Part 1: Spring in Manhattan

I’m going to return for the next few weeks ago to my travel adventures. Stay tuned for more interviews with street artists!

Now I’ll talk about our amazing trip to NY, NY over Easter weekend. It was full of speakeasys, friends and family, and art. What else can one ask for!

The trip began with a hopeful quest to the Guggenheim on Friday morning. A few weeks prior, I had learned about Doug Wheeler’s PSAD Synthetic Desert at the Guggenheim where he built a room designed to minimize noise. You can enter the room for 10 or 20 minutes and relish in the silence and incredibly bizarre landscape. (Article from NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/07/arts/design/guggenheim-museum-doug-wheeler-synthetic-desert.html)  It is included with admission but you need a timed ticket since only 5 people can go at a time. Advance tickets were gone for the month of April but they had some walk-ins available. So I got to the Guggenheim before it opened in the hopes of securing such a ticket. THere were already lines there when I arrived but a separate line for the Doug Wheeler exhibit. While waiting I met this lovely lady from Oxford and her son who had spent 6 days in NYC and enjoyed the city. They had even more of an adventure getting to the Guggenheim, which involved checking out early from their hotel, getting on the wrong train and ending up in Harlem.

And we all got tickets! My ticket was for 12pm so I had 2 hours to kill. Fortunately, I was in a museum. The Guggenheim had a retrospective of the original art that Solomon Guggenheim had collected with the significant help of Hilda von Rebay, his curator. Much of the art he collected was during my favorite time in art: early 20th century. The first side room that I saw was filled with magnificent compositions by Kandinsky, one of my favorites. I was struck dumb by the beauty of his abstract colors and shapes. Clearly, I had made the right choice.

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I wandered my way up to the top of the museum where the Doug Wheeler room was. There was even a few works from his niece Peggy Guggenheim’s museum in Venice; her collection is a must see any time we are in Venice. It was like meeting old friends that I hadn’t seen in years. They had her magnificent Calder mobile that slowly shifted with people’s movements.

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I really enjoyed my experience in PSAD Synthetic Desert. The 5 of us and the museum staff person were brought into the room through at least 2 doors (requiring a key card). The room was out of Sci-Fi. These white foam pyramids lay in rows before me and on the wall. There was a platform you could stand on and survey the rows of pyramids. All was suffused with a light purple glow. We were encouraged to sit to  minimize movement. Early on you understood why.

The room was so quiet that turning your head seemed magnified. Even the shuffling of feet was audible. It wasn’t so quiet that you could hear your heartbeat but it definitely wasn’t just a silent room. I had expected to get very bored very quickly but I was surprised when our ten minutes was up.

I wandered down the Guggenheim, nodding my head at my old friends and new favorites (Those Kandinsky’s) and made my way to 5th avenue. It was a glorious day in Manhattan. I walked up 5th, next to Central Park, and met my husband in the middle. He had just arrived from Chicago that morning. We both walked back to our hotel, enjoying the fresh temperate air.

Next time, I’ll talk about our adventures at the Oculus, Trinity Church, National Museum of American Indian, and our adventures finding a speakeasy.

 

That’s all for now!

Best Movies of 2016

Now I’m going to talk about my favorite movies I saw this year. To qualify, the movie must have been seen in a movie theater. So I have also included movies here that are not new but reshown (usually at the Music Box or Gene Siskel)

