Baltic Nation’s Brightest New Artists Take Over National Arts Club

What do you know about Latvia? Something about a mystical power called the kavorka that you learned about on Seinfeld? Then it’s time for a crash course, because the place is blowing up. Latvia is a country of 2 million people located on the Baltic Sea, sandwiched between Estonia and Lithuania. It produces radios, rail cars, and timber, and consumes beer, cheese, and grey peas served with bacon. It’s lukewarm on organized religion, but people happily embrace their pagan roots, celebrating cosmic events like the summer solstice with bonfires and dancing. The capital, Riga, has a gorgeous old town and a stylish population, leading it to be named European Capital of Culture 2014. Latvians drink an ancient, dark liquor called Black Balsam that cured Catherine the Great after she fell ill during a visit. As an emerging democracy, Latvia’s bursting with creative energy, and a new generation of artists is creating work that reflects its place in the world. This is what led me to the National Arts Club on Monday night, as a well-dressed slice of Latvian and New York society gathered to celebrate the launch of Important Contemporary Artists of Latvia, an exhibit featuring 38 paintings from some of the recently-reborn country’s most innovative thinkers. Two cultures were never more suited to each other.

I can’t blame people for not being familiar with Latvia. Not a lot of Americans are, since it was part of the USSR until the fall of Communism in 1991. Were I not of Latvian ancestry myself, I may have missed the exhibition entirely. But it looks like the Latvians, Latvian-Americans, Latvian-Canadians, and other Latvian hyphenates are finally working their way into the global consciousness. There have been breakout Latvian players in the NHL, like goalie Artūrs Irbe. There’s mountaineer Ed Viesturs, who summited Everest seven times without supplemental oxygen. There’s conductor Mariss Jansons, writer David Bezmozgis, restaurateur Sarma Melngailis, Indie-pop singer Katie Stelmanis of Austra, fashion model Ginta Lapiņa, and even dance legend Mikhail Baryshnikov. (Fine, he’s Russian, but he was born and began his ballet training in Riga, so we’ll claim him.)

Some noted Latvians even share my name, which isn’t surprising, as Ozols is one of the most common surnames in Latvia (it means "oak tree," which happens to be the national symbol). There’s Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and occasional New Yorker writer Amy Ozols, to whom I am not related – but we’ve kicked around the idea of a drinking contest that pits her and Fallon against me and Wyatt Cenac (let’s do it, Amy!).  There’s the talented, New York-based wedding photographer Sarma Ozols, to whom I am related (she’s my cousin). There’s even a rapper called Ozols, kind of a Latvian Eminem. Ozols isn’t even his real name, it’s Ģirts Rozentāls. He adopted Ozols as a stage name because of what it stands for.

So Latvian culture is busting loose, and the show at the National Arts Club—which celebrates 21 years of Latvia’s re-independence—proved that Latvian artists have moved beyond soft-focus paintings of farmhouses, haystacks, and lazy streams. The spacious gallery features work by nine Latvian artists, and while the art ranges from brutal to joyful, there’s a unity of perspective. This is an outward-looking country now, yet with a deep internal life that peeks through in unexpected places. If you have any Latvian friends, you know that they can be austere, dry-witted, and prone to ironic understatement. There’s a certain expectation of suffering and bad luck inherent in the Latvian psyche that’s the source of endless sarcastic quips along the lines of "don’t worry, things will get worse." In other words, it’s a pretty good fit with brooding downtown Manhattan art circles. Let’s look at some pictures. order

The paintings of Kaspars Brambergs reflect this darkness. "Order" (above) begins as a deep look into the abyss, with brown and beige textures—comprised of sand from the Latvian seaside—intersected by dark, straight lines and a coffee-colored corner stained with Tahitian soil. After a few moments, what seems despairing becomes airy and hopeful, like a box-kite taking flight on a blustery day. This painting has lift.


