Sunday, February 27, 2011
If you are a fan of Rembrandt (they currently have both the Self-Portrait of 1658 (see right) and the The Polish Rider on display plus an extensive collection of sketches and etchings for a special exhibition) or Vermeer (recently re-famous for the portrait of the Girl with the Pearl Earring a la the movie with Scarlet Johannson), then the Frick Museum is for you (www.frick.org). What is unique about this museum is that it was built as a luxurious private home with plans to convert the home into a public museum. The art is not organized by era, style, or artist. The collection is displayed as it was during Henry Clay Frick's lifetime, and it is extraordinarily grand and homey at the same time (you are welcome to sit on chairs and benches that look like they could be part of the collection, so long as they are not roped off).
As you go through the mansion, you can't help but feel privileged to be able to wander through this mansion and enjoy all the paintings (mostly portraits and landscapes), decorative furniture (much of it designed by Andre Charles Boulle, cabinet maker for Louis XIV at Versailles), and Florentine bronze sculptures. There are a couple of rooms that have completely encompassing, panels painted with idyllic scenes of romance and children exploring the arts and sciences. The iconic Jean-Honore Fragonard (see left) and Francois Boucher rooms are masterpieces of 18th century French art, and just being in them takes you back in time with a sense of how nobility must have lived.
I visited the museum today, a Sunday, when the museum is open on a "pay what you wish" basis from 11-1p. Otherwise admittance for adults is $18, $12 for seniors, and $5 for students. I think that it would have been very tranquil if there weren't so many people crowded around. If you are on a budget, visiting on a Sunday makes sense, but if you can spare it, other times may be more pleasurable. In any event, I would definitely recommend using the free self-directed audio guides, which not only provide insights and histories about the art and artists but also detail stories about the subjects in many of the art pieces, as well as watching the film about the life of Henry Clay Frick (who came from a working class family with little formal education to become a titan of industry in coke as well as a great collector of quality art) that they show every half hour. Both resources bring the collection to life.
|St. John the Divine, w/ Partially Completed South Bell Tower|
First off, the cathedral is the largest cathedral in the world (yes, larger than St. Patrick's, which is only the largest Catholic cathedral in the U.S.), so the Gothic arches are spectacular and the stained glass windows (most from the 1930s) were plentiful and beautiful (see above, left and right photos). Each of the 14 themed bays with these windows depict predictable religious and very unusual secular images honoring professions like communications (with a TV!), medicine, arts (with Poet's Corner stone plaques honoring the likes of Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, and Gertrude Stein), and sports.
Then there is the 40' in diameter Great Rose window (the largest in the U.S.) above the front doors (see left). My photo doesn't do it justice, but needless to say, it is really breathtaking. Even the central nave (see right) and the flanking aisles are awe inspiring with their sheer height, appearing to reach toward the heavens with their long thin lines that seem too delicate to support such high domed ceilings.
Oh, but I haven't even gotten to the Vertical Tour--so distracted recalling all the general fabulousness of the cathedral. You can take one of the many general tours that are offered (both self-guided and guided) (see www.stjohndivine.org), but if you can manage walking up 12 stories worth of narrow spiraling stairs, you should really try to schedule in the Vertical Tour ($15 for adults and $12 for seniors and students). You will not be disappointed.
|View from Outside of Flying Buttress|
|Hand Carved Wooden Choir Seats|
|View of Main Altar in Romanesque Style|
I will let you discover the rest of this magnificent NYC site for yourselves, but will post some additional photos with captions (below) to share the rest of my memorable visit in brief. I think what this cathedral needs is a great benefactor like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Oprah (or all of them) to complete the remaining 1/3 of the cathedral. In the meantime, PLEASE visit this cathedral and support the congregation of only about 200 (the cathedral could seat over 4,000). Enjoy!
