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…)
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…)
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.
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)
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?
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.
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
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.
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
Why Cleopatra’s Needle is here and how it got here is an epic tale of
engineering brilliance, Yankee ingenuity, clever diplomacy and sheer
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
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
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
William Henry Vanderbilt, who bankrolled the enterprise, died of
apoplexy in the library of his great house on Fifth Avenue two years
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Wilson, Jr. (1906-1996). “The Temptress,” title illustration for the
story by Ann Pinchot. “The American Magazine”, circa 1945. Oil paint on
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.
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 EdithBarnard 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
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
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
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.