We will be participating in the wonderful, vibrant Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday, September 18th! Our offerings include:
You don’t see walkers at many art events in Bushwick, but on the evening of June 6th, three of them clumped down Jefferson Street to Bizarre, the bar where anything can happen and usually does.
It was Open Studios weekend, and the launch of Meryl Meisler’s new book, Purgatory & Paradise SASSY ’70s Suburbia & The City was underway. Meisler is known for her wonderful photographs, but she has other talents, not the least of which is figuring out what friends do well, and bringing them into her projects. This makes for a lively, unpredictable mix, and the evening of June 6th was no exception. Sassy ’70s features writing by Emanuel Xavier and Vanessa Mártir, and they gave dynamic readings, followed by a vajazzling slide show of 70′s-era porn by Judi Jupiter. Last was Amy Leffler’s reading on The Mystery Club, with three of its eminent members present.
Since this is a story of outer appearances and inner truths, a quick picture must be painted. The Mystery Club began long ago in the far off galaxy of Massapequa, New York, where Meisler’s parents bought a home in the early 60s. North Massapequa (known as “Matzoh Pizza” because of its many Jewish and Italian families) seemed a typical suburb, with lovely trees shading blocks and blocks of houses that looked very much the same. Most of the couples were young: starting families, buying homes for the first time. A lot of the men were veterans who’d left the city in search of safer, more affordable neighborhoods. They went to work each day, while the women stayed home to raise children. Life was pleasant, if a little predictable. But some people had needs that were not being met. Taking matters into their own hands, they formed The Mystery Club–a group for couples only.
If it sounds racy, it was–sometimes. Each month one couple planned a night out, the more outrageous the better (though not to exceed $25), with details kept secret till the day arrived. Some were silly (a haunted house), others were educational (a tour of Grumman Aircraft to see the lunar landing module before it went to the moon), and some were truly risqué like the trip to the Continental Baths where they sweated alongside beefy, near-naked men. There was also the visit (fully clothed) to a Jersey nudist colony, and to a recording studio where they cut an off-key cover of Frank Sinatra’s Strangers In the Night. Then they went home and checked on the kids.
Three great Mystery Club ladies were present at Bizarre for Meisler’s book launch: Bess Bloomfield, Helen Roth, and Lilyan Gitnik. Still beautiful, dressed sharp, they held court at the center table, greeting fans and friends.
After the reading, as pictures of the Club scrolled on screen and Sinatra sang, his spell and theirs fell over the room. Years vanished, and Helen, Bess, and Lil were as they had been in the 60s and 70s: their children young, their lives stretching forward, untouched by infirmity and loss.
Strangers in the Night is a three act drama in less than three minutes that tells an old story that never really gets old, just told new ways. It’s a sensual encounter of real people at a real place in a real, not virtual, moment. There is no undo/redo, and the consequence of missing their chance is a lifetime of loneliness. It is about the fleeting nature of time and the eternal power of love and human connection.
The song is rooted in physical presence. There are “glances” as the lovers size each other up, a dance that is “warm and embracing,” that leads to a lifelong, soul-deep connection. It is not the virtual “liking” and “friending” of Facebook, or a casual hookup. It’s about chemistry and intuition, longing and love–yes, that kind, but something deeper too: souls coming together against improbable odds to create something special in an uncaring world.
Which applied to a lot of people that night at Bizarre. Writers had been published because they became friends with photographers. Photographers had begun new projects because they became friends with writers. Meisler’s own work came out of the basement because urban historian Adam Schwartz needed images and happened to come across her name. Life throws many curves, some bad, some good. You have to live and look and love. You have to take joy when it comes, endure when it doesn’t.
As Sinatra sang, labels and boundaries fell away, and Hipsters, Baby Boomers and nonagenarians became just people sitting together in a room. Generations mingled, and for the first time ever, there was a family-friendly vibe at Bizarre. The event wasn’t post-modern, ironic or deconstructed, just honest and deeply human.
