Wednesday, June 29, 2011

NYC Fire Museum: Spring St btwn Hudson and Varick Sts

As we approach another Fourth of July, I have been thinking about all the things made available and the costs incurred for freedom and independence.  We are not born into a caste (formal or informal) that we cannot rise above (or fall below).  We have the ability to make choices, have aspirations, and achieve goals (once we define or redefine them).  We have the right to voice our opinions and stand up for our beliefs (so long as they do not endanger others). 

There are clearly cons as well as pros, but overall I think most would agree we are incredibly fortunate (although there are often many obstacles) to have so many options.

Following my ruminations, I decided to visit the NYC Fire Museum in SoHo.  I wanted to see the old fire steam engines (see right), put on a fireman's uniform (which all visitors can do), admire the art and fire fighting memorabilia (did you know that fire bombs were initially used to fight fires? -- when they are thrown the explosion uses up all of the surrounding oxygen, thereby extinguishing fires), and most importantly pay my respects at the permanent 9/11 memorial exhibit (see left).

There are numerous fire trucks, beginning with hand pumped contraptions and horse drawn steam engines to more modern gas engined trucks and parade carriages (see right).  There are also stove top hats (originating in PA) and the earliest fire fighter hats with the wide back brim to shed water (originating in NY).  You can read about the history of volunteer fire fighting, the technological and equipment advances, as well as an early 1800s cholera scare that had people avoiding all water (getting wet was discouraged as was drinking cold water!).

As a dog fanatic, I was also particularly moved (and admittedly a little grossed out) by the stuffed dog in one display (see left).  This dog, named Chief, had rescued numerous people as well as a cat and kittens from various fires and on November 25th, 1936 was awarded Dog World's International Diploma of Honor.  There are also numerous pictures of various fire departments pictured with their dog mascots, who originally were fostered by fire houses to run alongside the horse-drawn fire trucks to keep stray dogs away from the horses.  At first, any dogs that found their way to a fire house welcome, but soon dalmatians began to become favored for their ability to run long distances without tiring alongside the horses.

This is a great little museum, and I would highly recommend a visit, especially if you are in the market for any FDNY paraphernalia or a little fireman's Halloween costume.  Check out their hours and admission prices at their website at Fire Museum.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Studio Museum in Harlem: 125th St by Seventh Ave

Yesterday was the last day of the latest exhibits at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and it was wonderful.  Not far from the Apollo Theater, this is an exhibition space that highlights contemporary African American artists and their work.

There were amazing collage pieces, modern art-cum-furnishings (see the grouping of "Man Made" chairs, lighting, totems, tables, mirrors, etc. by Stephen Burks at right made of Senegalese baskets, rope and plastics), as well as pieces an interesting exhibit of works by musician-artist Benjamin Patterson who even tried to record the movements of ants in song.

The museum also mixed in pieces from the its permanent collection by young artists like Adam Pendleton (who guided a tour I took at the Museo Del Barrio) who had a mural in the museum courtyard as well as a drawing hung just inside the museum lobby as part of a collections exhibit.

While you may have missed this show, don't be dismayed.  There will be a new exhibit up and running July 14th. The exhibit-to-come will again have temporary and permanent pieces mixed together, and looks like it will be another winner (Studio Museum Future Exhibits).
The two floor museum is well curated (well-presented and not too crowded) and it is a great way to spend about an hour on a Sunday (which are free thanks to support from Target).  Also be sure to pick up a free copy of the "Studio", which is the museum's seasonal magazine.  There is a great article about the latest winner of the Bravo show "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist," Abdi Farah (see photo at left of one of his finale winning pieces).

This is a great little museum definitely worth a visit if you are in the neighborhood.  They had the current curator of the Museum of Art and Design, MAD as their President and the legacy of this connection and professionalism shows.  Also, if you are a fan of Sheila Bridges' African-American toile (also displayed at MAD), you can get some bedding here at the museum gift shop.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rubin Museum of Art: 17th St and 7th Ave

If you are interested in Himalayan art, there is no place better than the Rubin Museum of Art.  The lobby floor has a great little restaurant and a high end gift shop.  The five floors above have permanent and temporary exhibits that provide a fulsome look at a variety of aspects of Himalayan art, which spans the areas of Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan as well as adjacent areas of India, China, and Mongolia.

