IF (only)

image above by Robert Chin for NYmag, the rest by me

Soho is a mass-market-shopping hellmouth— a roiling democratic cauldron of crassness, excess, fakery, and assembly-line tediousness. It is a minor wonder then, that a store like IF Soho (92 Grand Street) is still around after 30 or so years, with no web presence and no advertising. It is indifferent, select, expensive, impractical— and one of my favorite clothing stores. (The staff are actually very polite if you engage them. Phillip, the manager, a man of a certain age and always just so, is practically expansive.)

IF appears to cater to the elusive and storied "avant garde artist", the former-Soho set c.1988 who may still inhabit parts of the neighborhood but who are all but invisible now. (I picture them skulking on side streets dressed in their black thousand-dollar raw-linen jackets and asymmetric harem pants, trying to side-step all the hoi polloi)

There's a clarity of aesthetic here: everything is tufted, frayed, hand-woven, heavy, real and beautifully crafted. The color palette ranges from coal to dust with an accent of brick. Clothes can seem as though they've been pulled from a particularly dark staging of Bleak House; the shoes have the appearance of medieval cobblery. Those are good things in my book. (One pair of simple pumps that dazzled me (last image, above) had a soft, worn, iridescent scaly nap like a discarded fish.)
All the requisite big-ticket names are here: Dries van noten, Martin Margiela, Yohji Yamamoto, Ann Demeulemeester, Prada, Commes Des Garcons, as well as an extensive selection of the unknown (to me) Ivan Grundahl, a Danish designer of moody complicated garments, and several more brands I'm forgetting.

I visit periodically but I have purchased only one thing in the store to date. But there's still hope—the basement sale is in August.


rummaging through venerable dust

I found these exquisite calling cards at the American Antiquarian Society web site, but it wasn't easy. 

First, some background I found interesting: The AAS, in Worcester, Massachusetts, is a library and learned society whose collection focuses on the "printed record of what is now the United States from 1640 through 1876." Founded in 1812 by a Revolutionary War patriot and printer named Isaiah Thomas, the Society had its start in a time of gentlemen scholars. "Amateurs" in the true sense of the word, they loved books, history, ideas-on-paper. Thomas, for example, donated his collection of 8000 books. The succeeding president, the colorful Christopher Columbus Baldwin, wrote to a friend "...an Antiquary should not pester himself with a wife: he should do nothing that may diminish his affections with venerable books." Clearly nothing diminished his ardor as he rummaged around in one sweltering attic for five August days ("the thermometer at ninety-three, I had a pretty hot time of it") on the scent of a promising trove. After searching through "trunks, bureaus, baskets, tea chests and old drawers" he carted away an astonishing forty four hundred and seventy six pounds of material for the collections. "Every thing was covered with venerable dust, and... I have never seen such happy moments." Unhappily, Baldwin's flame of historical passion was snuffed out the following year (1835) in a stage coach accident.

So, today the Society's collections now comprise 3 million items. The AAS site is sprawling--and comprehensively cataloged— but very spotty when it comes to online access to items. And its confusing. I got lost down many a blind alley thinking I was going to browse, say Book Salesman's Samples, or Rewards of Merit, only to be met by a few paragraphs and a treacherous sinkhole of links to inventories of related material. There are several "online exhibitions" some of which have enlargable images, many not. Also to be found through the AAS is the thoroughly engrossing Farber Gravestone Collection which I wrote about fairly extensively here

But, Dear Reader, I suggest you try rummaging around for yourself because you sometimes get the prize: a full, accessible roster of images-- as is the case for daguerreotypes...

Nero, the Barton family dog, c. 1880


from the clipping file

Schematic diagram of computer connections within the New York Public Library system. pre-1994.
note the arcane shapes and lightning bolts
I have always loved unintentionally deformed type. This was a fax gone awry. c. 2000
I used to have a very unusual photographer friend named Daniel who would send random photographs to my office fax, unannounced. This is Mannheim, 1994. Interaction with him was a series of non-sequiturs. 
A dot matrix printer, possessed. Retrieved from wastebasket, c. 1992. Not only was the text static-y and sprinkled with random tiny symbols, it apparently printed much larger than commanded to and ran right off the right side of the 8.5 x 11 paper.


"a child with an explosive" and other greetings of the Day

July fourth imagery from the New York Public Library Digital collection.
The tot directly above is identified as "Advertisement for Burr McIntosh monthly magazine that depicts a child with an explosive and a calendar of the month of July." The c. 1920 hooligans at top are "boys stuffing gunpowder into a toy canon." Eesh.


ancient memories

A couple of days ago I visited the venerable Museum of Natural History. Caught between appointments with too much time to kill, I decided to see the Silk Road exhibition. It had quite a bit of really provocative information and was quite a show-stopper of an installation—I may eventually write something on it here, but this post isnt about that. It's about a somewhat sidelined hallway mural on the fourth floor. In a niche at the end of one of the dinosaur galleries is the 25 foot tall Flying Reptiles by Constantin Astori (1889-1975). A Russian artist who came to New York in 1923, Astori worked for the Smithsonian and the Cooper Hewitt as a restorer. The American Museum of Natural History commissioned him to paint a mural in 1940, and Flying Reptiles is signed 1942.

Oddly, as soon as I saw it, it was familiar to me from a very early, distant memory, although I had no specific childhood recollection of it. Perhaps it was reproduced in one of my books on dinosaurs (an avid interest circa ages 5 through 10)? In doing a little armchair research I rediscovered another very familiar mural: the magnificent Age of Reptiles by Rudolph Zallinger. (Interestingly, like Astori, Zallinger was a Russian, from Siberia). Age of Reptiles is a massive 110 foot long fresco panorama completed in 1947 at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. (I'm ashamed to say in my 4 years in New Haven I never did get over to the Peabody—I intend to go in August.) The mural was reproduced in several dinosaur books in the late 60s/ early 70s and that's how I know it.
Age of Reptiles (detail) Rudolph Zallinger
Zallinger was by far the better draftsman but there is something I love about Astori's Flying Reptiles. Somehow, his mural conveys "Lair of the Zorgons on planet Rilor" in a loopy science fiction sort of way, rather than "speculative view of life on prehistoric earth." Its a bit humorous (see the pterosaur antics in the details above) and I half expect to see a Maxfield Parrish nymph perched one of the rocks, nevertheless I'm simply drawn into that fabulous compositional spiral toward an ancient technicolor sunset.


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