I recently visited the Guggenheim museum with my cousin Tori, and we saw “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future,” the current exhibit. “Her paintings, which sometimes resemble diagrams, were a visual representation of complex spiritual ideas,” says the Wikipedia page for this Swedish artist. Other articles about the artist and the exhibit are here and here.
Over the holiday break I caught a number of shows, starting with “Lifespan of a Fact” just after Christmas at Studio 54 on Broadway, starring Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale, which I saw with my friend Franklyn.
Then New Year’s weekend, I attended a trifecta of shows, starting with “Sandra Bernhard: Quick Sand” at Joe’s Pub with my friend Bob; “Hamilton” also with Bob; and “To Kill a Mockingbird” starring Jeff Daniels, which I attended alone. It was my second time seeing “Hamilton,” which was a last-minute miracle. I won front row tickets for 10 dollars each on the official Hamilton app.
Then last Friday I caught “Network” starring Bryan Cranston at the Belasco with my friend Jay.
On Sunday night, Dec. 30, after seeing the new play “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Shubert Theater, I walked through Times Square — which was the calm before the storm of the New Year’s Eve festivities! Normally I would not go near Times Square around New Year’s Eve, but after the theater got out on “New Year’s Eve Eve,” the crowds were small and there was almost no pushing and shoving.
It was a great opportunity to take a few pictures.
I was out and about on Christmas Eve. First stop was Gramercy Park — which is open to the public for ONE HOUR ONLY every year on Christmas Eve, for Christmas carols! I have been intending to go every year for many years, but this was the first time I got around to it! And probably the last, as well, because it was crowded, dark and cold! But at least I can say I have been inside Gramercy Park!
Next stop was Grand Central Terminal, on the way to Radio City Music Hall, for the Christmas Spectacular, which I attended with friends Jay and Franklyn.
Last Monday (vacation day from work) I went to the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Whitney, and it was really fantastic. I took an hour-long guided tour.
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The title of the exhibit is “Andy Warhol — From A to B and Back Again.” Many of the works are large, colorful and vibrant — ranging from the famous Campbell’s Soup cans to images of Marilyn, Elvis and Jackie Kennedy. There’s also a ginormous portrait of Chairman Mao, large skulls, various self-portraits, and a whole room of flower paintings on walls covered in cow wallpaper. There are various film and video installations, including a film of Warhol himself eating a fast food hamburger. Sadly for me, the “Sticky Fingers” and “Love You Live” album covers Warhol designed for the Rolling Stones are not part of the exhibit.
The artist’s sexual orientation features prominently in many of the works on display. At the very beginning of her talk, the leader of the guided tour said that Warhol was gay, and she went on to point out the gay themes in many of the images, beginning with some early drawings of several of Warhol’s male friends playing with jewelry. Also included in the show are several portraits of New York City’s underground drag and trans community, including Marsha P. Johnson, who was a veteran of the Stonewall uprising.
Warhol got his start doing commercial illustrations for newspaper advertisements, and among these early works are various paintings of women’s shoes. Warhol dedicated the shoe paintings to various celebrities, both male and female, including Mae West and Truman Capote. Another is dedicated to the trans pioneer Christine Jorgensen, the U.S. Army veteran who traveled to Denmark in the 1950s for gender confirmation surgery.
Later in Warhol’s career, the AIDS crisis was of immense concern to New Yorkers (and gay New Yorkers in particular), and a theme of activism vs. Catholicism is evoked in one of Warhol’s last works, The Last Supper, which features a camouflage pattern over the religious iconography.
This all takes place on the fourth and fifth floors of the Whitney. On the first floor, there is a whole room of nothing but Warhol’s celebrity portraits — which include Liza Minnelli (my favorite), Mick Jagger, the Shah of Iran, Deborah Harry, Truman Capote, Halston, and just about everyone else you can think of who was famous back then.
The show runs through the end of March. If you live in New York City or are visiting, it’s not to be missed. I will definitely go back myself to see this again.
The annual Greater New York Dental Meeting takes place the weekend immediately after Thanksgiving every year — which means those of us who work at Dental Tribune are quite busy. The event features educational classes and hands-on workshops for the thousands of dental professionals who attend from out of town, plus a four-day tradeshow for the latest products and technology. We publish four issues of our at-show newspaper, called “today” — two of which we put together “live” on site, which means home away from home this past week has been the Javits Center!