The second floor provides a great introduction, with descriptions of buddhas (see left), tantric deities (see right), bodhisattvas, and wrathful deities.  It provides a good foundation for identifying and being able to understand the fantastic collection displayed throughout the museum. 

On the third floor, there is a collection of masterworks.  One alcove has a complete shrine.  Another has a reproduction of murals of a temple wall with audio guides that detail the stories told in the murals.  And of course, there are dramatic art pieces, masks, and sculptures.

On the fourth floor there is an amazing collection amassed by the grandson of President Teddy Roosevelt, Quentin Roosevelt, of the Naxi (pronounced nashee) people of southwestern China.  There are samplings of prayer books written in the only living pictographic language (see left), Quentin's travel documents and wooden trunk, as well as an altar and beautiful funeral scrolls in the Dongba tradition (which is a mix of, among other things, Bon, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Mongolian shamanism).  Much of the Naxi culture was lost after China's Revolution in 1949, so this collection preserves the history and culture of this remote region and people.

The fifth (and last floor currently open to the public, as the top floor is closed in preparation for the next exhibit opening on July 1) floor had a beautiful collection of rugs--horse rugs, sitting rugs, sleeping rugs, and prayer rugs.  On display were hand dyed, hand-tied, rugs of all shapes, sizes and quality.  I thought the horse rugs were particularly decorative but I was particularly intrigued by the swastika rugs (see right) and learning that prior to their use in Nazi Germany was a symbol of well-being and good luck.

Every Friday evening the museum admission is waived (Rubin Museum Info), and visiting the museum is a lovely way to spend an hour or so before dinner.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Roerich Museum: 107th St and Riverside Dr

How could I be so completely oblivious to the works of Nicholas Roerich?  I had never even heard of him until a friend of mine, knowing that I write this blog, told me about the Nicholas Roerich Museum.  Once I started looking into his work, I was awed.  He was a philosopher, "prophet", writer, traveler, theatrical costume designer, treaty writer (unity by sharing cultural beauty is the basis of The Roerich Pact signed on by members of the Pan American Union in 1935), and most notably a prolific painter (there are over 7,000 paintings just from his India period).

The museum is located in a beautiful brownstone on 107th Street and Riverside Drive and is filled to the rafters with Roerich paintings, mostly Nicholas' but a few (like the portrait of Nicholas at right) by his son Svetoslav.  The home also has artifacts from Tibet and the Himalayas -- Buddhas, tables, architectural salvage, etc.

What most people find really compelling is the way Nicholas Roerich's paintings are of this world, but are so "other-worldly".  The stark mountains and clouds of the Himalayas could be on a scene from a moon of Mars (see left).  It almost appears like the Tibetan huts could be from a Star Wars movie and sand people could come out at any moment. 

Then there is my favorite piece, called "The Most Sacred" or "Treasure of the Mountain," which reminds me of Superman's Fortress of Solitude (see right).  There is an inner light that emanates from Roerich's paintings that really can't be captured in photos.  You have to see them in person.

To be frank, this is not my favorite type of art, but I can appreciate its beauty and drama.  If you are a fan of this kind of surreal art, you should definitely go (check Roerich Museum Info for times; it is always free).  However, even if you aren't into this, I still think it is worth a visit if you are in the neighborhood (it really is a pretty neighborhood--much safer than it used to feel in the late 90s).  I would recommend doing a little background reading on their website before going, as unfortunately there aren't really any guides or literature there.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Another Presidential Visit

Ugh, yet another visit by President Obama in NYC.  I think he has come here every month since spring.  It costs the country tens of thousands of dollars per day for all the transport and security, but to NYC residents it is just a royal pain.   The police (who pays for all of their over-time? -- NYC tax payers I assume) blockade the streets hours in advance, impeding and then blocking all pedestrian and automobile traffic. There is no regard for local businesses (each of whom lose hundreds to thousands of dollars every time the President visits) and really, does the President have to traverse the busiest city in the country during rush hour?

