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:
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.”
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!)
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.
I recently had the opportunity to explore an immersive exhibition at the New Museum. The New Museum is known for its innovative contemporary art, and this exhibition by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist, titled Pixel Forest, certainly exceeded my expectations. Pixel Forest combines video installations with multimedia art and audio. The result is a full sensory experience that draws the visitor into a new artistic world.
The exhibition covers three floors of the museum, and as you go through each level you have the opportunity to see how Rist’s art has evolved over time. On one floor there are long strands of light clusters that slowly change colors as you wander through them. It was a delightful experience.
In another corner visitors can lounge on throw pillows as they watch a video installation. Dreamy music plays in the background.
Tucked around a corner in a narrow space I discover this unexpected chandelier, made entirely of men’s and women’s white underwear. Different colored images are projected upon it, turning it into an unusual video screen.
On another floor, visitors rest on beds arranged around the room, staring up at a video that is projected onto a space on the ceiling. The video appeared to be made up of changing colors, and once again you are surrounded by soft music.
And on the third level video images are projected on fabric panels hanging from the ceiling, and guests are encouraged to wander among them, becoming part of the installation as the videos are projected on their own bodies.
This is one of the most unusual art exhibitions I’ve been to in a long time, and I really enjoyed how the installations invited the visitor in to participate and soak it all in.
If you are interested in seeing Pixel Forest for yourself, hurry to the New Museum before the exhibition ends on January 15, 2017. The museum is located at 235 Bowery.
Tomorrow is Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. Each year, there are numerous celebrations of Diwali in New York City. Last year, one of those celebrations took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I stumbled upon it during a visit to the museum. Although the museum is not hosting a Diwali celebration this year (at least, I haven’t been able to find anything about it if it is), I thought that revisiting last year’s festival activities would be a great way to celebrate the holiday this weekend.
To celebrate Diwali, the Met offered numerous activities, including henna painting, lantern-making, and children’s dance activities. I met some visitors who were willing to share their experiences with me, as you can see from these photos.
In one room, children were being taught some traditional dance steps – guaranteed to burn off some youthful energy, and fun to watch!
There was also a dance performance, difficult to capture in photographs because of the crowds, dark light, and fast movement, but so beautiful.
One of the benefits of hosting this event in the Met Museum is the proximity to a wonderful collection of Indian art. I made sure to explore some of it while I was there, and here are photos of a few of my discoveries.
And don’t forget to look up!
Although the Met Museum may not be holding Diwali festivities this year, I recommend visiting to see its Indian and Southeast Asian art collections, which are primarily located on the second floor of the museum. There’s also a small special exhibition of Indian art on display at the Met through December 4, 2016: Poetry and Devotion in Indian Painting: Two Decades of Collecting. More information about that exhibition is available here.
New York City’s reputation for growth and emphasis on new, bigger, and better has often resulted in the loss of historical architecture. Similarly, the passage of time has obscured significant aspects of the city’s diverse social history. The city’s growth occasionally serves the opposite function, however: it unearths previously forgotten and hidden parts of the city’s past. Such is the case with the African Burial Ground.
In 1991, the federal government was in the process of excavating a site just north of City Hall in preparation for a new administrative building. As the workers removed layer after layer of accumulated soil, they began exposing colonial-era graves. Research revealed that the location was part of the African Burial Ground, a site where free and enslaved African Americans in New York City buried their dead in the late 17th and 18th centuries. The discovery created quite a controversy. Some graves had been damaged by construction efforts before workers realized that the site contained human remains, and modern-day descendants of slaves believed that building on top of the cemetery was disrespectful.
Eventually, a compromise was reached. Archaeologists carefully removed 419 sets of human remains from the site, and those remains were sent to scholars at Howard University for study. (It’s believed that 15,000 or more people were originally buried throughout the full cemetery, which extended beyond the current building site.) After scholars learned as much as possible about what those remains tell us about African-American life in the New York colony, each set of remains was carefully placed in individual coffins, handmade by craftsmen from Ghana, and then interred on the grounds of the new African Burial Ground National Monument. The federal office building was eventually completed next door, and the first floor of that building now houses the monument’s Visitors’ Center.
The Visitors’ Center is very well done, educating visitors about a number of important and interesting themes. I’m not always a fan of Visitors’ Center introductory films, but the one here is excellent. It’s not very long (only 15-20 minutes), and definitely worth taking the time to see it.