  1. Peggy Guggenheim Art Addict
    1. This documentary talks about the incredible and amazing Peggy Guggenheim. I’ve been going to her museum for most of my life when I visit Venice. She played a fundamental role in the lives of early 20th century painters. She supported Pollock, made Rothko famous, married Ernst, helped save countless others from the Nazis…A well lived life.
  2. Sanjay’s Super Team (short)
    1. This Pixar short film was nominated for Animated Short Oscar. It’s a sweet film about cultural/generational differences between a young boy and his father.
  3. Bear Story (short)
    1. This animated short won best Oscar. It’s a heartbreaking tale of family and loss but told a bit like a story in a story.
  4. World of Tomorrow (short)
    1. It’s Don Hertzfeldt at his finest. It’s a strange short about time travel and meaninglessness/meaningfulness of human experience.
  5. The First Monday in May
    1. This documentary is about the Fashion Institute’s big show and annual gala at the Metropolitan Museum. It focused on their recent exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass. I’m still sad I did not go and see it so this was an attempt to make up for it. It’s a fascinating behind the scenes look at the Museum, the gala, and the figures behind including the famous Anna Wintour.  
  6. Deadpool
    1. I went in knowing little about Deadpool. I loved it. It’s snarky and funny in ways that I wasn’t expecting.
  7. Ghostbusters
    1. This was a fun film that gave me what I wanted. The four Ghostbusters were funny and sweet. The ghosts were silly (LIKE THEY WERE IN THE ORIGINALS!). My 8 year old self would have fallen in love with them just as I do now.
  8. Miller’s Crossing
    1. We saw this as part of the Film Noir festival at the Music Box. Directed by the Coen Brothers, it really lives up to their reputations and the genre. The main character is an amoral man who you aren’t sure where his motivations are.
  9. Pete’s Dragon
    1. This sweet film about the relationship between a dragon and the boy he cared for was a wonderful exploration about our relationship between animals and our environment. Plus Robert Redford is awesome.
  10. Kubo and the Two Strings
    1. This is a fun imaginative film about a little boy coming to terms with himself and his family. Beautiful animation with origami creatures.
  11. The Secrets in their Eyes
    1. This Argentine film had to be one of the best films I’ve seen all year. It won Best Oscar for Foreign film in 2009. It’s about a detective attempting to solve a case that eluded him and finding that it dregs up a harsh and difficult past during the Argentine dictatorship.
  12. Neruda
    1. Neruda is a strange film that defies categorization. It’s not a biopic nor quite a film noir. One critic said that it’s like a Neruda tale.
  13. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
    1. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I was really pleased with the film. It captures some of the wonder of the world. Plus many beasties. And I liked how it showed that good and evil aren’t stark contrasts. Darkness can lie in “good.” A movie for our times. I wish there was more diversity in casting however.
  14. Arrival
    1. Favorite new movie of the year. This is about a linguist who is brought in by the government to figure out how to talk to an alien species who has come to earth. It talks about language and love. And the importance of patience and compassion. It had me weeping at the end of it.
  15. Moana
    1. This Disney film is wonderful. It’s a princess movie but where she actually saves herself. Bonus: Fun music by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Guggenheim and the Futurists

My next stop was the Solomon Guggenheim in its fantastic Frank Lloyd Wright designed spiral building. I haven’t been to the Guggenheim in years though I always go to the Peggy Guggenheim when I’m in Venice. Go figure.

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Also, if we are going to talk about morally questionable art institutions, the Guggenheim is getting a lot of flack from the possibility that the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates may be built using slave labor. There was a protest back in February. I need to do some more research into it.

I was particularly keen on seeing the Futurist exhibits. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Futurists despite their fascist and war loving tendencies. I love their exhalation of color, speed and cities. Such a contrast to the German Expressionists with their sick cityscapes.. Reader, I’m a city girl through and through. Well, it was an extremely fascinating exhibit. And there were wall tags! It was done chronologically from the base of the museum to the top, contrary to other exhibitions I’ve been to at the Guggenheim.

The exhibition was fairly comprehensive covering painting and literature to ceramics, vests, and even furniture. They had some paintings on loan from the Peggy Guggenheim including a wonderful painting by Gino Severini called “Sea=Dancer.” It depicts a dancer in a blue dress at a Cabaret. You get a sense of her many movements and the hustle and bustle of the Paris café. There was a bronze statue called “Unique Forms of Continuing in Space” by Umberto Boccioni showing a figure walking. He is made of shapes to emphasize the many shapes a person makes while moving. He once said, “Let us fling open the figure and let it incorporate within itself whatever may surround it.” Brilliant. Of course, I learned for the first time that all the bronzes were cast posthumously. I didn’t know that. He made the sculptures from plaster.

There was a part of the Futurist manifesto labeled on the wall. Part of it really spoke to me:

“1. We want to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and rashness.

2. The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, audacity and revolt.” I love this celebration of modernity and the city. But then a new facet of the movement revealed itself to me: “ We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.” Now the love of war was not new to me. The contempt for women was definitely unexpected. I know that the Futurists decried the female nude believing that artists have been too long obsessed with it. But I didn’t realize that it went beyond that. There were some female artists involved with the Futurists. I know that other movements had some interesting relationships to women but it was a bit disturbing to see this “contempt for women” so plainly spelled out.