I do not take partisan issue with this--yes the Bushes spent a lot of tax payer money going to their respective country homes.  My complaint is really that both Obama and Clinton seem to love visiting NYC.  Most of us who live and/or work here hate it.

Last night when I was trying to get home after a late night class, Obama's movements blocked off Park Avenue!  All traffic comes to a complete standstill.  While tourists might find it interesting to see a Presidential motorcade (see above), I'll tell you New Yorkers just find this annoying.  I overheard one man delayed at a corner on his cell phone telling whoever was on the other side of the call, "if you ever vote for Obama, I'm going to kill you."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden: 61st St & 1st Ave/York

The Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden presents the period of the Mount Vernon Hotel which operated from 1826 until 1833. Constructed in 1799 as a carriage house (animals like pigs and cows downstairs who warm the horses upstairs with their body heat), and converted into the Mount Vernon Hotel in 1826, this stone building sits on land originally owned by Colonel William Stephens Smith, and his wife Abigail Adams Smith (daughter of John Adams). The Smiths had wanted to build a stately home there, but ran into financial trouble and had to give up their 23 acre estate.

After the main structure (where the Bed Bath & Beyond is now) burned, a man by the name of Joseph Hart converted the carriage house (the current location of the museum) into a "country resort."  The "day hotel" was popular among New Yorkers who wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, which at that time extended only as far north as 14th Street.  In those days, one could take a stagecoach or steamboat up and spend the day at the hotel sipping lemonade in the ladies parlor or drinking and playing cards in the gentlemen’s tavern (see photo of reproduction card tables and bar at right--note the area enclosed by "bars" to secure the liquor and cash). 
In 1833, the house finally becomes the stately home of the Towle family, who made their money in the China trade. In 1905, as the area became more industrialized, Towle's daughters sold the building to the Standard Gas Light Company (today’s Con Edison).  Later it becomes an antiques shop and then The Colonial Dames of America (the same patriotic woman’s society that operates the Van Courtlandt House in the Bronx), purchased the building in 1924. After extensive restoration, the Colonial Dames opened the site to the public in 1939.  

The hotel is set up with card tables mid-game, a dining table set for lunch, and upper halls with Greek revival furniture lining the walls as they would have been during a party.  The garden is small but lovely as well, and if you go up the stairs on the west side, you can see part of the original shale Olde Post Road that connected NYC with Boston.  

If you go, expect a very personalized guided tour by a young, very affable, and well-informed docent.  It is well worth the $8 admission fee.  Also check their website for concerts, free events, and site rental opportunities (Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden).  This really is a nice little historic gem in NYC.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Museum of Chinese in America: Centre St & Howard St

The Museum of Chinese in America does a great job of telling the stories of Chinese immigrants and their descendants.  They tell of the anti-Chinese/racist propaganda (see right), Chinese American soldiers not getting equal opportunities after the war (that would be WWII during which many enlisted to support the fight against Japanese aggression, simultaneously aiding their ancestral home), and the stereotypes developing into the "model minority"--the same characteristics (hard working, uncomplaining, and smart) that for decades had made them a threat to local labor and justified immigration restrictions.

Many of the displays are interactive and include audio and film.  They have a recreation of an herbalist shop (see left) with an accompanying audio recording that tells of Chinese American tradespeople who as entrepreneurs were able to overcome prejudices and uplift themselves and their communities.  There are also many plaques describing the many achievements of Chinese Americans like Vera Wang (fashion designer), Gary Locke (former Governor of Washington state and current Secretary of Commerce), Elaine Chao (Secretary of Labor under George W. Bush), Jerry Yang (co-founder of Yahoo!), Michelle Kwan (the most winning American female ice skater) and Maya Lin (artist and designer of the MOCA and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  Really, after the majority had come over to this country with little but their wits and muscle and started at the lowest rung of the society ladder, it is amazing that in just a few generations such incredible success was achieved.

