Touring an Assyrian Palace at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Since the recent announcement of the travel ban here in the United States, a number of museums in New York City have found several ways to show dissent or show solidarity with people from the seven countries affected by the ban. For example, the Museum of Modern Art has a special exhibition of art by Muslim artists from the countries included in the travel ban. The Museum of the City of New York has focused on curating images of activism in the city, such as the use of the #activistny hashtag on Instagram, as part of an ongoing exhibition titled Activist New York. MCNY also has a new photography exhibition opening soon titled Muslim in New York.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a rich collection of art from Muslim countries, as well as other art from the ancient world that comes from the countries included in the ban. The Met programming has been more subtle than other NYC museums in this respect, but there is always great art on display from the ancient Middle East and historical Islamic world. And the museum regularly offers a tour of those galleries called Arts of the Islamic World.

Today, I thought I would take you on a tour of one of my favorite galleries in this part of the museum, Gallery 401. This gallery present carved stone reliefs from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II, who ruled over the Assyrian empire (located in modern-day Iraq) from 883 to 859 B.C. Although the reliefs from a variety of locations within the palace originally, they are displayed as a single reception room with a high ceiling.

The first thing you are likely to notice as you enter the room are the statues on either side of the entrance – a winged bull and a winged lion, each with human heads.

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There are also some magnificent reliefs along the other walls of the room. Here is just a sample of what you will see.

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Although this isn’t a great photo of the reliefs, I thought the view of the group tour would give a better sense of the size of the room and the art.

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If you get the chance to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I recommend that you explore this gallery in person – it’s worth the visit. The museum is located on Fifth Avenue at East 82nd Street.

Exploring the New York Public Library

As I’m a voracious reader and lover of books and libraries, the New York Public Library – and specifically the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building – is one of my favorite places in New York City. Although the library now has annexes all over the city, this building, which first opened to the public in 1911, is the one that most people associate with the NYPL. Today, I thought I’d take you on a tour of the library.

Here’s our view as we get ready to cross Fifth Avenue and approach the main entrance to the building. As you can see, the building is an example of Beaux-Arts architecture. Doesn’t it look promising as we approach?

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As we cross the street, we see the famous library lions. Since the 1930s, they’ve been known by the names Patience and Fortitude.

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During the Christmas season, the lions wear evergreen wreaths studded with pinecones and trimmed with a red bow.

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On either side of the main entrance are magnificent fountains. If you look closely, you may be able to see the netting that prevents birds from perching on the statues.

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Make sure you look around as we go through the entrance. The details on the huge bronze doors are incredible, and the arched ceiling of the portico is also magnificent.

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We’ve entered into the grand Astor Hall. The white marble reflects the light shining through the front windows.

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Here’s one of my favorite details in the entire library – a small marble plaque set into Astor Hall’s floor. The plaque remembers Martin Radtke, a Lithuanian immigrant to the United States who educated himself during regular visits to the library over the course of his life. Upon Martin’s death in 1973, the library discovered that he had left his savings to the library – $368,000 in all. How special that he has been honored in this way.

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There’s so much more to see as we explore the library’s many rooms and corridors. Can you imagine sitting at one of the tables for a while, reading a book you’ve requested from one of the librarians? If you have the time, we can catch up on some news in the periodicals reading room, or explore an atlas in the Map Division reading room. And there’s so many interesting architectural details and art to experience as well. Don’t forget to look up! The ceilings display more fine craftsmanship.

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Periodically throughout the hallways you may spy these lions along the wall, remnants of the original water fountain system. You can’t get a drink of water from these fountains today, but they are still fun to see.

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One of the most impressive rooms in the library is the Rose Reading Room, which stretches the length of a football field. The Rose Reading Room has just reopened after a lengthy restoration process. The ceilings are beautiful in this room as well, and there are so many other interesting architectural details to explore.

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Let’s not forget to head down to the ground floor. As we exit the elevator, we spy this rare artifact: a set of pay phone booths! Unsurprisingly, none of them are in use.