The haunting charcoal-on-paper portraits of Harijs Brants ("Flea," above) reflect a similar dichotomy. What at first seems moody and introspective softens over time, revealing in his subjects hints of curiosity and whimsy. What are they thinking, and why does it feel like they’re judging me? I shiver and sip my chardonnay.

tenderness and danger

Design enthusiasts will appreciate the funky paintings of Ieva Iltnere. Her "Fragility of the Fireball" (main story image) sets a modern yet eerie scene in a hip urban apartment as a man relaxes on a sofa while two women consider a lightning bolt through panoramic windows. "Plasma," meanwhile, shows a bald-headed young man—at least I think he’s a man—in repose on a leather couch, gazing with empty eyes at a lighted screen. And the striking "Tenderness and Danger" (above) might tickle New Yorkers the most, with its impossibly thin, elegant woman in an evening gown holding a patterned orb, while an infant in a Baby Björn dangles, seemingly unnoticed, from her chest. Is this what happens when you want it all, and get it?

living conditions

And then there’s the verdant, naturalistic paintings of Andris Eglitis, whose "Living Conditions a 22.09.2010" series features works like the above, a deep, forbidding forest from which several figures emerge. It’s almost refreshingly dark after the upbeat themes from his contemporaries. That’s the Latvian art I know. Bring on the cold!

The exhibit at the National Arts Club is open to the public now through April 21 on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 10 am to noon, and on Tuesdays from noon to 5pm. After that it moves on to the Latvian Embassy in Washington, D.C. April 26 – May 12, followed by a stint May 18-21 at the Driehaus Museum in Chicago to coincide with the NATO Summit. It ends, fittingly, with a two-week run at the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga in June. So check out the art and get familiar with Latvia, because you’ll be hearing more about it. Now would someone please open a Latvian pub in New York already?

Introducing the 2011 New Regime

For our fourth annual New Regime Portfolio, BlackBook presents an explosive mix of curatorial savants, razor-sharp comedians, genre-defying musical acts, screen saviors, fashion visionaries, literary geniuses, and one of the Glee kids, each of whom would like you to know that, despite global warming, the global financial crisis, and the global embrace of a girl named Snookie, this new year will, in fact, be better than the last. Featuring the likes of Dave Franco, Rosamund Pike, Chiddy Bang, Chris Colfer, Hailee Steinfeld, and more. Click through to see them all.



It’s a cold, clear day in London and actor Rosamund Pike has just returned from her morning bike ride. “I made a resolution years ago to be more aware of my body, and it’s really helped to hone my instincts,” she says. Those instincts are responsible for scene-stealing roles in Pride & Prejudice, An Education, and, more recently, Made in Dagenham, for which she won ecstatic reviews as a housewife during the 1968 Ford Motors factory strike in Dagenham, England.

But it’s Pike’s performance in Barney’s Version, an adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s prize-winning novel starring Dustin Hoffman and Paul Giamatti (her love interest in the film), which has finally earned Pike awards season buzz. “It was an incredible challenge for Paul and I to play characters in different phases of love from ages 29 to 60—to find language for that,” she says. “Now I’m going to make sure to wear a lot of miniskirts in public before people get the wrong idea.”

The picture of a patrician English Rose, Pike, 31, is excited about the opportunities she’s had to exhibit range and depth. “An Education was the first film that allowed me to play a villain, but also make people laugh,” she says. “That one opened up a lot of doors.” Among those open doors are a host of roles in upcoming films, including The Big Year, a bird-watching comedy opposite Jack Black and Owen Wilson, and The Sea, a drama with Charlotte Rampling. “I suddenly feel understood,” she says of her recent successes. “I’m like the geek at school who suddenly gets to be friends with the cool kids.” —Cayte Grieve

Photo by Ren Rox; Styling by Hew Hood; Hair by Sophie Chevalier.

Up next: The New Imagist… image


A Hitchcock blonde in a meringue-colored dress crouches on a roadside embankment. She looks ready to pounce. Or flee. Such is a typical photograph by 30-year-old Angeleno Alex Prager, whose Popsicle-hued prints look like noir thrillers brought to vivid life. A self-trained lenswoman who spent a chunk of her high school years selling knives in Switzerland, Prager was included in MoMA’s seminal “New Photography 2010” show. “I kind of took the side door,” she says of her art-world entrée. “My intention was just to show my pictures. I wanted some feedback.”

Prager doesn’t read reviews of her work (“unless they’re amazing”), but the response to her heavily stylized photographs has been glowing. She’s enlisted actor Bryce Dallas Howard and model Jessica Joffe to star in her short films, and has collaborated on fashion editorials with W and i-D magazines.

