On the Art Gallery

DSC_03531 building, 8 hours in line, hundreds of young Parisians, Tour Paris 13. Defined by its founders as a gallery –alas one of modern art–tour Paris 13 along with the recent residency of Banksy in New York heralds in a new era in the spaces for the public consumption of art. No longer is the general populous restricted to the confines of museums (or smaller galleries) in the viewing of art, but any venue the artist feels fit can be transformed to a space to house art and most importantly, receive praise and popularity by the general art-going public. The space of a museum, once indeed sacred as a domain given over to the idea of presenting art, is facing competition and conflict. The historical precedent and existent of public art displays–note such profound works as Bernini’s elephant with an obelisk placed atop in Rome–were indeed precedents for this new change in methods of consumption. These, it must be observed, served a different purpose. The construction of the Pantheon or development of walled frescoes, were presented to affirm the power of families or kings or to ascribe religious devotion.

As I strode through the modern art gallery in Liechtenstein, the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein in the nation’s capital of Vaduz, viewing works of Van Gogh and Picasso amongst the throngs of Dadaist and other works, I could not help but lament the death of the art gallery. Days before I had been taken through a space that overwhelmed the viewer with street art. The walls, floor, ceilings were covered in works. Hundreds in line waited for hours upon hours, while now, days later, I strode through an empty gallery. The stimulation, the experience the viewer was thrust into was drastically less exciting and unique as Tour Paris 13. The gallery, must be noted, though profound, was in a tiny capital of a tiny state and thus received an even tinier viewership.

As I continued to view gallery after gallery within Europe, I soon realized the art gallery is not dead. After trips to the Louvre once again or striding through the Venice Biennale I realized the traditional architectural space for presenting art was alive and well, though the artists’ utilization of the space was indeed evolving. Note the use of a horizontal pillar in the Russian pavilion transformed by the Russian conceptualist artist Vadim Zakharov into a form reminiscent of a saddle with a performer atop.


There have always, since the advent of street art and modern graffiti in the fourth quarter of the 20th century, public art for the general populous to consume. The large installation pieces of Claes Oldenburg are a clear testament to even the public display of more “conventional” works of modern art—if there is such a convention. Also one must note the large works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. However, within the past couple months, I shall argue, we have seen the advent of a newfound popularity of these new spaces for the consumption of art. Banksy’s “first” show of street art in Gallery 33 ½ in Los Angeles years ago was the start in the newfound public popularity of these alternative art scenes. Though Keith haring is the first street artist to receive internal acclaim, Banksy is the first to present his art in a format other than the street. This is coupled with the ubiquitous Obey logo of Shepard Fairey. The urban street—any space within an urban center—is a valid area for an artist to present ones art and receive critical appraisal. A transition is present as well from a street artist spewing ones work into the publics eyes, but rather through organized means in lines with municipal regulations. At the same time the presentation of works by such artists as Shepard Fairey in the Museum of Modern Art or Smithsonian is a sign of this increased legitimacy.

This urban art is no longer restricted to those intensively following the art scene, but by all those with an interest in art or even those looking for the newest craze. This public popularity is granting a newfound legitimacy to street art. These spaces for public viewership are elevating street art from a sign of degradation and vagrant municipalities to respect akin to that of any other avant-garde art. The changing space is indeed granting a newfound legitimacy in the eye of the public to the art of such figures as Banksy or Space Invader. We are at a period of pivotal transition. The newfound legitimacy of street art to the general public is indeed profound for the art community.

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In the Footsteps of the ‘génération perdue’

I have taken a brief hiatus from writing due to a lack of inspiration and conflict on the direction my writing shall take. After my trip to Paris, my mind is made up.


Winding streets, cars rushing by, café upon café. I shall join the throngs of Americans captivated by the city of lights. As I peddle through the streets, I am overtaken by happiness in the romance of the streets, the people, the food—and even the dogs. Paris is a city of leisure, and of discovery. Around every corner, behind every park, Parisians decadently sip their coffees and eat pastries, often book in hand. At their feet rest crumpled bags overfulowing with freshly baked baguettes. The bread is in company with fruit and other produce—the figs I sampled, as big as tennis balls, ooze sweetness.

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.,” once wrote Hemingway. I am captivated, alas after 3 days. It is a city of wonder, of romance, of discovery. It will indeed stay with me and I will indeed be back soon and often, perhaps as a resident.

Upon my arrival in Paris I am to trek across the city. I set out to walk, staying true to my urban mantra of discovery through feet and pavement. Yet the walk is too long. I am to be north soon to see the first familiar face not from Europe. As I walk, the Parisians in suits, dresses, and simply stylish clothes peddling their way through the streets enthrall me.