One of the first things that grabs your attention is this life-sized burial scene, complete with audio. You can even sit on one of the benches located nearby, absorbing the solemnity of the burial of one slave family’s husband and father and another family’s infant child.
As you explore further, you will learn more about the challenges that slaves faced in colonial New York City, including details about their working and living conditions. You will encounter a few slaves (as well as free African Americans) that we know more about because of historical records, and you will be able to read for yourself examples of the laws that were passed to maintain English colonists’ power over their African slaves.
Artifacts such as this contemporary newspaper advertisement for runaway slaves were sobering.
If you are interested in archaeology, you will find the parts of the exhibition that focus on the exhumed graves fascinating. The exhibit includes photos of each of the graves – here are just a few of them.
Additionally, the exhibit demonstrates how much scholars were able to learn about the health, working conditions, etc. of each buried person by providing a lot more information about one individual, Burial No. 101.
The outdoor monument is a peaceful, architecturally striking place. Its design is filled with multiple layers of meaning, from the mounds of earth covered in green grass, where the excavated remains were reburied, to African symbols and their translations, to various commemorations of the dead. Here are a few of the photos I took of the monument to give you a sense of what the space is like.
Located only a short distance from City Hall, the African Burial Ground National Monument is easily reached by public transportation. A number of subway stations are located within walking distance of the monument and visitor’s center: take the 1, 2, 3, J, Z, A, or C trains to their respective Chambers Street stations; the 4, 5, or 6 to the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall station; the E to the World Trade Center station; the N or R trains to City Hall; or the 2 or 3 to Park Place. The memorial’s visitor center is located on the first floor of the Ted Weiss Federal Building at 290 Broadway. The memorial is located behind the building and is accessible from Duane Street. The African Burial Ground National Monument and Visitors’ Center is free.
New York City is known for fashion, and there are a number of museums that host fashion exhibitions. (In fact, I’ve previously written about a few of those exhibitions here, here, and here.) What many people don’t know is that there is a museum entirely dedicated to fashion in New York City, and it’s free. The Fashion Institute of Technology has its own small museum, a little gem with rotating exhibitions.
The current exhibition, titled Uniformity, explores the connections between uniforms and high fashion. As visitors tour the museum, they discover 4 categories of uniforms: school, sports, work, and military. Curators have juxtaposed those uniforms with fashion designs that take inspiration from uniform details and silhouettes.
Here are just a few examples of the uniforms and fashion exhibits in Uniformity. I’ve included identifications and designers in each photo’s caption.
There are still a couple of months to catch the Uniformity exhibition in person – it continues until November 19, 2016. The FIT Museum is located at the corner of 27th Street and 7th Avenue in Manhattan. The closest subway station is the 1 train’s 28th Street station, only a short block away from the museum’s entrance. It’s a slightly longer walk to take the R or N train to 28th Street, or the F or M train to 23rd Street.
As I’ve written about before on numerous occasions, New York City has a robust arts program throughout its subway system. (You can see those other posts by clicking the “Transportation” link on the right-hand side of the blog.) By far, the largest and most diverse collection of subway station art in the city is located at the Times Square-42nd Street station in Manhattan. In fact, the art offerings at this station qualify it as an underground museum in my estimation, worth the time it will take to meander all parts of the station to discover hidden gems.
So let me take you on a tour of this “underground museum.” First, be on the lookout for “Losing My Marbles,” a set of fun, colorful glass mosaic walls by artist Lisa Dinhofer. This artwork is located on the mezzanine level near the A/C/E platforms.
Another glass mosaic mural, “New York in Transit,” is located over a stairwell connecting the mezzanine level to the N/Q/R platforms. The artist, Jacob Lawrence, came of age in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and is known for his pioneering contributions to documenting African-American history through art. The angles makes it hard to get good photos of the entire mural, as the glass tiles reflect the light, but I was able to get a good close-up photo.
Nearby is this mural by iconic pop art artist Roy Lichtenstein, titled “Times Square Mural, 2002.” Once again, to spot this mural you have to look up!
At the mezzanine level near the 7 train platform you will find two glass mosaic tile murals by artist Jack Beal, titled “The Onset of Winter” and “The Return of Spring.” These murals portray scenes of vintage New York City life near the subway station.
In a corridor between the 1/2/3/ and S platforms you will find 35 small vibrant ceramic panels by artist Toby Buonagurio. This installation is titled “Times Square Times: 35 Times.” Here are a few of my favorites.
