Animal Sculptures Bring Whimsy to Staid Park Avenue

Story and photos by Simona Taver

Park Avenue will feature animal sculptures by France's Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne until Nov. 20.

Park Avenue will feature animal sculptures by France\’s Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne until Nov. 20.

This fall, Park Avenue will serve as temporary home to a flock of sheep and other creatures — sculptural ones, that is.

The avenue’s latest art installation features work by Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne of France, in their first-ever major U.S. outdoor exhibition.

The exhibit, which opened Sept. 12 and runs until Nov. 20 between 52nd and 57th streets, features fantastical sculptures of animals and plants such as Nouveau Lapin de Victoire, a bronze rabbit holding a cane, and Choupatte (Tres Grand), a cabbage on chicken legs. And Moutons, with a life-sized flock of 12 bronze sheep that now graze on the avenue’s median strip.

“It’s unusual, to be placed in the city like this … it’s a city,” said New Yorker Alvin Stephens, who was interviewed at the site.

The installation is presented by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation and the Paul Kasmin Gallery, in cooperation with the Fund for Park Avenue Sculpture Committee.

“While it’s serious work, it’s also whimsical and accessible,” says Claire Weiss, curator of Public Art at the Parks Department, who proposed bringing the Lalannes’ work to Park Avenue. “I thought it would be wonderful in the urban space.”

Rabbit SculptureHer personal favorites from the exhibition are Moutons and Singe Avise (Tres Grand), an enormous seated bronze monkey, which happens to have been Francois-Xavier’s last work before his death in 2008.

The Lalannes’ work, which consists largely of animal-themed furniture, has been popular among art collectors since the 1960s.

The couple also has designed furniture for fashion designers Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, among others. The furnishings have appeared in designers’ homes and showrooms.

Though they rarely collaborated, the Lalannes’ work has always shared similar themes — nature, fantasy, whimsy and surrealism.

“I think it’s creative,” said Frank Noto, who works near Park Avenue and lives in New Jersey. He says the installation could have been even more effective if the sculptures had been situated in public areas where people sit: “I think it would be better to allow the people to mix and mingle with the art.”

After Nov. 20, the exhibition will return to the Paul Kasmin Gallery, at 293 Tenth Ave.

Click thumbnails below for full images.

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A Peruvian Christ Inspires Devotion in New York

Story and photos by Miluska Berrospi

At a procession in October celebrating a Peruvian painting of a dark-skinned Christ known as the "Lord of Miracles," many participants donned purple. In Peru, October is known as the Purple Month in honor of the icon.

At a procession in October celebrating a Peruvian painting of a dark-skinned Christ known as the “\Lord of Miracles,\” many participants donned purple. In Peru, October is known as the Purple Month in honor of the icon.

In the dictionary, purple is defined as a group of colors with hues between violet and red. For Peruvians the world over, however, purple signifies miracles, pride and, above all, faith—a faith rooted in centuries of devotion to a painting of a dark-skinned Christ, the “Lord of Miracles” (El Señor de los Milagros).

Each October, referred to by Peruvians as the Purple Month, a procession in honor of the icon wends its way through central Lima, drawing more than a half-million people. In many places around the world, from Madrid to Denver to New York, processions dedicated to this icon, also known as the “Purple Christ,” attract faithful followers of different nationalities.

The New York City procession, which drew an estimated 3,000 people on Oct. 18, has been a tradition since 1972. An annual mass is held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, followed by the procession along 51st Street.

“I have been a follower of the Purple Christ for 36 years,” said Hugo Martinez, a 76-year-old retired mechanic who serves as first assessor to the Brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles in New York.

“The Purple Christ” dates to a mural painted around 1651 by an Angolan slave in Pachacamilla, a town on the outskirts of Lima. Painted on the rough surface of a decaying adobe shed, the painting is said to have appeared fresher, brighter—and sharper each day.

In 1655, a powerful earthquake struck Lima, leveling homes and killing hundreds of people. Yet, the frail wall with its mural remained, the only structure left standing in Pachacamilla. In the following two years, the painting survived three more earthquakes, each time emerging unscathed. The original painted wall survives to this day in the Church of the Nazarenas, which was built around it in Lima.

Stories of miracles have grown since. They are heard yearly amid the chanting of hymns and through the thick incense of the processions.

How did this painting from 1651 grow to influence people thousands of miles away?

Purple Christ procession“Saints are carried by immigrants: Irish brought their national patron St. Patrick; Mexicans, La Virgen de Guadalupe,” explains Prof. Gerardo Rénique, of the Department of History at City College of New York.