Still, hers isn’t the sort of success you can easily begrudge. When she returned to Los Angeles from Europe, Prager worked a string of unenviable jobs at a mall food court, a French Connection boutique, and “a place called Modern Data Products,” she says. “I realized my whole life could be an endless, mundane string of shitty jobs.” It was an encounter with William Eggleston’s work at the Getty Museum when she was 20 that persuaded Prager, instantly and beyond a doubt, to pursue photography.

Over the next seven years, Prager took photographs with and of her friends, largely for kicks. Eventually, her images, like film stills sliced out of a reel, began to be included in group—and later solo—gallery shows. “Because I don’t really know what’s right or wrong, I simply make images that I think are cool, and it so happens that people agree with me right now,” she says. “I want others to like my pictures. If they don’t want to look at them, then everything I’ve done is wasted.” —Megan Conway

Photo by Mark Squires; Styling by Christopher Campbell; Hair by Sarah Sibia @ See Management; Makeup by Min Min Ma @ See Management.

Up next: The New Dreamweaver… image


After winning the prestigious Swiss Textiles Award in November, beating out Adam Kimmel and Jason Wu, fashion designer Mary Katrantzou finds herself in a rather unusual position: She has to spend one tenth of the award’s $137,000 cash prize on Swiss textiles, which, presumably, she’ll use for her fall 2011 collection. But the 27-year-old Greek upstart hasn’t yet decided what her next collection will look like, or how exactly it will feel. “It’s still very early, so nothing is crystallized, but it will be a step forward in many ways,” she says vaguely. With a knowing laugh, she adds, “It’s very difficult to go into details without giving too much away.”

Last September, only a year after graduating from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, Katrantzou stunned crowds at London Fashion Week with her debut show. Showcasing her imaginative air, she adorned her dresses and separates with dazzling, wildly colorful, digitally generated images of windows, doorways, table settings, and chandeliers. “It all started when, looking at some photos by Guy Bourdin, I realized that the models weren’t wearing fancy dresses. It was the interiors, with their colors and textures, that created the mood,” she says. “So I decided to put the room on the woman rather than the woman in the room.” We’re pretty sure Virginia Woolf would have approved. —Lee Muston

Photo by Mark Squires.

Up next: The New Sex… image


“I was reading an article about bands that are really hard to find on Google and, of course, we were in it,” says JD Samson, the androgynous frontwoman of Men, a high-energy, experimental dance trio. The brainchild of Samson and her former Le Tigre bandmate Johanna Fateman, Men was initially conceived as a DJ side project, and the name was anything but arbitrary. “Men is very much about gender fluidity,” Samson says. “Johanna and I were in an airport, frustrated, and she said, ‘What would a man do if someone cut him off in line? He’d stand up for himself, like, fuck you.’ That day someone said they wanted us to title our project and we were like, ‘Let’s call ourselves Men.’”

Guitarists Ginger Brooks Takahashi and Michael O’Neill—both recruited from Hirsute, yet another of Samson’s bands— round out the threesome (Fateman and artist Emily Roysdon stay behind the scenes, writing and producing), who have earned accolades for their electronic, guitar-fueled live shows. Three years after first recording together, and while juggling a demanding tour schedule, the members of Men have finally mastered their debut album, Talk About Body. “We’ve all been in different projects,” Samson says, “but this was the perfect group of people to make this record sound exactly the way it needed to sound.”

The lengthy recording process lends their album a pan-genre eclecticism, serving up good-humored social commentary on tracks titled “Credit Card Babies” and “Who Am I to Feel So Free.” Says Samson, “Talk About Body deals with gender expression, queer livelihood, and the way we see the world.” Pausing for a moment, she adds, “It’s not something we necessarily wanted to express—it’s something we needed to express.” —Nadeska Alexis

Photo by Mark Squires; Styling by Christopher Campbell; Hair by Sarah Sibia @ See Management; Makeup by Anthea King @ See Management.

