Wednesday, August 09, 2006

My Return to Manhattan.

I made the drive in to Manhattan yesterday, through the Holland Tunnell. It was a good time to enter the city- barely any traffic. We found parking ($23 for a few hours) in Chelsea, and set off for the Museum of Sex (27th and 5th Avenue).

They had an exhibit documenting a period (1600- late 1800's AD) in Japanese history that spawned a huge sex industry for the politically impotent merchant class. Even if they could not have much governmnetal influence, they could get their rocks off at a huge pleasure palace in Edo. There was much porn being produced, and many examples were on display- period woodblock prints called "shunga", or "spring pictures". The exhibit put this work in historical context, and traced the development of manga, hentai and adult anime.

The second floor was a study on the development of stag films and "smokers". Vintage films were projected on square-shaped platforms at knee-level. There was accompanying commentary as well, focusing on historical precedents. It seemed a bit strange looking at these films in a museum setting.

The third exhibition space was devoted to selections from their permanent collection. There was a virtual sex outfit of hardware, including penis sheath, displayed on a sleek pure-white mannequin. There was a life-size blow-up doll in fishnets behind a glass case. There were examples of sexual depiction in contemporary American art. Best of all, they had a display of creative self-maipulation machines with plastic phalluses protruding from the side of briefcases, drill attachments and futuristic looking rocking chairs. Something for everybody, I'd assume. They had a great gift shop, but all the prices seemed to be artificially "jacked-up". And unlike the porn shops in Pittsburgh (or so I'm told), there are no sale racks.

In midtown we hit the International Center of Photography. They had an interesting display of the work of a contemporary Korean photographer (Atta Kim) that uses multiple and delayed exposures to great effect. He had shots of the Korean demilitarized zone. There was also a section devoted to the work of a Bauhaus artist from pre-WWII Germany (Marianne Brandt). It consisted mainly of primitive montages on themes of industrialism and gender roles in the Weimar Republic. But the highlight of the Center was an exhibition of rare photos by 1940's era New York photojournalist Weejee. His shots look spontaneous and off-kilter, adding to the humanism of the subjects. I never realized that he was a political progressive. He focused on racial prejudice, and worked to present an emotionally-charged body of work concerning race riots and other more minor tragedies. This, of course, is in addition to his more famous shots of the New York underworld and crime scenes.

I wandered a lot through midtown, collecting my own depictions of post 9-11 New York. I hadn't been to the Big Apple in about a decade, so I was surprised to see just how much gentrification has dominated Manhattan. I didn't see one single place that I would be scared to walk in the deep of the night. Times Square is surely like some Disney parody of a once thriving urban space.

It was refreshing to make my way into Brooklyn... through Coney Island and Brighton Heights, to our motel in Sheepshead Bay. I plan to devote a couple of days to these neighborhoods- places that maintain a unique individual character in our homogenized era.


Blogger John Morris said...

A drive down 4th Ave from Bay Ridge to Downtown Brooklyn takes one through a bunch of interesting areas. From Bay ridge through Sunset Park ( a very multi cultural area )
then skirting the edge of Park Slope and Gowanus and into Downtown Brooklyn. Turn to 7th for a low key hipster area and restrained wealth of the slope.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Thanks again for the tips, John. I took you up on just about every one of them.

3:53 PM  

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