Edgy? The girls passed through it long ago, enduring cancer, loss of spouses, and relocation from their homes as time marched on and the flesh slowly gave way. But the hearts of Lilyan Gitnik, Bess Bloomfield and Helen Roth never did, and on that night, moved us with their enduring humanity. They showed us the power of love and joy, and what was possible.
At Bizarre, the hour grew late, wraps and walkers were gathered for the trip home. Goodbyes were said, and the golden girls were chauffeured off into the night.
If the moment had passed, the magic endured. Strangers had become friends, old friendships had been renewed, lives changed and enriched by the golden girls of the Mystery Club and the book that brought them all together.
[Meryl Meisler will have an exhibition of her vintage black-and-white prints from the 1970s at the Steven Kasher Gallery, 515 West 26th Street, February 25th – April 9th.]
– Catherine Kirkpatrick
See and read about it in the New Yorker (where I was quoted!).
It’s been a really, really busy spring. Bushwick Open Studios is coming up, so there’s that to get ready for. I also write for Arts in Bushwick, and there’s been stuff for that (see “Chasing History: The 2015 AiB Benefit Exhibition“), then there’s Meryl Meisler. This photo-based artist is at it again, with a new book Purgatory & Paradise: SASSY ’70s Suburbia & The City scheduled to arrive in time for BOS (Bushwick Open Studios for those on other planets).
In it are her first pictures ever, which are very good. She seems to have sprung forth fully formed, immediately creating cohesive and visually compelling bodies of work. It began when she was on break from the University of Wisconsin, and started documenting family and friends in the suburban enclave of Massapequa, Long Island. At the same time, she also began photo forays into New York City, the Big Apple, which at the time was rotting, ridden with crime and decay. She loved it, and the pictures show her love and compassion for the people of its streets as well the people in the sheltered neighborhood where she grew up.
Meryl is a wonderful person, so when she asked me to contribute the introduction (I wrote the one for her first book), I jumped. This year there was that frenemy of all writers–time! I could actually prepare instead of scribbling off the cuff! I read books on the 70′s, looked up icons of its culture, even went back to the 60′s, reading the magnificent, lofty speeches of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. I had so much research going that when it came time to actually write, I was overwhelmed. There was enough material for a thesis, but way too much for a 1,100 word intro. Oops.
Less can be more, but less is hard, like packing a small suitcase. You can’t take the whole closet, but need clothes for day and evening, rain and shine, cultural events as well as sports. If this sounds like something a 1920′s lady of leisure would say, you know what I mean.
There were numerous drafts, how many I can’t even say. Too embarrassed. They spilled from my iPad to my iPhone to my laptop. Finally had to use that glorious app, Mellel, the docent of long documents, to sort it all out.
Meanwhile, Meryl and Patty (uber-designer Patricia O’Brien) were frantically editing images with the help of publisher Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire. Amy Leffler was composing her reflections on the famed “Mystery Club” (outings to seances and a nudist colony), and I was hacking away at these ginormous text documents I had going. Let’s just say everyone had something to do and was very, very busy.
The book went through several drafts, the feel shifting with each version. When I first saw the pictures, the thing that stood out was the eclectic, outlandish interior design of the suburban homes, that ranged from French Empire to Mid-century Modern, with comic book touches thrown in. Yet in the next iteration (with my draft well underway), other things seemed more prominent. Was I mad? Losing my mind? How could I have gotten things so horribly wrong?
I shifted certain paragraphs of the draft to reflect the new tone, yet had tremendous doubt whether I was still touching too heavily on the wrong things. With deadlines looming, everyone brought their work to an end. The final cut brought even more sass to the project, and restored many pictures featuring the ornate decor that had caught my eye in the first place.
Lesson: I thought I was the only one with sprawling, messy work habits, but I am not. It is a part of everyone’s creative process, no matter how refined and “inevitable” the final product is. Stay tuned for this book–it’s going to be a good one.
