Where is Grant buried? Who is buried at Grant’s tomb? badum—groan.

Eagle, ready to eat, at Grant’s Tomb.

(We’ll get to the answer, but groan….just groan.)

This week the History channel aired a 3 part documentary series on Ulysess S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States. Running 6 hours in total it was chock full of the wonderful facts that you’d want in a documentary.

  1. He didn’t actually have a middle name that began with S.
  2. Kids called him useless. That was mean, and a bit funny.
  3. His family growing up were anti-slavery abolitionists and he married into a slave owning family. His actual family was *not happy.*
  4. He started the Department of Justice.
  5. He wrote his memoirs under great duress while suffering from cancer at the end of his life.
  6. At the time of his death, he was the most popular American in the world.

The documentary is based on Ron Chernow’s 2017 tome on the president who has ended up with a bad rap as being a drunk who did not care about the masses of soldiers who died while he was the Union General during the Civil War. If the success of Hamilton has showed us anything, it’s that Chernow is really good at taking someone who history has maligned or ignored, and turning them into an approachable hero. That seems to be the overarching goal of this series. In true form with the current vibe of people with good sense, it also takes a nice little jab at the Lost Cause school of thought which sought to reimagine the Confederacy and the South as a noble cause. Leonardo DiCaprio is the executive producer and more likely names like Ta-Nehisi Coates and General David Petraeus offer commentary throughout. If you are actually going to devote six hours to this, just know, that like any good media on the Civil War, you will spend way more time than you want involved in military history. Personally, battle history can border on being a bit of a snooze fest. However, if you are going to look at battles, the Civil War is kind of the place to get happy- Antietam; Sherman’s March; Gettysburg; Vicksburg; Wilderness! Seriously, go get jazzed.

For those of us that stuck around because we are into the useless Grant (ha!) facts listed above, digging into the annals of your personal memory gives you some perspective. As someone who is into the idea of historical memory, I could agree with the repeated fact that Grant’s remembered as a drunk. But honestly, I had trouble placing him elsewhere in historical memory except for the fifty dollar bill.$ Then my good good New Yorker sense kicked in and took me back to the oft-repeated random riddle, “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” Monuments after all, are art, and since we can’t think of any fun Grant art, this will have to do.

Mausoleum with flags and buntings –> yes those little semi circles have a name.
Note the symmetry, eagles (added in the 1980s), and dome at top. Classic, for a classic man.

Forgive my ignorance for the remainder of this post. I knew it was a riddle, but I never paid it much mind. Apparently it comes from an old Groucho Marx bit, and guess who wasn’t around to be the target audience for that joke? I thought the object lesson was supposed to be that Grant’s Tomb is uptown. If you’ve moved through that part of Manhattan, you’ve likely seen it. My most vivid memory is parking not too far away for a graduation ceremony, but otherwise it’s one of those large monuments that you can kind of just past and not pay too much attention.

The memorial features an inscription that says “Let Us Have Peace.” These words are taken from his inauguration speech. Poet.

Located at 122nd Street and Riverside Drive in New York, NY the General Grant National Memorial is currently maintained by the National Parks Service. According to their site it is the largest mausoleum in the United States. It was designed by John H. Duncan who is also responsible for the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza. Construction on the tomb was completed in 1897 according to my detailed Wikipedia research. There are classic ionic columns and ever-present Guastavino tile featured inside. Facts that may surprise native New Yorkers who did not take a school trip to the tomb– you can actually go inside when it’s not the middle of a pandemic. And there you will find the answer to the cringiest riddle of them all.

Image of the Sarcophogi of Julia Dent Grant and President Ulysses S. Grant from the National Park Service Manhattan Historic Sites Archive

No one is buried at Grant’s tomb. That’s it. That’s the joke. Grant is not even buried, as it’s a mausoleum. However, he and his wife Julia, are entombed above ground as sarcophagi in the crypt. kw


A more recent art addition to a visit to Grant’s tomb would include a 17 bench public art project entitled The Rolling Bench. God bless the 1970s. The project was by artist Pedro Silva and architect Phillip Danzig and features the art of school children. It was completed over a 3 year period. The benches and the mausoleum don’t match, but it’s lovely for historical periods to speak to each other. Precious. Just precious.

$–> Grant was a president, but Hamilton was not and ended up on U.S. currency. Everything points back to The Wire. Plus points if you know the scene I’m referencing. (tip–> I’m still in the middle of season 2).

kw–> Sarcophagi is the plural of sarcophagus. Kanye may be the only person to have rapped that word.

