Nature’s Sparkles

A few months ago a friend and I went to the Museum of the City of New York, which is on the northeast edge of the vast Central Park. Since I was early, I took my time walking through the park to the museum. It was cold—cold enough that there was still ice on the lake. Part of it had melted to create these shapes of water with sparkling edges from the bright sun. I realized that whomever invented glitter must have taken his or her inspiration from nature.

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I came across a garden that I don’t remember having visited before—the Conservatory Garden. It was bare, but I could see how regal and beautiful it must be in the springtime. Time to go back. And the gate to enter it was surprising, almost random next to the New York city street, yet I can see how it matched the garden.

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Right next to the museum was this tree. Do you have yarnbombing where you live?

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The foyer of the museum was cool.

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We visited the exhibit on Martin Luther King, Jr., which was a small gallery but jam-packed with interesting photos and captions. It brought up conversation about what’s going on today.

The exhibit “Mod New York” featured over seventy outfits from the 1960s. It was groovy.

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Lastly, we looked at a room of items about the history of ice skating, fitting since the last time we were in this neighborhood together was when we went ice skating in Central Park last year, on what must have been the last weekend one could skate outside—the rink was covered with a layer of water. Obviously it was much warmer than today.

I like museums and have spent a lot of time in New York, and still sometimes a museum that is new to me will come up on my radar, like the Museum of the City of New York. Many times, I discover a place and love it and think, So this has always been here.

After, we took the subway down to the East Village where she got a bite to eat and I bought a hot chocolate from next door to bring over and sip while she ate and we talked.

Our next stop was a café where she bought two macarons and I got a doughnut. There was no seating, and it was too cold outside to linger, so we went to another café, where she got a drink and we sat and chatted some more over our sweets.

When the weather is beautiful outside, sometimes I forget what I ever did during the cold months. Here’s one example—hopping from place to place on a Saturday afternoon into the evening.

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Small Talk

The line to see Klimt’s Adele snaked around the block outside of the Neue Galerie across from Central Park. It wasn’t as much of a hassle as it seemed. The wait was only twenty minutes and brought me this nugget of conversation with the employee who manned the line as I snacked rather discreetly, I thought.

“What is that, bread?”
Mouth full, “And cheese.”
“Yeah, it looks good, you’re killing it over there.”

Ten minutes later, as he waved me through to the next section of the line, with a feigned warning look even though I had nothing in my hands:
“Put the bread away.”
“It’s all gone, in my stomach.”

I was eating just sliced wheat bread, nothing special, and I’m pretty sure he couldn’t see the cheese. What does killing it even mean in this context? Sometimes we just make conversation for the sake of it, I think. I’m down with that.

Mad House

Recently two friends and I visited the exhibit “Studio Job MAD HOUSE” at the Museum of Arts and Design at Columbus Circle in New York City. I’m always a bit unsure about suggesting modern or contemporary art exhibits to people who aren’t already interested in those periods or who express bafflement over why a blank canvas is in a museum. I am not a fan of all contemporary art—it is so varied—but I am open to seeing something new and if I don’t like it, all the better to discuss why afterwards.

Entrance to MAD is free on Thursday evenings, so I figured that this would be the perfect time to visit it for the first time with a college friend who enjoys art and a friend who is from France, living in New York for two months, and interested in being introduced to the city.

The exhibit is a collaboration by Belgian artist Job Smeets and Dutch artist Nynke Tynagel.

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You may have seen artist René Magritte’s late 1920s painting featuring a pipe and the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (This is not a pipe). When I studied it in college, we talked about how the pipe was not an actual pipe, but rather a painting of a pipe. According to the label for the above piece at MAD, the “cast-bronze sculpture plays with the same idea, that all visual representations are inherently abstract; it is neither a table nor a pipe.” Isn’t it a table, though? Concept aside, it was aesthetically pleasing.