Many of these saints have been embraced by other communities, much the way St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by a broad cross-section of New Yorkers. Next month, on Dec. 12, many members of New York’s Latino communities will join a parade honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. The parade will travel north from 14th Street and includes a mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Although the Purple Christ is a Peruvian icon, the procession in New York City included a mix of Americans, Mexicans, Australians, Ecuadoreans and Venezuelans.

“I am Cuban, but I have an international heart,” quipped, Max Rodriguez, 63, of Long Island who served as a town trustee in the town of Hempstead. He proudly donned a purple habit for the procession. He says the Purple Christ saved his life. “In 2000, I had a heart attack. My blood pressure dropped. … It was really bad, but he brought me back to life,” explains Rodriguez as he headed inside St. Patrick’s on Oct. 18, where hundreds of people crowded the pews.

Purple Christ procession“Folk religion, religion of the people, such as El Señor de los Milagros, is the democratization of religion,” explains Prof. Ted A. Henken, who teaches Latin American studies at Baruch College. “It allows democratic action in that people have control, not far-away bishops or priests. Miracles exist because people want to believe in them, because they need an explanation for the unexplainable.”

Gina Masotto, a 50-year-old executive secretary of Italian and Spanish descent, is the beneficiary of one such unexplainable event. Four years ago, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, an abnormal functioning of the immune system. “I started experiencing rapid-hair loss,” She says. “I went to every kind of doctor you can imagine and they all said there was nothing that would make my hair grow. I am a woman, our hair is our pride and it was very traumatic. I started thinking I was better off dead than alive.”

Masotto was introduced to the Lord of Miracles through a co-worker who gave her a small stamp of the Purple Christ. A short while later, Masotto and her family began fervently praying to the stamp. “And then, my hair started growing,” she says. “I went from having 10 percent of my hair coming in to about 70 percent of my hair growing in.”

Doctors often cannot provide concrete explanations for these types of occurrences, and so people passionately adhere to their religious inclinations. “Science speaks one language, and religion speaks another,” says Professor Henken.

The power of faith transcends both regional and rational boundaries. All along the New York procession honoring the Purple Christ, tears of adoration could be seen streaming down the faces of hundreds of worshippers.

Cutting Eyeballs in the Window

By Silissa Kenney

Passersby look in on a live surgery at Park Avenue Laser Vision on East 25th St.
Photograph by Remi Hu
     Passersby look in on a live surgery at Park Avenue Laser Vision
on East 25th St.

Imagine that you’re walking down the street and come across live surgery being performed in an office window. It looks so easy and painless, you decide to get the surgery yourself. Sound unlikely?

At Park Avenue Laser Vision on East 25th Street, Dr. Emil William Chynn performs Lasek with only a sheet of glass separating the operating room from the sidewalk. “We’re always doing new things here,” says Dr. Chynn.

Lasek (laser epithelial keratomileusi) is a vision-correcting surgery similar to the better-known Lasik (laser in situ keratomileusi). Both surgeries aim to reshape the cornea, the outer layer of the eye. In Lasik, a flap in the cornea is cut and the corneal tissue is reshaped, then the flap is replaced; in Lasek, no flap is cut, and the outer layer of the cornea, the epithelium, is peeled back using an alcohol solution, then replaced or removed. Lasek seeks to avoid the flap-related complications of Lasik, though it has its own complications, including dry eyes, incomplete or inaccurate vision correction and post-op infection.

Dr. Chynn, 44, earned a medical degree at Columbia, completed his residency at Harvard and also has an M.B.A. from New York University and has three patents. He spends a lot of time thinking up new ways to attract new patients.

“There are no returning customers here, so the better job we do, the less customers,” says Dr. Chynn, “so we keep needing to think about finding new customers.”

One day last month, Justo Cruz, 25, lay in what looks like a dentist chair, about to undergo the surgery. Gripping a blue stress ball in his right hand, he was noticeably nervous. At his side was his wife, Arlene, offering words of encouragement to go along with the Valium he had been given to ease anxiety.

“You’re gonna be able to see Lexus clear and perfect!” says Arlene Cruz to her husband referring to their daughter.

Justo Cruz resting after surgery while his wife, Arlene, lends support.
Photograph by Silissa Kenney
     Justo Cruz resting after surgery while his wife, Arlene, lends support.

Dr. Chynn aims to gain patients by making use of the Internet, discounts and testimonials. Even his employees are walking advertisements. Nearly all of Dr. Chynn’s staff have had Lasik or Lasek.

Patrick Bailey, a patient coordinator at Park Avenue Laser, has had Lasek himself.

“Sometimes when you’re selling something, a testimonial can go a long way to building trust,” says Bailey.