Issa Pineapple

I am never one to tell someone to stop short of their dreams. Look at these students, who without even thinking had their artwork featured in a museum. As reported on Mashable and other sources, Ruari Gray, a student at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen,Scotland left a pineapple in the museum as a joke. The pineapple ended up on display in a case.


Photo from Dailymail.co.uk

Someone will point to how much this devalues the art world, but what we should focus on here is everyone’s inner artist. Besides, pineapples are welcoming and experiencing a real fashion world moment now (more on that later).

And here’s a Boy Meets World clip where Eric shows off his inner art critic. If you didn’t see a monkey and a coconut, maybe you won’t appreciate the pineapple either.

Space Matters- I love you in a place….

Between the John Boyega and Star Wars awards discussions,  Star Trek reboots, and the casting of Hidden Figures- a movie about African American female mathematicians at NASA from the 1950s through 1980s- it is clear that our cultural fascination with space is not subsiding anytime soon. Space matters. In every intersection from science fiction franchises to STEM careers, the importance of diverse images stands just as it does for television shows or college campuses.

Of course, art is culturally in tune.  Afro-Futurism is becoming more of a household phrase, not one simply used by art world insiders. But of course,  this is not new. Because if the renewed interest depicts anything, it is that people have been about this life.

Example 1:  the illustrations in Blast Off.  This book, published in 1973, beautifully tells the story of a black girl who wants to be an astronaut.

More about these images and details about the work can be found here . Can you imagine how boss this was in the 1970s? It’s still super boss now.

These illustrations were created by the husband and wife team, Leo and Diane Dillon,  whose oeuvre of work is impressive and vast. They broke boundaries as African-American illustrators, wining awards including the prestigious Caldecott Award, the Hugo Award, and the Balrog Award for their commitment to science fiction and fantasy.

Giving credit where credit is due, this amazing work was spotted in Google Cultural Institute, Black History and Culture which they linked to on their homepage earlier this week. Using their pieces, I’ve started my own gallery. While I figure out more pieces to add, think about what gallery you want to create and share it!

Guess Like The Jeans. Flavor Like Pralines.

Of course something like denim has more than permeated pop culture and fashion brand’s influence on the landscape has been well noted. Few brands in the 90s were as noted as Guess. But at this exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology, brands from  several eras  are featured.

Denim is perennial style, and this is a complete timeline of #denimhistory . From original work styles to 70s glam, the exhibit eventually ends with modern styles. I didn’t see JNCO represented, but these Moschinos below gave all the joy a visitor could want.



Moschino Jeans? Dancehall Vibes Anyone? FIT, February 2016



Today, the nation officially honors Christopher Columbus. You can believe the hype. It is true.  In 1492 he sailed the ocean blue. What’s up for debate is the semantics of discovery. Columbus’s arrival to the Americas was one of many events that led to the colonial era which also brought along with it large scale occurrences of  rape, disease, murder, and a number of other maladies in interactions with people who were already settled in the Americas. Europe’s discovery was personal. A number of nations had been chilling in the Americas for years. Columbus kind of  got lost on a boat looking for trade routes, and made good on what could have been a misfortune for Spain.  Then he made hell for other people. The only person who should love him was Queen Isabella. He does not really merit a tribute. ( Neither does misogyny nor drug dealing really, but you know: the only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace. )

So if we’re not honoring Columbus today, we can honor the people he met in the Americas.  The Smithsonian National Museum of The American Indian (NMAI) offers a great place to start getting familiar with their history. If you can’t make it to the physical location,  you can explore a lot of what the museum offers online. Let’s be careful as we construct new commemorations.  In pushing to celebrate Indigenous People, let’s make sure we’re taking into account a well rounded view of the history of those here before us. Trust me when I say it wasn’t all peace pipe smoking, dancing with wolves, or trails of tears. The museum helps you weave through the history with a variety of historical artifacts and interactive exhibits.

Every time I go to DC, I make sincere efforts to get to the NMAI. It’s a great institution. But with the pains and insistence I often exhibit, you would think that I didn’t know about the National Museum of the American Indian-New York. Oh, I know about them alright. They quite perfectly rejected my docent application in high school. But my insistence on visiting the DC branch is not just a function of old resentment. Rather, it is the great promise of fry bread at the DC branch’s cafeteria  that pulls on my cultural heart strings. Consider this my additional endorsement.

Yep, the picture is horrible, but the taste....the taste!

Yep, the picture is horrible, but the taste….the taste!

In my quest for fried pieces of dough, I have had the opportunity to engage with some amazing pieces of contemporary art, historical artifacts, and learn something more about the black Americans who are and are not part Cherokee.  This doesn’t even begin to take into account the wonderful environmental aspect and attention paid to creating realistic feels of various parts of the States throughout the grounds. Today as I reflect on the holiday we’re supposed to celebrate- and yearn for fry bread-I also pause to honor those that were here before us, and whose descendants are still here today.


