The Armory Show at 100

the armory show in 1913

In 1913, a group of artists organized a giant exhibition in New York City of 1400 contemporary works of art: The Armory Show. The new and modern art styles represented — abstraction, cubism, futurism — shocked the country and made The Armory Show a major event in the history of art.

If I was given a time machine and told to pick one event to visit in the past, The Armory Show would be a very tempting destination.

Armorypaintings

So, I was excited when I discovered that the New York Historical Society would be celebrating the 100th anniversary of The Armory Show with a new exhibition containing 100 of the works from the original show, plus commentary and ephemera from the period. The show was smaller than I was expecting, but still extremely fascinating. My favorite paintings were the two seen above: arguably the most famous Armory Show painting, Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, and Robert Henri’s Figure in Motion. The two nudes demonstrate the wide range of styles represented by The Armory Show. Duchamp’s painting shook up the world. People were so confused and defensive about it in 1913! So wild.

nudedecendingstaircase

Of course, I procrastinated and didn’t go to see the show until its second to last weekend. It was still crowded, but I was delighted by my first visit to the NY Historical Society. It is a beautiful museum. In edition to special exhibits, the museum has a huge collection of New York City artifacts. You can browse more than 40,000 objects within the visible storage system of the Luce Center. If you like old things and exploring a “cabinet of curiosities” style museum, you will enjoy the NYHS. I loved it!!

travisnadabe

Sadly, The Armory Show at 100 exhibition has closed. But you can still buy the awesome, giant exhibition catalogue. Want to learn more about The Armory Show of 1913 right now? Check out this awesome site from the Smithsonian Archive of American Art.

exploring the city with stephanie & bill

New York City is a crazy place. I tend to forget that during my day-to-day life in Brooklyn. I was reminded this week how fun, exciting, and exhausting the city can be!

My cousin, Stephanie, and her husband, Bill, came for a four-day visit last week and we tried to hit up all the big tourist spots. There is so much to see, and do, and EAT in the city, it is hard to pick and choose the best stuff… while also trying to balance your visit so that you don’t end up completely exhausted.

New York City requires quite a bit of walking (and plenty of stairs) which can be overwhelming for out-of-town visitors. I seem to wear out all of our visiting guests, but Stephanie and Bill were great sports!

Our NYC adventure included: walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, checking out Chinatown, Little Italy, and Soho, trying cupcakes at Baked by Melissa, Sugar Sweet Sunshine, and Crumbs, buying candy in the Lower East Side, eating at Dizzy’s and Zito’s in Brooklyn, eating a donut from Doughnut Plant, touring the Tenement Museum, running in Prospect Park, riding the subway, ascending to the top of the Empire State Building, walking the Highline, eating at Bill’s Burger & Bar in Chelsea (and seeing Whoopi Goldberg!), viewing the 9/11 Memorial and Freedom Tower, eating delicious pastrami at Katz’s Deli, running the 5-mile Pride Run in Central Park, brunching at EJ’s Luncheonette, checking out the Guggenheim Museum, strolling through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, walking through Grand Central and Times Square, and finally, ending the trip with delicious margaritas in Brooklyn. Whew.

I think it was a successful tour of the city and I think Stephanie & Bill had a great time! I would recommend all of our sightseeing destinations to other visitors, but my top 3 picks are: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Tenement Museum, and the Highline.

My one tip for visitors: try not to schedule more than two or three destinations per day. Despite the deceptively small size of Manhattan, it takes quite a while to travel around the city. Taxis are not always available and the subway can usually only get you within a few blocks of your destination. Walking the city is tons of fun — you’ll stumble onto great stuff! — but there are constant crowds, smells, and noises which can get exhausting, especially if it is all new to you.

NYC is amazing, but it isn’t exactly what you see in tv and movies. It can be difficult… but worth it!

Check out all of my photos from our NYC adventure here.

Planning a trip to NYC? Let me know if you have any questions.

Lower East Side food tour

I love the Tenement Museum. I wrote about my first visit to the museum two years ago and I’ve been a member of the museum ever since.

Since Chelsea and Scott were going to be in town visiting, I jumped at the chance to buy member-only tickets to the brand new Taste of the LES Walking Tour on Saturday. The tour promised to feed us local food while also “exploring the immigrant experience and some of the ways immigrant foods have shaped American food.” The LES is one of the oldest neighborhoods in New York and at times has been one of the most densely populated and ethnically diverse places in the world.

