The Land Where St. Patrick Walked

March 17, 2011

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue is the world’s biggest, noisiest, happiest celebration of Ireland and its patron saint. Between the dancing, drinking and green hair, it is easy for an observer to think that those who hail from “the land with 40 shades of green” have always been welcome and accepted here.

But the story of the Irish in New York has many a tragic side. Most terrible is the reason that so many Irish citizens arrived on our shores 150 years ago; they were fleeing the disaster known as An Gorta Mór (the Great Hunger). The devestation began in the late 1840s, when a virus attacked the potatoes planted in the fields of the land where St. Patrick had walked.

Cheap, filling, and easy to grow, potatoes were an essential source of nutrition for poor, rural Irish families. When the virus caused the potato plants to wither and their crops to fail, it wasn’t long before starvation set in.

The Great Hunger, also known as the Great Potato Famine, lasted from 1845 to 1852. During that period approximately one million Irish people died and two million more emigrated, many of them landing in New York Harbor. Now, in a quiet corner of Battery Park, near the spot where those desperate survivors arrived, stands the Irish Hunger Memorial.

Created by New York artist Brian Tolle, the memorial opened in 2002 on a quarter-acre of land shaped to resemble a burial mound cut from an Irish hillside. The base of the memorial is made of slabs of concrete interlaced with bands of plexiglass-covered metal bearing excerpts from reports, poems, songs, sermons and letters describing the desperation and destitution of the victims of the famine. These are intermingled with information about world hunger today.

After walking around the base, visitors walk through a short, dark corridor where recorded voices recite facts about the Hunger and emerge into a small atrium lined with stone walls. A dirt path winds up the hill past thirty-two massive stones, each marked with the name the Irish county that donated it, a roofless stone cottage, wildflowers and grasses, all imported from Ireland.

Every aspect of this small patch of land is significant and symbolic; even the size of the space reflects the Irish Poor Law of 1847, which denied relief to those living on land larger than a quarter of acre. Small, subtle and enormously moving, the Irish Hunger Memorial helps illuminate the wonderful, terrible history of the Irish in New York City.

Approaching the memorial from West Street

Closer to the entrance

Plantings overhanging the concrete

Through the entry corridor

Words on the walls

More quotations on the walls

The words stretch on

Climbing the hill

The view from the top of the hill

CRG Gallery: Brian Tolle
The New York Times: A Memorial Remembers The Hungry
New York Magazine: Irish Hunger Memorial
NYC: Battery Park
Battery Park Conservancy

No more photos! No more photos!

September 1, 2010

“No more photos!,” cried the guard, waving his hand in front of my camera. “No more photos! The museum is closed! You go now!”

Well, not exactly closed, but almost. It was 5:20 and the Metropolitan Museum of Art was getting ready to shut its doors for the day. I was part of the throng heading towards the main entrance when the guard saw me pause at the entrance to the Greek and Roman galleries to snap a picture.

I responded to his excited command with a smile and a nod. I briskly moved forward again, keeping my camera in hand but concealing it from the guard’s gimlet eye.

As I hurried out of Greek and Roman, I captured this shot of a tourist inspecting the work known as Fragments of a marble statue of the Diadoumenos (youth tying a fillet around his head), ca. A.D. 69–96.

Viewing a Roman statue

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Fragments of a marble statue of the Diadoumenos
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Greek and Roman Galleries
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Greek and Roman Art

The Last Word

August 16, 2010

In 2008, when the magnificent but crumbling 1887 synagogue on Eldridge Street was restored, it was renamed the Museum at Eldridge Street. Currently, on the lower level of the Museum, near the tiny gift shop, an odd structure stands against one wall.

Made of brown cardboard, it resembles a tall, rectangular honeycomb. Tightly rolled slips of white paper protrude from most of the cells and a nearby sign provides both an explanation and instructions.

There are always things left unsaid. The perfect ending to a conversation with a stranger. A clever comeback in a debate with a colleague at work. A farewell bid to a loved one. Missed opportunities to get in the last word. What do you wish you had said? Now is the time to say it.

Please feel free to remove a white-side out piece of paper and share your last word, returning it to the honeycomb with the red-side exposed. You may also read the last word of other participants, but please be sure to return all pieces of paper.

Here are some of the Last Words that were left in the cardboard chambers. Please excuse the poor quality of the photos; they were taken with my phone.

The cardboard honeycomb


Why does my mother still not know

Your my sister!

A farewell bid to Betsy

Please forgive me

I hate pie

Boo freaking hoo

All I want for my b-day

I miss you very much

Je souhaite tout le bonheur

I wish we could have really talked

Te estrano monita

Thank you for everything you have done.

I still dream about you

Museum at Eldridge Street
Museum at Eldridge Street: About
Museum at Eldridge Street: Blog
Illegal Art
NY Times: A Final Word

The 31st Annual Museum Mile Festival

June 9, 2009

There are two things I dislike about the Museum Mile Festival:

1) It happens only once a year.
2) It lasts only three hours.

There simply isn’t enough time to take in everything that happens during this event which stretches along Fifth Avenue from 82nd Street to 105th Street — 23 blocks offering nine museums (all providing free admission) along with concerts, clowns, jugglers, face painters, and arts and crafts projects.