101_0942101_0946My friend asked me to take a picture of him in front of this eye-catching tower, made in 2013-2014. “Over twelve feel tall, this clock and lamp features a cast-bronze King Kong, covered with 120,000 Swarovski crystals, scaling a silver-leafed Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building, in Dubai), which projects from a cast-bronze Petra, the ancient city in Jordan).”

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This is a replica of the Chartres cathedral turned on its side. It also functions as a closet.

As you may expect, the Chartres cathedral isn’t actually these colors. There was something sinister about seeing the black church laid on its side.

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To my delight and slight surprise, my friend who claimed to dislike modern and contemporary art loved the exhibit. We all enjoyed walking around the pieces and pointing out quirks only apparent upon further examination. The rooms of sculpture-objects that combined form and function were whimsical and weird, light and heavy, solid yet fantastical.

At the exhibit, I saw two separate people that I knew wandering around. I was pretty surprised considering that the museum wasn’t that crowded. One of them joined us later for a casual hearty dinner outside near Rockefeller Center. At one point, one of the French guys in our group looked up at the towering skyscrapers around us, smiled, and said, “This is so New York.” I could practically see the stars in his gaze. The other guy agreed enthusiastically, and they relished it for a while. I suddenly saw myself in Paris and how I must have looked to my friends when we crossed a bridge at night and I sighed, “I love bridges here.” Romance in the eyes, awe in one’s exhale. Not to say that I don’t love New York or where I’m from—I do—but I would never say something like “This is so New York” in the context we were in. I’d be more likely to say that if I accidentally bumped into a stranger on the street and they cursed me out.

What is Finished?

Recently a friend and I met up a week after my oral surgery (three wisdom teeth extracted, story for another day) to have lunch and visit the new Met Breuer Museum in Manhattan. The Breuer resides in the building that used to house the Whitney Museum of American Art, which moved downtown. A new space of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Breuer is described as “Modern and contemporary art through the lens of history” on its brochure. From scanning an article online about it beforehand, I didn’t pick up on the “through the lens of history” aspect, so I was surprised when their exhibits displayed works by the likes of Michelangelo (who lived from 1475 to 1564).

The exhibit “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible” was fascinating; it featured works, mostly paintings, that were unfinished. Some were studies deliberately incomplete, some were unfinished due to the artist’s poor health or death, and some we do not know why they were never done.

We are used to modern and contemporary paintings looking “unfinished” even when they are finished due to their often abstract and conceptual nature. However, perceiving roughness and a sketched quality in paintings from periods such as the Renaissance was like seeing a model without makeup. How surprising to see the inner workings of a piece that are usually covered up and invisible to the eye.

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Attributed to Gonzales Coques, possibly 1640s

 

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Anton Raphael Mengs, 1775

 

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Sir Thomas Lawrence, circa 1803-5

 

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Gustav Klimt, 1917-18

The Breuer has three floors of exhibits and a coffee bar on the fifth floor, which we stopped at for a sit before walking to Grand Central. I toted my leftovers from the Thai restaurant we had eaten lunch at earlier that day, whose ceiling was adorned by colored lamps. 101_0208

Museums, unlike the ever-changing restaurants and cafes in the city, often seem like permanent fixtures. In fact they are like other businesses in that they were once established and can change hands and move to another neighborhood altogether. How funny that years from now I can say we visited the Breuer’s first exhibit.

Wondrous Worlds

How about traveling without traveling?

The Newark Museum in New Jersey currently has an exhibit up called “Wondrous Worlds: Art & Islam through Time & Place.”

I am drawn to art that combines image and word. These two blue beauties are by Hassan Massoudy, who was born in Najaf, Iraq and now lives in Paris. They feature poems from centuries ago and bright wide strokes of paint.
165.newarkmuseum.2016a“Travel, if you aspire to certain renown, it is in roaming the heavens that the crescent becomes the full moon.”
– Ibn Qalaqis, an 11th century Egyptian poet

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“Oh friend, don’t go to the flower garden. The flower garden is within you.”
– Kabir, a 15th century Indian poet

This prayer cloth from Iran has mihrab, gate, and flower motifs.

100_9965Some of the museum’s permanent collection amused me, such as this “teapot goblet” from 1989 by Richard Marquis.

100_9971This glass and metal sculpture is called “Firebringer” and was made by Jon Kuhn in the early 2000s.100_9973

And the teapots, the teapots, the teapots!

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The Ballantine House is a section of the museum that features American period rooms. This dining room had so many pieces on the table, from silverware (three forks for each setting), plates, and goblets to cherubic figures and tiny fancy salt shakers.

100_9976100_9978100_9979I have a time and space machine in driving distance from my house. The Islamic world and Victorian America can be done in an afternoon.

Tale as Old as Time

Why do fairy tales possess such enduring popularity? I think it’s the element of fantasy, of neat division between good and evil, of dreaming of that happy ending. For me they have more of a nostalgic appeal. I grew up on Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin,” and their songs unfailingly make some kind of feeling swell up within me. I haven’t seen the more recent animated films such as “Brave,” “The Princess and the Frog,” and “Frozen,” though many of my peers have enjoyed them. I did recently read a collection of Hans Christian Andersen’s tales, which like the Grimms Brothers’, are usually darker than their Disney renditions. In any case, fairy tales old and new take us to places where odd and extraordinary things happen.

High fashion has that same fantastical allure. Everyday clothing’s primary function is to cover us per societal convention, but sweeping skirts add drama and architectural lines turn fabric into sculpture.

The current exhibit “Fairy Tale Fashion” at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York combines story with finely draped mannequins. The outfits, some darkly elegant, some whimsical, are each footed by a concisely told fairy tale.

Sleeping Beauty’s dresses were dreamy. The beautiful piece on the right fluffs out on top, then perfectly hugs the body before fluting out like an inverted daffodil. As for the Marchesa gown on the left, I usually prefer cinched waists, but even I was taken by the soft uninterrupted layers of what I imagined to be moonlit fabric as Briar Rose made her way through the forest. 100_9838

This intricate dress and headpiece by Dolce and Gabbana had a harder edge. I think I’d enjoy wearing this armor of tough femininity while stomping through the hectic subway environment in New York. Who would get in my way?

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This gold and black dress in the Alice in Wonderland set shone under the muted light. I see it at an evening version of the Mad Tea Party. 100_9845In the Beauty and the Beast group, I honed in on two pieces: a pretty, printed long-sleeved dress with heaps of material suspended in the air from designer Mary Katrantzou’s fall 2012 collection, and a white dress from Rodarte’s 2007 spring collection that would have been prim if not for the bold roses down the front. Both are not over the top but inch right to the edge.

How about these dark Little Red Riding Hoods?100_9857

And then you’ve got the wolf in his nightgown…

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These three dresses were paired with a disturbing story by the Brothers Grimm about a girl whose father wants to marry her after her mother’s death. From left to right, they embody the stars, moon, and sun.

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A literal representation can be too much, but I found this dress littered with stars quite lovely with just the right amount of clustered and scattered stars. It was designed around 1930 by Mary Liotta, on whom a brief internet search yielded nothing.

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Cinderella’s dresses of gold and silver were accompanied by shoes that included a subtly-colored, butterfly-adorned pair by Christian Louboutin.

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This is just a taste of the exhibit, which is up until April 16 and free to the public. I highly recommend it if you happen to be in New York and seek a little enchantment.

Like A Picture in a Frame

Sometimes the windows in museums are just as picturesque as the paintings on the walls.

The top floor of the Picasso museum in Paris offers up the city past its curly metal railings.117.windows.2015aIf you pause on the checkered marble landing before descending one of the side staircases at the Louvre, these lines await you.
117.windows.2015b 117.windows.2015cOh, those Haussmannian buildings.

Geometrical Art

On the first Sunday of every month, museums in Paris are free. Usually the lines to enter are long, so I was surprised when there was no wait to enter the Pompidou the first Sunday evening of November.

My friend and I scooted in ticket-free and took the escalator upstairs to wander around the contemporary collection.