In the corridors connecting the A/C/E platforms to the rest of the Times Square-42nd Street station, there a series of more than 60 glass mosaic works by artist Jane Dickson called “The Revelers.” The mosaics bring the spirit of New Year’s Eve at Times Square underground. Here are a few of my favorites.
Finally, there is this unique installation, a poem written by Norman B. Colp titled “The Commuter’s Lament,” or “A Close Shave.” In creating this installation, Colp drew inspiration from vintage roadside advertising campaigns by a company called Burma-Shave, which had catchy slogans printed on a series of signs along the side of roads. You’ll find “The Commuter’s Lament” in a long corridor near the A/C/E platform. Make sure you look up as you walk – otherwise you’ll miss the lines of the poem as they are attached to ceiling beams. It’s not in the most pristine condition, as it’s been up since 1991, but it is still a lot of fun.
Here is the full text of “The Commuter’s Lament”:
Why the pain?
Just go home
Do it again.
The tone of the poem has been controversial, as some people believe that Colp was too negative about life in New York City. For most New Yorkers though, it realistically expresses the often tiring daily commute in a wry, yet humorous way. (I fall into the second category, by the way!)
The Times Square station is large and sprawling, with platforms connected by ramps, stairways, and long corridors stretching multiple city blocks underground. Taking any of these trains will get you there: the A, C, E, N, Q, R, 1, 2, 3, 7, or S (shuttle). Technically, the A, C, and E station is the 42nd Street-Port Authority Bus Terminal station, but it is fully connected to the Times Square station.
Although most people associate Smithsonian museums with Washington, DC, New York City is host to two very special Smithsonian museums: the National Museum of the American Indian, which we’ve previously explored here and here, and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. Located in what was once the mansion of successful businessman Andrew Carnegie, Cooper Hewitt’s surroundings and ever-changing exhibitions are fascinating and inspiring.
What makes Cooper Hewitt particularly fun to visit is its interactive features. When visitors step up to the ticket counter, they are given an pen that holds all kinds of possibilities. As you tour the museum, you can “collect” information about individual exhibits that interest you. Each exhibit has a special symbol on the sign describing the exhibit and, by pressing your pen to that symbol, it saves that information in a digital file. You are given a unique identifier for your pen and visit that allows you to later go onto the museum’s website and “retrieve” your visit. All saved descriptions are on your own private page, along with photos of the items you were interested in. (Your personal website even allows you to type in notes about what you thought about each exhibit!) At the end of the visit, you return the pen to be reprogrammed for the next guest.
As you go through the museum, there are other places to use your interactive pen. For example, at some stations, guests can design their own furniture or decor, and then save that design to the same private page with the pen.
Here’s a futuristic lamp I designed:
In the Immersion Room, guests can use the pen to choose wallpaper patterns from an electronic library or design their own patterns, which are then projected on the room’s walls. (I didn’t design a pattern myself, but here are photos showing what another visitor designed.)
There are a variety of exhibitions focusing on both historical and modern design, broadly defined. One of my favorite exhibitions is part of an ongoing exhibition series titled Selects. The current exhibition, titled Thom Browne Selects, consists of a room wallpapered in holographic foil, nickel-plated shoes, 50 mirrors chosen by the fashion designer from the museum’s collection, along with a number of other shiny objects. The room makes a real visual impact, and the composition makes it fun to photograph. Thom Browne Selects is the 13th exhibition in the Selects series, and I am interested in seeing what follows it when the exhibition ends on October 23, 2016.
Here are some of the things that really caught my attention in the other exhibitions during my last visit. They are an eclectic mix – interesting, beautiful, though-provoking, unique. I’ve identified the designer in the caption for each photograph. Many of the museum’s exhibitions change regularly – some of these pieces may not be on display much longer, but they will be replaced with other equally intriguing objects.
This exhibit designed by Jenny E. Sabin, the Polythread Knitted Textile Pavilion, was beautiful – almost magical to walk under, with its soft tones and delicate textures.
I particularly loved these imaginative beaded creatures that are part of the Azeaks series. As the museum’s description of these sculptures explains:
“The beads are assembled by women from the Khayelitsha settlement outside of Cape Town, South Africa. Known as The Haas Sisters, they collaborate with The Haas Brothers on the realization of these remarkable pieces.”
Of course, the museum’s past history as Andrew Carnegie’s mansion makes the building itself very interesting. The mansion, built between 1899 and 1902, is on the National Register of Historic Places, both because of its history and its architectural significance. (The mansion’s steel frame construction was the first of its kind for an American residential building, and it also boasted one of the first Otis elevators and earliest central heating systems in a private home.) If you pay close attention, you will see many fine details illustrating the building’s past use. (Lighting creates some challenging for photographing those details, as you can see!)
Want to visit Cooper Hewitt yourself? The museum is located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 91st Street. If traveling by subway, take the 4, 5, or 6 train to the 86th Street Station. You can also take the 6 train to the 96th Street Station. When you come up from the subway, you will want to walk west three blocks from Lexington Avenue to Fifth Avenue, and then along Fifth Avenue to the museum. You can also reach Cooper Hewitt by MTA bus. If traveling north (uptown), take the M1, M2, M3, or M4 along Madison Avenue to the 91st Street stop. You will walk west one block to get to the museum. If traveling south (downtown), take the M1, M2, M3, or M4 along Fifth Avenue to either the 90th Street or 92 Street stop.
Note: If you are used to the free entrance policy for most Smithsonian museums, it is worth noting that Cooper Hewitt charges an entry fee. Visitors save $2.00 per ticket by purchasing tickets in advance online.
My recent visit to the Coney Island Art Walls, which I wrote about here, reminded me that the Brooklyn Museum currently has an exhibition by one of the Art Wall artists, Stephen Powers. That exhibition, titled Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a SeaGull), features some intriguing art that takes the form of unique, brightly colored and cleverly worded hand-painted signs. I briefly mentioned this exhibition when I wrote about another, larger Coney Island exhibition at the museum, a richly nuanced exhibition that has since concluded. Fortunately, for those who would like to check out the Stephen Powers exhibition, there is still time – Coney Island Is Still Dreamland continues through August 21, 2016.
Powers got his start as a graffiti artist, eventually moving to New York City. He is currently based in Brooklyn. More than 15 years ago, Powers began transitioning from a graffiti artist to a full-time studio-based artist. Since then, his work has been shown in galleries and museums both in the United States and internationally. The Brooklyn Museum exhibition, which contains some excellent examples of Powers’s artistic work, as well as that of some of his artistic collaborators from his ICY Signs art business, is a treat for the eyes. The work also demonstrates some of Powers’s inspiration for his own work, the traditional sign-painting form once popular in Coney Island’s beach community.
The central part of the exhibition is a square room with very high ceilings and lots of light – the four corners of the room have large collages of signs that stretch all the way to the ceiling. Nearby walls and additional small gallery rooms contain some additional artwork that’s part of the exhibition. Sitting in the middle of the main room is an observation viewer – one of the type found at picturesque tourist sites that often require the visitor to feed it coins in order to function.
Here are some close-up views of some of the work in the exhibition. As you can see from these views, the closer you look at Stephen Powers’s work, the more there is to notice! (On rare occasions you may actually catch Powers working on a piece at the exhibition, although I’ve always managed to just miss him.)
This final close-up photos features some characters painted by one of Powers’s collaborators, Timothy Curtis, as well as some others that I haven’t identified along the edges.
Want to see Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (For a Seagull) for yourself? Hurry to the Brooklyn Museum before the exhibition ends on August 21! If traveling by subway, take the 2 or 3 trains to the Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum stop. (While you are at that station, check out the excellent subway art, which I previously wrote about here.) The Museum is located adjacent to the subway station. The museum also has parking for those wishing to drive. The museum has provided more specific directions for driving and parking on its website here.
Every time I’m near Battery Park at the southern end of Manhattan I try to go to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). Located in the former Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House, the museum is one of two Smithsonian museums located in New York City. (I also recommend visiting NMAI’s sister museum in Washington, DC – it’s one of my favorite Smithsonian museums.) NMAI hosts some great special programming (in fact, I wrote about one event here), but the museum also offers some great exhibitions. One of those exhibitions, Circle of Dance, illustrates Native Americans’ diverse cultural experiences by exploring the costumes, traditions, and history associated with various dance forms.
One of my favorite costumes in the exhibition is this one, Quechua Danza de Tizeras, or the Scissor Dance. According to the exhibition, the dance has roots in the Andean Mountains of Peru. I was fascinated to learn how, after the Spanish arrived, dancers were persecuted because of Roman Catholic beliefs that their gymnastic dance movements were enabled by the devil. Catholic priests attempted to ban the dance entirely but were unsuccessful, and instead the dance was incorporated into Christian religious observances in the region. Today, the dance is performed at Christmas and New Years, but it is also part of festivals where descendants of the Andean peoples celebrate their own traditions and heritage. I love the intricately embroidered clothing and hat, as well as the combination of colors in the costume.