In past years I’ve started at the lower end, near the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 82nd Street, and attempted to work my way up but never made it past the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum at 91st Street. This time I decided to start at the northern end of the festival, heading down from El Museo del Barrio at 105th Street.

Unlike the rest of the institutions on museum mile, El Museo does not have its own building. Instead, it is one of variety of Latino arts organizations housed in the massive, block-filling, neo-Georgian Heckscher Building at 1230 Fifth Avenue (other tenants include the Raíces Latin Music Museum Collection of Harbor Conservatory and La Casa de la Herencia Cultural Puertorriqueña).

Although El Museo is currently closed for renovations, the Latin-flavored music issuing from their loudspeakers inspired passersby to dance in the street. Inside the Heckscher Building, through corridors of worn linoleum and flickering florescent lights, they offered a mask-making workshop, a salsa jam session, and promises that they will reopen in the fall.

The next stop was across the street to the Museum of the City of New York, which is charged with a “unique mandate: to explore the past, present, and future of this fascinating and particular place and to celebrate its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. A variety of exhibitions, public programs, and publications all investigate what gives New York City its singular character.”

The current programs are tied to NY400: Holland on the Hudson, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Dutch. In 1609 the Half Moon, guided by Captain Henry Hudson, landed on the shores of what is now New York City. Hudson’s arrival led to the establishment of New Amsterdam and the New Netherland colony.

This was my first visit to the museum and, while I was eager to rejoin the celebrations outside, I couldn’t drag myself away from the programs including exhibits about Manhattan before Hudson’s arrival, the Dutch city, and the acapella concert by the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.

I kept checking my watch, thinking that I was missing the rest of the festival, but remaining unwilling to leave as I learned about the many Dutch influences that continue to touch our lives in New York City today. I lingered at a map that shows areas of the city with their original Dutch names: Breuckelen (Brooklyn), Vlackebos (Flatbush), Boswijck (Bushwick), Conijne Eylandt (Coney Island), Midwout (Midwood), Nieuw Utrecht (New Utrecht). I listened to recordings based on diaries and letters written by the Dutch colonists. I gazed at the rare artifacts, books, manuscripts, maps and globes.

I stayed until the museum was ready to lock its doors for the night. When I got back to the street, the festival was over. The street had reopened to traffic and a few stragglers were using discarded pieces of chalk to make their marks on the sidewalks and walls.

Perhaps next year I’ll take in more than one or two museums during the festival. Then again, perhaps not. Why rush to “get through” a good experience?

I once read a highly-recommended guide to Paris by Rick Steves which included instructions on how to see the Louvre Museum in less than an hour (maintain a brisk pace and glace at certain key works in case your friends back home ask what you thought of, say, the Mona Lisa). When I got to Paris I ditched the book and spent an entire day inside the Louvre, lingering after dark to watch the skateboarders clattering on the stairs and terraces above the Seine. The “in a hurry” crowd never knew what they missed.

Dancing in the middle of Fifth Avenue

Drawing in the street

Another little artist

Inside the Heckscher Building

Jam session in El Museo del Barrio

Viewing the NY400 exhibits

Photographs of Dutch citizens

Moving up and down the stairway

Exploring the galleries

A figure originally used to hold a compass on a ship

Looking at Dutch photographs of New Yorkers

A guide to Nieu-Nederlandt

Viewing a video about New York history

Map of New Amsterdam

Inside the galleries

The crowd straggles out of the Museum of the City of New York

Writing on the walls with chalk

Chalk message on a museum wall

Annual Museum Mile Festival
El Museo del Barrio
Museum of the City of New York
NY Times: Voyaging Up the Hudson to Rediscover the Dutch
New York City Gay Men’s Chorus

The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill

October 30, 2008

This is the final week of the art installation known as The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill. Located in a former shop in Greenwich Village, the exhibit by secretive UK artist Banksy provides an original view of pets, food and the ways they intersect.

At first glace, it seems that the space is outfitted like a standard pet shop: the walls are lined with tanks and cages, rows of cat food and dog treats. But a closer look reveals that the Village Pet Store contains no live animals.

Instead, there are fish sticks swimming in a bowl, animatronic Chicken McNuggets dipping themselves into a cup of barbecue sauce, sausages wriggling beside a bowl of olives, a rabbit at a vanity applying makeup, and a rhesus monkey, remote control clutched in his paw, transfixed by a television program about gorillas.

View from the street

Sign in the front window

Fish sticks swimming in a bowl

Chicken McNuggets dip into cup of sauce

Merchandise displayed on wall

Menu above front windows

Leopardskin coat lounging on a branch

Sausages with toothpicks

Sliced salami with bowl of olives

Hot dog with bottle of mustard

White rabbit with makeup

Monkey watching television

Monkey and observer

Molting bird in a cage

The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill
NY Times: Where Fish Sticks Swim Free and Chicken Nuggets Self-Dip

Post-Bang with Lynda Barry

June 6, 2008

Author, teacher, humorist, cartoonist, muse, Lynda Barry is an American original. She is brilliant, creative, dedicated and inspirational, yet somehow the fame and fortune (especially the fortune) she deserves have managed to elude her.

