The New Museum Triennial

NewMu4I wanted to like the New Museum. I really did. I’ve gone there a couple of times. I even considered becoming a member.

But it sucks.

OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh. But every time I visit the New Museum, I find their “art” more laughable than inspirational. It’s as if the mission statement of this museum is along the lines of “You can declare anything to be art, and we will revere it as such.”

I’ve gone-off about meritless art many a time on this blog (including here and here). And I’ve spared the New Museum my scorn simply because they weren’t worthy of it. Genuinely interesting art seems to be the exception in that place, so I stuck to taking jabs at other art museums where sham art is the exception not the rule.

But I thought I’d give the New Museum a third and final try when I saw they were having a triennial exhibit. After all, they have a boat hanging from the front of their building, so the place can’t be all bad, can it? And, in fairness, it surely won’t be my last visit because the International Center of Photography is opening up its new museum across the street this fall, and I’m definitely rejoining that institution.

The Try-ennial
I plowed through the New Museum’s triennial exhibit in hopes of finding some inspiration. Most of the stuff was what I call sham art – stuff that’s considered art simply because someone declared it to be art. But there were two gems that caught my eye.

The first was an aquarium. It had some convoluted meaning which required a long, rambling explanation on a poorly lit placard. But I really liked it because it gave you an up-close look at some beautiful soft coral. And I didn’t even have to don my dive gear.

The second was a virtual reality thing. Apparently some guy (or guys) digitally mapped a small section of the Brazilian jungle. And by “small” I mean about a 10-yard radius. This exhibit had its own separate room, with a pair of goggles tethered to the high ceiling. And there was a line. Normally I wouldn’t bother with a line. But since I found little else of interest, I figured I’d stick around and have a look.

One of the highlights of the New Museum's triennial exhibit was the stairs, which were lit in green and a lot faster than the elevators.

One of the highlights of the New Museum’s triennial exhibit was the stairs, which were lit in green and a lot faster than the elevators.

When my turn came, I slipped the goggles over my eyes and was surprised by what I saw. I was told that it would be a 3D image of the Brazilian rainforest, which I expected to be in full-color (it is 2015, after all). Instead, it was black and white. In fact, it wasn’t an image but rather dots of white light – like stars in the night sky – that formed the outlines of plants and other features. More of a sketch than a picture.

At first I felt a little disoriented. I looked up to get my bearings and saw that I was in some sort of tube or vortex. Too small to be a clearing in the canopy, I thought. Then I realized I was standing in the middle of a tree, looking up through its trunk. I stepped out and walked around a bit. It was pretty cool – like the Matrix, but with patterns of white light instead of green.

I told the attendant, who was there presumably to keep order in the line, that the only thing missing was a member of the indigenous population running out of the darkness with a machete after five minutes. That, I explained, would prevent people from bogarting the goggles. Though it would also be quite the buzzkill for anyone who was high, and that’s probably the best way to experience such an exhibit.

In fact, being high is probably the only way the New Museum is worth the price of admission. Yes, they deserve credit for taking chances, like an “exhibit” in which visitors can follow an “artist” around the East Village (I prefer to trail random people in the East Village). And I am glad someone is taking chances, as it offers opportunities for new artists and encourages established ones to try new things.

Other Options
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has long been the innovator in the city’s museum scene. Its busy midtown location, which they are planning to expand yet again, probably draws more tourists than locals. But, in an attempt to attract more of that new money (and even more tourists), they have shamelessly been pandering to all of the wrong young people. As a result, they’ve only managed to shoot themselves in the foot. In fact, MoMA even made Bjork look decidedly uncool (which is no easy task). And this pandering to Main Street USA may attract tourists, but it also makes MoMA the Cats of the New York City museum scene.

Fortunately, there’s also MoMA PS1 over in Long Island City. That’s where MoMA keeps its edge sharp. Like the New Museum, exhibits at PS1 tend to be hit or miss. But with the backing of MoMA, they seem to have better luck landing the hits.

Again, experimentation is good, especially in the art world. But I don’t have the kind of deep pockets to consider myself a patron of the arts. Maybe (hopefully) someday I will. But until then, I go to museums for inspiration and – if possible – enlightenment. And having devoured the New Museum’s triennial exhibit, I found little of either.

Porchetta: When In Rome (or New York), Eat Pork

Pigchetta

Porchetta is a traditional style of seasoning and roasting pork that is popular in Rome. It’s also the name of a little shop selling the best sandwich on the planet.

Tucked on the south side of 7th Street, between First and Avenue A, the Porchetta shop offers a porchetta sandwich that’s nothing short of a transformative experience. Admittedly I was a little uneasy paying $12 for a sandwich, no matter how good it might be. But after the first bite, I knew it was worth every penny – and more. And halfway through my first porchetta sandwich, I was struck by the sudden sensation that eating it somehow made me a better person. It’s that good.

