Saturday, November 26, 2011

Big Apple Circus: W 63rd St & Broadway

It's a major NYC icon and a perfect winter activity for young and old.  It is fun, friendly, and full of fantasy.  It's the Big Apple Circus!

They have the traditional clowns (this is Grandma's farewell tour, so if you want to get one last glimpse, you'll have to go before this tour ends on January 8, 2012) who provide comic relief, do some pretty amazing magic tricks, and play some fun tunes.

There is also some wonderful audience participation portions.  There was a funny water spitting act with Grandma (see left), and another older gentleman who waltzed with her.  And of course to tie in with the title of this year's tour, an audience member boy "dreaming big" about a rope acrobat.

What I thought was the best performances were turned in by the animals, which included horses, dogs, a porcupine, and what looked like a giant ground hog (but was probably some animal I just don't know).  They weren't doing phenomenal tricks.  They were just cute and presented well (which makes all the difference and makes them even more accessible--yes, I think I can teach my miniature poodle biscuit to do some of those things).

Although they were not as polished or perfected as the Cirque du Soleil acrobats, I thought the Chinese (Mongolian?) acrobats were also pretty fantastic.  They had great balancing, tumbling, and gymnastics performances.  My favorite was the human pyramid jumping rope! (see right).

There were also a glow in the dark juggler (see left), a woman who balanced showing great strength and flexibility on two posts mounted on a round platform (see below right), and a fantastic finishing act of trapeze artists directly above the audience (see at bottom).

Again, the Big Apple Circus is not as flashy as some other shows I have seen, but it was wonderfully homey in a festive way.  Surprising for the glitz of NYC, it is a heartwarming way to take a break from the frenzy of the shopping season and bring in the good feelings of the holiday season.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NY Historical Society: 77th St and Central Park West

Side Entrance with Statue of Frederick Douglass
Just a block or so south of the American Museum of Natural History is the New York Historical Society, with its own wonderful collection of paintings, home furnishings, memorabilia, and historical artifacts. It has been closed for renovation for the past year or so, but was re-opened last week.

I had never been there before today, and was pleasantly surprised by what I found.  I had mistakenly assumed this would have men's club style (like the Explorers Club), but it was wide open, bright, and exhibited amazing collections in traditional museum style, a kind of salon style, as well as a warehouse style (see Tiffany lamps displayed/stored at left).  To get more out of the visit, I downloaded the free audio guide from iTunes (which was helpful and enriching if a little cumbersome without an order or accompanying map), but if you are less technologically inclined there are free daily guided hour-long tours (check for times on level one at admission).

The museum has an extensive painting collection that rotates and has some great recognizable portraits of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, miniatures on ivory of New York society women, and Hudson River scenes that highlight NYC's natural beauty.

There are also one-of-a-kind historical artifacts like George Washington's cot from the Revolutionary War (believed to have been the one he slept in at Valley Forge) and the ceramic jug which was a gift to Thomas Nast (whose cartoons in Harper's Weekly blasted and brought into public light the corruption of Tammany Hall) decorated with a depiction of snake-bodied William S. "Boss" Tweed (with beard and without glasses) and his corrupt political gang, some diving in headfirst into the "pot of money and power" (see right). 

There are also rare historic pieces like the fancy Engish-made Beekman family coach from 1766 (one of only 3 that survive from the period), the one-of-two ladies' dressing tables built in New York of this design in the Federal style after the American Revolution,  and the slavery chains (see the tragically child-sized shackles at left).

Perhaps because of my earlier visits to Hamilton Grange and the Morris-Jumel Mansion, I thought the highlight of all of the artifacts were the dueling pistols used by Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton (see right) when Alexander Hamilton was killed.

My favorite part of the museum was the 18 minute multimedia film that relates the story of New York City and its rise to prominence from what was once considered a far-away colonial outpost.  From the dredging of the Erie Canal through the American Revolution and the influx of immigrants and the political and economic upheavals centered around New York, the film weaves an amazingly coherent story.  Obviously it is a summary, but it relates history in a meaningful and elegant way without being overly dramatic (yes, they cover recent events like 9/11 poignantly but without belaboring the details; I understand the society is also collecting artifacts from "Occupy Wall Street" in case it becomes a historical phenomenon or movement).  I would recommend this film to all NYC residents and visitors--really, that is how good it is. 