Instead of being a household name, she is more of a cult figure. While a devoted fanbase worships her every jot and scribble, she still struggles to have her work published and derives most of her income by selling sketches on eBay.

Tonight, Lynda spoke as part of Post Bang: Comics Ten Minutes After the Big Bang!, a symposium on the growing cultural significance of comics sponsored by New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU with the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA). This was a serious academic event which described Lynda’s appearance thusly: “Harvard scholar Hillary Chute in conversation with one of the country’s foremost alternative cartoonists, LYNDA BARRY (Ernie Pook’s Comeek, The Good Times are Killing Me, What It Is).”

I’ll never understand why Americans think nothing of paying $5 for a fancy cup of coffee that lasts only a few minutes, or $100 for a pair of sneakers that will wear out in a few months, yet balk at paying $20 for a book that is sheer genius and will last a lifetime. C’mon, give the red-headed lady some respect.

If you have any interest at all in creativity, writing, conquering the internal demons that prevent you from telling your stories or learning how to be your own muse, please buy (or at least read) What it Is.

What it Is

Lynda Barry

What It Is
Lynda Barry’s shop on eBay
Marlys Magazine
Post Bang: Comics Ten Minutes After the Big Bang!
Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA)
Drawn and Quarterly publishers
NY Times: How to Think Like a Surreal Cartoonist
My Shrine to Lynda Barry
National Public Radio (NPR): Lynda Barry on What it Is
Salon: Lynda Barry, Barefoot on the Shag


May 6, 2008

Did you ever look at something displayed in a gallery or museum and wondered why on earth the experts had chosen to show that? Ever think you could do a better job of selecting works worth displaying?

Well, now you can. Yes, you, too, can judge an art show in a major museum.

Here’s the deal: the Brooklyn Museum, the second largest art museum in New York (and one of the largest in the country) is holding a new photography show that allows the public to participate in the exhibition process.

The exhibit, entitled Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition, was inspired by a book, The Wisdom of Crowds, which says that a diverse crowd often makes wiser decisions than those made by the so-called experts.

For Click!, anyone who is interested can go to the museum’s Web site and, until May 23, rate how well the photographs reflect the theme: The Changing Faces of Brooklyn. The crowd’s ratings will determine which photos will be exhibited at the museum and how they will be displayed.

Um, yes, in case you are wondering, I did submit a photo and no, I cannot link to it on the museum’s site.

From the museum’s Web site:

What do you mean by “the changing faces of Brooklyn”?
Brooklyn, like most of New York City, is in a constant state of change. Population growth and environmental causes have altered the borough’s terrain, transforming commercial and residential areas and impacting the borough’s residents and activity. Considering Brooklyn’s transformation over the years, its past and its present, please submit a photograph that captures the “changing face(s) of Brooklyn.” We welcome a wide variety of visual interpretations of this topic.

Who is on the jury?
Anyone and everyone! We are asking as many people as possible to evaluate submissions. In crowd theory, it’s important that the crowd be diverse, so we encourage people from all backgrounds and geographic locations to participate.

Why can’t I send a link to a friend and tell them to vote for my work?
We don’t allow linking directly to works to avoid having the results skewed by promotional methods. Your work will be displayed without attribution [my name doesn’t appear], and all evaluation data will be withheld until the exhibition in June. Although you can’t send a direct link to your work, we want you to encourage friends, family, and colleagues to participate in the evaluation process. Please help us spread the word.

Want to give it a try? Start here: Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition and register on the museum’s Web site. The rating period ends May 23, 2008.

PS: If you do come across my photo (below) I’d appreciate a good rating. Have fun!

Legalizacion Para Todos Los Inmigrantes
Legalizacion Para Todos Los Inmigrantes

Brooklyn Museum: Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition
Brooklyn Museum: Click! exhibit blog
TechCrunch: The Brooklyn Museum Lets the Crowd Curate a Show
Museum 2.0: Brooklyn Clicks with the Crowd: What Makes a Smart Mob?


April 27, 2008

Recently, the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art held an innovative exhibition called blog.mode: addressing fashion. The ideas behind the show, which closed on April 13, were that (1) fashion is a living art form and, like all art, open to multiple interpretations and (2) it is important to promote critical and creative dialogues about fashion.

The exhibition included forty costumes and accessories that were recently acquired by the Met, and visitors were encouraged to share their reactions using computers set up in the Costume Institute galleries. You can see all of the clothes, and read comments on the exhibit blog (sadly, comments can no longer be added) by clicking the links below.

These are some of my favorites from the show, where the question wasn’t “Is it attractive?” or “Would I wear that?” (after all, most of these things were never intended for everyday wear) but rather “What does that garment say?”

Entrance — the Costume Institute is on the lower level.

Long dress

Gray constructed dresses

Pleated dresses

Three white dresses

Pink gown

Pink shoe

Blog.mode: Introduction
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Blog.mode Exhibit

A Trip at the Whitney Museum

September 14, 2007

All summer long, I heard about the Summer of Love exhibit at the Whitney Museum.