Moments later I peddle through the streets! To feel like a true local is a difficult concept. One can visit the locals’ cafes, shops, and parks, but until one experiences something truly and utterly unique to that city or culture one does not feel like, say a Parisian. As I peddled my way through the city, heavy bag on back, equating it to the feeling Kerouac must have had carrying his 60-pound rucksack through Paris in the 40s, I truly felt Parisian.

In the city for just moments, I felt a sense of belonging. I rode along next to other bikers— unmistakably French, clearly not tourists. Though I may have been lamented a tourist by locals, I felt as If I belonged, that I blended in.

In my trip to Paris, I grew a profound fascination in experiencing Paris as did the Lost Generation. A deep believer in the ideals of those Americans in self-done exile, inspiration for my move to Italy, I traversed the boulevards and paths of the writers, poets, and artists. The most profound experience in linking myself to these heroes was a trip to Shakespeare and Company. Upon entering the sadly now tourist overrun wood paneled bookstore, dressed as I imagine Kerouac and others of the Beats, I asked a young worker for directions to those works by the Beats. Books in hand briefly rummaging through the shelves of the store, brief pauses in his swift maneuvering through the people and shelves, he was reminiscent of young intellectuals in Paris of past generations. Loosely fitting blue oxford, sleeves rolled up this elbows and tucked into his pants. Blonde hair long but neat, combed to the side hanging over the edge Upon further investigation, it appeared he was from Britain, an expat living in Paris. We spoke briefly on Kerouac and I asked if he was aware of the chief influences on the writer.

He brought me through the store and handed me Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson. “I have heard of the author, but in a different context and have never read this work,” I embarrassingly spoke as I retreated backwards. He stated with pride, but a subtle distance, that this work had inspired him to travel. Though a brief, subtle moment—alas a moment of connection—it was a time of real connection and humbleness. I do not know the story of this man—whether he was a writer living in Paris earning a modest sum working in this shop as I romanticized. But I do know that an expat in Paris sharing the very work that inspired his life adventure was a profound moment. He handed me the book, “If you trust me, get it.” I swiftly walked out of the store tote in hand, with the works of R. L. Stevenson, London, and Hemingway (It is said that Hemingway used books exclusively from this shop in Paris, I would’ve felt unfilled if I had not left with at least one work by the author). I left the store smiling, feeling accomplished and fulfilled. Just on the journey home alone I nearly finished the work by London. I am saving the exploits of R. L. Stevenson for a time of tranquility.

The Louvre, external beauty by night, internal beauty by day. “Miles and miles of hiking before great canvasses,” once wrote Kerouac. “Thousands of clearly defined figures with swords and above them the calm mountains, trees on a hill, clouds…” he continued professing his enamor with Brueghel’s masterpiece Battle of Arbelles. The beauty and surreal space—the Louvre itself—is the real treasure. Run past the Mona Lisa, even past the Egyptian wing. Happen upon the hidden treasures of architecture and discreet works. Vermeer’s L’astrologue! The softness of the figure transcends photographs. It is purer than reality, untarnished by blemishes and faults of the natural and manmade world. Jan Van Eyck, never has existed an artist of such precision and skill. The one work, in a room all my own, unassuming, clashing against a tan tasteless wall, presents Van Eyck’s wonderful mastery of perspective. It is a window to the Dutch landscape, one that fails to end.

As I depart from my company for the night I head to the Arc de Triomphe. I traverse the underground passage and as I arise from the ground am overtaken by the massive structure. Alone with the eternal flame of Paris and the arc, save two officers and two girls, gorgeous Parisians, casually sitting and smoking on the arc’s side. I feel at peace. It is odd indeed. In the heart of Paris, an area traveled by thousands of tourists, surrounded by speeding cars, it is a moment of surreal contemplation and merging with the city. Alas, for a brief moment I feel that I understand Paris. But that moment is fleeting as reality sets in. Spoiled by cars honking and tourists’ cameras flashing.

I travel down the tourist overrun Rue Bonparte to Ladurée. Save the handful of filled tables in the café, the counter is empty. The pastries I devoured were fantastic, but what was most memorable was the man I met manning the counter. With a starchiness and formality he takes my order—simply a canelé and three macarons, off his recommendations. As the store is all but empty we begin to chat. He commences the exchange beyond formal customer and salesman by asking of my origins. As the words New York leave my lips, his face lights up. His blue childish eyes and childish face glean with joy and excitement. A distinctly French face, it had the softness and kindness of a young child. His expression, of such joy, was simply reminiscent of a child upon entering a place of wonder—whether that be a candy or toy store. He tells of his trip to the city months earlier. I profess my love of Paris. He laughs. I leave the store and sit eating as I stare at the Arc de Triomphe.