I also loved this colorfully patterned outfit, titled Yakama Girl’s Fancy Shawl Dance. From my research, I learned that the Yakama Nation is now based in the state of Washington in the northwest United States. The exhibition explained the purpose of the Fancy Shawl Dance and other dances taught to Yakama children:
Yakama boys and girls are trained at a young age to keep the rhythm of the drumbeat … in order to nurture inside them the belief in Wáashat, the Yakama longhouse religion. Through dancing, the work of their bodies, children are taught to serve their elders, their families, and their people.
When I look at this costume, I can visualize the young Yakama girls whirling in time to the drumbeat, enjoying themselves while still honoring tradition.
The next costume was labeled Cubeo Óyne Dance. It is a mask that would be used by a dancer impersonating an animal spirit during a mourning ritual practiced by the Cubeo, who live in Brazil and Colombia. Like the first dance I described earlier, this one was also discouraged by Christian missionaries.
And this magnificent headdress from the Hopi Butterfly Dance costume also caught my eye. The geometric patterns and colors are interesting, but as you look closer you will see even more details, such as butterflies and cornstalks.
Although Circle of Dance is not a permanent exhibition, visitors still have plenty of time to see it. The exhibition is not scheduled to end until October 8, 2017. The exhibition is located within the special events space on the museum’s ground floor, however, and there may be limited access if a special event is taking place when you visit. In addition to the beautiful costumes featured here, there are a variety of other costumes whose stories give even more of a glimpse into varied Native American traditions and cultures.
Want to visit NMAI yourself? If traveling by subway, take the N or the R trains to Whitehall station, the 1 train to the South Ferry Station, or the 4 or 5 train to the Bowling Green station. If traveling from Staten Island, the museum is only a few short blocks from the Whitehall ferry terminal. NMAI is across the street from Battery Park, and I encourage you to visit the park either before or after your trip to the museum. Another added bonus: the National Museum of the American Indian is free!
What does it mean for a piece of art to be “finished”? What does finished art look like? Who decides when art is finished? These are among the thought-provoking questions asked in The Met Breuer’s current exhibition, Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, on display until September 4, 2016.
Unsurprisingly, much of the art in the exhibition is unfinished. Often, that means that there are blank spaces on the canvas, areas sketched but not painted, or significant differences in how complete some parts of a piece of art looks versus surrounding areas. But not everything looks unfinished to the non-discerning eye, and it is only by reading the card next to each piece of art that the visitor learns that the artists considered some works unfinished.
What complicates the analysis even further is the fact that some artists made deliberate choices to leave parts of their work unfinished, a technique known as non finito. And other pieces were never intended to be finished works of art, instead serving as “sketches” or preliminary studies for a later project.
Here are some of my favorite paintings from the exhibition. Unfinished includes 197 works in all, so this is really just a small sample of what you will see if you visit. I’ve deliberately not noted which category each painting may fall into – see if you can figure it out yourself! (I welcome readers’ thoughts about the paintings in the comment section!)
I was also excited to see this particular work, by Leonardo da Vinci. (As you can see, it was very well-protected, creating quite a challenge to get a good photo without too much reflection.)
The exhibition included more than just paintings – here is one of my favorite sculptural pieces.
The Met Breuer is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of three separate Met Museum campuses. Only open since this past Spring, The Met Breuer primarily supports The Met’s contemporary and modern art programming. The Met Breuer is located at 945 Madison Avenue, at the corner of Madison Avenue and 75th Street on the Upper East Side, in an incredible building designed by architect Marcel Breuer. The building was formerly the home of the Whitney Museum of American Art until that museum recently moved to a new home in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.
If traveling by public transportation to The Met Breuer, 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. (The buses travel uptown towards the Bronx, or north, along Madison Avenue. If coming from areas north of The Met Breuer, you take take the same buses traveling south or downtown along Fifth Avenue.)
Note: Unlike the other Met locations, The Met Breuer is not open on Mondays. If you purchase a ticket at any Met Museum location (including The Met Breuer, the Cloisters, and the main museum on Fifth Avenue), you can get into all 3 museums on the same day for one entrance fee! It’s not a far walk from The Met Breuer to The Met, which is located on Fifth Avenue between 80th Street and 84th Street.