I also learned that Futurists did not really embrace film, which I find very odd. For a movement so obsessed with technology and speed, you would think they would embrace this new technology that can actually record speed. There was one film called “Thais.” All I saw was the ending where the main character, a woman, gets crushed by the abstract background.

On the other hand, photography was embraced. There were some amazing photos where they tried to show the movement. There would be blurry shots showing the motion. There was one painting that was of a violinist’s hands while playing. Simply magnificent.

Towards the end, it was interesting how I started failing to recognize the names of the artists. Some regular Futurists died in the war. The later works were simply not as good as the early 1910s and 1920s. There were some truly magnificently horrid sideboards.

Anyway, I’m really glad that I made it to the exhibition. I feel that I really learned a lot more about Futurism and saw some old friends.

That’s all!

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Part 1: “Travel” Books

I’m just about finished with Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland, a historical novel set in turn of the century NY about Tiffany studios. It is in the perspective of Clara Driscoll, a Tiffany glass designer and head of the Tiffany Studio’s Women’s Glass Cutting Department. She may be the one responsible for designing the brilliant nature inspired lamps. It’s a pretty good book but it’s not my favorite historical novel. However, it’s an interesting story of a Victorian woman negotiating life as an artist and a trailblazer. It makes me want to pick up an actually history about Clara Driscoll and the “Tiffany Girls.”

Anyway, I bring this up because as a reward for finishing the book, I’m finally going to the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, which has an enormous collection of Tiffany Glass with a special exhibition of more Tiffany Glass. Clara Driscoll talks a lot about the process to produce the windows and other glass objects. There is an obsession with light and color. Everything had to be just so. There is the precision in cutting the glass, whether to cut it in sheets or in gem shape. There is the layering, which helps give depth to pieces. And much more. The book will really enhance the experience at the museum.

This got me thinking about the effect that books have on our visit to places. In other words, how reading a novel or a history can really enhance the experience of travel. Now, I don’t mean a travel guide or an article, I mean a book. So I’m going to put together a series of posts about books that enhance a visit to a particular place. Some will be sublime, some won’t. You can read them before or after your visit. But these are books that really contributed to my enjoyment of a particular place.

I’m going to start with Venice, one of my favorite places in the entire world. It’s a gem of a city. Every corner yields a new surprise: a shrine to Mary. a door knocker in the shape of a lion, a picturesque canal.

There are three things that you have to look past. It’s going to be really hot in the summer since it’s all stone reflecting the sun or it’s going to be cold and damp (with possible flooding) in the winter. It’s probably going to smell since the lagoon is still gross. And you walk pretty much everywhere (some find that problematic).

But it’s well worth it. There is the Peggy Guggenheim museum of modern art, which is extraordinary both for its collection and its view on the Grand Canal. St Mark’s place is extraordinary at any time of the day. There is shining mosaics on St. Mark’s basilica with the stolen horses of Constantinople. You can visit the Doge’s palace and prison. Or you can take the elevator up the tower and see all of Venice stretched out with its pale red roofs and gray canals.

There is a biannual contemporary art festival that installs wondrous things around the city like red penguins in balconies or giant balls of yarn. And the city changes so much from day to night. The expensive cafes in St. Marks’ have bands that battle at night.

I have two recommendations for Venice. The first is the Commissionario Brunetti series by Donna Leon. The first book is Death at La Fence. They give a thorough look at contemporary Venetian society through the eyes of Commissionario Brunetti, who is a real treat. He strives to find justice despite the corruption and lethargy of the Italian state. He is a rounded out character, you see his family life with his wife, an English professor, and his two children who have personalities and whims of their own.

The mysteries themselves are wonderful. You don’t know if the bad guy is going to be caught or brought to justice, which is a change in the genre. Each book concentrates on different parts of society, whether it is the glass factories, the gondoliers, the African immigrants selling fake bags at night.

The second recommendation is The Venetian Stories by Jane Turner Rylands. It’s a series of loosely connected stories of different people living in Venice. They are beautiful stories of people trying to find their ways in an ancient city. There are stories in the point of view of non-Venetians who live in the city too.

So check these out if you are going to Venice. Or check them out because they are good books to read anyway.