NY/NJ SNAPSHOTS: Drove west on 78, straight outta Newark to just this side of the Pennsylvania border, and then stopped in historic Clinton, NJ to eat at the Clinton House, est. 1743 (for reference, that’s four decades before Padre Serra set up shop to build the Santa Barbara Mission, with ample help from Chumash slave labor). Lunched on tomato tart with smoked trout, and wallowed in an illusion of antiquity, until the chatter du jour from the bar-re: footballer Michael Vick’s dogfighting guilty plea-yanked the place into this specific day and year. Verdict: This part of the Garden State is old, green, spacious, and appears to have stepped out of a dream, especially for a historically greenhorn Californian.
Later that night and the next morning in NYC, strolled into Fat Cat Billiards, a vast basement joint on W. 4th off 7th Avenue, where pool, ping-pong, chess, and other parlor games meet $3 Pabst and live jazz by surprisingly good players, jamming at 1:30 a.m. on a humpday morning. (Of course, the talent level is not really surprising, given the embarrassment of riches in New York, particularly in jazz.)
FOUND TREASURES: Officially, self-trained photographer Eugene de Salignac was employed by the New York City Department of Bridges to document bridge-related projects from 1904 to 1934. As we blissfully discover in a quietly exhilarating exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, he took his job seriously, and artfully. The subject of bridges in varying states of construction, and the merger of labor and steel, manage to yield pictorial marvels of form, function, and eloquent light. Elegantly composed slices of life blend with glimpses of the city’s skeletal palimpsest, very much undergirding the NYC we still know and usually love.
RUST NEVER SLEEPING: Questions spring to mind for MoMA visitors at the moment, such as: Why are sculptor Richard Serra‘s leviathan rusty mazes and monoliths more moving than ever? Hmm, could it be that we long for cultural objects in real space with impressive dimensions, physical and corporeal to the max, to counteract the creeping suspicion that our submersion in digital and virtual realms is sucking our soul into a vortex of ennui almost without our permission? Or is it just plain good art? Or both? Probably both.
Serendipitously, the Serra retrospective-with its stunning large, wending and winding 2006 pieces-makes for a fine companion piece to the de Salignac show, which also deals with the secret and seductive elegance of massive metal contraptions, in a city built on them.
With visions of massive metal dancing in the head of this idle visitor to Gotham on his meandering day off, what better next stop on the non-agenda than the Brooklyn Bridge? Considered an engineering wonder circa 1883, it’s now a symbol of urban savoir faire and a great cheap thrill to walk across, even on an unseasonably gray and drizzly day in August.
SHOW OF THE WEEK: Hot ‘n’ tasty dobro master Jerry Douglas could be an award-winner in the ranks of the reluctant instrumental hero, except he’d be too reluctant to accept. Douglas’s name is synonymous with the state of the art when it comes to dobro virtuosity, and he has lent his sound to countless recordings and projects over the years. He is the dobro player for Alison Krauss and Union Station, and does Nashville session work and makes artistic hay with fellow wizards Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, and Sam Bush. Tonight at the Lobero, you can hear him lead his own band-something he does quite skillfully, if too rarely.