Up next: The New Comedian… image


After getting her picture taken, Lena Dunham deflates the pompadour into which her hair was teased, changes back into a sweater she describes as a “Navajo sleeping bag,” and suggests we go for tea. Minty brew in hand, she shares with me her favorite quote: “My mom always says, ‘Problems are relative.’” It’s an adage that applies to the central tension of Tiny Furniture, Dunham’s singular, intimate, and quietly hilarious film about post-collegiate ennui. In the film, which she wrote and directed, she plays Aura Freeman, who, like Dunham, graduates from Oberlin College and returns home to live with her mother (played by Dunham’s mother, artist Laurie Simmons) and sister (played by Dunham’s sister Grace). The contours of the gleaming Tribeca apartment Aura spends her days shuffling around, often without pants, are as difficult to limn as her mother’s scale-defying photographs of tiny furniture.

Her inch-off -the-ground, “femme centric” comedy caught the attention of Judd Apatow, godfather of the sausage fest knee-slapper, who’s producing a pilot Dunham is writing, directing, and starring in for HBO. “People have accused him of having these half-baked female characters,” Dunham says of Apatow. “But I feel like there’s something slightly 2-D about the male characters I write, only because I’m limited by my own experience. Girls want to have their intelligence respected, but they also want to laugh, they want to see bodily fluids—they want all of the things guys want from movies.”

Much has been made of Dunham’s un-Hollywood physique (a comment on a YouTube video Aura posts of herself in a bikini reads, “Ahoy, mateys! Whales ahead!”) and her age (24), but her work draws strength from an almost anticipatory self-awareness of these qualities. “What’s funniest for me is character-driven comedy that comes out of the pain and hilarity of everyday human foibles,” she says. “I have no interest in seeing glamorous people, unless the glamorous person is falling in a puddle.” —MC

Photo by Mark Squires; Styling by Christopher Campbell; Hair by Sarah Sibia @ See Management; Makeup by Nick Barose @ See Management.

Up next: The Next Wild Child… image


Emerging from the ashes of England’s histrionic music stars—here’s looking at you, Wino—Coco Sumner could be Britpop’s redemptive phoenix. Only she doesn’t see it that way. “I’m just a kid from England who likes working and playing music,” she says, skirting, as she often does, the reality of her privileged upbringing. The daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler, Eliot Paulina Sumner (Coco is her nickname) grew up in the English countryside, playing guitar in her bedroom. “I had a very simple childhood,” she says. “I went to a local school, where I tried to work hard and all that.” At 14, she moved to London and spent time with other musicians, realizing in the process that she wanted to follow in her famous dad’s footsteps.

Early next year, American audiences will get the chance to hear the 20-year-old musician’s debut album, The Constant, which she’ll release under the alias I Blame Coco. The record was met with critical and commercial fanfare when it was released this fall in Europe, where Sumner played sold-out shows and collaborated with Swedish singer-songwriter Robyn, who appears on her first single, “Caesar,” a guitar-heavy anthem of youth and rebellion. Of her songs, she says, “They come from a sad place, but hopefully the music is uplifting.” After a beat, she adds, “I guess my sound could be called dark pop.”

Already a British style icon—much to her bemusement, and perhaps not without a touch of dismay—Sumner, along with supermodels Agyness Deyn and Lily Donaldson, was photographed for a recent Burberry ad campaign, which she insists was “just for money,” although it’s hard to imagine she was ever strapped. It’s obvious within minutes of speaking to Sumner that she’s loathe to indulge in the trappings of a successful music career, interested in neither fame nor frivolity. Sure, she drinks and smokes, and there have been rumors about dalliances with Pete Doherty, but for the most part, Sumner stays out of trouble. “I’ve got a pretty good head on my shoulders,” she says. “Gossip doesn’t really affect me because none of it is true. It’s just made-up bullshit.” —Dana Drori

Photo by Ren Rox; Styling by Kim Howells; Hair by Michael Jones.

Up next: The New Franco… image


Let’s just get it out of the way: Dave Franco is James’ little brother. You first met him playing just that on the satirical Funny or Die web series Acting with James Franco, in which James taught Dave the dark secrets of the dramatic arts. In truth, one might expect the Franco boys to, say, rehearse lines together the night before an audition. One would be wrong. “We don’t really talk about acting very much,” he says. “We have a strong relationship and we work well together, but mainly with writing.”

Franco is strangely calm considering he has a “huge” audition tomorrow. There will be no cramming, no panicking. “I’ll probably watch a movie and try to distract myself,” he says. By now, the 25-year-old actor has been to so many auditions that he knows most casting directors on a first-name basis, and yet he can’t quite figure out why they keep asking him to play assholes. “I don’t even know how to feel about it anymore,” he says. “I’m a nice guy, I promise.”