We showed up at the museum hungry and ready to expand our food horizons. Our tour guide was fun and friendly and gave us bottled water for our journey. Throughout the tour we got to taste nine different foods…

  • First, we tried a soft pretzel which represented the earliest history of the Tenement Museum, when the neighborhood was called “Little Germany” (Kleindeutschland) and there was a saloon in the building’s storefront. Our tour guide told us that the saloon owners sold salty pretzels in an attempt to get their thirsty patrons to buy more beer.
  • Next, we had delicious “new pickles” (my favorite) which represented the neighborhood’s Jewish heritage and past identity as the “pickle district.” The Pickle Guys is the last exclusive pickle vendor in the neighborhood now… and sadly it was closed on Saturday.
  • Our next stop was El Castillo de Jagua, a latin food restaurant where we got to try a fried plantain. I believe the restaurant is technically Dominican, but our stop represented all of the Latin influence on the LES, including the large number of Puerto Rican immigrants.
  • Next, we stopped by Economy Candy and tried their best selling item, chocolate covered pretzels. Yum! A family owned candy store that was originally opened in 1937 as “Economy Shoes” but soon found more customers in the candy business. They have a huge selection of hard-to-find and international candy.
  • Next, we explored the concept of “fusion” and tried delicious mini creampuffs with green tea filling made by a second generation Chinese American bakery owner. I loved them (and had two) but not everyone liked the unique filling.
  • My least favorite taste test was of the cured, sliced beef – sort of a cross between prosciutto and beef jerky. We tried it outside the University Settlement Neighborhood House where we discussed the role of reformers who came into the neighborhood to try to better the lives of the poor, but often added to the forced assimilation into “American culture.”
  • We continued on to Essex Street Market, the one-stop shop for LES residents. From the website: “Essex Street Market began in 1940 as part an effort by Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia to find a new place for street merchants to do business. At the time, pushcarts and vendors crowded the city streets, making it difficult for police and fire vehicles to easily pass. To ease congestion, Mayor LaGuardia created the Essex Street Market and several other indoor retail markets throughout the city.” The market contains both artisinal vendors and local specialties. We tried both the Latin Queso Blanco (seen above) and a locally made sharp cheddar cheese.
  • Not pictured are the dumplings we sampled from Vanessa’s Dumpling House. The Lower East Side borders (and sometimes merges) with Chinatown to its South and you can find unending options for asian food of all kinds. Vanessa’s serves some of the best deals, with dumplings costing as little as six for a dollar!
  • Since it was Saturday, many of the Jewish stores were closed, including Kossar’s Bialys. I have never tried a Bialy – something like a Polish bagel – and would have loved to, but instead we got to sample donuts from the nearby Donut Plant. I suppose that the Donut Plant represents the current wave of gentrification in the LES and the young entrepreneurs who are creating new businesses centered around nostalgia for an older way of making things by hand.

We sampled a wide variety of food, just like the wide variety of neighborhoods in Manhattan!

The food was all good and the four of us had a fine time on the tour (despite the heat). Our tour guide was great and it was fun to explore the Lower East Side on foot, but I came away slightly disappointed by the tour. I guess I was hoping that we would get to go into more of the shops and meet more owners. I was also expecting to get to taste larger portions of the food… but maybe then we would’ve all been way too stuffed! (As it was, Chelsea, Scott, Travis and I were still a little hungry afterward and continued on our own personal food tour to Tiny’s Giant Sandwich Shop and then to a brand new macaron store.)

Overall, the tour was truly a great experience, but I think next time I have family in town I may just plan my own LES food tour. There are so many more places I would have loved to have stopped at, like Russ & Daughters deli, or the 100-year-old Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, or even the vegan Babycakes cupcake bakery. There is a lot of amazing food in such a diverse place!

Kansas & Kentucky

If you didn’t already know this about me, I am a midwestern girl, born and raised. I never considered myself to be “small-town” or “country” — I grew in a pretty typical American suburb — but everyone can definitely tell that I’m not a native New Yorker! Anyway, last week I got to take a trip home to Kansas to visit my family, and then traveled to Kentucky (via Saint Louis, where we have more family) to visit my Grandma for her birthday.

My Grandma recently moved to Paducah, Kentucky, near her sister, my great aunt Lynn. I’d visited Kentucky in the past, but this was my first trip to Paducah as an adult. I love exploring new places and Paducah was no exception. It is a city of about 30,000 that is working to revive its downtown and attract working artists to its community. I enjoyed driving around the city with my dad and aunt checking out the old houses and main street buildings. We stopped in an old hardware store turned antique shop (sort of) that was fun to explore. My brother and I found an old Sears weight loss machine there that we really got a kick out of… maybe I should have bought it!