On Monday, November 17th the Brooklyn Historical Society hosted a panel discussion called Brooklyn’s On Fire: Bushwick is Burning. Moderated by Johathan Mahler, a New York Times media reporter and author of the critically acclaimed Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning, it included photographer Meryl Meisler, a tenant lawyer, an FDNY fire marshal, a Community Board manager, and a displaced resident. It was a lively discussion with spirited responses from the audience that included people who grew up in Bushwick, those who fought fires there, and residents who live and work there now.
Meisler, a special friend of the New York Book Society, has had great success with her 2014 book, A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick. It was reveiwed by Johathan Mahler in the New York Times, and was featured by the New Yorker, and by many prominent publications and websites.
(With special thanks to Heather O’Mara for permission to use her image of the panel)
Yesterday was a great day for the kingdom of Brooklyn and the kingdom of books. All kinds of readers, writers and artists descended on Borough Hall in search of wonderful stuff at the Brooklyn Book Festival. And wonderful stuff there was–everything from Tugboats of New York to the young adult Do You Know Who You Are?, with large and small presses, authors who’ve sold millions of books, and newcomers with a single volume. They all shared one thing: a love of books. Maybe they published them, maybe they wrote or illustrated them, maybe they read them, but they all turned out for them and that is a glorious thing.
There was something for the literary-minded and the visually inclined, for old time New Yorkers and curious tweens. Parents brought their kids, browsed, chatted with writers and booksellers and exchanged ideas. Noted author James McBride happened by our section. I said I was reading his novel The Good Lord Bird (a new take on John Brown), along with Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 classic Gone With the Wind–two very dissimilar books on the South and Civil War. All he did was raise an eyebrow and say: “a different perspective.”
Which is what great culture is all about: ideas, talent, freedom, and exchange. So three cheers for the borough where so much is happening, for Janet Matthews and the dedicated people who put the festival together, and most of all for those who quietly, without promise of reward, write, illustrate, photograph and produce those magical, life-changing things we call books. Here’s to you!
On Sunday, September 21st the New York Book Society will be a part of the Brooklyn Book Festival! We will share table #309 with the Bushwick Daily and photographer Meryl Meisler, whose recent press includes an article by the New Yorker where New York Book Society founder, Catherine Kirkpatrick, is quoted. Here are some of the unique books we will feature:
Backstage: Broadway Behind the Curtain
Rivka Katvan is world-reknowned for her photographic studies of the Broadway theatre, as seen in her recent Abrams’ book, Backstage: Broadway Behind the Curtain. She has also donated photographs to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS which, according to Tom Viola, Executive Director, have raised more than $120,000 for the nonprofit organization. She has won numerous awards and acclaim for her projects and exhibits, and with her husband, Moshe, runs a state-of-the-art photo studio in Manhattan.
On the Beat
Jane Hoffer is a New York photographer who documented the first female NYPD officers on patrol. This project, which included a night at the “Fort Appache” precinct in the Bronx, was exhibited in 2011 at the New York City Police Museum and the subject of an article on the Professional Women Photographers’ website that was named by PhotoShelter to its List of Best Photography Blog Posts of 2011. Jane attended McGill University, and holds an advanced degree in art from Columbia University, with additional training at the School of Visual Arts and the International Center of Photography. With over 20 years experience in commercial photography, she is recognized as a leading photographer in the non-profit and public relations industries. She exhibits her fine art work frequently.
Gays in the Military
Vincent Cianni is a documentary photographer whose work has been exhibited widely, including shows at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Philadelphia Museum of Art, George Eastman House, with a major survey at the Museum of the City of New York in 2006.
His landmark Gays in the Military (Daylight Books, May 2014) is told through photographs and interviews made over three years on road trips across the United States. This oral and visual history tells the stories of gay and lesbian men and women who served their country in silence, and will be archived at the David M. Rubestein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University. It is also available as an exhibition and multi-media installation.