Four decades after hippies gathered at a “Human-Be-In” in Golden Gate Park, the Grateful Dead released their first album and LSD was outlawed in the US, the Whitney Museum of American Art revisited this period of psychedellia, flower power and civil unrest, examined the creative and cultural explosion that took place in San Francisco, New York and London, and put it all into an historic context.

All summer long, I met former hippies and wannabees who assured me that the exhibit was “far-out, man,” and an authentic representation of their drug-soaked youth (at least, as far as they could remember).

And all summer long, I thought I’d eventually get around to making a trip to the Madison Avenue and seeing the show. Then, suddenly, I realized that this was the closing weekend.

I ran to the Whitney and spent the evening in psychedellic bliss, gazing at the intricately-drawn concert posters, watching the light shows, viewing “mind-blowing” experimental films, wearing goggles intended to create distorted visions, crawling through brightly-colored, sculpted environments, blinking at the strobe lights and spinning metal circles and listening to Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead.

Listening? Yes, this is the first major museum show I’ve seen where the audiotour included a complete soundtrack, with songs tied to most of the major works. For example, stand in front of the case full of underground magazines, push the number posted on the wall and you’d listen to Bob Dylan singing Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship / My senses have been stripped, my hands can’t feel to grip / My toes too numb to step / Wait only for my boot heels to be wanderin‘.

The program’s musical selections included:

* The 13th Floor Elevators – You’re Gonna Miss Me
* The Beatles – All You Need Is Love
* The Beatles – Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
* The Beatles – Revolution No. 9
* Big Brother &Amp; The Holding Company: Piece Of My Heart
* Eric Burdon – San Franciscan Nights
* Butterfield Blues Band – East-West
* The Byrds – So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
* The Charlatans – Baby Won’t You Tell Me
* Chicago – Someday
* Country Joe & the Fish – Acid Commercial
* Country Joe & the Fish – Bass Strings
* Cream – Crossroads
* Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young – Ohio
* The Doors – Break On Through
* Bob Dylan – Mr. Tamourine Man
* Fleur Des Lys – Circles
* The Fugs – Kill For Peace
* Allen Ginsberg – Tonight Let’s All Make Love In London
* Grateful Dead – I Know You Rider
* Great Society – Somebody To Love
* Hapshash And The Coloured Coat – H-O-P-P Why
* Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced (Live)
* Jimi Hendrix – Foxy Lady
* Iron Butterfly – In A Gadda Da Vida
* Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit
* Jefferson Airplane – Won’t You Try Saturday Afternoon
* Janis Joplin – Mercedes Benz
* Janis Joplin – Raise Your Hand
* Moby Grape – Dark Magic
* David Peel – I Like Marijuana
* Pink Floyd – Interstellar Overdrive
* Purple Gang – Granny Takes A Trip
* Quicksilver Messenger Service – Mona
* The Rolling Stones – Street Fighting Man
* The Rolling Stones – Wild Horses
* Santana – Samba Pa Ti
* Santana – Soul Sacrifice
* The Velvet Underground – Venus In Furs
* The Velvet Underground – What Goes On
* Frank Zappa & Mothers Of Invention – Willie The Pimp

I descended to the Museum’s lower level to catch a glimpse of one psychedellic masterpiece that didn’t fit into the main galleries: Janis Joplin’s painted Porsche, exhibited on the museum’s patio. As I passed through the gift shop to reach it, I happened upon workers busily setting up seats for a one-time-only performance of Hotel Cassiopeia: The Backstory.

Part of the museum’s “Whitney Live” series, the show, hosted by Anne Bogart and playwright Charles Mee, was based upon the life of artist Joseph Cornell. It included an excerpt from the play Hotel Cassiopeia and presentations by filmmaker Jeanne Liotta and Cornell’s former assistant, sculptor Harry Roseman.

I joined the audience for what proved to be the perfect end to the evening: as part of a small, curious company tucked away below Manhattan’s busy streets and engrossed in an hour of art, film, music, magic and love.

Summer of Love brochure

Men in dark gallery watching light show

Janis Joplin’s Porsche (rear view)

Janis Joplin’s Porsche (front view)

Whitney Museum
Whitney Museum: Summer of Love
Timothy Leary
Poets: Allen Ginsberg
Charles Mee
Brooklyn Academy of Music: Hotel Cassiopeia
Joseph Cornell
Jeanne Liotta
Vassar: Harry Roseman

A Peek Inside a Padded Room

March 24, 2007

Priscilla Monge: Room for Isolation & Restraint
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Yesterday the Brooklyn Museum opened the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. The inaugrual exhibition, entitled Global Feminisms, includes this work, Priscilla Monge’s “Room for Isolation & Restraint (Cuarto de aislamiento y proteccion),” an “installation with sanitary napkins inside a wood-framed structure.”

To the right of the door is white bin overflowing with white disposable shoe covers and a sign saying “Please put on shoe covers before entering this room. Por favor, utilicen los cubre zapatos desechables para acceder a esta habitacion.”

Global Feminisms includes work by approximately eighty women artists and will be on display at the Sackler Center until July 1.