Nice or not, Franco will up the douche ante next summer in Fright Night, a big-budget remake of the 1985 horror flick, in which he plays a bully so vile, “you’ll be praying for his death,” he says. Fright Night isn’t Franco’s first brush with fake blood. Three classes away from earning a degree at the University of Southern California, he flew to Canada to shoot the unreleased Bad Meat, a B-horror movie he calls the worst experience of his life. “But it was my first starring role,” he says. “The momentum started from there.” He is also writing and directing the web series Undergrads, a gritty, semi-scripted glimpse of life on USC’s campus. “I don’t want to pat myself on the back,” he says, very un-asshole-like, “but I’m really pleased with it.” —Ben Barna

Photo by Juco.

Up next: The New Nureyev… image


Like Baryshnikov before him, Benjamin Millepied is a ballet dancer of foreign extraction whose chassé only serves to deepen his brooding sex appeal. The principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, Millepied (improbably, his name means “1,000 feet” in his native French) is also a celebrated choreographer and would-be renaissance man: when he’s not collaborating with composer Nico Muhly, the scruffy 33-year-old from Bordeaux is staging productions for his own company, Danses Concertantes, updating Swan Lake for Darren Aronofsky, or planning his directorial film debut. “I’m interested in making movies,” he says, and then, almost as an afterthought, “And dancing. And choreography. I’m doing exactly what my heart wants to do.”

Over a patchy, cross-country iPhone connection that makes the natural fits and starts in his conversation a little unsettling, he says, “Ballet is in crisis. Collaborations are key—other artists being fiercely interested in the art of ballet.” Partnering up with Aronofsky, first as the choreographer for the director’s Polanski-like Black Swan, then as an actor (“It was kind of an obvious choice,” he says of becoming the Swan Prince), led him to his most paparazzi-documented pas de deux to date: his ongoing romance with co-star Natalie Portman. “We were quite a team,” he admits. “She was nothing short of extraordinary.” It’s not clear, when asked if they’ll work together again, if Millepied’s chuckling is directed at the difficulties of celebrity romance, his overstuffed calendar, or the question itself. “I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe. We’ll see.” —MC

Photo by Santiago Sierra; Styling by Kemal + Karla @ The Wall Group; Grooming by Jhizet Panosian @ Exclusive Artists; Producer, Cesar Leon.

Up next: The New Overachiever… image


"Oooooh, how do I answer this one?" says Chris Colfer, the youngest star on FOX’s boundary-pushing, musical number-heavy cultural phenomenon, Glee. The question: If you could put together the playlist for an episode, which artists would you choose to include? “I’d love to do more Lady Gaga songs, and some Abba,” he says, following a considerable pause. “And, knowing me, I’d choose all kinds of theater.” Knowing his fans, that wouldn’t be a problem.

Colfer has garnered considerable praise for his portrayal of Kurt Hummel, an outwardly strong yet inwardly fragile gay teenager navigating the hornet’s nest that is the show’s William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio. He received a 2010 Emmy nomination for his performance (“I’m still in shock,” he says) and was quickly elevated to bonafide role model-status by Glee’s devout followers. “I never thought I’d play a character who could inspire so many people,” he says. “It’s a good thing I’ve gone through so many of the same things Kurt is going through—I definitely approach his character from a personal place.”

Raised in Clovis, California, the 20-year-old actor has always had one eye on show business. “I grew up doing community theater,” he says. “I was very, very, very active in high school.” The series, Colfer’s first professional acting gig, came quickly. He graduated from high school in June 2008 and started filming that September, which he’s been doing—almost nonstop—ever since. “Glee is very time consuming,” he says. “We don’t get hiatuses like other shows because as soon as we wrap, we go on a music tour.” Although he cares deeply for the show, Colfer isn’t without other goals. “I would love to be the head of a studio one day,” he says, smiling. “But not an evil studio—a really nice one.” —Nicholas Remsen

Photo by Santiago Sierra; Styling by Kemal + Karla @ The Wall Group; Grooming by Jhizet Panosian @ Exclusive Artists; Producer, Cesar Leon.

