Travels With Gloria

Finding beauty mile by mile.

Category: Museums

Six New York Museums And What They Are Good For

The Wilbour Plaque, from the Egyptian Collection at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Good For Actually Learning About Art:

The Brooklyn Museum

While other museums throw piles of art objects behind glass cases with cards that say things like, “Amphora, Corinth, 4th century BCE”, the Brooklyn Museum takes a more down to earth approach. The curators don’t assume that, by virtue of wandering into an art gallery, you must already know what you’re looking at. Instead they tell you what’s up in plain language, often answering questions you didn’t entirely know how to ask.

Venus and the Lute Player, by Titian. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Good For Drowning In Beauty:

The Metropolitan Museum

It’s often difficult to know what, exactly, you’re looking at, and don’t even TRY to see the whole place in one day (or even one lifetime). But the thing about the Metropolitan Museum is that no matter how you approach it or what’s on display, you will always see something that leaves your jaw hanging somewhere around your knees. The collection is just so rich there’s no way to take a wrong turn down a boring hallway full of fusty old junk. The Met doesn’t have any of that.

The Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry. In the collection of the Cloisters.

Good For Time Travel:

A tie between The Cloisters and The Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

Maybe you came to New York because you want to see what being a “true New Yorker” is really like. Maybe you are a “true New Yorker”, and you just want to run away to medieval France for the afternoon. Manhattan can do that. And that. The Cloisters is an actual monastery, shipped here brick by brick from France by the Rockefellers, plopped down in a bucolic and period-accurate hilltop garden, and turned into a medieval art museum. The Tenement Museum is an actual tenement, restored to multiple layers of period-accuracy so that you can wander through on guided tours and see what life was like on the Lower East Side from the 1850’s through the 1970’s. They are two of my favorite places in the world.

Henry Clay Frick didn't have a Rembrandt. He had three motherfuckin' Rembrandts. Photo by Ozier Muhamad, via the New York Times.

Good For Pretending To Be New York Royalty:

The Frick Collection

After you’ve had your fill of the Lower East Side, come uptown and see how the rich capitalist fat cats lived. While the Frick Collection is a proper museum with a straight up ridiculous collection of important European art (Vermeers, y’all), a lot of the rooms have been left relatively untouched, with unobstructed views of Fifth Avenue and Central Park. Making it very easy to stroll amid the velvet couches and gilded clocks as if you, too, were to the manor born. But without all that oppressing the working classes.

Interior of the Guggenheim Museum, photo via shafe.co.uk.

Good For Digging Deeper And Rollerskates:

The Guggenheim

When the Guggenheim is good, it’s amazing. Since the spiral main space is usually treated as one long ramp of a gallery, the curators have become experts in presenting exhibitions that suck the viewer in. Even as a huge museum nerd, for the most part I go into a gallery, look at a few things that seem interesting, maybe read some of the supplementary materials if they’re not too obnoxious, and then zip off to the next thing. But the Guggenheim doesn’t work that way. I typically go in with only the vaguest notion of who the artist is or what the work is about, and I always come out not only a newly minted expert, but head over heels in love. You can blame this museum for almost all of my artistic obsessions. Even minimalism. If you don’t know a ton about art, but you wish you knew more, make a habit of seeing shows at the Guggenheim. Maybe if we all get together, we can convince them to let us bring our skateboards.

Advertisements

Innocence and Experience

Lug Von Siga F/W collection. Photo by Ayten Alpun, via Cool Hunting.

In 2008, Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk published a novel called The Museum of Innocence, about a man who creates a shrine to a doomed love affair with a much younger woman who doesn’t reciprocate his feelings.

On April 28, Pamuk will open an actual museum called The Museum of Innocence, a physical tribute to the shrine and the novel.  I don’t think anything like this exists in any other city, and in fact I had a hard time both conceiving of what the museum actually is and writing the sentence that precedes this one. I’m really sad that I missed this while I was there, just for the chance to wrap my brain around the idea of a museum centered around the characters in a work of fiction.

Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence, under construction. Photo via The End Of Collection

Meanwhile, the look book for Turkish fashion designer Gül Agiș‘ Fall/Winter 2013 collection centers around some of the same themes, exploring forced marriages between young women and much older men in rural Turkey.

”My tears are my witness.” from fabrika.photography on Vimeo.

Painting Myself Into A Corner

Untitled, 1982. Sumi ink on paper. Image courtesy Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Keith Haring was an oddly ubiquitous part of my childhood. Oddly because, well, I grew up in a socially and culturally conservative small town where there is little appreciation for art of any kind, let alone the dingy grafitti-inspired oeuvre of a gay painter from the New York underground club scene.

And yet his work was everywhere in my childhood. Maybe it was his later status at the epicenter of the AIDS crisis, a supposedly gentler alternative to controversial artists like David Wojnarovicz and Robert Mapplethorpe. Or it could have had something to do with MTV’s commissions of their trademark astronaut as a Haring cartoon stick figure.

My memory of his work is so cuddly and bland that at first I wasn’t that interested in seeing the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition Keith Haring: 1878-1982. But I was surprised by the work. It’s more raw than the dogs and babies that made Haring famous, oddly violent and often centered on images of penises and men fucking. This is not the ubiquitous Keith Haring of my childhood.

There are two pieces in the show that not only changed my understanding of Haring’s work but, frankly, blew my mind.

Untitled, 1979. Acrylic and ink on paper. Image courtesy haring.com.

The first is a study in abstraction done in 1979 when Haring was at SVA. The swirling figures interlock like puzzle pieces, suggesting a pile of humanity. It’s a bridge between Bruegel and Pollock, a mass of dynamic energy that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm (Number 30). 1950. Enamel on canvas. Image via metmuseum.org.