If you haven't been to the New York Historical Society, run, don't walk, to spend an afternoon there.  ASIDE: If you have kids, set aside some time to visit the lower level children's history museum, which has lots of educational and interactive exhibits.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pratt Institute: 7th Ave and 14th Street

Twist and Drop Necklace with Double Duty Hook and Eye Clasp
I've told you about The Pratt Institute before (Pratt Gallery), but for the past two weekends, I have been in a fabulous intensive jewelry making class there that I had to share.

Twisty Curl Earrings
I've never made jewelry before.  I had no tools, no beads (other than the ones that I had on jewelry I had bought), and no idea what the class would entail. 

Sea Glass Wrap Pendant on Suede
To my delight, what I found was a small class (6 students were in my class) with lots of individual attention, a really patient and creative teacher, and two full weekends of absolute fun. 

I ended up with 6 pairs of earrings, 6 necklaces, a pendant, a bracelet, and two repaired pieces of jewelry that I love (I had kept broken or damaged pieces that I couldn't wear anymore and repaired or repurposed them). 

We knotted and strung pearls on silk threads, made a simple elastic bracelet, and learned about ribbon knotting.  We also did extensive wire twisting and wrapping, beading, and crimping.

I learned so much more than I thought I would.  I got to indulge in my love of poodles (see Ribbon Necklace and Basic Bead Earrings at left and Elastic Faux Pearl Bracelet with poodle pendant (I added the bone charm too after I took this picture) at right), while also diving into the deep end with a new creative hobby. I also pushed myself to try new colors beyond my black/white/clear, and blues to include some pinks and autumn colors (surprisingly this was one of the harder things to do).

Friends and family should expect one-of-a-kind jewelry this holiday season!
Knotted Grey, Pink and White Pearl Necklace and Matching Earrings
Floating (Flex Wire) Necklace and Matching Earrings
P.S.: I made this last set (and parts of my poodle necklace above) out of some clear and frosted glass balls that I dismantled from a holiday garland (currently available at Crate and Barrel)!  After taking a class like this, my creative juices are really flowing--I've been looking at simple household items in whole new ways. Oh yeah.

Friday, November 4, 2011

China Institute: 65th Street btwn Park and Lexington

The China Institute in the upper east side is a cultural center that offers lectures, language courses, musical performances, and art exhibits. I went to the institute to take a look at their current exhibition (through December 11, 2011) "Blooming in the Shadows: Unofficial Chinese Art, 1974-1985" of paintings from 3 artist groups: the caocao she (grass society), wuming (no name), and xingxing (stars group).

The Wuming group was made up of artists who met in secrecy.  Many of them came from families that were disjointed, with the parents and/or the children sent away by the government to labor camps or farms.  Their art was considered subversive and they met by forging transportation papers and met in remote rural areas and in private homes to paint.  Their hardships were innumerable and their art dramatically expressed their melancholy and desolation.

The caocao she group formed with the purpose of putting together an artists exhibition.  Their non-traditional (non-government approved) style led them to name themselves the grass society, alluding to their irrepressible nature, like "weeds that persist after spring flowers fade."   Their abstract ink paintings and oil paintings are interestingly very similar to western abstraction.  There is definitely an Asian feeling, but there is a modernism that is remarkable in Communist China in the 70s and 80s.

The Xingxing group's name is a reference to how the artists are stars, independent from the "sun" (Mao Zedong) around which all things cultural revolved in China.  The collection on exhibit at the institute is small, but among the paintings, wood carvings (see cropped photo of a sculpture above), and modern mixed media pieces, my favorite are the Ai Weiwei pieces.  I especially liked the silhouette of Marcel Duchamp made from a coat hanger and the teetering wooden stool with 5 legs--how fun is that?

Unfortunately, there is no photography allowed in the galleries, so the only way you'll get to see this amazing collection is if you go to the institute yourself.  Admission is $7/adult and $4/students and seniors, but free on Tuesday and Thursday evenings (6-8 pm).  Please make a visit and take the time to read the descriptions of each collection.  You'll get an incredible insight into life in Communist China after the Cultural Revolution through 1985 (when modern art was officially permitted by the Communist Party).