Of Street Art and Office Cats

Monday was my first day of work, and, while I will save the details of my new job for the next post, suffice to say it was wonderful. I am working in an office where the walls are almost literally made of giant photography books, everyone dresses chic and laughs often, and cats (I kid you not!) roam between the stacks of magazines and boxes of letterhead. Apparently they once belonged to a former director, who left them here when he retired. I am certainly not complaining (they are adorable and fluffy), and though I am hardly a cat person, and have a lamentable tendency to poke and prod them until they hiss at me, I am learning, day by feline day, how to properly interact with my fuzzy new coworkers. The actual work I am doing (second in importance to office cats, of course!) is very interesting and, though we are currently in between issues of the magazine and there is not a ton for me to do, I am loving everything about working here. Stay tuned for more developments!

When I got off at 5:30 on Monday, I walked down the High Line (elevated train tracks on the west side of Manhattan that were converted a few years ago into a pedestrian park, and my favorite place in the city) and through Chelsea Market, where I bought cheap pink champagne and boarded a bus to Union Square. Nick, Sam, and I had a Whole Foods picnic dinner in the park; I told them all about work, my editor and office cats, and they responded with enthusiasm, and said I should probably refrain from poking the cats and taking the piles of beautifully designed stationary that I have been coveting since arriving! I complain sometimes that my friends chastise me like parents, but most often, I am in need of a little parenting (even if it most often comes from sassy boys!)

After dinner, we walked down to the Strand, the most wonderful bookstore in all of New York (seconded only by McNally Jackson in SoHo) and a shamefully recent discovery for me. We wandered between the towering shelves for what seemed like hours, and Sam took me upstairs to see the Art section, which was full of heavy, expensive monographs I lusted after, and smaller, more specialized studies. We found a $7 book on Christo, the land installation artist about whom I wrote my Art History thesis (he wraps monuments and natural structures in fabric, and is probably most famous for “The Gates,” 7,000 saffron arches he and his late wife Jeanne-Claude installed in Central Park in 2005). “These are great,” Sam said, “you should find some way to tear them out and frame them for your apartment.” I agreed—I adore Christo, and the walls of our apartment are tragically bare. But I did not plan to go back to IKEA for weeks, and picture frames from anywhere else are tragically beyond my current intern budget. I bought the book anyway, and we walked out of the door.

Not two doors away from the bookstore, we passed a pile of discarded bookshelves and other furniture, left out on the curb to be taken away. On top of the bookshelf, which was too rickety for me to take home, was a stack of slightly scuffed but otherwise intact wooden picture frames. It was fate! The boys urged me to get over my germaphobia and pick them up (“you’re poor! they’re free!”), and we loaded them into my tote bag and brought them home. Back at their apartment, we scrubbed the frames in windex, sized, cut, and inserted the prints, and then I had my first batch of dumpster-diving apartment art. I hung the prints up in my kitchen, bathroom, and across from my bed, and despite a few nicks and scratches here and there, I think they look pretty perfect. Everything, I am learning, is better when it’s free, and even more so if you discover it yourself.

At first I thought the connection to Proust was rather tenuous at best. Dumpster-diving for cheap art is hardly the past time of a nineteenth century artist or his readers, and honestly, my limited contact with Marcel leads me to believe he would probably have winced and scrubbed his hands at my behavior! But then I started thinking about art, and the fact that it is a constant presence in In Search of Lost Time, referenced directly and by name, painting the margins of the characters’ lives. And I figure somehow Proust would appreciate my homemade apartment art, compiled from pieces of a book, someone else’s refuse, and my best friends’ careful and considered effort. Art, after all, should always have a story. And I tend to think mine is a bit spicier than that of the $4000 prints hanging in the galleries below my office.

At least, until I can afford a real Christo, that is!

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