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And then we come to the library’s Children’s Center. The entrance to the Children’s Center is guarded by lions as well, although these two are made of Lego blocks.

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The Children’s Center is a magical place, with a mural of various New York City landmarks stretching around the room.

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Best of all there are the original stuffed animals that inspired author A. A. Milne to write the children’s book Winnie the Pooh.

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I hope that you enjoyed our tour. There are even more treasures to be discovered if you visit the New York Public Library for yourself. The library even offers free tours on a daily basis. The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is located on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, between 40th and 42nd Streets. (Yes, the building stretches the length of two city blocks – but the short blocks!)

A personal note: I wrote this post as a tribute to a wonderful friend and family member that we lost this week. Roy lived an incredible life, full of love and family adventures. His wife Rosie, my cousin, has become a close friend as we’ve collaborated on family history projects. Roy had lost his eyesight over the years, but he still participated in numerous book clubs and loved to read. He was one of those special people who are life-long learners. Somehow, writing about a library seemed like the perfect way to honor his memory as his family prepares to celebrate his life tomorrow.

Celebrating the Lunar New Year in Flushing, Queens

New York City has the largest Asian-American population in the United States (at latest count approximately 12% of the city’s 8 million residents), so it’s unsurprising that the city is host to numerous Lunar New Year events. Most tourists attend Lunar New Year events in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood, but other boroughs also hold Lunar New Year parades and other celebrations. This year, I decided to watch the Lunar New Year parade in Flushing, Queens. Over half of the Asian-American population lives in the borough of Queens, and Flushing is home to a second Chinatown.

The parade may not be quite so grand as the one in Manhattan, but it was a wonderful celebration of the community. My favorite things in the parade were the brightly colored dragons – they always drew cheers from the crowds as well.

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There were also some child-sized dragons. See what I saw inside the dragon’s head?

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Here are some of the marchers in the parade, dressed in various traditional costumes.

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On a serious note, there was also this brightly decorated car, accompanied by people carrying signs about domestic violence. They were marching with a community organization that provides support for victims of domestic violence.

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Finally, there were plenty of people in various stuffed costumes, from a character from a cartoon to buddhas – and let’s not forget the roosters, as this year is the year of the rooster!

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Want to explore Flushing’s Chinatown for yourself? Take the 7 train all the way to the end of the line, to the Flushing-Main Street station. When you come above ground, you will be in the midst of Chinatown.

A Hidden Treasure: The First Street Garden

Tucked in between two buildings on First Street on the Lower East Side is a hidden treasure: the First Street Garden. A community garden supported by the Lower East Side Girls Club, the garden is only open limited hours – but it is still worth walking by, even if you have to peep between the metal fence rails. One sign explains that the Garden was created and maintained by volunteers working with GreenThumb, an almost 40 year old NYC Parks initiative that “helps local residents transform vacant properties into attractive green spaces.”

One of the reasons why the First Street Garden is so special is that a series of murals of “women who have changed the world” have been painted on the walls on either side of the space. There’s this mural of the late journalist and social justice advocate Dorothy Day. The banner above her head reads, “All of our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy rotten system,” a quote often attributed to Day but likely not something she actually said.

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Next to her is a portrait of Sojourner Truth, a 19th-century abolitionist and woman’s rights advocate.

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The gate was locked on the day that I visited, but I still spied these murals of Rosa Parks, known for her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956, and Shirley Chisolm, a New Yorker who became the first African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Congress. (Further down the wall was Susan B. Anthony as well.)

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I also noticed this small mural of Ella Baker, a civil rights activist and human rights activist. There are numerous other small murals as well, certainly worth exploring further when the gate is unlocked.

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As one sign on the wall indicated, the Garden’s participants are also engaged in an experiment in sustainable design, and bamboo and recycled materials have been used to build some interesting structures. In warmer weather, the Garden would be a wonderful place to relax and read a book for a while.