Pieter Bruegel The Elder, The Wedding Dance. Oil on panel. Image via Wikipedia.

The other piece stood out to me in a much less didactic way. It’s just… perfect. It’s the kind of painting you can’t describe in words. This is a masterpiece in a completely sincere way. It scratches the part of your brain that can find euphoria in a line or a shape. Unfortunately, I can’t find an image of it online. However, I did find a still of a video piece Haring made around the same time that features himself creating a painting that looks very much like the one I’m thinking of. So I’ll give you that, and then you have to go to the Brooklyn Museum to see the piece I’m talking about. Trust me, you’ll recognize it.

Still from Painting Myself Into A Corner video, 1979. Image courtesy Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Also brilliant, and a reason to check out the Haring show at the Brooklyn Museum even if you’re not a huge fan of his work: it’s one of the best curated shows I’ve ever seen. I especially love the choice to feature the music of 70’s and 80’s New York in some of the rooms. It’s rare that museums connect fine art with other artistic forms from the same period, and for Keith Haring, who exhibited work in nightclubs and made drawings on the subway, I thought it was a perfect choice.

UPDATE: Check out this tumblr with scans of Keith Haring’s journals. They start when he was thirteen years old!

Dream Job: Museum Cat Caretaker

I wonder if this is what the Hermitage cat caretaker feels like on Monday morning? "Daniel in the Lions' Den" by Peter Paul Rubens. Photo by Son Of Groucho, via Flickr.

Once upon a time — back when it was an Imperial palace rather than an art museum — the Hermitage had a bit of a rodent problem. Empress Elizabeth came up with the obvious solution: kittehs! Almost three hundred years later, there are still feline exterminators living deep in the underbelly of the museum.

The second best thing about this is that there is a person whose actual job it is to take care of the Hermitage cats.

The first best thing? Apparently, at some point one of the cats escaped the basement and traveled through the walls of the palace for a week in order to reach the museum galleries. Now that’s what I call devotion to art.

 

On a slightly different note, Empress Elizabeth of Russia sounds pretty bad ass in general. Even if there is no evidence that she ever commissioned an official Cats In Racks portrait.

Via Art Fag City.

Our Lady Of Wisdom

Photo by Sara Clarke.

A couple days ago I asked the question, “Is preservation always the right thing to do?”

Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia — or Ayasofya, as it’s known in modern Turkish — is a prime example of that dilemma.

On the one hand, it’s possibly the most beautiful building ever. It was built by the emperor Justinian in 537 AD, so it’s obviously of historical interest. As a church it was converted from the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople to a Roman Catholic cathedral from 1204 to 1261, and then in 1453 the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet The Conqueror chose to preserve it as a mosque. So it’s also a holy place for people of various religions. There is no question that Hagia Sofia is worthy of historical preservation.

I’m going to ask that question anyway.

What if Ayasofya had been allowed to fester as Istanbul city life crept away from the old Byzantine center?

Photo by Sara Clarke.

What if Mehmet hadn’t been interested? (Which is a whole other architectural question, really, since the archetypal mosque structure used worldwide can be traced to Hagia Sofia, but let’s leave that for now.)

Photo by Sara Clarke.

What if Ataturk and the other founding fathers of the modern Turkish state had been a little more Soviet in their approach to religion and had closed it down rather than turning it into a museum?

Photo by Sara Clarke

What if they’d been a little more American in their approach and had let it stand as a mosque until attendance dropped and the building sank into disrepair, only to be turned into a shopping mall when Istanbul’s fortunes improved?

I guess the question I’m asking here is, how does the act of historic preservation affect — or maybe the right word is reflect — the march of history itself? What would Istanbul be in 2012 without Hagia Sofia, or with a Hagia Sofia that is still the mosque of Ayasofya, or the Mall Of Enlightenment, or a derelict site explored by intrepid travel photographers?

What Makes Art Foreign?

Shi Le Seeking The Way, Fu Baoshi ca. 1945.

I was combing the internet looking for ideas for a quick post. Provençal street art? Indo-Caribbean miniature painting? Some ridiculous band? I thought I’d found an idea — apparently the Metropolitan Museum has a retrospective on modernist Chinese lanscape painter Fu Baoshi. The work is haunting, seeming to exist in the space between tradition and innovation, classicism and globalist fusion. Fu painted during the Maoist era, which is obviously fascinating.

I clicked over to the the Met’s website to see what else is going on there that might be worth a look-see. Except for a revonated American Wing, all the current exihibitions feature art from far-flung locales. There are shows about Renaissance portraiture and the notion of the heroic in African art. The Persian and Central Asian collections have been revitalized. And yet the only show that screams EXOTIC PLACES to me is the one about China. (There’s also an exhibition on narrative forces in Japanese art which seems equally exotic, but I saw the Fu Baoshi retrospective first.)

Portrait of a Young Woman, Lorenzi di Credi ca. 1490

Why is that? Why is European art “home” to me, and Persia and Africa not really worth a mention? Why do I mentally go to Asia if I want a post for my blog about art and travel? Frankly, very little of the art in the Metropolitan Museum is of New York. Museums like this were opened as great curiosity cabinets, windows on foreign lands so far away they were inconceivable.  Nowadays I’m not sure we see them that way. European art is “ours” — we learn about it in school and put posters of it up on our college dorm room walls.  Egypt, Greece and Rome are part of the same mythological continuum.  For an American it goes something like Egypt -> Greece -> Rome -> Charlemagne -> Renaissance Italy -> Shakespeare -> British Empire -> USA. We don’t think about how foreign all of that is. I was born in Louisiana.  My genetic ancestors are from the French-German border and Sweden by way of Scotland and Ireland. Why do I feel like anything Chinese is worthy of a travel blog post, whereas Renaissance Italy is not?

%d bloggers like this: