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Archive for April, 2010

Those of you who follow this blog (all five of you) know that I have spent the last 26 months or so wrapping up a very big loose end in my life: completing the college degree I began 32 years ago. Well, my lovelies, I am happy to say that it is a done deal. I am now a college graduate – yeehaw! And I spent my final Spring Break in NYC with my sister-in-law and her two lovely daughters. It was a whirlwind trip of shopping, eating, and, most importantly (to me, anyway) museum-ing. Yes, museum-ing. It’s my blog, I can make up a word if I want to.

Our first museum visit was the American Museum of Natural History, which the girls, being only seventeen, knew best from the film “Night at the Museum.” This was an interesting visit, as they aren’t particularly keen on the fine art of taxidermy. In the film, of course, all of these previously-living-now-dead-and-stuffed animals come to life and hilarity ensues. Needless to say, this did not occur during our visit. Nor is there a T-rex in the main lobby of the museum at this time (he’s upstairs – there is currently a Barosaurus and a small Allosaurus in the lobby, very different indeed). The visit was not entirely a bust, as the artist niece was in awe of the meticulous attention to detail in the background paintings for the various dioramas. I’m not sure the fashion-conscious niece was impressed, but if we’d made it to the Memorial Hall of Gems I’m guessing she’d have appreciated the new diamonds on display much more than she did the rat pelts in the Hall of Rodents and Small Carnivores. I am happy to say, however, that the Hall of African Peoples presented an opportunity to correct a misconception held by both young women: they thought that pygmies were an extinct form of early man (go, public education!). I explained how there were different ideas about why these people are smaller in size than other population groups, and that environment, mortality rates and other factors may play a role in their size. I also let them know that the term “pygmy” is considered a pejorative term and they should refer to members of these populations by their group name, like the Mbuti or the Aka, etc. After all, I’d hate to let this new college degree in anthropology go to waste!

Our second foray into museum-world was the Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA. It was a cold and rainy Monday and the line outside of the museum was insanely long, so it was a good thing we already had tickets – I don’t know that waiting in that line was really an option for this group. Once inside, we perused the installations on the second floor for a bit, but I don’t think the girls cared much for either of them – one was a very dark series of short animated videos and still images reflecting South Africa during and just after apartheid, and the other was “The Artist is Present,” a high concept bit of performance art where visitors to the museum had the opportunity to sit opposite the artist and experience being present in silence with another human being. The third floor, however, was much more to their liking: a Tim Burton retrospective, with early sketches and doodles, a timeline of Burton’s film and animation career, and models, props, and costumes from various films. It was a blast, even if it was over crowded and poorly ventilated and every fifteen seconds some uniformed staff member would bark out “No Pictures!” None of the people taking pictures was paying the least bit of attention to the museum employees, and frankly I’m not sure that you can really stop people from taking photos these days, what with cell phone cameras and all. It kind of felt like a three-ring circus in that exhibit, with the pushing and the crowding and my height-challenged nieces having to squeeze past people just to see the illustrations. But they were happy, which is all that matters. We did get to see several Picasso’s, the Monet water lilies exhibit, some Pollack’s, and Wyeth’s “Christina’s World,” which both of the girls liked quite a bit. As much as I liked MoMA, I have to say that the crushing crowd and the noise level were fairly distracting. I expected it to be a bit noisy at the Museum of Natural History, what with all the groups of school-aged kids running around poking their hands past the security sensors to try and touch the dinosaur “bones” and alarms going off every fifteen seconds and such, but you don’t expect that level of noise at an art museum.

In that respect, and in all others, I have to say that the Metropolitan Museum of Art was so much more to my liking. My artistic niece and I had the day to ourselves while sis-in-law took the other niece shopping for the day. While there were uniformed staff members everywhere you looked, they were quiet and polite and simply asked that you not take flash pictures, even showing you how to turn off the automatic flash setting on your camera. Did I mention that the Met was much more to my liking? Anyway, I was delighted to see the appreciation my niece expressed in the ancient Greek and Roman artifacts (the number of artists sitting around sketching the statuary might have had something to do with her interest). We had the chance to talk a bit about how early archeology was not as structured as it is now and how many things that were recovered two or even three hundred years ago were not processed with care; how large items were sometimes broken up and distributed in pieces to various museums without thought to reconstruction and how we could learn from the piece if it was whole; and about how we often know very little about the site an item was recovered from, which means we know very little about the importance or meaning of the item itself (context is everything). Of these artifacts, she was most interested in the few small female figures at the museum and we got to chat a bit about what those might have meant when they were created. While that was great fun for me, what my niece as most interested in was to be found upstairs. As a painter, she was particularly interested in seeing the various collections of paintings, and to her delight her favorite piece of art, Pierre-August Cot’s “Springtime,” was hanging in one of the main painting galleries (and yes, she walked out with a poster of that painting in hand). She was captivated by the two artists who had easels set up in the galleries, painting copies of a Vermeer and a Bouguereau (particularly the Vermeer, as the artist was explaining to a tour group how he applied his glaze then used a dry brush to remove it in order to achieve the transparent color he is known for). We were lucky to be there during the current Bronzino exhibit, which includes sixty drawings and one painting, all dating from the mid-1500s. Mitch couldn’t join us on the trip, and if he had gone he would have wanted to see the Bronzino exhibit, so we made a point of spending time there, absorbing the details of each drawing in order to faithfully share our impressions with him when we returned home. It was pretty impressive, let me tell you.

After we exhausted all the painting galleries and had an overpriced lunch in the cafeteria, she indulged my interest in Near Eastern artifacts and we visited the galleries with the Assyrian reliefs, Egyptian statuary (six beautiful seated Sekhmets and entire room devoted to Hatshepsut!) and an amazing collection of Pakistani and Afghani Buddha statues (I didn’t even know that there were Pakistani Buddha statues). We ended the visit wandering through the Asian galleries, looking at statues of various bodhisattvas, different Buddha images, apsaras, Hindu deities, and Tibetan thangkas (Vic, eat your heart out). We marveled at the carved interior of a cupola that was originally part of the Red Fort at Agra, which was pretty trippy for my niece, as she, her mom and her sister went to the Red Fort at Agra when they were in India over Christmas break. As much as I would have liked to have seen every inch of the Met, especially the costume and textiles exhibits, we just ran out of time. The next time you are in NYC, you’ve simply got to go. And if I can remember the name of the little Italian restaurant on Lexington where I had the most amazing Golosi ai Quattro Formaggi (little ricotta and spinach gnocchi in a four cheese reduction sauce), I’ll let you know. It’ll make your toes curl.

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