Bailey even pitches the practice at the bus stop. When fellow commuters noticed that he could see two blocks down the road, he handed out his card. “We could probably do something for you, too,” he told them.

Bailey estimates that about a third of new patients are drawn in by the Web site (, which has a blog; links to media coverage by Fox News, ABC News, The New York Times and others, and a “virtual laser simulator” so patients can practice what it will be like on surgery day.

Park Avenue Laser also has Facebook page, though to date it has only nine “fans,” and a Twitter account — where the staff is encouraged to post individually once a day — with 27 followers. On Oct. 15, the front desk manager posted, “If you can guess what I ordered from Shake Shack for lunch, I’ll give you a $100 discount!”

Dr. Chynn offers a number of discounts, including for referring a friend and a corporate or group discount if friends come together for surgery. It’s the discount he offers if patients post their surgery on YouTube that has received some attention — and some criticism.

“It’s disappointing to see commercialism creeping into what should be a very altruistic profession,” Ruth Fischbach, a bioethics professor and the director of the Center for Bioethics at Columbia University, told The New York Times in an article that Park Avenue Laser has posted on its site.

Cutting Eyeballs in the Window
Photograph by Remi Hu

And Alison Preszler, a spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau, in the same article expressed concern about the effect on consumers. “With paid testimonials you’re running the risk that the consumer’s opinion was skewed by dollar signs, and isn’t necessarily telling the truth,” she said.

Dr. Chynn doesn’t think there is any ethical problem. The discount is only $100 on a surgery that might cost $5,000, he says, and the payment is just a way to compensate people for the time and energy it takes to post the surgery on the Internet.

For his videos, a camera is attached to the laser, so the eyeball is the star. The video, says Dr. Chynn, is just a way for people to see exactly what happens during surgery and to provide visual understanding of how Lasek differs from Lasik. He estimates that around 5 percent of his patients agree to post their surgery online.

Seeing a surgery can be more powerful than just hearing about it, which is where the ideas to perform the procedure in the window and to post videos come in. Dr. Chynn also tries to get people through the door by offering free seminars, inviting people to be in the O.R. during a surgery and having events. Before Halloween, the Twitter account was buzzing with invitations to a Halloween party and to watch surgery. “Best costume gets a special offer!” announced the Twitter post. On Nov. 24, he’ll hold an early Thanksgiving event complete with refreshments and live surgery.

Once potential patients show interest, getting them to commit is the goal, and the whole staff is schooled on how to best ensure that a patient decides to have the procedure. At an early-morning marketing meeting, Dr. Chynn delivers a pep talk.

“If you have chatty patient who speaks well and is enthusiastic, ask him to email … so we can put them up on the blog,” Dr. Chynn tells the staff. Or if an email from a patient might be informative, that should go on the blog too, “even if it’s a patient problem,” he says.

Cutting Eyeballs in the Window
Photograph by Remi Hu

Dr. Chynn tells the staff that every time they see Adam Weiss, hired to do public relations for the practice, they are to present a sales dilemma they had in the last week so that Weiss can instruct them on what they might have done better. Knowing about a potential patient—what her worries are, what other practice they might be considering—is vital, says Dr. Chynn.

“I like to use a dating analogy,” says Dr.Chynn. “You like a guy and you want to date him, but there is another girl involved. What are you going to find out about her? Everything. You have to know your competition.”

Lasik still dominates the vision-correction market, according to the 2008 survey by the American Academy of Ophthalmologists, “US Trends in Refractive Surgery.” Ninety-six percent of those surveyed now do, or plan to, perform Lasik, while the number is 30 percent for Lasek.

Though the overall economy is struggling to recover, Dr. Chynn says he hasn’t seen the volume of his business decline. And he has kept his advertising efforts constant throughout the economic downturn.

As Dr. Chynn leans over Cruz, people on the sidewalk do stop to watch.

“I saw the guy doing surgery and I was like, wow, it’s pretty amazing,” said Tim Petryri, 20, who stopped to watch, even though he doesn’t wear glasses or contacts. But even he is a possible avenue to new patients.

“If you meet anyone, tell them about us!” says a Park Avenue Laser employee standing outside with Petryri.

When the surgery is over — about two minutes for each eye — Cruz moves to a comfortable recliner outside the OR. The procedure was “a little stingy at first, but it goes away,” says Cruz, speaking with his eyes closed as per post-op instructions. “I didn’t even feel that he was touching my eyeball.”

He noticed an improvement in his vision immediately. “It felt like a miracle. I definitely recommend this place.”

Click here to watch video of a surgery.