One of my favorite parts of the trip was visiting The National Quilt Museum. It is a gorgeous museum with amazing contemporary quilts on display. You can read more about my experience on the Swap-bot blog. I strongly recommend visiting it if you have the chance, especially if you are interested in any type of art or craft.

The week-long trip definitely interrupted my work schedule, but it was worth it. It was fun to spend time with my siblings (and siblings-to-be — hi Nina!) and my extended family and to get out of my own head and away from my to do list for a while. You can see more photos from my trip in my Kansas & Kentucky Flickr Set.

Mutter Museum

My emphasized area of study in my grad program was “museum studies.” I learned a lot about museum operations and exhibition design. Contemporary exhibition design practices call for elaborate interactive exhibit sets that engage users in a variety of ways — kind of like Disney Land, but with educational components. We learned all about the importance of incorporating auditory, visual, and hands-on elements in each exhibit so that all learning types would feel welcome. One professor even went so far as suggesting olfactory elements (yes, smells) to entice viewers. (smellers?) We learned that nobody wants to visit a museum that just has a bunch of “old stuff” and long description labels on display… no one, that is, except me.

For me, the only reason to go to a museum is to see things you can’t normally see and learn things that you can’t normally learn. I love authentic “old stuff” and detailed scholarship. I am the type of person who actually tries to read all of the panels of object descriptions in a museum. I am so intrigued by the notion of cabinet of curiosities that it borders on obsession. The Mutter Museum, in Philadelphia, is something of a medical cabinet of curiosities that has been maintained and displayed for over 200 years.

The Mutter Museum is an arm of theThe College of Physicians of Philadelphia, founded in 1787 and the oldest professional medical organization in the country. The Museum was originally organized in 1858 using the personal medical collection of Thomas Dent Mutter, a professor of surgery at Jefferson Medical College. It was originally intended to be a teaching library for medical students, but as its collection grew (now with more than 25,000 objects) the museum moved into its current larger building and was opened to the public.

The museum collection contains everything from medical instruments and wax models to fluid-preserved anatomic specimens and skeletons. There is a collection of over 139 human skulls, shrunken heads, and even preserved fetuses. It is intense.

I was very much looking forward to visiting the Mutter Museum and was afraid I had hyped it too much in my own head, but it did not disappoint. I am very interested in things relating to health and medicine and I am glad I got to visit the museum with my brother, who is nearly done with medical school. He explained many things as we spent four hours touring the exhibits.

We were intrigued by the iron lung on display (and the fact that, as of 2008, there were still 30 patients still using them) and we took our time at the exhibit on criminal and forensic pathology. We weren’t as excited about the collection of animal skulls, but the human skulls were mesmerizing. I learned a lot about tumors and infections from the collection of disturbing wax models, and I was stunned by the pieces of tanned human skin. I am glad that we saved the section about genetic abnormalities for last because the preserved fetuses made me very sad and worried about the health of my own future children… I told you, it was intense.

In school we endlessly debated the ethical questions surrounding museum collections. (Like, should museums retain items taken from other cultures? And, who gets to decide what is museum worthy and what is not?) The questions get even more complicated when you are dealing with actual human remains. Some believe that displaying human body parts is disrespectful or even religiously blasphemous, and I am sure that the Mutter Museum has received its fair share of criticism.

Personally, I am thrilled that the Mutter exists for laypeople like myself who want to learn more about medicine and take more responsibility for their own bodies and health. I definitely rely on doctors as the experts, but I also want to be as educated as possible when it comes to my health. I am so glad that the Mutter has preserved their historic collection so that the humans whose bodies are represented in the collection can continue to educate visitors. Of course, many of the humans who are included in the collection did not get to decide whether or not to donate their remains… which is where things get tricky. So, for future reference, I am putting this in writing: I want to donate my body to science, education, and/or art.

Overall, the Mutter Museum was an amazing and somewhat overwhelming experience. I learned a lot about what can go wrong with the human body and also about man’s attempt to fix those problems. I definitely recommend the museum to anyone who is open to viewing human remains.

If you are interested in the Mutter Museum, check out their website or follow them on Twitter. Photography is not allowed in the museum, but occasionally professional photographers are allowed to interpret the museum through their camera lens. You can see some of those photos here. The Mutter also has an incredible museum store. It includes commissioned fine art and craft items, plus unique gift items exclusively created for the museum using images from the collections. I ended up buying quite a few things, including the fine art photography book.