Brooklyn Museum: Global Feminisms
Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art
Marco Canepa Gallery: Priscilla Monge

A Trip to the Jewish Museum

January 27, 2007

After thoughtful consultation by the Museum’s Trustees and management, and with the endorsement and support of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, we embarked upon the experiment of opening the exhibition galleries on Saturdays, on a trial basis, [from May 12] through September 16, 2006. In observance of the Jewish Sabbath, Saturday admission is free, the shops and café are closed, and interactive electronics are not available. We are wholly committed to providing an educational and contemplative experience in a way that respects and honors the Sabbath spirit.

It isn’t the biggest museum in the city, nor the most famous, nor the site of the biggest, splashiest exhibitions. It doesn’t have the best-known collection, make headlines with controversial shows or plaster the city with racy posters, so even though it is located on Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile, many people never think about walking through the doors of the Jewish Museum.

Recently, the museum’s directors have taken a few steps to increase the number of visitors, including remaining open on Saturdays, offering free admission on Saturday (adult admission is usually $12), and hosting exhibits featuring well-known artists and popular culture. (Note to management: allowing visitors to use cameras would be a nice next step.)

I took advantage of the free Saturday policy to see the current shows as well as a permanent display, Culture & Continuity: The Jewish Journey. The exhibit consists of a series of videos, playing continuously on a row of televisions, which reflect five themes from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: A time to be born and a time to die; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to love and a time to hate; a time of war and a time for peace.

Masters of American Comics
September 15, 2006 – January 28, 2007
Originally exhibited in Los Angeles, this show, the first major museum examination of one of America’s most popular forms of art, was split into two sections when it came East: comic strips from the first half of the 20th century went to the Newark Museum while comic books from the 1950s and later were exhibited at the Jewish Museum.

Superheroes: Good and Evil in American Comics
September 15, 2006 – January 28, 2007
Superheroes examines how, in the 1930s and 1940s, young artists and writers (many of them Jewish immigrants who had suffered as victims of oppression) created a new comic book genre—the superhero. This superb exhibit shows how these innovators melded characters from Greek mythology and biblical narratives with the immigrant experience of America to create superheroes: personages who, while seeming to be ordinary people, were actually powerful figures dedicated to fighting for “truth, justice and the American way.”

Light x Eight: The Hanukkah Project
November 25, 2006 – February 04, 2007
In honor of Hanukkah, the Jewish feast of lights, the show features the work of eight contemporary artists exploring lights’s ability to change in form, appearance and structure.

Alex Katz Paints Ada
October 27, 2006 – March 18, 2007
Prominent Brooklyn-born painter Alex Katz has spent most of his career depicting a single subject, his wife, model Ada del Moro. The show includes 40 paintings Katz created between 1957 to 2005, all of them featuring Ada. According to a sign posted at the exhibit, “Ada’s sense of style is timeless and unassuming and she … has a knack for wearing outfits that would make anyone else look dowdy.”

From Light x 8: Alyson Shotz’s Coalescence
Originally uploaded by annulla.

From Light x 8: Teresita Fernández’s Vermillion Fragment
Originally uploaded by annulla.

From Masters: Devil Dinosaur
Originally uploaded by annulla.

From Masters: Chris Ware’s Superman Suicide
Originally uploaded by annulla.

From Superheroes: Will Eisner drawing with corrections
Originally uploaded by annulla.

From Superheroes: Will Eisner’s The Spirit
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Zap Comics #1 by R. Crumb
Originally uploaded by annulla.

From Alex Katz: Black Scarf
Originally uploaded by annulla.

From Alex Katz: Ada Ada
Originally uploaded by annulla.

NY Times: Masters of American Comics
The Jewish Museum: Masters of American Comics
The Jewish Museum: Superheroes
The Jewish Museum: Light x Eight: The Hanukkah Project
The Jewish Museum: Alex Katz Paints Ada
The Jewish Museum
Museum’s Exhibition Galleries To Open On Saturdays

A Visit to the Brooklyn Museum

January 13, 2007

The Brooklyn Museum is one of the least popular and, unquestionably, most controversial of the nation’s major museums.

Originally planned in the late 1800s as an outgrowth of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, it was meant to be a center of education and research in science, art and natural history. At the time, Brooklyn was not yet incorporated into the City of New York, and the Brooklyn Museum was designed on a scale suited to the ambitions of the vibrant, rapidly-growing city. The massive Beaux Arts building was designed by McKim, Mead & White, then the preeminent architectural firm in the country, and was intended to be “the largest single museum structure in the world.”

The museum has amassed one of the world’s greatest Egyptian collections and is noted for its significant holdings of American and European paintings and more than two dozen American period rooms.

Like most public institutions, over the years the museum has struggled with budgetary constraints, changes in public tastes and shifting political fortunes. However, the Brooklyn Museum has also suffered from a long series of controversial policies and decisions. These range from the destruction of the significant architectural features (the results of ill-conceived attempts to renovate and modernize) to the outrage surrounding many of the choices made by museum director Arnold Lehman.

In recent years the museum’s efforts have shifted from a focus on education to an emphasis on finding ways to increase attendance. It has mounted large exhibits devoted to aspects popular culture including ‘Star Wars’ films, hip-hop performers, photographs of Marilyn Monroe and graffiti, where “hipness,” glitz and glitter were abundant while scholarship seemed to be in short supply.