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Want to visit the First Street Garden yourself? It is located on First Street between First and Second Avenues. The closest subway station is the Second Street station, which is accessible from the F train. (Additionally, an access point for the First Street Green Cultural Park is located just down the street from the First Street Garden. You’ll always find original, fresh street art there.) According to the sign on the gate, the garden is open on Friday afternoons, 4:00-6:00 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4:00 pm.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Bonsai Museum

During the cold winter months, you might not usually think of visiting a botanical garden. But the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum (as well as other indoor conservatories) make this garden a perfect place to visit on a cold, blustery day. What makes the Bonsai Museum so special is that it’s home to a collection of approximately 350 trees – the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s website states that it is “one of the finest in the world.” Most of these trees are not on exhibit at the same time; instead, curators rotate trees from the collection in and out of the modern and light indoor verandah.

I last went in late fall on a windy day, and the exhibition included both evergreen and deciduous trees. Here are some of my favorites, which all posed for photos. I particularly like the architectural effect of the trees that are almost stripped bare of leaves. They cast some great shadows as well!

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One of the great things about the Bonsai Museum is that different trees are on display throughout the year. Who knows what you might find when you visit! You’ll find the directions to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden at the end of a previous post I wrote about the Garden, found here.

Subway Station Art: The New Second Avenue Line (Part II)

I’ve already written one post about the amazing new subway art at the 72nd Street subway station, which you can find here. Now, here is the second post in the series I’m writing about the new Second Avenue line’s incredible art installations. This time, let’s explore artist Chuck Close’s mosaic glass and ceramic tile series, known as Subway Portraits, which is located at the 86th Street station. Similar to the themes of the 72nd Street station’s art, Close’s oversized portraits reflect the diversity of New York City’s residents. At the same time, the artist also explores a variety of different techniques to portray each person. This station is another treat for those interested in the city’s public art.

Here are photographs of some of my favorite portraits from this station, as well as a few close-up photos showing some of the techniques Close used in creating them. I hope you enjoy!

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Want to see Subway Portraits for yourself? Take the Q train to the 86th Street station on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Portraits are located along the mezzanine level, as well as the areas extending from the mezzanine to each subway station entrance.

Subway Station Art: The New Second Avenue Line (Part I)

The New York City subway system doesn’t add new stations very often, but many New Yorkers have been eagerly awaiting the opening of the new Second Avenue subway line. The line, which for now only consists of three stations, has been on the drawing board for more than 100 years. It officially opened on January 1, 2017, and has increased access to Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

One exciting benefit of the opening of these three new stations is some new offerings in subway art as well. Each station is unique, and I plan to offer a tour of each one in the upcoming days. Our first tour is of the art installation at the 72nd Street station. Titled Perfect Strangers, the more than three dozen glass mosaic images by Vic Muniz celebrate the diversity of the people who live and work in the neighborhood that surrounds this subway station. As there is ongoing debate about the American president’s immigration policy, New Yorkers have stood united in the fact that we value diversity and treasure our immigrant friends, family, and neighbors. This weekend in particular, I thought that writing about artwork that emphasizes those positive values was important.

Here are some of my favorite parts of this installation. I’ve also added a few close-up views to give you a sense of the magnificent detail work. I’d love to include photos of them all, but that would make for a very long post! The glass tiles reflect a lot of light, making the images challenging to photograph.

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As you look down the stairs towards the platform, you may also spy the words, “E Pluribus Unum.” The motto of the United States, this Latin phrase means “Out of many, one.”

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If you’d like to see Perfect Strangers for yourself, take the Q train to 72nd Street. Most of the figures are located on the mezzanine level, but keep a sharp lookout in the areas between the street level and the mezzanine – there are more figures on every level, and tucked around a few corners as well!

Dispatch from the Women’s March on NYC

Today was a day of marching and protest across the United States – people in other cities around the world marched in solidarity with us. One of the largest marches was here in New York City, and I was privileged to participate in the march. I don’t normally talk about things like this on the blog, but I think it very much fits with the blog’s overall theme. Today yet again I discovered another aspect of my city’s character, and it made me proud to say that I am a New Yorker.

Today’s march was certainly in opposition to the new President, but it was more. It was a statement by women (and the men who marched with them in support) that they demand to be heard. They demand that their rights be protected and their interests be prioritized by the government. The march was a call to action, and I’m hopeful we’ll see people engage in the future with the issues they marched for today.

I took a lot of photos of the march today, and I think that they give a good glimpse of the diversity of people and issues associated with the march.

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I’ve heard estimates that 250,000 people or more marched in the New York City parade alone, although I haven’t been able to verify that number yet. I do know that the march was peaceful, coordinated with city leaders and the New York Police Department, and lasted all day long.

One Last Look at NYC’s Holiday Windows: Bloomingdale’s

So, I know I’m late posting this, but I really wanted to show everyone some photos I took of Bloomingdale’s department store windows during the 2016 holiday season. The theme for Bloomingdale’s windows this year was “Light,” and artists were invited to create chandeliers embodying that theme. During the exhibition, the chandeliers were auctioned off and the money donated to a children’s charity.

So here are the chandeliers, reflecting the artists’ very different approaches to the common theme. This first one is titled “Sparkle,” by artist Allison Eden.

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The close-up shot shows the three-dimensional details of both the chandelier and the tile mosaic aquatic background.

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This next one is titled “Brilliant,” by artist Susanne Bartsch.

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This mirrored chandelier is titled “Luminescence,” by artist Sean Augustine March.

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Here’s “Moon Glow,” by artist Abby Modell.

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This window was titled “Aura,” a collaboration between artists Erika DeVries and Jonah Meyer.

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In this window, artist Inma Barrero utilized clay, porcelain, metal, glass, and wood to create “Reflections.” And this one really did reflect the light, making it challenging to photograph!

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With that last photo, I’ll officially close the door on the 2016 holiday season – but I can hardly wait to see what the department stores do in 2017!

Kerry James Marshall at the Met Breuer

One of the wonderful things about art is that it offers so many different perspectives of the human experience. As an art lover, I appreciate that museums in recent years have worked to make art offerings more inclusive, allowing visitors to be exposed to those different perspectives. That is one reason why one of the current exhibitions at Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Met Breuer annex excites me. The exhibition, titled Mastry, offers almost 80 works by African-American artist Kerry James Marshall. Mastry covers two full floors of the Met Breuer building, and the artwork reflects Marshall’s unique perspectives of African-American life.

I found this description, taken from the museum’s website, very appropriate: “[T]his … exhibition reveals Marshall’s practice to be a complex and compelling one that synthesizes a wide range of pictorial traditions to counter stereotypical representations of black people in society and reassert the place of the black figure within the canon of Western painting.” As I looked at the paintings, I was struck by Marshall’s choice of very dark pigment for the figures – accentuating their blackness in a compelling and beautiful way. Most paintings had multiple layers – paint, then pieces of text, advertising, photos, or other images, then more paint. The closer you look, the more symbolism and detail you’ll discover.

Here are some of my favorite paintings from the exhibition:

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I also really liked the series of paintings contrasting the dream versus the reality of public housing projects. The paintings are known as the “Garden Project” series, as the housing projects all had the word “garden” in their names. Here are three of the paintings from the “Garden Project.”

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To give you a sense of the scale of Marshall’s artwork, here is one of the paintings with museum visitors in front of it. (This one also shows how much patience I had to have in order to get the other photos I took!)

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Want to see Kerry James Marshall’s Mastry for yourself? The exhibition is only open through January 29, 2017, so you’ll have to hurry. The Met Breuer is located on Madison Avenue at 75th Street. If traveling by public transportation to the museum, you can take the 4 or 6 train to the 77th Street Station. There is also a bus stop for the M1, M2, M3, and M4 buses close by.