Part 3: Spring in Manhattan

The following day began at the Met, one of my favorite museums. It’s got an incredible collection but is rather overwhelming. I try to get into my head that we are only going to visit a few things because seeing the entire museum would be impossible.

Our first stop was a Seurat and circus exhibit. The exhibit featured Circus Sideshow, one of Seurat’s masterpieces, along with circus posters, other contemporary circus paintings, and sketches. It was nice to see some great circus posters from Cheret, a nice follow up to the Driehaus museum’s current exhibition. I was hoping for more of Seurat’s circus paintings since I’d had seen some really amazing works elsewhere but alas.

We then went to the rooftop garden at the Met. Every year they have an artist do some outdoor installation, which is always neat. This year’s piece was spectacular. Adrián Villar Rojas took 3D scans of pieces all over the museum, printed them, and created these sculptural collages. THey are laid out throughout the garden, some on tables, some freestanding. It’s called “The Theater of Disappearance.” I love juxtaposing things, like ancient Egyptian busts with animal parts or Ancient Greek torso. All while overlooking the beauty of Central Park and the NYC skyline. It could also be a great scavenger hunt, tracking down the pieces in the collection!

18076894_10101170126164610_1420843663933195465_o

We also visited the exhibit on ancient China featuring some incredible terracotta soldiers. Seeing them is always a treat. Someday I’ll make it to Xian to see the site! What I liked in particular about the exhibition was the sheer number of other artifacts that were included. There was a series of beautifully carved women dancing or playing instruments while another room featured animal sculptures. Wondrous!

After our brief visit to the museum, since any visit is brief at the Met, it was time to head to Broadway for a matinee of War Paint. To get there, we ended up passing by the Tax Rally (it was 4/15) and we saw some amazing puppets and signs. We had $1 pizza at a joint just off Times Square. Tasty tasty pizza.

War Paint is a musical about make up rivals, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, and their decades long feud. It was interesting to see corporate sabotage and competition played out in a musical. I’m not sure if I loved the message of the musical (you’ll just have to see it) but it definitely had some pretty neat scenes and dances.

After the play, we decided to head to a new place for us: the Morgan Library. I had come across it a few months prior and it seemed like our cup of team. It turned out that it was JP Morgan’s library. What an astonishing collection. The main library room is breathtaking. Rows and floors of books with two secret staircases taking you to the upper floors. Also, we found some pretty neat books that make you wonder about their contents!  There were some exhibitions as well on display including works by Emily Dickinson and Symbolist poets. But the rooms themselves were well worth it. It’s a research library and it made me appreciate how awesome Chicago’s own Newberry library is. Here, it’s free to check out books etc. Morgan Library requires a hefty entry ticket.

18156432_10101172074560010_2516776820326582951_o

18121653_10101172077214690_2999246489278929387_o

Dinner turned into a bit of an adventure! We had reservations to Tao, a fashionable Asian cuisine place near the hotel. When we walked in, the loud overhead music enveloped us. It was all very hip looking and made me feel a bit out of place. When we sat down to eat, we learned that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, on the menu that my mom could eat. Apparently, they premake things like steaks. :-/

So we left. We found a tiny quiet Italian place called Montebello where we were the only people at the beginning of the evening. The food was tasty, we could talk, and the staff were extremely nice. They overheard me talking about how my glass of Prosecco was such much better at their place than the place from the night before so they comped us limoncello! And there were cookies too. So go to Montebello, skip Tao.

Then more adventure!  had tried calling the number on the black card from the night before but couldn’t get through for an hour. At 5pm (an hour after they opened and I started calling), I was informed that there were only taking walk-ins; they were catering to a larger party. Boo. I found the name of a speakeasy called Bathtub Gin in Chelsea that took reservations.  Bathhouse Gin was going to be the place.

We entered through a hole in the wall coffee place, serving as the coatroom. As soon as we stepped in, the noise rose up like a wall. Loud pounding music. But we trekked on. We had a little table and ordered from their cocktail menu, which is always a hit or miss. One thing was a sure fire hit though: s’mores. It wasn’t going to be high quality chocolate or marshmallows but we couldn’t resist. They actually brought us an open brazier with Hershey’s chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows. It was amazing. We even convinced the table next to us to do it too.