Up next: The New Poachers… image


Chidera “Chiddy” Anamege (pictured right) never stops writing. “I was in the middle of putting together a verse when you called, so this interview might end up in a song,” says the 20-year-old rapper, who, along with producer Noah “Xaphoon” Beresin, is known professionally as Chiddy Bang. Laughing, he adds, “We’re in the studio cooking something up right now.” When they emerge, Chiddy and Xaphoon will have enough new material to release The Swelly Life, their debut full-length album.

The former Drexel University students spent the majority of their short-lived college careers—they dropped out at the end of their freshman year—fusing together the clever rhymes and eclectic mash-ups that catapulted them well past campus fame. Two mixtapes and an EP have already showcased the duo’s ability to transform indie-rock staples courtesy of Passion Pit, Gorillaz, and MGMT—whose "Kids” provided the template for their breakout single “Opposite of Adults”—into progressive hip-hop with mass appeal.

Chiddy Bang broke into the mainstream this fall with the release of their second EP, The Preview, which featured an original head-banger co-produced by Xaphoon and hit-magnet Pharrell Williams. Still, despite its success, they have no desire to stray too far from the samples that launched their careers. “We’re going to take sampling to the next level,” Chiddy says of their new material. “People identified with us early on because of the weird samples that we chose. That brought us to where we are now, so we’re going to perfect the original recipe and add some sprinkles to it. After getting the rights to use all of those songs, we probably won’t make any money from the album, but who cares? We just love the music.” —NA

Photo by Ren Rox.

Up next: The New Solo Artist… image


Ten years ago, 25-year-old electro-pop artist Oh Land moved out of her parents’ home in Copenhagen and relocated to a house in the Swedish forest. She wasn’t alone—an elderly couple and their dog lived upstairs—but she wishes she had been. “I was a hopeless romantic, and I thought there was something amazing about being that deserted,” she says.

Oh Land, born Nanna Øland Fabricius, seemed destined for center stage as a ballerina; her woodsy dwelling was 90 minutes outside of Stockholm, where she studied at the Royal Swedish Ballet School. The art form consumed her. “You get sucked into this world and you can’t see anything else,” she says. “I imagine it’s a bit like Scientology.” Then, at 18, she suffered a career-ending back injury. “It was tragic because I thought I was destined to do something,” she says, “And, suddenly, I found out I wasn’t.”

She took the one component of professional dance that doesn’t involve masochism—music—and, without any professional training, despite having been raised by an opera singer mother and an organist father, began to teach herself to play piano. “It was for me how Nintendo is for most kids,” she says. “I knew everything about the feeling of it, but I didn’t know the notes.” She began peppering her music with everyday sounds, recording the chime of bike bells and crunching snow.

Her melodies written, all Oh Land needed was a voice. “I had this idea that singers needed to sound like Beyoncé, and I didn’t sound like that,” she says, acknowledging her initial hesitation to sing herself. Still, these were her stories and she wanted to tell them, and, as it turns out, Oh Land has a beautiful, airy voice. She fashioned a collection of tracks into her self-titled EP (a full-length album is due in early 2011), which Oh Land released after moving to New York, a city where you can always manage to feel alone. —BB

Photo by Mark Squires; Styling by Christopher Campbell; Hair by Sarah Sibia @ See Management; Makeup by Anthea King @ See Management.


Up next: The New Ingenue… image


“It feels like I just won the lottery,” says Hailee Steinfeld, describing what it’s like to be the young lead in the Coen Brothers’ latest square-jawed Western, True Grit. “It feels like that one-in-a-million kind of opportunity.” It’s actually closer to one-in-15,000, the number of girls with whom Joel and Ethan Coen reportedly met before selecting Steinfeld for the role of Mattie Ross, the plucky tween who enlists the help of a boozy marshal (Jeff Bridges) to hunt down her father’s killer (Josh Brolin).

The 14-year-old home-schooled Los Angeles native appreciates the rarity of her situation. “I assumed that I’d be doing a few shorts and some guest-starring, and that I would work my way up,” she says. “Instead, I’ve gone from A to Z.” When asked who her acting role models might be, Steinfeld doesn’t say Meryl Streep or Jodie Foster. Instead, she says, “I have a cousin who is two years older than me. She was doing Barbie commercials back when that was absolutely all I was into.” My, how time flies. —BB

Photo by Santiago Sierra; Styling by Kemal + Karla @ The Wall Group; Grooming by Jhizet Panosian @ Exclusive Artists; Hair by Alex Polollp; Makeup by Stephen Sollitto; Producer, Cesar Leon.