Finally, currently there is an exhibition room of antique, classic games, some of which are over 1,000 years old!  What do the Chinese have to do with games?  Well, I was surprised to find out that they are the creators of puzzle pots, tangrams (see right), Qing dynasty puzzle rings and bracelets, sliding block puzzles, burr puzzles, and ingenious linked ring puzzles (see below right). 

If you have a free hour just north of Canal Street, this small museum can provide a great hour of exploration and understanding.  Plus every Thursday admission is free!  If you happen to go on a weekday, you may also face groups of students so if you want to avoid such crowds, I would suggest going right when the museum opens or on a weekend.  Check out their website at MOCA for details of hours and current exhibits.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Museum of Jewish Heritage: 36 Battery Place

There are at least two ways to experience the Museum of Jewish Heritage.  You can see the three floors of exhibition space and phenomenal views of the Statue of Liberty and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (the last Public Works commission overseen by Robert Moses) in about an hour breezing through and stopping at points that catch your interest (perhaps using a rented audio tour narrated by Meryl Streep and Itzak Perlman).

OR you can take the once-weekly guided tour led by "Sammy" (a Holocaust survivor who was in a labor camp for four years as a toddler) in a little over two hours in which he leads an interactive tour talking about Jews in the past (see photo at right of a 1920s wedding of American Jews), during the Holocaust, and today.

If you have the time and the inclination, I would highly recommend the tour with Sammy.  He not shares his philosophies about forgiveness (for the world that stood by while Nazi Germany killed over 55 million people and for himself for surviving medical experiments during the Holocaust when others didn't), but also stories about his father, mother, great uncle twice removed....  Well, you get the picture.

You will not only get a history lesson about the looting and massacre of kristallnacht, the 10,000 orphans taken in by Britain, the S.S. St. Louis with 937 Jewish refugees rejected by Cuba and the United States, and oh so much more.  No matter what your politics about the State of Israel, this is a great museum to visit.  Plus, they've got a nice cafe with views of Andy Goldsworthy's contemplation garden where trees grow out of seemingly inhospitable boulders (see photo at left), Woody Allen film festivals, and other events (check out their website at Jewish Heritage Info).

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Skyscraper Museum: 39 Battery Place

This tiny museum is a very specialized spot downtown.  If you are interested in architecture (see model photo below right of the Fiat factory -- they have a test track on the roof!), NYC development (after all, this is the birthplace of the skyscraper), the Twin Towers (the largest buildings (by square footage) in the world (although not the tallest for quite some time), or the planning and construction of the new World Trade Center) this is the place for you. 

The museum currently describes the development of urban factories and how they transformed modern life.  There is also a small area that depicts the tallest buildings around the world (including a model of the Burj Dubai--the world's tallest building), as well as an interesting display of the development of downtown Manhattan (see photos below that show the progression from the mid 1950s through the 1960s).

Admission ($5 for adults), current exhibits, and hours are available at Skyscraper Museum Info.  As I said, if architecture is your thing, this could be a great visit for you, but if not, you may want to prioritize amongst the many other places of interest downtown (e.g., The Jewish Heritage Museum, St. Paul's Chapel and Trinity Church, the Smithsonian National Museum of American Indian, and of course, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dahesh Museum of Art: CLOSED

It's interesting to me that NYC has 2 branches of the American Folk Art Museum (Folk Art Museum Main and Folk Art Museum Branch), filled with artwork by untrained artists, but it does not even have one museum dedicated to academically trained artists.

The Dahesh Museum of Art is the only institution in the United States devoted to collecting, exhibiting, and interpreting works by Europe's academically trained artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and it is closed.  Their gift shop is still open at 55 East 52nd Street (between Madison and Park) in the Atrium of Park Avenue Plaza and you can find store hours at Dahesh Museum Shop, but you can't admire what is supposed to be a beautiful collection of classical art there.

