The Park Avenue Armory

Looking up (and around, to some extent) in New York City often means one of two things: Concrete asphyxiation or various kinds of prohibitive ceilings. For tall people like me, it’s even worse. Space is something that doesn’t come easy. That’s why there’s a sudden feeling of displacement when walking into the Park Avenue Armory’s 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall, a massive art hangar that functions as the wide-open heart of one of the city’s most fascinating destinations for history and culture.

While it’s not one of the Seven Wonders of the World, there is this who the hell built this? feeling when you walk in and also how on earth is this joint in New York City? According to the stats on its site, The Armory was built in 1861 by volunteer militia in response to Lincoln’s call for troops. This was no ordinary militia, however, and included names like Vanderbilt and Roosevelt. This explains why you feel a bit royal when attending an event here or cascading around the elegant period rooms. Fittingly, the space was used as both a military facility and a social club. One can only wonder.

These days, it’s all about the art. Some of the most progressive and groundbreaking composers and artists perform, exhibit, create installations, and hold talks at the Armory. The Armory has been used as a playground to feature the works of John Cage, Meredith Monk and Janet Cardiff. And why not? It does hold one of the largest “unobstructed spaces” in the city.

Explore the Under Construction Series this month and soprano and Artist-in-Residence Lauren Flanigan’s unique take on opera. There are also antique shows and art fairs and tours (if you book in advance) of the ins and outs and tremendous fanfare of the Armory. When events are open to the public and you have a ticket, you’re free to roam the first floor. This is my favorite way to take in a space. I like to ramble and romanticize and glance into a framed gaze, some distant stately mug perhaps, and lean over and whisper little secrets to my new friend. Things like do you come here often? or, more likely, I like the fact that I can experience these alternative arts and I’m not among the super wealthy or elite like you, my friend. Does it bother you that I’m here? Thankfully, the mug does not respond. armoryonpark.org.

alan semerdjian

Alan Semerdjian is a writer, musician, English teacher, and occasional visual artist. Besides LI Pulse, his work has appeared in Newsday, Adbusters, Chain, The Lyric Review and numerous other print and online publications, anthologies, and chapbooks. His first full-length book of poetry is In the Architecture of Bone (Genpop Books 2009). You can visit him digitally at alanarts.com and find out about his music at alansemerdjian.com.