Friday, October 31, 2008

Menswhere? : Shoes

My quest for new shoes was derailed somewhat by having to hunt down any sort of apparel adorned with animal-print for a themed birthday party and figuring out a Halloween costume. The birthday girl didn’t really think through her theme because I quickly discovered that no one makes any sort of clothing for men that have animal-print patterns.

My guy friends and I resorted to the Salvation Army sifting through women’s clothing. I ended up buying a women’s silk button-up with a horrible snake-skin pattern for $5. I had to rip off the shoulder pads and even sew two buttons onto it. It was the most ill-fitting thing I’d ever worn. And yes, we all went out in public (Manhattan, no less) and looked like assholes. But it was all in good fun.

Back on the hunt for men’s shoes that weren’t bland or ugly, I found some casual shoes at the Ben Sherman store that I thought were decent. The problem was that they were on a store display and the store didn’t actually carry them. I’ve found them online but I’m not one of those people who can buy clothes online. I have to see and feel them and, oh yeah, try them on. So I’m looking for places in the city that sell Ben Sherman stuff, which has been tough. Places that sell the ties and shirts I’ve found but shoes have been scarce.

Meanwhile, I found some slightly more formal shoes at Banana Republic of all places. I vowed to not shop at that place any more since their designs tend to be bland and not ideal for my thin body type. But they usually have high quality materials so I’ll venture in to check on cashmere scarves and whatnot. The image to the left is of the loafers, but I got the laced-version which I think is much better. They’re nothing too flashy but have some nice details that make them wearable for me.

For the most part, I still rely on my good ol’ Chucks for everyday use. Since I’ve done a fair amount of damage to them, I went and got a new pair of the exact same style. I felt a twinge of resistance to just swap out the shoes. Shouldn’t I move on to something new and break out of my habit? I’m usually all for that mode of thinking, but these are Chucks. I love them so much. And they’re so comfortable. I broke in the new ones this morning and it was strange to see such blinding white and clean black on my feet as I walked to work. I definitely need to put some wear and tear on them, and then they’ll feel like home.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Kay Ruane : "Room with a View"

There’s a modest yet captivating exhibition at the Jenkins Johnson Gallery featuring graphite illustrations by Kay Ruane. Titled Room with a View, the works portray female figures within interior spaces observing scenes out of a window.

The images are all quite well rendered. The folds of skin on the bottoms of feet and hints of veins are impressively observed. Shading and dimension are artfully realized.

More engrossing than the technical mastery is Ruane’s use of symbolism and juxtaposition. The figures loom large in the compositions as the first subject we see, yet we are distanced by their hidden faces. Features and emotions are all masked from us by their hair. Yet we can easily see faces of subjects in framed photos elsewhere in the scene.

The women are always depicted in black and white while other “secondary” subjects such as flowers, jewelry and dresses come to life with vibrant colors.

The interior scenes are serene and calm, as are the figures, yet there are catastrophic events happening just outside of the window.

The women look out to the world with a seeming longing to escape to or interact with the outside, yet make no noticeable effort to do so. Hallways and stairs appear on the edges of some of the pieces yet are unutilized and even barred by velvet ropes.

Ruane manages to fill each work with a rich minutiae of symbolic detail that I could stare at and try to decipher for hours.

One detail that was of particular interest to me was the fact that almost all of the women wore wedding bands. Not ornate, glittery, diamond-encrusted rings, but simple, almost featureless bands.

It was once believed that a vital blood vessel connected the “ring finger” of the left hand to the heart. The circular band or ring was a symbol of bounding one’s life-force, and in weddings meaning the pairing of man and wife together. In Ruane’s work, I personally took the rings to relate less to the ideas of matrimony and more to the theme of being bound by something less tangible. The rings where symbolic of the room within the subject was confined to.

Is this sense of imprisonment voluntary or not? Do the women leave the tranquil yet limited room for the open and treacherous world outside? Does the entrapment affect one’s sense of self, turning one into a faceless object? Are the vibrant flowers and glitzy jewelry trade-offs of the sense of freedom?

Ruane presents the questions and lets the viewer pose their own answers. I like that.

Room with a View
is on display through November 25.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thierry W. Despont : "Through the Moon Door"

There’s an incredible exhibit at the Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea featuring work by Thierry W. Despont. The show, Through the Moon Door, features sculptures out of found materials (mostly rusted, industrial equipment) to form imaginary animals.

The description makes it sound like those cheesy smiling faces cut out of fruit that people email to each other. Yet what really helps elevate these pieces is the presentation. Hats off to the curator of the show for the beautifully arranged space. Viewers walk into an area reminiscent of the Museum of Natural Science and History. The lighting is dramatic and the figures resemble skeletal samples of mysterious animals.

The artist describes the effect of transporting the viewers to a foreign world that feels ancient and tangible thanks to the worn aesthetic of the materials. The creatures are accentuated by the backdrop of giant planetary paintings. I saw these giant spheres as representations of the moon which can be symbolically linked to transformation, as in a full moon and a were-wolf. In this case, the moon is spurring the metamorphosis of familiar objects such as wrenches and lightbulbs into strange animals.