|North Side Aisle by Central Nave|
|View of South Side Aisle from Interior Arm of Flying Buttress|
|Intersection of Bay and Nave from Interior Arm of Flying Buttress|
|View of Cathedral Close with Peace Fountain|
|View from Roof of Decorative Spires and Unfinished South Bell Tower|
|Altar in Main Eastern Most Chapel, St. Saviour|
|Intricately Carved Altar and Stained Glass in St. James Chapel|
Thursday, February 24, 2011
It is quite amazing that this home has been preserved virtually intact, with all of the furnishings and personal belongings (the museum has 39 Tredwell ladies' dresses, although none are currently on display due to restoration projects) of the Tredwells. Folks can visit the house and see the authentic antiques for a mere $10 ($5 for seniors or students) (http://www.merchantshouse.com/). When you enter the foyer, a docent greets you and offers you a binder filled with detailed descriptions of the artifacts and history of the home so that you can enjoy a self-guided tour.
You are instructed to go to the lower level to visit the more private family sitting/dining room and kitchen of the home. The binder information describes the furnishings, cooking, and the work of the 4 Irish maids that lived in the attic level of the house (not normally open to visitors, but will be on certain days; check the website). You get an intimate view of what life might have been like in the 19th century in NYC. Then after a short side visit to the garden, you are guided back to the main floor. From the front main floor parlor with the rosewood pianoforte (between the harpsichord and the piano in history) (see above left) that signaled the Tredwell's gentility and probably provided hours of entertainment for the Tredwells and their guests, to the original chandeliers in both parlors with their ornate plaster surrounds (see right), just walking around the house takes you back in time.
Then you can walk up to the 2nd level of the house where you see Eliza Tredwell's back bedroom room with her original bed (see left), the metal bathtub and sick bed (for children who might be ill) (see right), and the porcelain wash basin and pitcher for "sponge baths." There is also a writing desk with what looks like original correspondence on top and examples of commodes in the pass through to Seabury Tredwell's bedroom (it was customary back then for husbands and wives to have separate bedrooms).
Unfortunately, the home's upper level children's bedrooms and the top floor maid's quarters are not open to visitors, except on select days (e.g., the week of St. Patricks Day the Irish maid's quarters will be opened). However, even with the limited access, the authenticity and completeness of the home's furnishings make this house worth a visit. This house is NYC's only 19th century home preserved virtually in tact, and just having the opportunity to be see the whole house in its historic splendor is really special.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
The synagogue offers free docent-led tours every Wednesday at 12:45 pm (http://www.centralsynagogue.org/index.php/worship/tours/). Central Synagogue, formed from the merger in 1898 of Shar HaShomayim (meaning Gate of Heaven), founded in 1839 by German Jews, and Ahawath Chesed (meaning Love of Mercy), founded in 1846 by Bohemian Jews. Its name was changed to Central Synagogue in 1920 symbolizing not only its location, but also its change to Reform Judaism. Today, Central Synagogue is the center of Reform Judaism in the U.S. and has over 7,000 members.
The docent was a welcoming older lady who obviously really loved the synagogue and work and devotion that takes place there. She told us about the history of the building, first designed and constructed by Henry Fernbach (one of America's first Jewish architects) in 1872 (taking 2 years to build), but which suffered 2 fires (one in 1992 and the second in 1998). Reconstruction according to the original plans took 3 years, and while some things are new, there are several notable original pieces like the solid wooden front doors, most of the English floor tiles, and the ark at the bimah (altar). All the stained glass visible from the sanctuary are beautiful (see the rose window flanked by the organ pipes, above right), but newer, and the only 2 original stained glass windows are on the north side of the building and visible only from the exterior.
I am not religious, but when the docent invited us up to the bimah (see right) opened the ark to reveal the background tapestry by Laurie Gross and the various Torah scrolls with their covers and told us about how one of the covers was saved from the holocaust (see left, the one with the star of David), I had an emotional reaction. She also told us about how the restoration after the second fire revealed 3 stained glass skylights directly above the bimah that had previously been painted over.
The docent next took us up to the organ and allowed us to sit in the balcony. This gave us a closer perspective to the stained glass windows, the magnificent organ and the stunning Moorish arches (see below) that frame the upper pews, which unlike in orthodox synagogues are not delegated to women (men and women always sat together, which was a daring innovation when the synagogue was first built).