Coney Island and Harlem Street Portraits
Harvey Stein is a photographer, lecturer, author and curator based in New York City. He teaches at the International Center of Photography, and has also taught at the School of Visual Arts, New School University, Drew University, and Rochester Institute of Technology. His books including Parallels: A Look at Twins, Artists Observed, Coney Island, Movimento: Glimpses of Italian Street Life, Coney Island 40 Years, and Harlem Street Portraits. He is currently Director of Photography at the Umbrella Arts Gallery in Manhattan’s East Village.
Mary Teresa Giancoli is a New York photographer with a deep interest in exploring Spanish Culture. Her Mujeres Poblanas features her images of the women and life around the marketplace and festivals in Puebla, Mexico, the region that sends the most migrants to Brooklyn and the tri-state area. Also featured are images from Mexican dances and customs as lived in homes, work and on the street in New York City. Giancoli has a BA in Italian Culture from Wellesley College and an MFA in photography from Hunter. Her work combines a lush visual style with an almost anthropological interest in the customs of the Spanish communities she documents.
Blood & Beauty
Pamela Greene spent several years photographing Manhattan’s Meatpacking District as it was becoming hot. She took it in with a compassionate eye, capturing the sense of passing history and new history being made, the mix of wild bohemians, working class people, fashion designers, hot young things and nouveau riche who flocked there every day. In 120 vivid color photographs, she captures the energy in the street, the trendy boutiques and clubs, the businesses that had been there for generations and were slowly but surely fading away. In 2009, this work was featured in a solo exhibition at the Show Walls Gallery of the Durst Corporation.
Bacalaitos & Fireworks
Arlene Gottfried is a well-known New York photographer who has freelanced for top publications, including The New York Times Magazine, Fortune, Life, and The Independent in London. Her work has exhibited at the Leica Gallery in New York and in Tokyo, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and has images in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, The New York Public Library, and the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Berenice Abbott International Competition of Women’s Documentary Photography. Gottfried is the author of Bacalaitos & Fireworks (powerHouse Books, 2011), Sometimes Overwhelming (powerHouse Books, 2008), Midnight (powerHouse Books, 2003) and The Eternal Light (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 1999). A lecturer and a teacher, Gottfried lives and works in New York City.
What Might It Mean?
Nancy Garniez’s artistic life spans many styles, centuries, venues, and activities, from performing and teaching, to writing and recording. Nancy holds a Bachelor of Arts, Phi Beta Kappa, from Oberlin College, with a concentration in organ under Fenner Douglass. Under a Fulbright grant she studied organ with Helmut Walcha in Frankfurt am Main. Subsequent piano study was with Hans Neumann at the Mannes College of Music.
For many years Nancy performed solo piano and ensemble recitals annually at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, as well as throughout Europe. She is currently presenting in-house solo recitals in series centered on such themes as “Bach and Sons: Listening for the Future.” Her 3 unedited live-performance solo CDs available for purchase at www.tonalrefraction.com.
She is also an author whose works include What Might It Mean? An Uncommon Glossary of Musical Terms and Concepts for the Stuck, Bored, and Curious, and Tone Perception Visualized: The Mozart G minor Piano Quartet, 2013 with state of the art digital graphics.
The Brooklyn Book Festival will take place on
Sunday, September 21st
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at:
Brooklyn Borough Hall
209 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
2, 3, 4, 5 to Borough Hall
R to Court Street
A, C, F to Jay Street/Borough Hall
By Car from Manhattan:
Coming over the Brooklyn Bridge
Stay Straight on Adams Street
Turn Right on Joralemon Street
Edison Park East, 134 Schermerhorn Street, 718-246-0367
Central Parking (No trucks), 333 Adams Street, 718-222-1032
Livingston Street Parking (No trucks), 111 Livingston Street, 718-855-1180
(Daily Rates Vary)