These sandwiches even travel well. I’ve picked up one and hoofed over to Astor Place before taking the 6 train all the way up to 96th Street and it still was delicious. Though I should caution you to wrap it in a plastic bag so the juices don’t leak out.

There are plenty of other options on the menu, but with something as good as the shop’s namesake, I’ve found it difficult to justify exploring. I have, however, dipped into the crispy potatoes and burnt ends, which were quite phenomenal. And I’ve been eyeing up the Lebanese chicken sandwich but have yet to give it a shot. On a recent visit I noticed they were doing a taco special as well.

Porchetta is well worth the trip. It’s a shame that the owner is an AS Roma fan. But given the glorious sandwiches, all is forgiven.

The Bobwhite Counter

BoWhiCou3

I’ve been looking for an opportunity to feed at the Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter in New York’s East Village for some time. It’s located over on Avenue C, between 6th and 7th Streets near Zum Schneider, in an off-the-beaten-path area that still retains some of the neighborhood’s grittier past in the face of creeping gentrification.

Let me begin by pointing out that the Bobwhite Counter is not the name of a band (though maybe it should be). However, I should note that they do have great taste in music, which is something you don’t often find in this fine city of ours.

Also, this place isn’t owned by someone named Bob White. A Bobwhite, according to the restaurant’s Web site, is a type of quail that – like many Southern culinary and cultural traditions – has largely disappeared in the face of modernity and expediency (like much of the East Village). It’s an interesting metaphor, if a bit of a stretch. Though the restaurant aims to rekindle some of those traditions, serving Southern-style food that is local, seasonal, and sustainable.

BoWhiCou2Which, of course, is a wonderful thing. But even a quail-hunting conservative will brave the fading reputation of Alphabet City to get a taste of what this place offers.

The fried chicken? It may indeed be the best I’ve ever tasted. I grew up on the Colonel, and KFC’s original recipe – despite all its commercialism – is still hard to beat. The fried chicken at Bobwhite is just as delicious but with a crispy, crackling, flavor-packed skin that doesn’t abandon the meat at first touch. And that meat is juicy, but not greasy. Each piece I had was cooked to perfection.

The fried chicken supper comes with a side salad and a biscuit. That biscuit was the best damn biscuit I’ve ever had the pleasure of stuffing down my gullet.

Normally I’m not a big biscuit guy, because most tend to be so dry and heavy, like compressed styrofoam waiting to expand inside your stomach and consume precious space that could have been filled with more flavorful Southern delicacies. I had even developed a theory that biscuits were served to drive drink sales, which are typically a high-margin item for restaurants.

Not the Bobwhite biscuits. These things were light and perfectly balanced. They could make a French pastry chef renounce his citizenship and get a Confederate Flag tattooed across his professionally waxed chest.

My nephew and I also got the mac cheese side, which was merely OK. Given the earth-shattering quality of the chicken and biscuits, maybe our expectations for the mac were too high.

ABCBco2And since we are people who love food, as opposed to people who love to judge food, we only ordered and ate what we wanted. So you’ll have to explore the rest of the menu for yourself.

The Bobwhite Counter is small. And they do have a traditional counter, along with a few tables, and narrow counters facing the windows looking out on Avenue C. We opted to sit in the window and, between the soundtrack and the parade of pedestrians, it’s a pretty good show.

If you have to wait for a spot (and it’s worth it), I encourage you to linger next door at the ABC Beer Company. It’s similar to Park Slope’s Bierkraft in that they have a fine selection of high-end beers for sale in coolers up front with food and tables in the back. You can browse the selection or head into the back and start your culinary adventure with a pint and some meats, cheeses, and breads. It might make a good post-meal stop as well.

Sigmund’s: Beer & Pretzels With A Twist

Sigs4

Beer and pretzels. Few things work as well together. And by pretzels, I don’t mean those cardboard concoctions you purchase in the supermarket snack aisle. I’m talking about the soft, bread-like creations you typically get at a proper beer garden.

And, in a way, Sigmund’s is a beer garden without the garden. They have beer, of course, though a relatively modest selection. And they have pretzels – amazing pretzels. These come in all sorts of varieties, always cooked to perfection, and served fresh and warm. Naturally I opt for the classic, but you can get cheddar, cinnamon raisin, truffle, feta, olive, and more. They also serve burgers and brats, along with what amounts to a modest cafe menu.

Digital CameraSigmund’s Pretzels popped up in all sorts of locations, including the High Line, while they renovated their East Village restaurant on Avenue B, between 2nd and 3rd Streets. But that has since reopened and looks lovely. My only gripe is that now they don’t open until 5:00 PM on weekdays. And while they are open for brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 AM to 3:30 PM, they shutdown again until 5:00 PM. I can only assume that this is part of a strategic move to become more of a bar/restaurant than a pretzel shop where parents used to be able to take their kids on the way home from school. And that kind of sucks.

That aside, it is a great place to stop for a pint and pretzel after 5:00 PM. And they often run a special where you get a free pretzel with every pint, which is pretty sweet.