When I expressed interest in the museum at the shop, the salesperson gave me a pamphlet (see cover at left) that gave me a quick education about "academic art."  First established in Renaissance Italy, academies prescribed strict and rigorous guidelines for the production of works of art.  Organized training systems or academies in nearly every European country and then later in the U.S., Australia and Latin America set up a heirarchy for paintings by subject matter (e.g., religious and mythological ranking higher than landscapes and portraits) and raised art from a "craft."

The artists' handiwork should look effortless, without any visible brush strokes, to enhance the illusion of life-like exactness, the hallmark of academic art.  This smooth finish (also called "licked" finish or in French fini) contrasts with the contemporaneous artistic style of the now more popular and lauded 19th and 20th century Impressionists and Cubists.  After learning about the competitions to be chosen for years of academic training, so that an academic artist could show at salons at which they could hope to sell their art...well, wow.  I certainly have a new appreciation for academic artists (see the beautiful example of Adolph William Bouguereau's The Water Girl).  Their training sounds as strenuous and arduous as that of surgeons. 

The museum's collection was begun by writer and philosopher Salim Soussa Achi, aka Dr. Dahesh (1901-1984), who lived in Beiruit, Lebanon.  One day soon I hope the Dahesh Museum is able to find a suitable exhibition space and re-open to the public.  In this world of loose, free, and loud living (and with the immediate gratification of digital photos from every camera phone), perhaps academic art is out of style, but its discipline and beauty is also sorely lacking.

What is Under Our Feet?

Ok, so I have been trying to discover the good in NYC, but there are some things that I cannot keep ignoring.

Have you noticed streets are covered up with metal plates, or small asphalt patches, or just left all potholed (I sprained my ankle in one of those 6 months ago)?  As cars and trucks pass over metal plates, loud banging is inevitable.  And the small pebbly asphalt patches get stuck in the soles of my shoes and occasionally get tangled in my dog's fur.  Then there is the rippling or melting of whole sections of streets (2nd Avenue in midtown has been scraped and re-laid less than a year ago and the waves are back).

Really, do we live in a third world country, or one of the largest and most advanced cities in the world?

Besides the annoyances, the accompanying dangers are unavoidable.  Check out the heat/smoke chimneys at the street corner in the top picture.  Not only are there 3, but smoke is also rising up through the lamp post!  What is under our feet and are these chimneys doing enough to ease the pressure build up?

Then there are the huge nitrogen tanks just left on the sidewalks (see photo at right).  I'm assuming that they are used to cool or dry the maze of tunnels or cables underground (some have said they belong to Verizon others say they are Con Eds), but aren't they also a danger?  Shouldn't these tanks trigger a security response?  Are these huge nitrogen tanks safe just lying around the City?

Sorry for the venting, but hopefully Mayor Bloomberg and his staff can do something about our city streets.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Old City Hall Station Tour: City Hall and Chambers Street

As some of you may know, I love history.  Is that right?  Well, no, actually I love learning new things, and there is a lot I don't know about history so I love places that are historical.  A few weeks ago I went to the MTA Museum and learned about the history of the NYC public transportation system, and yesterday I went on a special tour of the old abandoned City Hall subway station.

At one time the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) was the private operator of the original underground NYC subway line that opened in 1904, as well as earlier elevated rail lines in NYC. The first IRT lines (the numbered lines in the current subway system were the IRT lines)  ran between City Hall and 145th street along Broadway after 20 years of public debate on the merits of the subways versus the elevated rails and various routes.

Once this subway system was completed, they decked the City Hall station out with chandeliers, ornately carved wooden ticket counters, beautifully crafted Guastavino tiles (like those at the NY Federal Reserve and at the lower level of Grand Central in front of the famous Oyster Bar), and decorative leaded skylights (see above right and left).  The legendary City Hall station was built in an era when government was proud to bring opulence to its public spaces. The station was meant to symbolize how important city officials felt the subway would be to New York’s ongoing development.

The success of the subway system ultimately led to the station's demise. Car sizes and train sizes were increased to handle the growing passenger loads, and this station's tight radius (the tightest of any station in the system) to loop around and head back north made this station obsolete.   The station could not handle the longer cars as the gap between the platform and the train was so large and the platform was also not long enough to handle the additional cars. So on December 31, 1945 it was officially closed. Everything combustible (like the wooden ticket counters) were removed and the entrances to the station were sealed shut although the station lighting remained turned on.