I have always been fascinated with our ability to interpret and recognize ourselves in other forms. Something in our nature causes us to see ourselves where ever we are. This can be exemplified in the simple smiley emoticon “:)” which contains the least amount of information, two dots and a curved line, and we can easily discern a human face. Even turned sideways, we can still recognize a face.

That was the genius of cubism and abstraction. Before the movement, art was to be as anatomically realistic as possible. But pioneers like Picasso realized you could still convey a subject without relying on meticulous recreation. A few squares and circles could make up a face. In more modern times, cartoons and comics show us that the human form can be abstracted and simplified in countless ways. The Simpsons are radically distorted versions of ourselves yet no one has any trouble reading their faces or interpreting their emotions.

What I found enlightening about Despont’s work is that he has taken our ability to translate the abstraction of forms and use them towards animals. Even though they aren’t humans (or actual animals for that matter) we can see birds, insects and fish. I see eyes, antennae, spines, teeth within these objects and can believe that these could have been living, breathing creatures.

Check out the show and be transported.

Through the Moon Door is on display through November 8.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Chivalry ain’t dead, it’s just been stuck on the F-train

Yesterday during rush hour, a woman with two toddlers got onto the train and instantly two guys and I got up from our seats for them. When one of the boys got antsy for having to sit across the aisle from his mom, another guy gave up his seat.

It was nice to see that some guys are still gentlemen even in this jaded, self-centered metropolis. Okay, so most of the time I get to witness men sit there like jerks while women stand around them. Get on your feet, boys!

These old-fashioned gestures must be a rarity for most New Yorkers because when I hold doors open for women, they usually look shocked. Or they ignore me with suspicious looks on their faces.

Men have been giving me a bad rap. No wonder most girls look like they’re ready to pepper spray me when I make eye contact.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Jamie Lidell at Highline Ballroom, 10/14/08

Now this is more like it. Jamie Lidell at the Highline Ballroom was a good recovery after a disappointing Beck concert. In a much smaller venue and lower overall production, it’s how I would imagine an early years Beck show to have looked like. The entire band was high energy, having a blast and visibly enjoyed playing with each other.

When I first heard a Lidell song, I thought it might have been off of some unearthed Motown era record. But no, it’s actually by some white, British dude. It’s amazing to hear touches of Al Green and Otis Redding in his performances. As a live experience, I was glad to find that these weren’t just studio effects. The guy definitely has the vocals and talent.

A surprising element was to hear Jamie launch into some beat-boxing and looping, adding a new dimension to his songs. It would be good to have more of this aspect in his albums.

Overall, it was an entertaining show that left me more impressed with Lidell’s musical abilities.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Beck at United Palace, 10/09/08

Beck had been on of the few major artists left on my “must-see” list that I hadn’t seen live. So when the opportunity finally came, I jumped at the tickets. Yet for some reason I found myself lackluster about the event as it came near.

I attribute it to a mixture of being preoccupied with so many other things as well as my lukewarm opinion of his latest release, Modern Guilt. I’d followed every one of his albums with anticipation since Odelay and found Beck to be a reliable source of great music.

Until Modern Guilt. The whole album lacked the spirited inventiveness and heartfelt enthusiasm normally found in his work. This collection of songs seemed like he was going through the motions. Outside of Soul of a Man, which proved that Beck can still effortlessly pull together a blues song, the album sounded generic and bland. And at just around 30 minutes, it felt as though he was just as bored with the album.

Even his summer single release, Time Bomb, showed signs that the guy might be tired. At first listen, it sounds like a fun, light-hearted romp. But when dissected, I find that it’s composed of some of the least imaginative efforts I’ve heard from him. The lyrics are mainly comprised of bits like “we got a time bomb” and “tick tick tick” and “we got a warning light”. Have Beck’s lyrics ever been this straightforward and dull?

His malaise seemed to also affect last night’s performance. The whole night seemed like an exercise of running on auto-pilot.

I’ll briefly mention that the opening act, MGMT were very disappointing. While I consider their album, Oracular Spectacular to be quite a good record, I had heard several accounts that their live show was a letdown. Those criticisms rang true with me. This was just not an act that translated well live.

Once MGMT wrapped up, Beck’s set actually started somewhat early, around 9:20. It was a surprising change of pace from the usually long lag times between sets. Yet, that promptness seemed more due to Beck wanting to get it over with rather than of any enthusiasm to perform.

I knew the concert wouldn’t live up to the previous tour’s much discussed marionette act, but figured it was Beck so it would be a fun show. Sigh.

The band raced through every song with straightforward renditions. One song would scarcely be finished before the drummer would tick off the beat for the next one. Usually during a show, you’ll hear audience members yell out requests for songs, but in this concert there wasn’t even enough of a gap between songs for anyone to get a word in.

Years ago, my first revelation to Beck was his live performance of New Pollution at the 1997 MTV Awards. I had only seen the Loser era images of him and was surprised to see a clean-cut, gray suit wearing guy who was dancing his ass off. I immediately realized that this guy was a true performer and not a flash-in-the-pan gimmick as many had written him off as. He was vibrant, entertaining and magnetic.