I thought it was really cool to be able to inspect this panel of the Institut du Monde Arabe up close. The façade of the Arab World Institute in Paris is composed of squares with apertures that open and close according to the amount of sunlight that hits them.  100_7260These fun warm spheres hung from the ceiling of the main hallway.100_7261Unfortunately we only got to glimpse the Picassos in the modern art collection before the museum closed at 9, but I know where I’ll be on the first Sunday of December.

We headed out into the cool night air and looked for a café or bar to stop in. We passed two cafés and a restaurant that we had been to before. We even remembered the conversations we had had at the time. At my prompting we chose a bubble tea place. As we approached a table, the guy at the adjacent table turned and stared at me. It was a former colleague. He said he had recognized my voice.

With familiar places floating with memories and familiar faces en face de moi, Paris felt a little smaller that night. I like that.

Museuming at Midnight

Earlier this month was La Nuit des Musées, an annual night when museums are open late and free to the public in forty countries in Europe. I took the opportunity to visit the Musée du Luxembourg for the first time.

On display was an exhibit on the empress Josephine that included dresses, furniture, and dishes that she owned, as well as sculpture and paintings that depicted her or aspects of her life and the period in which she lived. It’s hard to believe that anyone ever wore these tiny and fur-trimmed shoes.museeluxembourg.2014aA couple of musicians dispersed throughout the main room played classical music on bass and violin.63.museeluxembourg.2014bThis year was the 10th anniversary of La Nuit des Musées. Joyeux anniversaire!

Faces

A few weeks ago, I saw an ad in the Paris metro station for an exhibit in Marseilles on faces in modern and contemporary art. To my luck, I had plans to go Marseilles this month and friends there willing to go with me.

We visited “Visages, Picasso, Magritte, Warhol…” at Le Centre de la Vieille Charité, a former almshouse in the Panier (“basket”) neighborhood, the oldest part of the city. According to my friend, when he was a kid it was an unsafe area, and he hadn’t been back in at least twenty years. He was surprised to see how clean and calm it is today. We walked through narrow streets and past a pleasant café-strung terrace on the way to the museum.62.visages.2014a 62.visages.2014bLe Centre de la Vieille Charité was much bigger than I expected. It’s not simply a building, but rather four beautifully arcaded sides surrounding a large courtyard and dome. The soft-colored stone and wide round arches create an ambiance that impressed and charmed me in a different way than the grand gold décor and molding that can be found in many other French buildings. In this courtyard, I felt that I could breathe. The space has a quiet beauty.62.visages.2014cThe exhibit itself did not disappoint. It was organized into three themes: faces of society, faces of intimacy, and faces of the mind and spirit.

The faces of society included paintings and blown-up photos of street scenes from post-World War I up to today. When I saw the Jean-Michel Basquiat at the end of the room, I said, “Now that’s what I came for.” Some time ago, the Pompidou museum had a Basquiat painting on display, but since they rotate their permanent collection every couple of years, it wasn’t there the last time I went. I took the opportunity to experience the one in Marseilles from near and afar.

The faces of intimacy focused more on solitary figures and at times, solitude. My friend pointed out a work that was inspired by “Ooper.”
Who? I asked.
Ooper. Remember when we saw his paintings at the MoMA in New York?
Who?
Ooper.
I leaned over to look at the label. “Oh, HOPPER.”

The third group had a bit of magic, fantasy, and illusion from surrealism and the contemporary period. Have you ever seen a Giorgio Di Chirico painting? When I stand in front of one, I always feel like I could step into the scene—that’s how masterfully he creates an atmosphere that is unreal and real at the same time. I find something exciting about his scenes in the blue night.

A leisurely breakfast that morning, a last-minute run to buy flowers before a stop at my friend’s mom’s house for Mother’s Day, and a savory and sweet crepe for lunch meant that we didn’t get to visit the works in Vieille Charité’s dome because I had to catch my train back to Paris. Ah, well. I love looking at the faces of Picasso’s dames, but spending time with real faces is a treat too.