Plus there was a golden bathtub that you can get into. And we totally took photos lounging in the bathtub. Because golden bathtub!

That’s all for now!

Christmas in NYC: Part 1

Back in November, we had a lovely brief trip to NYC. We spent about two days there enjoying NYC in Christmas time and its many cultural offerings. In the next few posts, I’ll talk about our adventures.

NYC is wonderful during Christmas time. There’s so many over the top Christmas decorations on Fifth Avenue and there’s even a Christmas market at Union Square. So our first stop when we arrived (after throwing down our bags) was a trip to the Christmas market in Union Square. It’s a fun market with lots of artisanal wares. My favorite dessert place Momofuku had a booth there and I ended up buying a dozen birthday cake truffles, which we consumed half of by the end of the two days. (Shame on us! Mmm…so tasty).

For lunch, we found a gourmet crepe place. Why was it gourmet? It used brie and goat’s cheese and other fancy ingredients in their crepes. In my experience, such crepe places can be very hit or miss; nothing is as good as a simple Nutella crepe from a hole in the wall in Paris. But this place in Union Square was rather tasty. I had brie with ham and some leafy greens, which was a tasty combination.

Then it was time for our visit to the Metropolitan Museum. It’s up there with the British Museums for all times favorites. It’s a bit overwhelming. I’ve definitely spent visits there only visiting the Greek/Roman rooms and nothing else. But I love the diversity of exhibitions. We first made our trek to the Temple of Dendur, which is still one of the best displays in any museum anywhere. For those of you who have never been, Egypt gave the Met a temple (for services rendered) and it is housed in a giant room with a pond and windows out to Central Park. It is so magnificent. Also, they hold concerts there, which I am keen to go to someday.

IMG_2781

Temple of Dendur

After that, we wandered through The Kongo: Power and Majesty exhibition. We accidentally went through it backwards. It talked about the use of power both by Congolese elites and Europeans.  The highlights of the exhibition were these 15 wooden carved statues, possibly called Mangaaka, at the end, each housed in it’s own display. But what struck me was how the placards said that parts of these sculptures were removed by the people who used them for religious worship as if to hide or remove the power of them. A stark reminder of the consequence of “collecting”in the West. That these artifacts meant something very real to their creators and worshipers while we in the museum regard them as history and art. There were also these magnificent carved elephant tusks that somehow made it into the Medici collection. Beautiful but loot. Very interesting and worthwhile exhibition.

Then it was time for my mission. I had read Strapless, a book about the scandal about a painting by John Singer Sargent where he had painted Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) with a failing strap. Fascinating look at the world of portrait painting and high society. The painting is in the Met. So we set off to find; we passed a gallery filled with incredible musical instruments, among others. We found the painting in the American Galleries with the corrected strap. It’s a magnificent painting. Hard to imagine that it nearly destroyed Sargent’s career and the reputation of Madame Gautreau.

IMG_2788

The painting (with the strap painted on)

How magnificent that we could wandered from Ancient Egypt to Kongo and then to 19th century France in such a short period of time!

That evening, we went to the Metropolitan Opera to see La Boheme. What a beautiful theater!It has these Chagall murals that are incredible. As for the opera, I didn’t love it. I’ve talked before about my attempts at appreciating opera. To sum it up, I love the symphony but I can’t seem to abide the opera. I keep trying; I felt that I had to see the classics including La Boheme and Carmen. The production was well done; I love how they had 100 people on stage for the crowded scenes and how it snowed in another. But sadly, the plot didn’t move me and I didn’t particularly like the songs. Not to say that the music wasn’t good, it just didn’t hold me. Alas.

 

That’s all for now!

Part 1: New York, New York

I have returned from my travels to NY NY. I will spend the next few days talking about my adventures at museums, hot chocolate, and a star studded play.

