The 2010 Whitney Biennial curator takes T+L on a tour of New York City’s always-evolving East Village.
Credit: Tara Donne

“For most of my American life—I came here from Florence about twenty years ago—I have lived in the East Village. I arrived in New York when I was a young man, and though I’m not so young any longer, the East Village makes me feel that way. It’s always bustling no matter what the hour. There is something so fresh and alive about the place, and while it has changed a great deal and new generations have moved in over the years, the spirit remains the same.

“One corner in the Village is unlucky for some reason: it’s on the northwestern side of Twelfth Street and Second Avenue. The spot has been the site of several restaurants and businesses, including the Kosher Tea Room, and now it’s a nail parlor. So many storefronts have changed hands. But if you’ve been living there, you can still feel what came before. Places are gone—but not gone.

“A number of years ago, trendy art galleries opened in the East Village and they just didn’t stick. It was as if the community rejected the scene. Industrial parts of Manhattan like SoHo and Chelsea are full of empty warehouses, so it was easy for the art world to move in. That doesn’t happen in the East Village. People make the rules. It’s a living, breathing neighborhood.”

Bonami is the curator of the 75th Whitney Biennial, which runs through May 30 at the Whitney Museum of American Art (admission $18). Bonami is also artistic director of Florence’s Pitti Discovery Foundation for art, architecture, and fashion and the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation for Contemporary Art in Turin.

Tokyo Close to Home

“I love to shop at Sunrise Mart (29 Third Ave.; 212/598-3040). The market carries strange Japanese products, plus green tea, sushi, and mochi ice cream.”

East Village Hideout

“At Tarallucci e Vino (163 First Ave.; 212/388-1190; lunch for two $30) I sit at a small table, order a ciabatta panino, and no one bothers me.”

Afternoon Pick-me-Up

“The coffee at Sant Ambroeus (1000 Madison Ave.; 212/570-2211; coffee for two $12) near the Whitney is very good, but you almost need a mortgage to buy yourself an espresso.”

Airline Loyalty

“I’m often en route to Florence and Turin, so the Lufthansa ( business-class lounge in Frankfurt feels like home. I read the international newspapers and take warm pretzels from the buffet.”

2010 Travel Plans

“I am going to Beirut to see some artists, including Walid Raad, and to stay at Le Gray (Martyrs’ Square; 961-1/971-111;; doubles from $495), but that’s really just an excuse to go and experience the city.”

Whitney Museum of American Art

Founded in 1930, the Whitney Museum of American Art has earned the distinction of being the first museum focusing on living American artists. The museum bears the name of sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a tireless advocate of emerging artists and the museum’s founder. The permanent collection focuses on 20th century art and its foundation is based on Whitney’s personal collection of over 600 works of art. The museum houses works by such famous artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, Thomas Hart Benton and Edward Hopper.

Sant Ambroeus

Inspired by the eponymous Milanese café established in the 1930’s, Sant Ambroeus serves authentic Italian fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At this West Village offshoot of the Upper East Side original, the dim interior is furnished with rich wood paneling, a Murano glass chandelier, large booths upholstered with Etro fabric, and candlelit tables after sundown. During the day, however, the sidewalk tables—which provide excellent people-watching—are often in higher demand. The menu includes cappuccino and cornetti (Italian croissants) for breakfast; prosciutto and Swiss cheese panini for lunch; and at dinnertime, filet mignon carpaccio followed by veal Milanese.

Le Gray

Hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray (One Aldwych, in London; Carlisle Bay, in Antigua) has fallen in love with Lebanon’s gritty capital, which is why he chose to open his latest property there. Designed by British doyenne Mary Fox Linton (along with Campbell Gray), this 87-room property faces the Hadiqat As-Samah (a garden in central Beirut), Hariri mosque, and St. George’s cathedral (a vista that encapsulates the city’s complex history). The vibrant modern art collection, rooftop infinity pool, in-room Jura espresso machines, and expert concierge service trumpet the glamorous Mediterranean city’s renaissance.

Sunrise Mart

Part supermarket and part community center for the ever-increasing Japanese population in the famously diverse East Village, Sunrise Market is a veritable one-stop shop hidden away on the second floor of a Third Avenue locale. The interior is brightly and cheerfully lit, and the wide aisles are filled to bursting with hard-to-find Asian goods, everything from housewares like quality rice cookers and hand-crafted, ceramic tableware to tofu, nashi (Japanese pear), and ocotopus tentacles. You might find it challenging to navigate through the packaged goods (most are labeled in Japanese), but don't fret: the grocers are friendly and stand ready to translate.

Tarallucci e Vino