Sunday, January 13, 2013

Swinging in the New Year

New Year's Day in Three Acts


On New Year's morning, the girls from the 'hood met us at BBar for brunch. Xtine (left center in faux fur hat) lives two blocks away from Jean and Judy lives five blocks away. Hats and red lipstick were obviously the order of the day.

Xtine and Judy were wearing clothing from the East Village. (Support your local shops!)  Xtine was wearing a jacket from Jill Anderson's boutique and Judy was wearing a hat of her own creation, which she is beginning to reproduce for friends.

After having fortified ourselves with a wonderful meal and lively conversation, we donned our coats, headed to the door, said our good-byes and went on to the next part of our new year's day adventure.


We decided to swing in the New Year in style -- at the Park Avenue Armory!

Artist Ann Hamilton transformed the amazing facility in her site-specific piece Event of a Thread from December 5, 2012 through January 6, 2013.

The Park Avenue Armory's interior is as grand and cavernous as Downton Abbey, transported to the Upper East Side. In addition to serving the armed forces, the armory itself is a gorgeous building that has hosted a wide range of social events from theatrical productions to Louis Armstrong's wake. The windows are leaded glass, some with elaborate stained glass scenes.  The holiday decorations and garlands added a festive air to the goings on.

Ann Hamilton's piece (above) features simple wooden swings hanging from the rafters. Their metal chains were linked via an intricate pulley system to a huge white expanse of fabric draped across the width of the room. As a swing moved toward the center of the room, the part of the fabric controlled by that swing dropped, and as that swing moved away, that part of the fabric langorously lifted in the air like a Victorian lady's skirt hem. Multiply that by the dozens of swings all at different degrees of their arc at the same time, and the effect was magical.

Visitors of all ages chose to lie on the floor under the curtain (below) to watch it undulating, rising and falling. Very meditative. The great antique Tiffany clock is visible high on the far wall just above the door.

Jean gets down with the folks lying under the curtain.

Here's what it looked like to lie on the floor under the curtain.

In keeping with the military history of the space, Event of a Thread featured 43 homing pigeons who roosted in their cages on several tables just inside the entrance. Seated at the table in matching grey wool capes were two women reading from a typed transcript several meters long. At the end of each day, as a singer appeared on a balcony high above the scene, the lights would dim, and as the singing commenced, the pigeons were unleashed to fly around the space, circle the massive room and return to their cages. Since homing pigeons were used by the military to send battlefield messages, their presence and the period garb of the readers lent the armory a distinctive WWI flavor.

We had the pleasure of meeting Ann Hamilton, the artist herself, a petite figure who managed to create an art work that dominated this Brobdingnagian space. Recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, she is as graceful and self-effacing as her work is brilliant and imaginative.

Valerie literally gets into the swing of things!

There were short, discreet lines for the swings. We probably waited 10-15 minutes for our turn, then we each went on singly, and finally together. Much as we would have liked to stay far longer, the politely waiting people milling around were a strong incentive to be brief. And the swings took up enough space that there were very few spaces completely free of swings in one or another phase of movement.

That day, a camera crew was filming Ms. Hamilton, her art piece, and the Armory. You can see them at the back left with their dolly as Jean takes her turn at the swing.

Jean goes faster than the camera can capture.

This woman, who breaks the continuous white of the curtain, had a gentleman friend with her who really got into it. Each time her swing returned, he'd grab it and pull it back as far as he could. He was tall, and he could pull back pretty far. Instead of just letting go, he'd run pushing the swing as far as he could, which is why his lady friend was able to pierce the veil, so to speak, unlike most of the rest of us.

From the upper level, there was a completely different perspective. Here you get some idea of the complexity of the network of pulleys.

Here is the massive Tiffany clock mentioned above. Although it isn't in working order, it is amazing to behold.

At three o'clock, the lights dimmed and a singer appeared way in the distance high up on the balcony, framed in the spotlight.

Dressed in a scarlet evening gown, this blond chanteuse made quite a dramatic appearance.

Everyone stood and watched, almost transfixed.

We couldn't resist one last glimpse of the beautiful space. Here's a view of the opposite wing off the main lobby of the armory, with tall, dark carved wooden door frames and trim; large oil paintings in gilt frames; pressed tin ceilings and enormous bronze light fixtures to illuminate the large hallway.

Back on the street, still feeling festive, we reconnoitered and decided to stroll over to Madison Avenue to look at the holiday windows and people-watch. (Of course, our regular readers know that the last time we did that, we found a lost wallet, saw Tom Wolfe in the flesh, and drank champagne on a balcony, so who knew what might happen?)


Eventually, we stopped into one of our favorite haunts (Daniel Boulud's Bar Pleiades in the Surrey Hotel) for a cocktail (big surprise!). The nouveau art deco lounge is beautiful and its decibel levels are soothingly low, making it a terrific place for conversation -- imagine that!

Valerie's drink, a Granada Royale, was made with Old Tom gin, cardamaro, pomegranate seeds, white Creme de Cacao and (of course!) champagne. It not only tasted terrific, but was entertaining too: the pomegranate seeds floated up to the top and slowly sank to the bottom, only to retrace their paths again and again. It was hypnotic! Mr. Spock would have said "Fascinating." But then he would have gone on to explain the likely process, which we will not. And cannot.

Jean's drink, dubbed Last Call, had Lunazul Tequila (natch!), Figenza Liqueur, Yellow Chartreuse and lime.

We hope you all had a wonderful new year!

What we're wearing:

Jean is wearing: an Ignatius fleece hat;  High Use coat; Kyodan jacket; Issey Miyake laser-cut dropped-crotch pants; polka dot knee highs; Trippen boots; Made Her Think cross-body bag with chain strap; Creepsville skull necklace (gift from Jodi Head); black and white striped round earrings from Red boutique; and vintage bakelite earrings and rings.

Valerie is wearing: vintage velvet hat labeled Mr. Arnold, Lord & Taylor Salon; Nuno scarf, unlabeled vintage blue wool jacket, unsigned aluminum brooch, Issey Miyake pants, Arche shoes.

Here's a one minute video of Event of a Thread:


  1. Wow, what an amazing experience. Love the gigantic swing. What fun!

  2. Wow, you got a lot in that day! All I did was have brunch at Walker's in Tribeca & go to Whole Foods. Can I tag along with you next time? : )

  3. Incredible women in hats! Thank you also for describing the wondrously interactive art experience in such detail, how marvellous. Valerie's blue Arche booties have sparked quite an affection here.

  4. Wow - what an amazing day!!! My first thought - what a cool group of women! I would have loved to have been involved with the conversation and the style at that brunch. And the swing - wild!

  5. Terrific activity, I wish I could watch you live, but so far I can feel the excitement just by reading this blog :)

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