When planning for this trip, I was particularly keen to see “Death Becomes Her”, an exhibition on Victorian female mourning outfits, at the Metropolitan Museum. Of late, I’ve become very fascinating with the history of fashion. I’ve always been in favor of the study of culture in history; this is a new facet to me. Also, I have this fascination with death rituals, like the Day of the Dead and cemeteries, so I was curious about this show. I rather enjoyed it. It’s not a huge exhibition; it’s located in basement galleries set aside for fashion. It was a giant room with mannequins sporting a variety of mourning dresses.  On the walls, there were projected quotations about mourning related fashions. The quotations came from a variety of texts: etiquette guides, novels, even doctor’s warnings. (Veils could be dangerous to the eyes, apparently). The outfits and the quotations were quite a nice combination.
I learned that there were at least three stages of mourning. The first stage was the most severe; the outfits were just black with simple fabrics. Second stage was a little less severe. Women could start wearing different kinds of fabrics, though in black. Maybe a little white trim. The third stage or half mourning (I think) was when women could wear some muted fabrics, like grey or even purple. I’ve never thought of purple as related to mourning at all. Apparently, stores would be dedicated to mourning fashion. Department stores would have mourning departments. But then again, women were expected to be in mourning for two years or so (it varied on woman’s relationship with the family member who died). It’d be hard to imagine a time when a woman wasn’t in mourning in the Victorian era. And there was etiquette for wedding dresses during time of mourning. Of course, there were. Also, unsurprisingly, class distinctions were perpetuated through the ritual. The best (and most expensive) mourning outfits had good black that didn’t fade into other colors.
Purple Mourning Dress

Purple Mourning Dress

Mourning dress. Probably second stage with white trim.

Mourning dress. Probably second stage with white trim.

There was also a side room that had some accessories and fashion plates. It was amazing to see how fashion magazines advised various outfits conforming to mourning etiquette. There were mourning morning outfits, mourning walking outfits, mourning evening dress… I also finally saw hair jewelry. I’d heard about this Victorian practice of taking the hair of the deceased and making it into art or jewelry. There was even a Tiffany pendant with a little brown braid inside of it! And there were beautiful mourning hats. One had an entire bird on it!
I also wanted to check out an exhibition on kimonos. It was moderately interesting. Part of the issue is that we entered it at the end and proceeded through it backwards. It was interesting to learn about how Western fabrics were incorporated in. It’s not a history I normally think about. Also, there were some amazing propaganda kimonos, covered in machines of war. But the most striking thing was a beautiful purple kimono. It was the same color as a mourning dress in the “Death Becomes Her” exhibition. It was amazing how the same color can have very different meanings between cultures. So neat!
Purple kimono

Purple kimono

What was neat about the two exhibitions was that it made me explore more of the Met. Usually, I go to see the Egyptian galleries or the Greek/Roman ones. Or I’ll wander into the Renaissance areas. This time, I spent time in the Ancient Americas, which had some amazing silver drinking vessels. Apparently, silver doesn’t survive well buried so it’s relatively rare to find. With respect to pottery, I will say that the Field Museum has better collection of pottery; it has so many more pots from the Moche and Nazca civilizations than the Met. But there were various wonderful golden artifacts from all over the Americas.
We also wandered through the African galleries; I didn’t know they had works from Benin! Beautiful objects. In the Oceanic/Arctic peoples’ room, there was an incredible Bear mask that I desperately want now. I also wandered around the European decorative arts rooms; they tend to be places that I walk past in search of Egyptian or Greek art. So it was nice to see these beautiful room recreations that reminded me of European palaces. It was nice to have a moment to appreciate it. I also spent some time looking at Meissen ceramics, which was cool. There’s this curious one where a bearded man holds up an artichoke as if it were an umbrella.
Artichoke Umbrella ceramic?

Artichoke Umbrella ceramic?

And then there is the Temple of Dendur. I don’t care how many times I got to the Met. This ancient Egyptian temple still takes my breath away. The architects planned it so well. There is the temple raised on a platform that you can wander around. There is a wonderful pond in front of it and a giant wall of windows leading out to Central Park. And apparently, the Met is having concerts there. One of my favorite bands had a concert there earlier this Fall. I’m still jealous at the thought!
The Met is truly a magnificent museum. Can’t wait to go back!
So that’s all for now!