You can see all four issues of our daily at-show newspaper by clicking here. I took many of the pictures at the event, and I conducted a live interview with a company rep on site about a new product (link to my article here). Our post-show “meeting review” article and photo gallery is here. I am particularly pleased with the way the cover of Issue 3 turned out. If you click the image directly below it will open bigger:
This is such a big meeting that it’s “all hands on deck” for the four Dental Tribune editors, but we were short staffed this year because our group editor is out on maternity leave. After we finished our work for the paper, the three of us who were together for the work event attended the Tuesday night showing of “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway:
The annual Greater New York Dental Meeting, which starts this coming weekend at the Javits Center in Manhattan, attracts visitors from across the country and around the world. Therefore every year I write an “out and about” article for visitors to New York from out of town, giving them some ideas on touristy things they can do.
I figured this year I would focus on sites of historical interest having to do with the American presidents, from George Washington to Ulysses S. Grant to Theodore Roosevelt.
The article was published on the Dental Tribune website (link here) — and it was also published in print, in issues 1 and 4 of our annual at-show newspaper, called “today.” If you click on the image of the article directly below, it will open bigger and you can read it:
It’s not possible to tell the story of how Chester A. Arthur came to be our nation’s 21st President without talking about Roscoe Conkling, a powerful Republican Senator from New York. These were the days of “machine politics,” and nobody played the game better than Conkling. The way it worked was that a politician such as Conkling could dispense patronage appointments to friends and political allies, and in return these job-holders paid a portion of their salaries back to the coffers of those who had gotten them their positions. If one were running for office, he or his allies could promise future jobs in return for their support. The biggest job of them all — the plummiest of plum positions — was Collector of New York Customs, and during the Grant administration Conkling got Arthur appointed to that post. Arthur thrived, becoming a fat cat (he got literally fat) and getting very rich. He wore the finest clothes and lived in a fancy house at 123 Lexington Avenue (and on a personal note, that house is just three blocks away from where I live!).
Then along came President Rutherford B. Hayes, who got elected in 1876 after promising to break up this system. Hayes got into a huge fight with Conkling over how the New York Custom House was being managed, and Hayes eventually fired Arthur. By the time the Republican National Convention got underway in 1880, Conkling was seething mad and tried but failed to get Grant — a fellow “Stalwart” — nominated for what would have been an unprecedented third term. (Hayes had pledged not to seek re-election.) Another wing of the party wanted Senator James G. Blaine of Maine, but when neither Grant nor Blaine had the votes, they went with a completely different candidate, James Garfield! To placate the Stalwarts and in an attempt to balance the ticket ideologically, the delegates gave the Vice Presidential nomination to none other than Chester A. Arthur. Having never served in elected office before, Arthur was completely unqualified and everyone knew it.
Upon taking office Garfield picked a huge fight with Conkling over — you guessed it — the Collector job at New York Customs. In what would become an ill-fated move, Conkling resigned in protest and went to Albany, hoping to get immediately re-elected, and Vice President Arthur, who was seen as disloyal to Garfield and nothing more than Conkling’s lackey, followed him.
It was about this time that Garfield got shot, and, get this: The gunman turned out to be crazy office seeker who had been spurned for a job he thought he deserved! Not only that, but when they were taking him away to jail, he yelled out to everyone that he was doing this for the Stalwarts and not to worry, Chester Arthur would fix everything! It was the worst possible scenario for Arthur, who spent much of the subsequent weeks crying and fretting.
Garfield lived another two months, but Arthur stayed away from Washington because he did not want to be seen as too overly eager to seize power. Instead he stayed mostly in New York City and met frequently with Conkling. Everyone still saw Arthur as Conkling’s man, which is why it must have been very surprising to all, especially Conkling himself, when Arthur defied his onetime benefactor by not appointing Conkling’s choice to the Collector post. Later in his presidency, in a move that surprised everyone even more, Arthur would go on to sign a civil service reform bill into law. Not only that, but he enforced it with deputies who took the new law seriously.
These are some of the events described in “The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur” by Scott. S. Greenberger. This turned out to be an excellent sequel to the Garfield book “Destiny of the Republic” by Candice Millard.
When he became president, Arthur comported himself well and struck the right tone, pledging to carry on in a manner that would be respectful to his murdered predecessor. During his presidency, Arthur strengthened the U.S. Navy. He vetoed a “rivers and harbors” bill that had been inflated with pork projects from legislators. Congress later passed the bill over his veto.
His record on human rights is mixed. When Congress passed an anti-Chinese immigration bill, Arthur vetoed it. Then when Congress passed a slightly milder yet still egregious bill, he signed it. When the Supreme Court stuck down a civil rights law during his presidency, Arthur called for new legislation in his annual message to Congress but did nothing more. Early in his career as a lawyer in New York City, Arthur represented a black woman who had been denied a seat on a streetcar and won her case, thereby helping desegregate public transportation in New York City. Everywhere he traveled, African Americans seemed to love him and many gave him handmade gifts.