If you stay on the #6 train through the south loop after the Brooklyn Bridge stop, you can catch a passing glimpse of the station, but if you want to really experience the station's history and beauty up close, you can become a member of the MTA Museum and go on one of their twice-yearly tours, called "The Jewel In The Crown: Old City Hall Station" ($30/adults; $20/children).  A New York historian (Joe, pictured at left in the safety vest speaking with tour attendees) provides interesting background and shares his love of NYC.  Check out their website (MTA Programs) and be persistent when trying to call to make reservations -- I had to leave half a dozen voicemail messages and chase the program coordinator, Luce, through her supervisors via email).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Jewish Museum: 92nd St and Fifth Ave

The Jewish Museum is not a religious place.  It is a place where art (paintings, furnishings, documents, object de arte) has some Jewish connection.  It could be that a piece was created by a Jewish artist or writer (like the Ezra Keats exhibit to come in September), was collected by Jewish people (like the Cone sisters described below), or relates to Judaism historically or currently or in some other way.

They currently have an amazing exhibit of about 50 works of art (on loan from the Baltimore Museum of Art) by the Masters.  The collection was gathered by two remarkable German-Jewish-American sisters.  The Cone sisters, Claribel and Etta came from a well-to-do family in textiles and after the first World War (when the family made a fortune uniforming American soldiers), they traveled to Paris and began to collect art.  Over three decades, they amassed one of the world's greatest collections, including Picasso's (see below right, Woman with Bangs), Renoir's, van Gogh's, Cezanne's, Gauguin's ((see below center, Woman of the Mango) which was a portrait that Gauguin painted of his wife and was owned by Degas before being purchased by the Cones), and over 500 Matisse's (see below left, Seated Odalisque, Left Knee Bent, Ornamental Background and Checkerboard)!

Also currently on exhibit is an amazing exhibit of Maira Kalman, artist, author, textile designer, entrepreneur, etcetera.  She may be best known for her collaboration with Rick Meyerowitz that made the cover of the New Yorker of a map called "New Yorkistan." Or perhaps you know her for her work designing fabric for Isaac Mizrahi or Kate Spade?  Or perhaps you recognize her name from her children's books or her illustrations for Stunk and White's Elements of Style?  She also was the "M" in M & Co., a company she ran with her now-deceased husband for which they designed kitschy home goods like clocks. If you like accessible, modern art, you should like this exhibit.

The museum also has a couple of floors dedicated to Jewish history.  They have quite an impressive collection, which includes coins from the time Jesus was alive; spectacular "engagement jewelry" (a tradition in Baghdad in the early 1900s was for the groom to send sweets and jewelry to his prospective bride--see brooches and ring at left); archeological architectural remnants, extravagant altar pieces, and highly decorated Jewish marriage contract documents (the oldest on display is from the early 1300s!).

I will admit that one of the most moving pieces was a video of a Holocaust Remembrance Day which plays in a loop.  Sirens blare for two minutes in Israel and everything and everyone comes to a complete halt.  I don't know what came over me, but before I knew it, I was surprised by tears in my eyes and a tightness in my chest.  Whatever your opinions or political beliefs may be, this video and the surrounding displays of yellow star badges, anti-Semitic novelty items, and drawings by artists killed during the Holocaust cannot help but raise understanding and feeling.

I was really wowed by this museum, and if you have the time to visit, I think you will be too.  Check out hours, admission, current exhibits, and events at The Jewish Museum.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

American Folk Art Museum Branch: Columbus and 66th St

I recently went to the American Folk Art Museum's main location just next door to the MOMA, and learned that there was a branch location up by Lincoln Square.  The branch has different operating hours, so you may want to check their website (Folk Art Museum Info).  It is also much smaller in scale, but if you are in the neighborhood during open hours, it is definitely worth a look--besides, it's free!