Paris has inspired me to write. I have written draft after draft, paragraph after paragraph for posts over the past weeks. Each one feels unconvincing, whether not true or simply boring. I write when I am inspired, never simply to write. Paris gave more than I could ever hope to write about. A lifetime in Paris, a year in Paris, even a month in Paris will simply be live changing.


Photoblog: Pope Francis’ Vigil for Peace in Syria

On September 7, 2013 Pope Francis held a vigil in Vatican City to pray for peace in Syria. Along with one of my roommates, Kevin, I visited this vigil. The experience was profound with what must have been thousands maybe even tens of thousands of people packed into St. Peter’s Square. Many  were on their knees, with others sitting in solemn prayer. I spotted several members of the Franciscan Order in addition to numerous priests and nuns. In the following photos I attempted to capture the mood and feel of the event. I have pictures of both the pope and of people in the square.









Ciao From Roma


The courtyard in the center of my building

Ciao From Roma! More specifically from the beautiful courtyard in the center of my building.

I have landed in Roma! The ancient city has not disappointed. In just two days I have stumbled upon the body of a dead saint, witnessed castello di sant’angelo as the sun rose on my morning jog, followed a nun into a hidden underground chapel, and awkwardly drank a cappuccino surrounded by suited Italians on either side.

Mumbling my way through the shops of Trastevere I have eaten a piece of Lazio’s best percorino romano from antica chucaro. The shop’s Ricotta Fresca is perhaps the best cheese I have ever had. Slightly sweet, firm, but melting in your mouth, it is cheese worthy of popularity in Roma.

I have visited this tiny but acclaimed shop every day I have been in Rome. Each day I purchase one item—whether it is salume or formagii. I am already acquainted with the owners, an older couple. As the wife is the only one of the pair who speaks English, I have been forced to utilize a language combining hand gestures and Italian. The friendliness of Italians is incredible. Upon visiting restaurants I speak of my experience cooking and specific interest in Italian cooking. I have received contact information for chefs and have even been invited to learn techniques by a few (I plan to start trying to find a job in a matter of days).

The cafés (what we call espressos) have not disappointed. Having one perhaps two (fine, maybe three) in a day, I have tasted them at many of my neighborhood shops. Standing at the counter as the Romans do, I have drunk my café, glass of water, and morning pastry (it seems a stuffed croissant is the favorite of Romans).

After my breakfast I walk amazed through the ancient streets, visiting sites—whether famed sites overrun by tourists or churches I share with only a nun. Perhaps the most exciting experience in terms of history was in the crypt of the Church of Saint Cecila in Trastevere. A 5th century church, it is home to great works by such artists as Pietro Cavillini. A profound church with an even more profound courtyard, the most memorable moment occurred when I visited the crypt.

With a clearly outlined path for visitors once one takes the stairs underground, I followed seeing what appeared to be quite early works. As I walked through this underground crypt (be mindful that it is for arguments sake empty except for me, a friend, and a nun in all white), I stumble upon a gate that opens into what is perhaps one of the most fantastic rooms I have ever seen. Spending what felt to be an hour (but what was probably only moments) looking at each and every work covering the walls and ceiling of this room, a nun comes walking in. After conversing briefly on our —in an attempted Italian—my friend and I leave. Coming back minutes later and other days this gate remains locked, sealing off this room from the world.


The chapel hidden below the 5th Century Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere


Santa Cecilia in Trastevere

At times I simply wander through the streets of Rome. As I walk under the hot Mediterranean sun I see glimmers of hope in the way of famed or intriguing structures peering through the cracks between buildings. As I wondered through Rome with no destination or goal in sight—other than to lose myself to history—I stumbled upon sight after sight. First the Pantheon, then Piazza Novono, followed by a brief walk along the Tevere. Finally, after a walk up the Fiume Tevere I stumble upon the Vatican (In all honesty I followed the tip of St. Peters, using it as my true North). Other days I traveled from the Spanish steps to the Piazzo del Popolo into Galoppatolo and finally to Castel Sant Angelo. There is indeed no better way to understand a city than to simply walk and run its streets.

pantheon peaking

Witnessing the Pantheon peaking through buildings after walking for some time

As I am a foodie, I must comment on the food of Rome. In all honesty I have not been impressed by the finer meals in Rome, but rather by the quality of cheaper food. It is said good food is accessible in New York, but in Rome the freshness and quality of the food at each and every place I have been has far surpassed even finer places in the U.S.. There are around 5 cheap cafes or pizza places within walking distance from my apartment. Each and every place would become a local favorite in NYC.

