance to the American presence grew. Foreign and Egyptian residents of Alexandria were outraged at the prospect the obelisk’s removal to America. Legal impediments multiplied and angry crowds surrounded the waterfront worksite. Farman and Gorringe responded with plenty of WH Vanderbilt’s gold for bribes to lawyers and the protest leaders and Gorringe had a large American flag lashed to the top of the obelisk to symbolize clear title to the monument.


Adventures came as the ship crossed the Atlantic with squalls, waterspouts and storms but on July 19 she entered New York harbor and was anchored off Staten Island by the next day. A parade of 9000 Freemasons marched up Fifth Avenue for the solemn laying of the cornerstone on October 11, 1880. The obelisk took 16 weeks to move from 96th Street to Greywacke Knoll in Central Park, taking 19 days, night and day just to, cross the park on the 86th St transverse during bitter winter weather. Lt Commander Gorringe was there each and every step of the way, with his brilliant engineering talent and his dogged persistence, from Alexandria in Egypt to that rock knoll in Central Park.


On January 22, 1881, before a huge crowd watching in utter silence, the obelisk was slowly and majestically lifted and turned into its upright position and then a great cheer went up. The formal presentation ceremony was held inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art on February 22, 1881. At last New York City had its own obelisk.

Cleopatra’s Needle today

During the following summer of 1882 the mummy of Pharaoh Thutmose III was found in the Valley of the Kings and taken down the Nile by barge to the museum in Cairo. As Thutmose made his last journey down the river, the eminent Howard Carter recalled, “Men in the villages fired guns as for a funeral while the women followed along the bank, tearing their hair and making that shrill, wavering cry of mourning for the dead, a cry that has come right down from the days of the pharaohs themselves.”

William Henry Vanderbilt, who bankrolled the enterprise, died of apoplexy in the library of his great house on Fifth Avenue two years later.
Lt Commander Henry Honeychurch Gorringe left the Navy in 1883, published a book detailing his adventures with obelisks and lectured widely. He died at 44 when he tried to board a moving train, tripped and was crushed when he fell between the train and the platform. He now rests in a cemetery in Nyack, New York, looking out on the Hudson River. A small obelisk marks his grave.

Cleopatra’s Needle can be found in Greywacke Knoll in Central Park just south of The Metropolitan Museum. [Map]

Click here to vote for Cleopatra’s Needle and find out more on Facebook.

Follow Untapped Cities on Twitter and Facebook. Get in touch with the author at http://www.paulrushwalks.com/

02/10/12 3:18pm

Tucked away quietly in a beautiful yet unassuming block of the Upper East Side, delicate signage and a vibrant red door designate a vital, yet often overlooked, cultural institution. The building that houses the Society of Illustrators and the Museum of American Illustration blends in seamlessly with its surroundings, acting almost as a metaphor for the nature of the artworks inside. We encounter hundreds of wonderful (and, admittedly, some not-so-wonderful) images every day, yet the way they have been incorporated into our environments and the tools with which we run our lives makes them easy to overlook. Even within the art world, illustrators are often not regarded with the same respect as gallery or ‘fine’ artists, despite how perfectly executed or deeply inspired a piece may be.

But it is this quiet disposition that makes illustration so fascinating and relevant. Often narrative and always representational, illustration gives us a visual lexicon that is ever-changing and true to the times. Like all art, it reflects a culture and a moment, and when paired with good design, these pieces are able to become completely integrated into our daily lives. New York is very fortunate to have a space and wonderful team of people that is so dedicated to preserving and celebrating this history.

Founded on February 1st, 1901, the Society of Illustrators began with a very simple credo: “The object of the Society shall be to promote generally the art of illustration and to hold exhibitions from time to time.” This simple vision seems to have been beneficial, as the institution has remained true to itself for over a century.

In a modern context, the Society acts as a gathering place for industry folks and fans, celebrating the best in contemporary illustration through various gallery and award shows. Scholarships are given to students (they also hold an impressive show annually), there is a weekly sketch and jazz night, one can regularly attend lectures and screenings, and the bar and dining room upstairs, complete with an impressive original Rockwell, is surely one of the most elegant in the city.