When he was in office, Arthur received long letters from a young woman, Julia Sand, who had health problems and was living with her family in New York City. She offered Arthur plenty of advice on how he should behave, both politically and morally, and this advice must have had a profound effect on Arthur because he eventually paid her a personal visit. Before he died Arthur burned his papers, but many decades later his surviving relatives discovered 23 of Sand’s letters that Arthur had saved.
Here are some additional facts about Chester Alan Arthur:
- He was born in Vermont. He had many siblings. His father was a preacher and the family moved frequently, eventually migrating to upstate New York.
- During the first half of the Civil War, Arthur served in the military as a quartermaster.
- His wife, Nell, died before he became president. There were three children in all. A son died in early childhood, and a second son and daughter lived to adulthood.
- Nell was from Virginia, and before and during the war there were family struggles because she was from the South. Her father, Herndon, was a ship captain who died in a horrific shipwreck but was hailed as a hero.
- Like Presidents Jefferson, Jackson and Van Buren before him, Arthur came into office a widower. He asked his youngest sister to be “mistress of the White House” in place of a First Lady.
- Arthur had the White House refurbished before he moved in. He lived with a senator during the renovations.
- Arthur enjoyed fine food and drink, and he smoked the best cigars. He was always well dressed. He was polite to all.
- He traveled frequently to New York City, especially early in his presidency. Later he visited Florida and Yellowstone National Park.
- Arthur appointed Conkling to the Supreme Court and the Senate confirmed him, but Conkling declined.
- Arthur was president during the dedication of the Washington Monument and offered a proclamation at a ceremony on Feb. 21, 1885.
- Shortly after Arthur left office in 1885, former President Grant died and received an elaborate funeral in New York City. Arthur helped raise funds for what would become Grant’s Tomb.
- Arthur also helped raise funds for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
- Arthur’s own funeral in Manhattan was modest compared to Grant’s and was attended by President Cleveland and former President Hayes.
In 1884 Arthur lost the nomination of the Republican Party to Blaine, who would go on to lose in the fall to Democrat Grover Cleveland. According to Greenberger, Arthur put up only a token fight for the nomination because he knew he was terminally ill with Bright’s disease and had known for some time, but he did not want this information to become public. After leaving office he returned to his home in New York City and died a year later, in 1886, of a stroke. He was 57. He was buried outside Albany.
It was striking that Arthur, a man who had been so closely associated with Conkling and the corrupt “machine politics” of New York, someone who was the unlikeliest of presidents, would be the one to initiate civil service reform. Today Arthur’s house at 123 Lexington is Kalustyan’s, a shop selling Middle Eastern foods, but just inside and behind glass, visible to passers-by, is a plaque commemorating the building’s place in American history. The plaque reads in part, “Here on September 20, 1881, at 2:15 a.m., Chester Alan Arthur took his oath of office as 21st President of the United States upon the death of President James A. Garfield, killed by a disgruntled office seeker … On January 16, 1883, President Arthur signed the U.S. Civil Service Act ending the spoils system an creating the American civil service.”
Just a few blocks away, also in Manhattan, at the northeast corner of Madison Square Park, stands a statue of Chester A. Arthur. And in the southeast corner of the same park stands another statue — of Roscoe Conkling.
Here’s a view from 24th Street and First Avenue in Manhattan, looking west. On the right is New York University College of Dentistry. And in the distance, the tall skyscraper is the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower — which was the tallest building in the world when it was erected in 1909!
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What does a 15-year-old girl have to say about the United States Constitution? More than I could possibly have imagined, before attending the brilliant one-act play “What the Constitution Means to Me” tonight at the New York Theatre Workshop. It’s written and performed by Heidi Schreck, a woman in her 40s. The setting is an American Legion meeting, where, as a teenage girl, she debated about the document before a gathering of cigar-smoking old men.
In telling her story, told from an unapologetically feminist perspective, the playwright channels her younger self, while at the same time reflecting upon two and a half decades of subsequent life experience and wisdom. She talks frankly about her own body and tells stories of her mother and grandmother. Toward the end of the presentation, Schreck is joined onstage by a genuine New York City high school student, with whom she engages in a live debate. That’s the portion of the evening featuring audience participation, when everyone receives a copy of the Constitution itself (my copy is pictured).
The play also features Mike Iveson of “Orange Is the New Black,” who offers a personal “reveal” of his own. Audio recordings of actual oral arguments from the Supreme Court bench are played, in which the voices of Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and others are heard.
I was genuinely moved by this thought-provoking and educational piece. In my view, if those 11 while male Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were to see this, they might think twice before voting yes on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. If you happen to live in New York City or if you are going to be visiting this fall, this is not to be missed. It’s playing until Oct. 21.