Pizza Bianco or other traditional Roman pizzas are mere pennies costing around 3 euros for enough to constitute a full meal. A morning pastry and café or cappuccino costs a simple 2 euros. A trove of vegetables from the fields of Lazio at the morning market cost a mere five euros. Guanciale, cured pork’s jaw rare in NYC  (I have only found it at very specific Italian food markets), is sold in mass at common supermarkets. Coppa is sliced and packaged as is prosciutto—with a choice of prosciutto di san daniele or parma—as cheap as processed sliced meats in the U.S..

However, eating out for pasta or other foods I have failed to be impressed. Though often good, the sauces are disappointing. I must profess, though, that the bite of the homemade pasta (which is indeed present at nearly all restaurants I have been no matter the price) is impressive.

I have spent the first week in some ways living as a tourist. I simply understand Rome on the surface. However, as I begin to develop a general routine by visiting the same shops—from my morning café to drinks at night—I will begin to (I hope) act and live as the Italians.

I feel as though that only one week into this experience I am learning more than I have in four years of high school or would in four years of college. I have learned self-sufficiency, traveling through a city with no map in hand at times (Google maps does not work here on my phone), and failing to speak the language I am forced to adapt.

The bells of the church across the street are ringing so I will take that s a cue to finish up. By now I have moved to my porch and have watched the little foot traffic that my tiny street gets. I am amazing by Roma each moment. As I finishing up my post I see what looks to be a Roman ruin flanked by a Renaissance structure across the street. Ciao for now…


Trastevere, The Ancient Neighborhood

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There is a little less than a week before I depart for Rome, trading the skyscrapers and rushed streets of New York for the ancient streets of Rome. As of last week, I have confirmed the neighborhood I shall be living in: the famed Trastevere. Oft heard at the start of conversations when speaking of my upcoming trip to Rome is “You must go to Trastevere!!”

Once a working class neighborhood, it is now a thriving area home to some of the best Rome has to offer in the way of food, culture, history, and yes, it is indeed the center of Rome’s nightlife. From fellow expats I hear it is swamped with tourists, there for the rustic winding streets by day and thriving bar and club scene by night (the area set the stage for Woody Allen’s movie on Americans in Rome entitled To Rome With Love).

Though I may not find the love Woody Allen’s characters continually strive for, I hope to have an equally exciting and surprising experience. As an intrepid American, I plan to get lost in the neighborhoods vibrant history and culture. Home to countless sights of note, I hope to stumble upon them all.

I most look forward to discovering the Tempietto, a surreal garden with a tomb reminiscent of the center structure in Luciano Laurana’s Ideal City. Located in the church of San Pietro in Montorio, the central tomb is a 16th century structure designed by Renaissance architect Donato Bramante marking the very spot of St. Peter’s martyrdom.

Along with visiting this site, I shall run along the Fiume Tevere (otherwise known as the Tiber River) every morning and bike the cobbled streets of my neighborhood. I will visit the farmers market in the Piazza Santa Maria, shopping for the finest produce, meat, and fish from all of Lazio. Just blocks from the Piazza, I am also living across the street from San Crisogono, a 17th church dedicated to St Chrysogonus.

When in Rome, I will outline these sites among many others in much more depth with the inclusion of pictures. I still do not know the shape this blog will take, but I do now believe it will include the intersection between Rome’s  history and food. 

A brief plug: follow me on twitter https://twitter.com/newyorktorome


About Me

Brought up by a father in search of New York’s perfect Cappuccino (he still hasn’t found it) and a mother in love with pasta, I grew a fondness for Italian culture (fine, Italian food) at a tender young age. Through my years in high school this fascination took hold and shaped my interests and thoughts.

I am finally getting to attempt to live as the Italians do–sipping dark bitter espressos in the morning and eating eight course meals by nights–traveling to Rome for four months before attending Columbia University in fall 2014. I will write of my life in Rome—from my many foodie adventures (I can assure you, I will experience and write about the best of Rome’s food), my continued personal attempts at Italian cooking, with an emphasis on homemade pasta, and my journey through the art, architecture, and general history of Rome.

I am an aspiring chef as well, having spent the past summer working on the line at a restaurant in New York’s East Village. On landing in Rome I will travel door to door attempting to find a job in a small Italian kitchen.

In all honesty I have no idea the direction this blog will take. I may focus on food, on history, on me, but I can assure you, the blog will chronicle Rome seen through the eyes of a New Yorker. It will be no frills, fast-paced, and to the point. As the tag line for the blog goes, the ancient city as only a New Yorker can experience it.


Spencer E. Cohen

Blogging is done independently, but I am also a student Travel Blogger for Aspire by API meaning that certain posts will appear on the organization’s site.