On the morning of Monday, Oct. 3, amid the usual Astor Place cacophony of whizzes, hums, clanks, beeps and shouts, a truck carrying six men and five very heavy and very Zen boxes pulled up to the converted Carl Fischer building on Cooper Square. The men schlepped the goods upstairs into an astonishing and just-completed traditional Japanese farmhouse, which had been elegantly stuffed into one of the building’s sprawling loft spaces.
Inside the building—at which the penthouse was listed, last year, at $7 million—the movers cursed to high heaven. The boxes contained something resembling every deliveryman’s worst nightmare: big rocks.
These rocks, though, had been handpicked for shape, character and energy from the Uba River in the Sierra Nevada mountains by Shigeru Namba and his employer, Paul Discoe. Mr. Discoe is an architect, as well as a Soto Zen priest. His works include a number of Buddhist landmarks in the Bay Area and now the “dojo at Cooper Square”—as some visitors have labeled it—which he owns with his wife.
Mr. Namba, who is a master rock setter, began giving life to his first rock garden in Manhattan.
“Maybe my last,” joked the ruggedly handsome and compact 54-year-old. He has been artfully placing rocks for going on 30 years. The last 10 of those have been largely dedicated to landscaping Oracle C.E.O. gazillionaire Larry Ellison’s recently completed 60-acre, $200 million Japanese-style compound in Woodside, Calif.
“I think that the stones are living things. I want to give them their life back,” Mr. Namba said.
Basalt rocks, you may be interested to learn, are igneous rocks, about 50 percent silica and high in magnesium and iron. They are also extremely dense—the largest of the five rocks delivered weighed more than 600 pounds. They also frequently possess the calming qualities that Mr. Namba said he looks for in a good stone.
The rocks were undoubtedly less expensive to buy than to ship across the country, as they only fetch $200 a ton. Mr. Discoe and Mr. Namba had purchased 3,500 tons for use at Mr. Ellison’s. “It’s the trained eye for character in a rock that makes all the difference,” said Mr. Discoe.
Rock gardens in general are meant to create a sense of calm and comfort, according to Mr. Namba. They are also generally outside, but he said indoors “is O.K. too.”
“It’s a very soothing place,” offered Jose Diaz, a contractor who helped with the yearlong remodel of the space and led the team of brawny movers. “When the guys walked in they were like, ‘Wow, this place don’t belong here.’”
“The guy obviously had the whole thing mapped out in his mind,” said Mr. Diaz of Mr. Namba. Mr. Diaz noted that when one of the movers altered the position of a stone by “like a quarter of an inch,” Mr. Namba sensed an imperfection and ordered the stone be repaired to its right position. Getting the stones just right had taken the movers several hours.
Mr. Namba had, in fact, mapped things out beforehand. He had created an identical frame to work from in the Bay Area, where he resides.
But in situ, Mr. Namba’s canvas is roughly a 12-by-20-foot sandbox, for lack of a better word, in the middle of the loft. An elevated walkway, called an engawa (which is usually at least partly outdoors, or a bridge from the indoors to outside), surrounds the garden, which is filled with pebbles, not sand. Five stones now nestle in those pebbles.
In one corner sits the largest of the stones, with a smaller one nestled beside it. “They are like mother and baby,” said Mr. Namba. In the opposite corner rest the remaining three, a group of “brothers” differing in shape but not drastically in size. Aside from creating “good harmony” by uniting stones that enjoy each other, the energy created in the space is also important, said Mr. Namba.
“To move one of the stones after it has been set would be like changing the nose on a Picasso,” said Mr. Discoe.
His views are shared by the other family members. “If, down the road, the property is ever left in my care, I vow never to disrupt Shigeru’s vision,” says Tim Hatch, Mr. Discoe’s stepson and founding member of the New York–based cult band Muscular Christians. “I know better than to mess with ninjas.”