Up Next: The New Butcher… image


Whatever you do, don’t complain to Noah Bernamoff about the lack of free pickles at Mile End. “It drives me nuts,” says the 28-year-old Canadian, who opened the Montreal-style Jewish delicatessen in Brooklyn a year ago. He believes that the expectation of a bowl of free pickles on every table—along with $16 behemoth sandwiches that only a sumo wrestler could finish—epitomizes everything that went wrong with Jewish delis in New York over the past few decades. They used to be specialized, he says: some were known for pastrami, others for hot dogs, and others still for chicken soup. But as they began to disappear in the latter half of the 20th century, the delis left standing felt obliged to offer a bit of everything, serving mediocre versions of “every Jewish soup, every Jewish meat, every side dish.”

What Bernamoff, who dropped out of law school to open Mile End, lacks in formal training (“I hadn’t even worked in a restaurant prior to this,” he says), he more than makes up for in passion for the cuisine of his youth. Chief among Mile End’s specialties is smoked meat, which is a specific type of pastrami popular in Montreal. Bernamoff and his staff prepare pounds of the delicious flesh every day, rubbing it with spices and slowly smoking it until it attains greasy perfection, at which point it’s hand carved and served with mustard on rye bread.

The restaurant has garnered significant praise since it opened last January, attracting a cool clientele that includes Paul Dano and Anne Hathaway, and even unseating longtime favorite Barney Greengrass to become Zagat’s favorite deli in the city. But it’s not without detractors, which brings us back to the pickles. “We make them ourselves,” he says wearily. “If people understood the time, patience, and skill it takes to make these things, they’d know why we charge six or seven dollars for a plate of assorted pickles.” Seriously, though, how much vitriol could pickles possibly elicit? “You’d be surprised.” —Victor Ozols

Photo by Alexander Wagner; Grooming by Sarah Sibia @ See Management.

Up next: The New Raconteur… image


The characters in David Bezmozgis’ stories are a lot like you—that is, if you’re a cousin-humping, weed-dealing, Latvian-Canadian teenager. But the author, who is only some of these things, describes emotions and experiences to which all readers can relate, regardless of age or ethnicity. Using sparse yet evocative language, he conveys joy, pain, curiosity, embarrassment, boredom, and alienation, all the while underscoring one universal truth: you are not alone.

Bezmozgis entered the literary scene in 2004 with the publication of Natasha and Other Stories, which was inspired by his childhood in Toronto, where he moved at the age of 7 after emigrating from Riga—along with thousands of other Soviet Jews—in 1980. Since Natasha and the critical acclaim that followed, he’s continued to sharpen his voice with more short fiction, as well as 2009’s Victoria Day, a feature film he wrote and directed about one teen’s experiences with love and death.

This April, he’ll release his debut novel, The Free World, which chronicles the lives of a family of Latvian émigrés who find themselves in the visa processing centers of Rome in 1978. Intrigued by the slippery concept of identity, especially as it pertains to immigrants, Bezmozgis says, “It’s more of a theme in North America, because we have the luxury of figuring out who we want to be. If you’re Latvian, that’s great, nobody minds, and if you want to feel completely American, that’s fine, too. Back in the Soviet Union, identity wasn’t a choice.” The bewilderment felt by a formerly oppressed people upon tasting freedom for the first time provides fertile ground for the 37-year-old writer. “It’s fascinating to immerse yourself in a culture where the rules are different,” he says. “But we all want the same things: love, friendship, and some sense of what we’re supposed to do in the world.” —VO

Photo by Mark Squires; Styling by Christopher Campbell; Hair by Sarah Sibia @ See Management; Makeup by Min Min Ma @ See Management.

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Last June, when Jeffrey Deitch shuttered his multi-borough art empire, Deitch Projects, to take over the directorship of LA’s MoCA, a giant vortex opened into which all things gritty, challenging, and—dare we say—cool about the downtown New York art scene disappeared. Now, two former Projects directors, Meghan Coleman (pictured left) and Kathy Grayson, are attempting to stop the cultural outflow with their Greene Street gallery, the Hole. “We liked the idea of filling that hole with the Hole,” says Grayson. “The world doesn’t need another Chelsea gallery—it needs something weird and different.”