Of course I pose with the pieces at NMAI. I need to do something to work up the fry bread appetite. (Circa 2009)

Oh and one more thing, we’re calling out Columbus, not Italian culture at large.  So there’s nothing wrong with a parade or zeppole today as well.

I Walk a Lonely Road….

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: The New Fall TV Season. And surprise, surprise visual art once again has its place in the pantheon. Last season, a lot of talk was dedicated to the abundance of Kehinde Wiley and Basquiat work showcased on Empire. But the Lyons family isn’t the only hip hop obsessed family with an eye for art. It turns out Fresh Off the Boat has also been making it’s own statements. Both season one and season two features American art classics reimagined with the Asian American cast for the promos.

The first season channeled American Gothic.

Fresh of the Boat Season 1 Poster. Source: Angry Asian Man

Fresh of the Boat Season 1 Poster. Source: Angry Asian Man

Season 2’s art work is a bit more modern and takes on Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, painted in 1942.

Fresh off the Boat Season 2 Art, Source: Angry Asian Man

Fresh off the Boat Season 2 Poster Source: Angry Asian Man

Because Nighthawks is so accessible it has been used in pop culture often, in everything from The Simpsons to The Tick. Fresh off the Boat’s take is unique because of the explicitness and details of the characters:  a multigenerational Asian American family. While I love this take on the painting, I have to admit my favorite version has always been Gottfried Helnwein’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Perhaps it was being able to easily identify characters that I did not identify with that allowed me to connect with this pop culture infusion of the work.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams Helnwein, 1984

Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Helnwein, 1984 Source: Pinterest

Thanks Hopper for the gift of art that keeps on giving.

The Bronx is Up and Seneca Village was Around

A new play about Seneca Village, a black community that once existed in the modern day Central Park area, has been garnering attention. For one, intellectual America is having a national moment about all things Civil War related. Seneca Village, a community that was vibrant between 1825 and 1867, before being torn down for the Vaux and Olmsted meh park, definitely falls into the category of kind of sort of part of the nation’s forming at the time of the War.  Also,  New York is definitely going through a moment with confronting ideas about gentrification and displacement.

Creative Time Seneca Village Creative Time Seneca Village

Earlier this year, Creative Time along with the Central Park Conservancy presented Drifting in Daylight. They too took time to recognize Seneca Village. Karen Olivier’s piece, HERE AND NOW/GLACIER, SHARD, ROCK was a billboard that made the view contemplate the changes in time with artifacts from Seneca Village and imagery of the current site. The billboard changed as you walked pass, and I was able to capture really cool video. Unfortunately people’s private conversation about spirituality was also captured, so you get my stills. Also, check out Creative Time’s site on the installation here.

Creative Time Seneca Village

Creative Time Seneca Village

The People Before the Park by Keith Josef Adkins; directed by John J. Wooten. 1856 is playing until September 20th at the Kean Theater in New Jersey. More information is available on their website.

The First Starbuck!

So, lots of people admire Starbucks’ wonderfully artsy and inspired siren branding, but where else does the everywhere coffee brand and public bathroom pop up in connection to art? The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) has the answer.

The Wild Bunch , Prepoduction Illustration,  Tyrus Wong

Tyrus Wong is celebrated for his artwork, namely his contribution to movies. While it’s his drawings for Disney’s Bambi that brought him fame, he also did a lot of preproduction sketches for live action movies. This early Starbuck saloon appears in a preproduction sketch for Warner Brother’s The Wild Bunch, released in 1969.

Tyrus has an interesting story which is explained in the exhibit, Water to Paint, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong, which is currently on display at MOCA through September 13th.  If you check it out, also be sure to look at some of the historical information on Chinese-Americans as well as the kites. Because when isn’t it a perfect time to go fly a kite?

Is it the art? Or just the fancy building?

Museum Room View

Interesting read on NPR

“The art world has never been healthier if you measure the intensity of the human experience of what art has to offer,” says Michael Lewis, an art history professor at Williams College. “Glistening new buildings everywhere and the great rise in the subsidiary parts of art museums, the cafe and gift shops — there’s no question that there’s a great allure in the museum world today.”

There’s a but, of course.

In the current issue of Commentary Magazine, Lewis argues that we shouldn’t be fooled by the gleaming appearance of the art world today. He tells NPR’s Scott Simon that most Americans have in fact become indifferent to art.

Read More: http://www.npr.org/2015/08/15/432356563/people-love-art-museums-but-has-the-art-itself-become-irrelevant?