Mr. Hatch, 28, gets a kick, incidentally, out of listening to the sweet sounds of fellow musician Norah Jones, who no longer resides in her famously humble Williamsburg digs. Now she jams in her new apartment, directly upstairs.
In stark contrast to your run-of-the-mill coffeehouse Zen groupie, Mr. Namba and Mr. Discoe are not prone to long discourses on the glory of the Buddha and karma and all that. But both radiate a kind of inner peace that had The Transom dreamily gazing eastward, past the river, to a faraway land where men in fine robes are content to sit and drink tea and think of nothingness. But Mr. Namba, it turns out, actually dedicated his early years to studying karate. After breaking all the bones in both of his hands, he said, and realizing he could not be “number one,” he turned to the art of rock gardens.
And with the “dojo,” Mr. Discoe has realized a lifelong dream and recreated the farmhouse in which he once lived in the mountains of Japan. He has allowed for certain compromises, of course. Metal pipes substitute for bamboo. Downtown cityscapes stand in for a view of nature.
“It’s a blend of the traditional and the modern,” said Mr. Discoe. He says that the Eastern architectural philosophy is “more based on feeling,” the primary objectives being flexibility and comfort. As an example, he points to the various shoji screens that divide the rooms—or, of course, don’t. The floor is lined with tatami mats that can double as mattresses.
Mr. Discoe agreed, when asked, that they would also be suitable for wrestling.
The architect had a few tips for the amateur rock gardener who might like to get something started in an East Village railroad or an uptown townhouse. “Shape and placement are more important than size. It doesn’t have to be large, but it does have to be friendly.”
“Find the best angle of the face,” added Mr. Namba.
For those fearful of looking a rock in the eye and judging its character, the doctor is just a phone call and a plane ticket from the Bay Area away. “I would come back to work in New York. I love the energy. The people there have good energy.”
Oh, You Two
The photographer Anton Corbijn, in jeans and a T-shirt and blazer, leaned against a gallery wall. He was surrounded by his own photographs, nearly all of which displayed Bono’s stubble. He seemed uncomfortable with all of the attention. “It’s too many people watching me instead of my work,” he confided.
Aww. Then perhaps he’d like to fire his publicist? Or, really, to be fair, it’s probably Mr. Bono’s publicist he should want to fire: While the P.R. gang for the opening of Mr. Corbijn’s exhibition was ever-professional, one sensed a bit of pent-up celebrity-wrangling rage behind their eyes as they bargained with the other publicists. (At least now they know how it feels for the rest of us!)
The handful of reporters who were allowed into the gallery—which will not even be named here because, well, fuck this whole scene—were instructed not to talk to any of the celebrity attendees. Then the reporters were told they could talk to maybe a few people, but definitely not the band.
“The band,” of course, was U2, Mr. Corbijn’s frequent—only?—subject.
The event was, oddly, open to the public, and the press were solicited. Outside, that public, composed of masses of Bonomaniacs, had to wait for several hours to enter, their pale little faces pressed against the window. Hush, plebes! The boldface names—Michael Stipe and Gina Gershon and Orlando Bloom and Kate Bosworth and the Edge alike—needed their quiet time together.
At least there was good ol’ conceptual prankster Jeff Koons.
“I’m enjoying Chelsea,” said Mr. Koons. “At first I didn’t enjoy Chelsea so much, but I’ve been enjoying Chelsea. I love every part of the city.”
And how did the supremely money-wise artist learn to stop worrying and love the gallery district? “Well, it’s always in flux—and eventually they will be moving out, because there’s a lot of real-estate speculation.”
The Chelsea Shuffle
This new art season brings the greatest real-estate shuffling yet in West Chelsea’s short and hyperactive life as gallery-land.
The dealer Susan Inglett “lasted,” she said, “until the bitter end in Soho” before she came to Chelsea. But now she’s taking the real plunge into Chelsea commitment. “We are building a 4,000-square-foot property under the High Line on 24th Street,” said the dealer. “It will include a rare-book store run by David Platzker.” The new location will open in fall of 2006.
