Thursday, April 10, 2008

Team Gallery and Ippudo

Yesterday had two fantastic, new experiences in it that are well worth talking about (and neither one of them was doodoo freakin' everywhere)

The first was the new Ryan McGinley show at Team Gallery. The photos are the result of a massive cross-country trip taken by McGinley with a group of models. Entitled "I Know Where the Summer Goes," (named for an old Belle and Sebastian tune) the show stays true to its name. Part fashion photography (minus the fashion... the models are all nakey), part reportage, and part portraiture/fine-art, the series is a magnificent crystallization and localization of the construct of what it means to be "young."

While the nudity in the photos lends a sexuality to it, this sexuality is kept in check by the seeming naivete and fleeting interests of the models. Whether they confront the camera's gaze or engage themselves in their surroundings, there is a consistent honesty to the models' faces that gives the illusion that the photos are all candid.

And yet none of them are. Each day, McGinley would talk at length with the models about what mood or style he aimed to capture that day. The locations are all his choosing. And yet while some images like "Question Mark," or "Highway" bear the distinct impression of staginess, the raw truths of "Ann (Windy Truck)" and "Coley (Injured)" and countless others far outweigh any reservations one might have.

The photos run the gamut in both size and style. Some come as single or dual color schemes, others are vibrant. Some are tiny, almost 4x5, and others span an entire wall. All in all, the only place that McGinley seems to fail is in his staged surrealities. The most glaring of these is "Dusk Flip Smoke Trip." This photo is a stark departure from the rest of the series, approaching a somewhat contrived fine-art approach to human form and the element of time that is so often confronted by uninspired works. And while images like "Fireworks Hysteric" occasionally reek of the same posed unnecessary special effects budget," they at least attempt poke through the veneer of youth consciousness to get at something honest and bare, and the bodies of naked women flinching in the face of sparks that, presumably, probably kind of hurt at some point, combined with the sprightly, fleeting points of fire dancing in the visual space, cannot be completely discounted.

Small miscalculations aside, "I Know Where the Summer Goes" is a fantastic approach to making static something that is inherently fleeting, in a way that is simultaneously accessible and exciting. I intend to go back for a second viewing.


Following my trip to Team Gallery, I met with Rose for dinner at the brand new Ramen-ya, "Ippudo." The new American location for Tokyo Ramen mogul Shigemi Kawahara, Ippudo is great from the moment you spot its facade on its otherwise thoroughly bland block of 4th Ave. The outside is beautiful, crisp, and darkly alluring, like any good Tokyo Izakaya or Ramen-ya. A blend of glass, wood, and calligraphic signage, the facade is nothing short of alluring.

When you step in, you are greeted by the traditional Japanese, "Irrashaimasse!" and a friendly staff waiting to take your name for what is already a long wait. At 6:30, when I went to put my name down, it was a one-hour-and-twenty-minute wait. And that guess turned out to only be a three minute overestimation. At the bar I had a beer (I was early, waiting for Rose, and was now realizing it would be a while before I could put food in my hungry stomach. So beer seemed the logical choice). There were only two taps - Kirin and Sapporo. But the Sapporo, when I ordered it, turned out to be shot. So I got a Kirin. Halfway through it, the bartender (a sweet young Japanese girl) told me that she'd gotten more Sapporo, and that if I wanted one, it was on her. Ah, the kindness of strangers. Rose arrived, and there was still more waiting to be done, so I eventually took the bartender up on the free beer. Not a moment after saying "I wonder if they called my name already?" did the host yell my name in a beautiful Japanese accent.

Escorted through the dark, mirrored interior by our Japanese speaking guide, Rose and I marveled as the narrow walkway opened up into what could have been the interior of a wooden hut that had been renovated by some contemporary interior designer. It had a blend of Japanese classicism and homey New York cosmopolitan freshness. The chairs we sat at were low, a bare white, more like sofas. My chair only had an armrest on the right, and Rose's only had one on the left, as if they'd taken a small Ikea sofa and cut it in half. The table was a nice, semi-finished wood, and the smell of the place was nothing short of enticing.

I asked the girls next to me what they were attempting to eat (a spicy tofu noodle bowl appetizer) and ordered one for the two of us, as well as the NY special dish, based on the Kawahara/Ippudo special blend from Tokyo. The food came out hot and in perfect installations. We were never out of something to be putting in our mouths, and likewise never overwhelmed by having too many plates at once. The dishes bore the right amount of spices and flavor, the noodles were cooked well, and despite the large serving of the main course, every morsel was eaten gladly and gratefully.

On top of everything, the service is sensational. Everyone who works there is at your service, with no concern for who your "waitor" is. When I asked one woman where the bathroom was, she told me. Another man, the one who had seated us (and who seemed to enjoy my ability to speak a little Japanese), overheard the conversation and guided me to the stairs I needed to take. At our seats, the woman who took our order was different from the man who served us was different from the woman who took our dessert order was different from the guy who took the money for the check was different from the person who gave me my change. Every one of them had a genuine smile plastered on their face, and half of them touched my shoulder gently upon any inquiry. These people are, clearly, there to help.

Nothing is perfect. The music reflected a comical understanding of what music is considered "cool" that seems to be a Japanese tradition. Rage Against the Machine and some post-pop-punk sensation were among the bands played. But, it was low enough (or the house was loud enough with the sounds of happy diners, cooks, and servers) that it wasn't remotely detractive - more a momentary novelty to be commented upon. The dessert we ordered, while elegant, was a bland concoction that combined the matcha flavor of Green Tea ice-cream and creme brulee. Each spoonful (and my God, the spoons were so tiny, they were adorable) posed the same question: "Is this good?"

However, I shouldn't be cynical or snarky. This restaurant is delicious, the environment is fantastic, and the service is excellent. And to top it all off, I walked away totally stuffed, and this fancy feast totaled only $44 dollars between the two of us!

This place has my full endorsement.

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