I appreciate a museum showing me something new or unexpected (in fact, that’s one of the primary reasons I visit) but I want to understand what I’m seeing and why the museum has deemed it worthy of exhibition. And museum-going in New York isn’t cheap. I feel cheated if I have to spend money to reach a museum, pay an admission fee to get in and then find that, in order to learn about the show’s significance and historical context, I’d have to shell out $50 more for a copy of the catalog.

Regardless of whether the information is communicated through signs, brochures, audiotours, docents or some other means, I want to leave a museum feeling that I’ve learned something substantial. All too often, this hasn’t been my experience at the Brooklyn Museum and in response, I’ve stayed away.

However, on October 20, 2006, amidst much hype, the museum opened an exhibition of work by photographer Annie Liebovitz. For months I was able to withstand the ads that adorned every bus shelter and subway car touting the show, the accompanying book and the television documentary, but was unable to ignore the people who asked why I hadn’t yet seen the show. Finally, today, I succumbed to peer pressure and visited the Brooklyn Museum.

The museum must have seriously underestimated the effect their marketing efforts would have, because on this frigid day the entrance line stretched out the front door and down the block. Once inside, museum-goers waited to pay admission, then waited again for admittance to elevators that they went to exhibit floor (special elevators were reserved for members and VIPs), and finally queued up for admission to the rooms where 200 or so of Liebovitz’s photographs hung.

Although she is known primarily for her portraits of celebrities, the show also included photos of Liebovitz’s travels, friends and family. While most of her work was familiar, the surprise of the day appeared in an adjacent area where the startling, extraordinarily lifelike work of Australian sculptor Ron Mueck was displayed.

Two exhibits worth seeing, both diligently patrolled by guards who told visitors to please put away their cameras; taking photographs is forbidden. “Sorry,” they said, “but no pictures are allowed. It’s a museum policy.”

Iggy Pop by Annie Liebovitz
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Mick Jagger by Annie Liebovitz
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Nicole Kidman by Annie Liebovitz
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Susan at the House on Hedges Lane by Annie Liebovitz
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Mask by Ron Mueck
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Baby by Ron Mueck
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Big Man by Ron Mueck
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Brooklyn Museum
Ron Mueck at the Brooklyn Museum
Annie Leibovitz at the Brooklyn Museum
PBS American Masters: Annie Liebovitz
Annie Leibovitz at the Brooklyn Museum (Part 1)
Discord at Brooklyn Museum
Brooklyn Museum Offs Curatorial Depts
Loss of Curators’ Power Seen in Brooklyn Museum
Museum Recruited Donors Who Stood To Gain
Museum Group Adopts Guidelines on Sponsors
Art, Money & Control

Where the “big stuff” is

October 1, 2006

Mission: To discover, interpret, and disseminate – through scientific research and education – knowledge about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe.

In 1871 The American Museum of Natural History mounted its first exhibit in the Central Park Arsenal. Within one year, the institution had outgrown its home at the Arsenal and was busily engaged in building a bigger facility.

One hundred and thirty-five years later, the Museum is still expanding, adding new halls, exhibits and laboratories. The current facilities include 45 permanent exhibition halls spread across 25 interconnected buildings all located on 18 acres across the street from Central Park.

Regardless of the latest additions, for many people the museum will always be the place where the “big stuff” is — the monumental, the outlandish, the extraordinary all lie within these stone walls.

Whether you are on your first visit or your thousandth, at some point a trip to the Museum will make you stop in your tracks, look up in awe and say, “Wow!”

The five-story tall Barosaurus at the main entrance Posted by Picasa

A 300 foot wide slice from Giant Sequoia tree Posted by Picasa

The 94 foot long blue whale Posted by Picasa

  • American Museum of Natural History
  • Barosaurus
  • Giant Sequoia
  • The Hall of Ocean Life

  • A Tiny Taste of the Silk Road

    September 29, 2006

    The Silk Road is an ancient trading route that stretches over high mountains and arid deserts to connect Europe with China. Just the words Silk Road conjure up visions of fearless nomads, dauntless explorers, isolated villagers, exotic cities, extraordinary landscapes and rare treasures.

    It is still possible to follow the storied course; you can fly to Rome and go East, or start in Beijing and head westward. But if a long, expensive journey isn’t possible, you can find a small sample some of the sights and sounds found along Silk Road without leaving the city.

    Tonight’s journey began in a curtained niche at Khyber Pass, an Afghani restaurant on St. Mark’s Place, where diners sat on tapestry-covered cushions. While sitars, ouds and drums played, the low table was covered with fragrant, steaming platters of mantoo (steamed dumplings filled with minced beef, onions, herbs and spices, served with a yogurt and meat sauce), fesenjan (boneless pieces of chicken cooked with walnuts and pomegranate juice), boulanee kadu (turnovers filled with pumpkin and served with a creamy yogurt dip), quorma sabzee (spicy spinach, coriander, scallions, lamb and rice), a basket of dense, golden Afghani bread and cups of Turkish coffee and shir-chay (a traditional pink tea brewed with mik, sugar, cardamom and rose petals).