The current exhibit focuses on the American Folk Art Museum's Year of the Quilt and has on display more examples of star quilts (see above), crazy quilts, patriotic quilts, and the list goes on and on. It also has a few other pieces that are made by untrained and talented artists (like the dress and head piece made out of paper copies of an American Folk Art painting at right).

And if you are interested in finding some novel, fun and quirky gifts, the gift shop here is great.  See for yourself.  Take a look.  You'll love it.

Museum of Biblical Art: Broadway and 61st St

I'm not a very religious person, and I generally don't like religious art (much of the older of which seems to be mass produced for the Catholic Church by "artists" who did not know much about perspective or realism).  However, as I walked between Columbus Circle and Lincoln Center to meet a friend yesterday, I noticed the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBiA) for the first time (amazing, I have walked by here innumerable times and never gave it much thought, thinking it was a church or something).  As I was a little early to meet my friend, I thought I would take a peak and see what there was to see for blogging purposes.

The museum is not religious in the sense that they do not advocate for anything and they focus on the artistic and/or historical nature of the pieces they have on display, so I felt pretty comfortable going through and enjoying the audio tour at my own pace.  Admission is $7 for adults and free on Sundays (which is when I would recommend going since it is unlikely to be very crowded) -- check out their website for a little background on their current exhibit (they have a pretty good slide show) and their permanent collection at MOBiA.

Their current exhibition called "Passion in Venice" has a lot of images of the Man of Sorrows, and most were the typical paintings and religious artifacts that don't normally do much for me, but there were a few pieces that truly elicited a visceral response (see photo at left -- his eyes in person are really penetrating, pained and questioning).  How can images of such anguish not evoke something?  It was riveting.

I was also impressed with the way the museum gathered major art pieces from all over the country.  There were paintings, texts and artifacts from the Metropolitan, the Gardner (in Boston), the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and various universities and private collectors.  There was at least one Manet, a couple of Cezannes and other famous artists (whose names I did not recognize).

The MOBiA's own collection of Bibles, which today contains scriptures printed in more than 2,000 languages spanning six centuries, including 15 manuscripts and 42 incunables (early printed books), is one of the largest and finest of its kind in the United States (see right).  The current display of bibles ranging from as old as the mid 1300s was really interesting.  I particularly liked the mini pocket bibles.

Anyway, if you are in the neighborhood, you might consider adding this to any visit to Lincoln Center (see my prior post a Lincoln Center 1 or Lincoln Center Tours) or the American Folk Art Museum annex (please see my next blog post and my blog about the Folk Art Museum).

Friday, June 10, 2011

Van Courtlandt House: Broadway and 246th St

The Van Courtlandt House Museum is the oldest house in the Bronx.  This Revolutionary War landmark is the first historic house museum in NYC, and it is a National Historic Landmark with a place on the National Register of Historic Places.  Built by grandson, Frederick, of immigrant Oloff Stevense Van Courtlandt (the then fourth richest man in New Amsterdam (now NYC)) in 1748, the Van Courtlandt House is a beautiful English style home surrounded by park lands.

The house served as a base for both English and Revolutionary soldiers during the Revolutionary War.  Both British General Sir William Howe as well as General George Washington is known to have slept there (see photo at right of one of the bedrooms appointed as it would have been during the Revolution).

The museum collection includes period furnishings like those shown throughout the house, antique clothing (see left), and family heirlooms like the children's toys (see below right).  The interior of the house is designed in a way that reminded the builder of his Dutch heritage, and the paint schemes and designs have been preserved thoughtfully by the work of The National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York.

It is a small house, just a 2 minute walk from the last stop on the #1 subway.  On a hot day (like the one I went on), it is probably a good 10 degrees cooler here than in midtown Manhattan--thank goodness, since the house is not air conditioned, though surprisingly cool.  It is definitely worth a look, especially if it is on a Wednesday (when all visits are free, usually $5/adults and $3 for seniors and students).  You can get a virtual tour (but nothing is quite as good as seeing it in person) and events information at Van Courtlandt House Info, but if you want hours and admission information, oddly you'll have to check out a different site at Van Courtlandt Visitor Info.  Enjoy!