That was the guy I expected to see. Yet throughout the night, Beck was disappointingly stoic and stationary. Even when the band shed their instruments to stand in front of the crowd to play on mini synthesizers, Beck sang with his hands in his pockets or with his arms crossed. It all signified that he wanted this all to be over as soon as possible. And I had started to feel the same way.

Finally, 45 minutes into the show he acknowledged the audience and played a duo of slow songs from the glorious Sea Change, which was the best part of the night. I wished that I was able to catch him do an entire set of songs from that album in a more intimate setting. I think he and I would’ve preferred that scenario.

Predictably, it wasn’t a long show. Almost exactly an hour plus the obligatory encore. I give the audience credit for being excited throughout the whole night. But I for one expect more from Beck.

I don’t blame the guy if he’s feeling a bit burned out. He’s been able to churn out great album after great album on a consistent basis for years. But Beck, if you need a break to recharge, please take it!

I’m not ready to write him off yet (unlike Weezer) because his prior records, The Information and Guero were each brilliant and showed a steady upward progression for Beck. Maybe Modern Guilt is a slight misstep and anomaly. Here’s hoping. If so, I’d be willing to see him again in concert.

Addendum: I wasn’t able to find the New Pollution performance online so this other one will have to do as a demonstration of Beck’s past awesomeness...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Money talks

Continuing in the vein of the last post’s fact finding mission, This American Life has broadcasted a few episodes that focus on the financial crisis that we’re currently experiencing.

Other than giant, red numbers on the front pages, it’s hard to tell what exactly is going on and what the ramifications are to those of us outside of Wall Street.

The first episode was broadcasted before the crash of several banking institutions and delves into the mortgage crisis earlier this year. The second episode takes into account all of the recent events and attempts to illustrate the full story of why these stock giants are falling like dominos.

What these narratives do very well is connect all of the dots in ways that normally aren’t revealed on today’s mania-driven news channels. It becomes easy to see why things happened the way they did, but it also leads you to feel frustrated and outraged at the unabashed recklessness of these people’s greed.

I’m a lot angrier about this $700 billion bail-out since we’re essentially saving the asses of people who were keenly aware of the risks and fragility of their actions but were blinded by dollar signs. It doesn’t help that I’m reading stories about AIG’s executives partaking in a luxury retreat after being rescued by the government.

Obama’s proposals to instill more regulations resonate more with me now that I’ve seen what people do when left on their own.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Health hath no fury...

Although largely pushed aside due to other pressing matters such as the war and the crumbling economy, health care is a perennial topic in election debates. The merits and pitfalls of universal health care and government involvement is dissected in the latest Intelligence Squared session by NPR.

The format of the show is an Oxford-style debate between a panel of experts in the particular field who debate on the pros and cons of the subject. It’s a good way to absorb a lot of information from different sources. While there is a plethora of stat-spewing, the panelists do a good job of sifting through the numbers to define the meaning behind the research.

The entire broadcast is available as a podcast. While not the most uplifting thing to listen to on the subway commute, it’s certainly enlightening.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Wailin’ on Palin

Tonight is the VP debate, and while I was initially salivating at the prospect of Biden tearing Palin apart, I now have a lot of apprehension. Biden’s job is going to be tougher than many expect. History of gaffes aside, he has to tread carefully lest he gets labeled as a sexist and garners sympathy for Palin, of whom people have such low expectations that it’ll be considered a victory if she just manages to string a few sentences together.

Which may be a challenge for her. Palin couldn’t even answer Katie Couric’s request to name one newspaper or publication that she reads to keep up with current affairs. All week, I’ve been sending links around of the cringe-worthy Couric interviews where she rivals Bush for sound-bite worthy idiocy.

I’ve been so vocal against Palin that a friend commented that I must “really hate the bitch”. I don’t actually. She has different views from me, and I couldn’t care less. It’s more that I feel offended by the Republican party’s assumption on our collective intelligence. THIS is what they chose to put in front of us and say she’s good enough to lead us.

I’ve realized that even I have been caught up in the circus that the Palin nomination has created. After seeing how many newspaper headlines have been swallowed up by Palin, is it outside the realm of possibility to consider that this was a calculated move by McCain in order to divert our attention from the relevant issues? Dare I give the seemingly bumbling, self-destructive campaign that much credit? Biden’s given over 100 interviews since his nomination and we don’t hear jack about him. I get more email links of Palin’s beauty pageant videos than any concerning economic policy.

If this tactic was calculated (and marverick-y?), it’s equally a dangerous and baffling one. I doubt that the McCain group did this all on purpose though. The bungling interviews are the biggest indicator that none of this was part of any overall strategy.

So what are the possible scenarios here? A. They didn’t put any thought into Palin, but she’s a woman which would get the Hillary votes. B. They knew what an idiot she was but knew that the media and population would be so diverted by insignificant details like pregnant daughters that they could slip into the White House without exposing political inadequacies. C. They actually think that she’s a qualified, viable candidate to be a heartbeat away from the Commander in Chief.

All of those likelihoods leave me feeling insulted. Come on, America! I’m begging you to pull your head out of your asses! Look past the lipstick!!!