When in 1850 New York became an archdiocese and Bishop John Hughes became an archbishop, he decided that a larger northern cathedral was needed to properly represent the increasing numbers, intelligence and wealth of the Catholic population in New York. At the time, most people thought his ambitions were a "follly," as the area where the cathedral was planned was mostly wilderness, but Archbishop Hughes' prescience correctly predicted that one day this location would be in the heart of the City. Renowned architect James Renwick was commissioned in 1853, the first stone was laid in 1858, and the cathedral was consecrated in 1911 (when it was estimated that to that point about $4 million had been spent). The gothic style cathedral is clad in white marble but the City pollution makes it much darker (see photos above).
|Northeast Crossing of Axis and Transept|
|Front Door of Central Portal|
While I would have preferred a guided tour that I am sure would have enriched this visit even more, I was glad that I took the time to really look at all the alters (each dedicated to one or more saints), The Lady Chapel (which was light and beautiful), and the amazing 20,000 lb. bronze west facing front doors (see above right).
Yes, there are a lot of Gothic style churches are plentiful in NYC, but really, this is a special place that is worth a visit.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
While the building architecture is really stunning to look at (it has been in innumerable movies) (see above right and below), the acoustics are horrible and the exhibition space is rather limited due to the central spiraling ramp. The Guggenheim collection is so much larger than the display space that the exhibitions are frequently rotated and routinely the spiraling ramp is closed off for installations so visitors have to take the back stairs or the elevators. I would have been very annoyed if that had been the case after I paid my $18 entrance fee. Luckily everything was opened about a week ago and the museum's unique features were at their best.
Included in the regular entrance fee (and if $18 per person is too rich for your blood, check out the "pay what you want" evening visiting times), is a self-directed audio tour. The installation is set up to go from bottom to top, but if you want to avoid the crowds (and relieve yourself from the "climb"), you may want to consider taking the elevator up to the top floor (7th) and viewing the art on the way down. Not all the artwork have audio descriptions, but those that do have clear headphone illustrated signage and a corresponding number so I found going from top to bottom was more pleasant and easy enough to follow along on the audio tour.
The museum has a great collection of works by Kandinsky (on Level 3 by the cafe), and currently has a collection of videos sponsored by Deutsche Bank under the name "Found in Translation." I liked the Kandinsky collection on display, but did not think much of the video art. If you want to see the current exhibit online, you can check out http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online/show-list/on-view-ny/?search=1. From there, you may be able to decide if the then-current exhibition is one in which you would be interested.
Finally, I would like to note that the museum is not really designed for visitor comfort. There is a severe shortage of benches and with few windows, there is little room for taking a respite from the crowds. Museum fatigue can set in pretty quickly so I would recommend wearing comfortable shoes, taking advantage of the free coat check, bringing a snack or two to munch on in the cafe (don't be surprised if every stool in the cafe is taken), and maybe even taking a break in the windowless reading room that has furniture made by Richard Meier. Overall, I think the collection is magnificent for what it is, but I don't think I'll be visiting again, unless it is in the evening at a discount.
Friday, February 18, 2011
|The Pond with peek a boo view of Gapstow Bridge|
I have enjoyed the Park innumerable times (I used to live a couple of blocks from the Park back in the late 90s) but this tour taught me about many of the sights that I had previously not thought much about and taken for granted. For instance, there are magnificent statues at Artists' Gate, which is at Central Park South and 6th Avenue/Avenue of the Americas of three great liberators of South America (appropriately at the head of Avenue of the Americas), Jose de San Martin, Simon Bolivar (above right), and Jose Julian Marti Perez (above left). With the weather unseasonably warm yesterday (reaching the low 60s), I jumped at the chance to take this 2+ hour tour (there is a shorter family version available as well).
|Alice in Wonderland Statue|
|The Obelisk, located behind The Met Museum|
|The Dairy, built in 1870 in the Victorian Gothic style|
|Belvedere Castle, where NYC temperatures are recorded|
|Wollman Rink, built in 1949, now operated by Trump|
|Giant bubble man, usually by Bethesda Terrace or The Mall|
|Bow Bridge, cast iron bridge often in Woody Allen movies|