In addition to being the most important institution for the industry of Illustration, it is also an educational powerhouse with a collection that boasts 1,800 original works. All the greats are here, from N.C. Wyeth to Maxfield Parish, and the imagery is vast. Fashion, editorial, science fiction, children’s books–whatever the genre or market, it has a home here, and staff members are diligent about rotating displayed works frequently.

Newell Convers Wyeth, 1882-1945. “The Black Arrow,” illustration for the cover of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Black Arrow,” published by Charles Scribner’s & Sons, Doubleday, 1926. Oil paint on canvas.

After years of taking in and enjoying the public galleries at the Society, I became increasingly curious about the 1,700 other pieces that I was not seeing at any given time. The building, a stunning 5-story townhouse, only opens 3 of its floors to the public, concealing a library, office, and veritable ‘warehouse’ of some of the most beautiful works that have been created in the United States. I had to get up there.

Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of this institution is recognizing how small it ultimately is. It is humbling to be inside a smaller space while being surrounded by such a wealth of awe-inspiring and valuable work. The walls are loaded with framed originals, and you feel practically dwarfed by the pieces as they tower over you.

Ian Falconer (b. 1959), “Olivia in the Spring.” Oil paint on canvas.

Again, I can’t articulate the quality and diversity of work here. Every piece that was pulled down for me to view was a bona fide showstopper.

Mortimer Wilson, Jr. (1906-1996). “The Temptress,” title illustration for the story by Ann Pinchot. “The American Magazine”, circa 1945. Oil paint on linen.

Saul Tepper (1899-1987). “Stage Door Schubert Theater,” illustration for the story “Star Magic” by Channing Pollock. “The American Magazine,” September 1933. Oil paint on canvas.

Saul Tepper (1899-1987), “Baggage Section ‘B.’” Painted for Liggett & Meyers Corporation, used as an advertisement for Chesterfield Cigarettes. Also appeared in “Cosmopolitan”, “Good Housekeeping”, “Collier’s”, “Liberty”, “The Pictorial Review“.  July 1928, oil paint on canvas.

Dean Cornwell (1892-1960), “Gold Hands.” Illustration for a short story by Edith  Barnard Delano. “Good Housekeeping magazine,” March 1924. Oil on board.

Carl Oscar August (Eric) Erickson (1891-1958). Watercolor on paper.

The office itself is an admirable space, clean and bright. A lot of amazing work happens here – from archiving the pieces in an ever-expanding database (including scans and photographs of the illustrations in their original context), to establishing which pieces will be displayed for the public. Not to mention all of the administrative tasks…

Of course, not all of the originals are able to have a home in a frame, as the volume would be monstrous. Many pieces are carefully wrapped and preserved in flat files throughout the office.

James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960), “Pensive Gentleman.” “McCall’s Magazine.” Ink wash on board.

James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960), “But What About the Money?” For “Scribner’s.” Date unknown, charcoal and wash on board.

There is also a wonderful library, which houses an extensive collection of art books.

And is also home to these wonderful illustrated tiles, made by dozens of artists.

Of course, this post would be incomplete without paying homage to the various nooks and crannies filled with impeccable work.

More tiles! Society of Illustrators, 2nd floor

Society of Illustrators, 2 1/2 floor

Society of Illustrators, 2nd floor

Society of Illustrators, 1st floor

 Aside from being awed after an evening spent surrounded by so many stunning originals, the most meaningful experience was getting a glimpse into how much these people care about the museum, the industry, the history and the art of illustration itself. It is no small task spearheading a movement to obtain recognition that is long-overdue for this art form, and to say that it is a labor of love would be an understatement. I would like to say a huge thank you to Richard Berenson and Eric Fowler for taking the time to speak with me, and especially to Katie Blocher for orchestrating my visit. I cannot applaud this place enough and strongly recommend taking a moment to appreciate this tremendous museum.

The Society has a long and fascinating history both as a building and an institution. Learn more on their website, or stop by and say hello from 10am-8pm Tuesday, 10 am-5pm Wednesday-Friday, and 12pm-4pm Sunday.

Get in touch with the author @mllefauxfrench.