The "Big Apple Fest" must die! (Globe & Mail this time)

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Sun Aug 15 00:42:25 UTC 2004

"Some say the account is apocryphal, but Big Apple Fest organizers stand behind it." IT'S AN ADMITTTED HOAX!

This begging before every single goddamn person and every single goddamn institution in this city for twelve years sure paid off, didn't it?

The web site did a lot of good, right?

Those African American stablehands are gonna be honored some time before hell freezes over, right?

--Barry "the torture NEVER ends, and no one will ever pay me for this, and I'll never win an award, and no one will ever love me, and I'll do parking tickets in the room without air in the Bronx forever" Popik

Weekend Review

What would Madam Eve think? As it prepares to play host to 250 large, plastic symbols of good health, SIMON HOUPT looks into how New York got its famous nickname, and whether the Big Apple Fest is likely to bear genuine artistic fruit

1,135 words
14 August 2004
The Globe and Mail
All material copyright Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. or its licensors. All rights reserved.

New York NY

Somewhere, a bordello madam is rolling in her grave.

Anyone who doubts that New York has entirely cleansed itself of any remaining whiffs of ill repute need only wander the streets of Manhattan over the next 2½ months. In an echo of the moose that littered downtown Toronto four years ago, almost 250 large acrylic apples will dot the streets of New York until the end of October as part of an explosion of street art called Big Apple Fest.

There will be apple-shaped orbs painted with heroic firefighters or Broadway stars, jazz musicians, or the Today Show cast; others adorned with icons of 42nd Street, images of Central Park, Manhattan skyscrapers, or UPC bar codes encrypted with anecdotes about New York. Some apples will be clear acrylic, stuffed with small sculptures such as bulls and bears (for Wall Street), or painted, stuffed fish. They will crop up at tourist spots including Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and the South Street Seaport.

“I think they're awesome,” said Lynn Harpham of Houston, peering with her husband and two children into the Big Apple Fest Midtown Orchard, a temporary storefront artists' studio space on Fifth Avenue at 44th Street. (Another orchard is located at the South Street Seaport.) “They're really creative looking, and I think art in the street is great.”

All of this is in the name of charity and civic rejuvenation. At the end of the festival, the apples will be auctioned off, and the proceeds donated to three New York charities.

It seems, in retrospect, a head-slappingly obvious conceit. The apple is the official fruit of New York State, it is indigenous to the region, and New York is known as the Big Apple. It is, further, a symbol of good health (“an apple a day”), innocence (“apple-cheeked children”) and America itself (“mom and apple pie”).

“This is very family-friendly art,” beamed Jon Clay, the co-founder and managing director of the festival, standing last week in the midtown orchard while a half-dozen artists worked on their apples, which are 1.3-metres in diameter.

All of this prompts the question: What exactly is the root of New York's tag as the Big Apple? And could it have anything to do with the approbation, ‘How about them apples?' ”

Jazz aficionados point to the use of the phrase ‘the big apple' by black musicians, to refer to New York gigs in the 1930s. Horse-racing fans can go back a couple of decades earlier, when a reporter for the Morning Telegraph heard the phrase around the tracks.

But the explanation that precedes them all goes back to the early 19th century, possibly 1803 or 1804, when a certain Mlle. Evelyn Claudine de Saint-Evremond established a salon on the Lower East Side — then a well-regarded residential neighbourhood — for discerning gentlemen.

The anglicized version of her name was Eve, and she apparently boasted of her “apples,” her many girls on hand, that tempted men from afar. It is said that Eve and her apples helped New York earn the dubious distinction of being the American city with the highest per-capita concentration of houses of ill repute.

Some say the account is apocryphal, but Big Apple Fest organizers stand behind it. Still, it's probably best not to lead with that explanation when speaking with those who believe New York is now the Disney World of the Northeastern United States.

A family of four from North Carolina that wandered into the midtown orchard last week, only three hours after stepping off the plane from Charlotte, pronounced the idea of oversized apples scattered through the streets of New York to be “cool.” They cooled considerably when told of the bordello anecdote, then excused themselves.

Still, they were gracious enough to point out that Charlotte had a similar festival of public art three years ago called Chairs on Parade, which featured more than 100 oversized rocking chairs, a nod to both North Carolina's furniture industry and Whistler's mother, who was born in the state.

Other similar festivals include the original 1999 Cow Parade in Chicago (which was itself inspired by a display of 800 fibreglass cows in Zurich); Seattle's Pigs on Parade (2001); the Big Pig Gig (2000) in Greater Cincinnati, Ohio, and northern Kentucky; the Festival of Fins (2000) in New Orleans, La.; and St. Paul, Minn.'s tribute to its hometown son, cartoonist Charles Schulz, with Peanuts on Parade (2000).

“I like to see artwork brought back into everybody's daily lives, because art has been removed into institutions,” suggested Montreal-born, Brooklyn-based Naomi Campbell, whose Trading Places apple, intended for Wall Street placement, features sculptures of a bull and a bear, and other images from the financial-services industry.

A few well-known artists are contributing their work, including Cindy Sherman, Dennis Oppenheim and the pop sports artist Charles Fazzino. Their apples will be offered at a Sotheby's auction in the fall, with reserves of $30,000 (U.S.). A total of 60 apples will be auctioned at Sotheby's, with the balance of the fruit selling on-line at a site to be determined.

For most of the other artists, who receive a stipend of $1,500, the festival is an opportunity just to get their work seen. “I've been selling these fish for about 10 years,” said Drew Allen, waving at a clear apple full of painted, stuffed fish he'd brought from his home in Tulsa, Okla.

“It's time to crack open the New York market.” Many artists paint their e-mail or website addresses on the apples.

The idea of apples may strike some as awfully literal for a city that prides itself on being above that sort of thing. After all, if Whistler's mother had been born on the Lower East Side, it is unlikely that New York streets would be clogged with rocking chairs.

“Correct,” the festival's Clay reluctantly acknowledges. “The apple itself is literal, but when you see all the designs over it, it isn't very literal at all.”

Leah Glushien, a young, Toronto-based artist who painted an apple with a bold, white mark that evokes the shine line incorporated into two-dimensional drawings of fruit, thinks the apple fest makes more sense than Toronto's moose invasion. “New York is nicknamed the Big Apple,” she offers, “whereas Toronto is not called the City of Moose.”


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