To Deitch, Grayson brought a roster of artists—Dan Colen, Terence Koh, and the late Dash Snow, among others—who now define the streets-inspired, druggy undercurrent of the contemporary art scene. “For every show I did at Deitch, there were five shows I wanted to do,” says Grayson, who would rather support “a group of kids who live in Virginia Beach making thrift-store junk piles and pop paintings” than “the most recent Yale graduate who makes conceptual sculpture.”

The Hole’s first exhibition, “Not Quite Open for Business,” went up just six weeks after Coleman and Grayson got the keys to their new space. It displayed works in various phases of completion in the still-unfinished gallery rooms, which stack behind each other like a Greenpoint shotgun apartment. Grayson explains, “If you want to change the art world, you have to open a gallery or inherit ten million dollars. We wanted to have an impact on the community.”

Grayson notices a Dearraindrop painting hanging in the café at the back of the gallery with an inky dribble darkening its seizure-inducing stripes. Taking her sleeve, she daubs at the stain. “It’s okay,” she says. “It comes off with a little spit.” —MC

Photo by Alexander Wagner; Hair and makeup by William Murphy.

Up next: The New Culturalist… image


Before entering the world of men’s fashion, designer Siki Im was an architect, but he’s had no trouble reconciling those seemingly disparate career paths. “The interior of a garment is just as important as its exterior, and the same can be said for a building,” he says. In 2009, after working as a senior designer at Helmut Lang and Karl Lagerfeld, Im decided to strike out with a label of his own. “I have very little support now and I have to fight for everything, but it’s good to have freedom.”

Im’s diverse background probably accounts for his eclectic fashion references: Arab keffiyehs, Japanese kimonos, Scottish kilts. The 32-year-old Oxford University graduate was raised by Korean parents in Cologne, Germany, and now works in Manhattan, where he has lived since 2001. Im says his forthcoming collection was inspired by American history—it’s unclear if that means Bill the Butcher toppers, Geronimo scarves, or Eisenhower-era suits. “Eventually,” he says, “I want to get back into architecture, but right now, this is the medium I’m using to express myself.” No matter which route he takes, Im, already an Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Men’s Award winner, will go the distance. —LM

Photo by Mark Squires; Grooming by Min Min Ma @ See Management.

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A great woman once sang, “Girls just want to have fun,” and although she probably didn’t realize it at the time, she was talking about The Suzan, a bouncy rock-pop quartet from Tokyo. Sisters Rie and Saori, along with their friends Nico and Ikue—four ebullient Japanese twenty-somethings—have already achieved stateside success as the Suzan, a feat that eludes many of their country’s most popular artists. Not coincidentally, the band, which formed in 2004, eschews the ringtone-ready pop sounds that dominate Japanese airwaves. “J-pop sucks,” Saori says, her bandmates nodding in unison. “It’s so boring.”

The Suzan’s American debut, Golden Week for the Poco Poco Beat, has no shortage of melodic surprises. It draws on disparate in influences—in the words of its makers, “hip-hop, jazz, and African”—creating a sound tailor-made for a Tarantino flick. It was this eclecticism that convinced Bjorn Yttling (of Swedish pop maestros Peter Bjorn and John) to produce the album. Recorded over two weeks in Stockholm, the Suzan’s new favorite city, Poco Poco Beat is fast, frivolous, and all kinds of fun. Their sound, they say, evokes images of “tropical delight dancing.”

It’s the “dancing” part that caught the attention of Fool’s Gold, the Brooklyn-based label that made The Suzan their first rock act on a roster stacked with DJs and MCs. This October, they played a Fool’s Gold showcase at the CMJ Music Marathon, where Kanye West made a surprise appearance. The ladies, who released a cover of West’s “Paranoid,” were able to meet their idol—one of many—and while he admitted to not having heard their version, “He told us he really loves Tokyo!” Ikue says. Then they all burst into high-pitched laughter. —BB

Photo by Mark Squires; Styling by Christopher Campbell; Hair by Sarah Sibia @ See Management; Makeup by Anthea King @ See Management.