    Dinner was followed by a short walk to Chelsea. There the Rubin Museum of Art, dedicated to the art of the Himalayas and surrounding regions, offered another step along the Silk Road: an exhibition entitled I See No Stranger: Early Sikh Art and Devotion. The show presents the history, art and culture of the Sikh religion, which was founded in northern India in the 15th century.

    The museum, located in a 70,000 square-foot building that once housed a chic department store, opened less than two years ago. It includes a steel and marble staircase that spirals dramatically through the seven-story gallery tower and, surprisingly, a dimly-lit cocktail lounge on the ground floor.

    Admission to the Rubin Museum of Art, normally $10, is free Friday evenings from 7:00 – 10:00 p.m. Dinner at Khyber Pass is about $20 per person. Budget tours of the Silk Road start at about $1,700, not including air fare from New York to China.

    I See No Stranger Posted by Picasa

  • Rubin Museum of Art
  • New York Times: Wonders of Sikh Spirituality
  • AM New York: The World of the Sikh
  • Khyber Pass Restaurant
  • Menu Pages: Khyber Pass Restaurant
  • Tours of The Silk Road
  • The Silk Road Project

  • Middle Age Crazy

    August 12, 2006

    High atop a hill at the northern tip of Manhattan Island stands the Cloisters, the branch of the Metropolitan Museum devoted to the art of the middle ages. Constructed in the early 20th century, the fortress-like building was inspired by medieval structures. The setting, structure and core of the collection were gifts from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to the people of New York.

    This building incorporates chapels, halls, rooms and architectural elements from Europe. The ancient stone portals, windows, columns and fountains allow many of the items on display to be shown in settings similar to their original situations. Visitors don’t simply view a wooden crucifix hanging against a white gallery wall; they see it displayed in a stone chapel, illuminated by sunbeams streaming through stained glass windows.

    The museum also features three enclosed gardens, including an herb garden containing more than 250 species that were grown during the Middle Ages. The plants, grown in beds and large pots, are grouped by their intended use: household, medicinal, aromatic, kitchen and seasoning, salads and vegetables, plants used by artists, magic plants, those associated with love and marriage.

    The most famous work in the Cloisters is the Unicorn Tapestries, a series of Belgian textiles portraying a party of nobles hunting and capturing the mythical creature. The collection also includes stained-glass windows, metalwork, sculpture, painting, liturgical miniatures, enamels, jewelry and of course, cloisters.

    Main entrance Posted by Picasa

    Lion wall fountain Posted by Picasa

    Doorway to a courtyard Posted by Picasa

    Butterfly in herb garden Posted by Picasa

    Dragon fresco Posted by Picasa

    Lion fresco Posted by Picasa

    Carved ivory Posted by Picasa

    Miniature ivory carving Posted by Picasa

    Cross shadow Posted by Picasa

    Red columns Posted by Picasa

    The Unicorn is Found Posted by Picasa

    The Unicorn Leaps Out of the Stream Posted by Picasa

    The Unicorn at Bay Posted by Picasa

    The Start of the Hunt Posted by Picasa

    The Unicorn in Captivity Posted by Picasa

    Window in gothic hall Posted by Picasa

    Swabian stained glass panel of groom Posted by Picasa

    Swabian stained glass panel of bride Posted by Picasa

    A seat in the shade Posted by Picasa

    Bonnefort Cloister on lower level Posted by Picasa

    Espaliered pear tree Posted by Picasa

    Exterior at closing time Posted by Picasa

  • The Cloisters
  • Introduction to the Cloisters
  • The Unicorn Tapestries
  • The Cloisters: Medieval Art and Architecture
  • Middle Age Crazy

  • MoMA loves Dada

    July 17, 2006

    As a student I learned that Dada was a short-lived, rather silly art movement of little significance. My professor snickered about a few European artists who became notorious in the 1920s and 1930s by treating porcelain urinals like fine art and filming each other slicing up cow’s eyeballs. They knew how to get publicity, he told us, but they created nothing of lasting value or meaning.

    How little he — and I — knew. This exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was a revelation. The show is the first in the United States devoted exclusively Dada, and it is one of the best exhibits I’ve ever seen. I wandered in with no particular expectations and left with a fresh understanding of, and appreciation for, one of the most influential art movements of the 20th century.

    The exhibit will be open for two more months. If you have the opportunity to go, do so and be prepared to think about Dada in an entirely new way. Don’t forget to pick up an audio guide. The commentary is fascinating and, thanks to our art-loving mayor, who has been throwing some of his money in MoMA’s direction, the guides are currently available free of charge.

    Dada at MoMA Posted by Picasa

  • MOMA
  • MOMA: Online Dada Feature
  • Dada at MoMA Exhibit Catalog
  • The New York Review of Books
  • The International Dada Archive

  • A visit to Governors Island

    July 7, 2006

    If you’ve spent any time in New York, you’ve probably seen Governors Island, but chances are you’ve never been there. This island in New York Harbor long served as a key defense base and access was restricted to authorized military personnel.