Sara Meltzer Gallery, once down on 20th Street in a LOT-EK-designed space, has equally grand plans for a new home at 525-531 West 26th Street. “It’s the fourth and fifth floor, it’s a penthouse space,” Ms. Meltzer said. “It has a skylights and double-height ceilings and even outdoor space. It’s significantly larger—it’s about 4,500 square feet. We expect to open in January 2006.”
(The Transom, incidentally, used to sneak in to eat lunch in that space while it was under construction, and we can testify to its airy, modernist, bachelor-pad grandeur.)
Why the move, Ms. Meltzer? “Our lease ran out and we were not given a renewal option. We were subletters in the space is pretty much all I would like to say about it.” Ms. Meltzer was quick to join the Chelsea mantra—undoubtedly true, in her case. “Business has been great! It’s busier than ever.”
Ms. Meltzer’s longtime neighbor, Andrew Kreps, also recently hopped one street over to 21st Street himself, to a three-story space where he’s partying down with guest curators.
Of course, some moves are shorter than others: Richard Desroche, co-owner of CRG, which is on the third floor of a Dia-owned gallery building on West 22nd Street, told us, “We are planning on moving to the second floor next year.” The second floor? But, hey, mister, that’s Marianne Boesky’s gallery!
“We bought a parking lot on 24th Street, and we’re building a new building,” said Ms. Boesky. That lot is located between the High Line and Barbara Gladstone’s gallery. “Deborah Berke is the architect. It will be two stories, and it’ll be beautiful.” Ms. Boesky vowed to be in the new gallery by next summer. And her new castle is her home, apparently: “The second floor will be a caretaker’s apartment that we’re going to live in.”
And recently, one of the summer’s biggest (and worst-kept) real-estate secrets in Chelsea finally unraveled. John Connelly, of John Connelly Presents, told us over the summer that he “can’t give specifics about moving,” although he noted that he hoped to settle in a new Chelsea location in November. Foxy Production, former Williamsburgers who have a tiny, closet-sized space on 27th Street, also planned on reopening in November or December of this year, also in Chelsea: “I can’t talk too much about it,” said Michael Gillespie, the owner of Foxy, during summer break.
But a while back, new Chelsea arrival Jill Weinberg Adams, a principal of the gallery Lennon, Weinberg, spilled a bit of the beans: “As a latecomer, I’m surprised by the extent that people talk about real estate all of the time. Where are all those young galleries going to move on 27th Street? Derek Eller, John Connelly: Younger galleries are moving from upper floors to ground floor on 27th Street. Talk about rough edges! Twenty-seventh Street is more where the clubs are, not the galleries. There’s tiny little holes in the wall … and then you’ve got Pace gallery.”
But, ahoy, this group scheme has finally come to fruition! More than 10,000 square feet of the building that formerly housed the Tunnel nightclub, on 27th Street between 11th and 12th avenues, will make a home for those seven dealeries: Clementine Gallery, John Connelly Presents, Derek Eller Gallery, Foxy Production, Oliver Kamm 5BE, Sheri L. Pasquarella and Wallspace. Most hope to open over the winter—many are just beginning to anxiously write checks for their build-outs now.
Of course, there is an easier way. The award for simplest move of the season goes to Sikkema Jenkins & Co., which simply acquired the space next-door to its current 22nd Street location; the gallery’s previous neighbor was American Fine Arts. “We knocked a little hole in the wall and we’re using both spaces,” said Sikkema’s Teka Selman.
And the award for the most-rumored and apparently least-true move goes to 24th Street’s Luhring Augustine and Andrea Rosen, who, it was said around town, were going to cash in on their wise and sprawling real-estate investment.
But a while back, Natalia Mager, the director of Luhring Augustine, told The Transom in no uncertain terms: “That’s not true. Our building is not for sale, and we do not have plans to move. Those two things are wrong. Next question.”
—Raegan Johnson, Anna Lindow, Blythe Sheldon and Choire Sicha