    In the period immediately following the revolution, the newly-formed United States fortified Governors Island. Fort Jay was built at the island’s highest point and Castle Willliams near the shore. Administrative buildings, housing and other facilities were erected, and for hundreds of years the island was occupied and run by various branches of the military.

    In 1996, in a cost-cutting measure, the Coast Guard reassigned officers and troops, moved equipment and records, and permanently closed the base at Governor’s Island. Once emptied of its inhabitants, the island was essentially split in two; the 92-acre area surrounding Fort Jay and Castle Williams was declared a national historic landmark district and the remaining 150 acres turned over to City and State of New York, which have not yet decided on its use.

    This summer, the island’s historic landmark district is open to the public. Ferry service brings visitors from the Battery Maritime Building (next to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal) and tours are provided by the National Park Service; both ferry and tour are free of charge.

    Benign neglect has allowed much of the historic district to slide into decay and most of the Victorian manses on Colonel’s Row, once devoted to officers’ housing, remain off-limits. While visitors aren’t able to enter most of the buildings, they are free to enjoy the sweeping views, stroll the wide walkways, laze under the centuries-old shady trees and explore the ghost town the lies only a few hundred yards from Manhattan.

    Welcome to Governors Island Posted by Picasa

    Castle Williams and lower Manhattan Posted by Picasa

    Cannon and dry moat at Fort Jay Posted by Picasa

    Abandoned hospital Posted by Picasa

    Abandoned dental office Posted by Picasa

    Support Center New York Posted by Picasa

    Inside abandoned building (shot through window) Posted by Picasa

    Abandoned housing Posted by Picasa

    Vine-covered fence Posted by Picasa

    Visitor reading in the leafy shade Posted by Picasa

    Our Lady Star of the Sea Posted by Picasa

    Weeds growing through cracked tennis courts Posted by Picasa

    Decaying porch steps Posted by Picasa

    Library Posted by Picasa

  • Governors Island National Monument
  • Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation

  • 28th Annual Museum Mile Festival

    June 13, 2006

    The second Tuesday of every June, as day turns to night, one of the most beautiful sections of the city hosts the Museum Mile Festival. The mile-long stretch of Fifth Avenue from 82nd Street to 104th Street is closed to traffic while nine of the cultural institutions that line its sides are open to the public, free of charge. For a few all-too-brief hours this evening, this normally quiet, dignified street overflowed with laughter, awe, music, art and magic.

    Face painting on 5th Avenue Posted by Picasa

    Escaping from straight jacket & chains Posted by Picasa

    Watching a magician Posted by Picasa

    Jazz in front of National Academy of Design Posted by Picasa

    Young sidewalk artist Posted by Picasa

    Chalk drawing Posted by Picasa

    Chalk drawings by Giorgia Posted by Picasa

    Cassis (Birgit Staudt) in front of the Goethe-Institut Posted by Picasa

    Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre Posted by Picasa

    Juggling flaming torch, machete & apple Posted by Picasa

    Watching a street magician  Posted by Picasa

    Young juggler in front of Metropolitan Museum Posted by Picasa

  • Museum Mile Festival
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art (5th & 82nd)
  • Goethe Institut New York/German Cultural Center (5th & 83rd)
  • Neue Galerie New York (5th & 86th)
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (5th & 89th)
  • National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts (5th & 90th)
  • Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (5th & 91st)
  • The Jewish Museum (5th & 92nd)
  • Museum of the City of New York (5th & 103rd)
  • El Museo del Barrio (5th & 105th)
  • Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre

  • MOMA moments

    July 24, 2005

    Located in midtown Manhattan since 1929, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) began a vast $858 million expansion and renovation project in 2002. Rather than put the entire collection into storage during construction, or shut down completely, the Museum temporarily moved lock, stock and barrel — along with a selection of masterpieces — to a former stapler factory in Queens.

    A series of blockbuster exhibitions enticed dedicated art lovers to make the long subway trip out to the hinterlands (at least once, anyway), but New Yorkers rejoiced when MOMA finally moved back to Manhattan (the library and archives have permanently relocated to Queens).

    The renovated museum has nearly twice the space of the former facility, including the newly created sixth floor that is currently the site of Pioneering Modern Painting: Cézanne and Pissarro 1865–1885. Seeing how these two masters of French impressionism influenced one another was fascinating (unfortunately, cameras were not allowed inside the show). But on a gorgeous day like this the best place to be was outside in the sculpture garden, enjoying the bubbling fountain, the leafy shade and a cool, creamy cup of gelato.

    Ellsworth Kelly. Colors for a Large Wall. 1951. Posted by Picasa

    Henri Matisse. Dance (I). Paris, Hôtel Biron, early 1909. Posted by Picasa

    Barnett Newman. Vir Heroicus Sublimis. 1950-51. Posted by Picasa

    Picasso sculpture Posted by Picasa

    Security guard on 4th floor landing Posted by Picasa

    Napping in the garden Posted by Picasa

    Aristide Maillol. The River. Begun 1938-39; completed 1943. Posted by Picasa

    Girl at gelato stand Posted by Picasa

    Pablo Picasso. She-Goat. Vallauris 1950. Posted by Picasa

  • Museum of Modern Art
  • ArcSpace: MOMA QNS
  • Laboratorio del Gelato

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