Queens & the World’s Fair

Visiting the Unisphere in Queens

Travis and I traveled to Queens yesterday for the Makers Faire in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. I am working on a full article about the Faire for CraftCritique.com – so stay tuned for that! – but I was completely fascinated by the park in general and felt compelled to do some research when we got home.

Queens is the second most populated NYC borough (after Brooklyn) and it is the most diverse county in the entire country. Nearly half of Queens residents are foreign born and over 130 different languages are spoken in the borough. Pretty amazing! The 7 line of the NY subway system has been deemed the “International Express,” a national living heritage trail recognized for its importance to American immigrant history. I wish I could say we took the 7 out to Queens, but instead we hired a car…

1964 NY World's Fair

Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was the site of the 1939-40 and 1964-65 New York World’s Fairs, previous to which it was a dumping ground for ashes. I am so fascinated by the World’s Fairs. It just seems so crazy that these entire huge complexes were created and now there is almost nothing left…

The 1964 NY World’s Fair had the theme “Peace through Understanding” and it was dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe” – very Space Age. (NASA and the Department of Defense both sponsored exhibits.) You can view original photos of many of the Fair exhibits in this postcard collection, like the Tower of Light and the The Plaza of Astronauts. All of the exhibits seem so optimistic and triumphant – and they REALLY liked utilizing the wondrous material of concrete!

Queens Hall of Science

The Unisphere (the world’s largest global structure, rising 140 feet and weighing 700,000 pounds) is the most recognizable relic of the Fair, but a few other structures remain. The Queens Museum of Art, The Hall Of Science (seen above), the super-weird Terrace on the Park, which was the Fair’s helipad, and the Queens Theater in the Park are all structures built for the fair that are still in use today.

NY Fair relics

In my opinion, the most interesting remnant from the NY World’s Fair is the now derelict NY State Pavilion (seen in the left hand photo above, and in its original state in the postcard below). The NY State Pavilion — or the “Tent of Tomorrow” — was the largest exhibit in the Fair. It was designed by famed modernist architect Philip Johnson, sponsored by Texaco, and decorated by relatively unknown artists of the time, including Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, and Andy Warhol!! It contained three separate structures, a fiberglass covered pavilion with a tiled state map of NY (which is said to have cost one million dollars at the time!), three observation towers with elevators, and a circular theater (now the home of the Theater in the Park).

NY State Pavilion at the World's Fair

The pavilion area and the observation towers have been left to deteriorate for the past 50 years and the result is a strange and eerie structure that could be used in a movie about the desolate, dystopian wasteland of the future. I wish I could get in them and explore! It just seems so incredibly sad to me that these structures were the best and most innovative creations of their time and now they are abandoned and forgotten. I wish I could travel back in time just to see what the World’s Fairs were like… of course, I shouldn’t romanticize history too much. I have been to Epcot in Orlando, and I assume that it is similar to the World’s Fairs — full cultures and societies condensed into happy, cheery, stereotyped exhibits.

Queens is such a culturally rich and historically interesting place — I wish more could be done to tell its story! I definitely plan to explore it more and at least check out the Queens Museum of Art. What else should I add to my Queens Site Seeing List?

dc

capitol

On Monday, I took a day trip to Washington, DC. I got on the train way too early in the morning, but it was worth it because I had a full day to explore the city with my Aunts, Amy and Dana. Dana was in town for a conference, but Amy and I got to spend the whole day walking the National Mall and checking out a few museums.

We started at the Capitol building (seen above) and then made our way to the new National Museum of the American Indian. I was thrilled to get to visit that museum. When I was in grad school studying museums we often discussed the, then in progress, Museum of the American Indian. The museum has many beautiful, historic artifacts, but it also has a strong focus on contemporary native communities and cultures. Its use of community curators and consultants from nearly every native tribe in the US was groundbreaking and unprecedented in museum development. The exhibits are emotional and sometimes difficult because they address the atrocities and controversies of the past head on, but they also show that Native Americans are not some quaint, extinct specimens (as museums often implied in the past). They are important members of our communities with living cultures that continue to make a large impact on our country. The museum does a great job of showing how native traditions are continued today… I could have spent hours reading every panel and learning about each of the tribes!

amindianmuseum

The museum is also a beautiful building designed by Native American architect, Douglas Cardinal… I took lots of photos!

It was really hot out on Monday, but we persevered and checked out the sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Art (where I was excited to see a Roxy Paine piece) and then briefly toured the Museum of American History. I liked the exhibit on the Apollo Theater – it had so much style!

amyrachel

After all the museum hopping we were tired and hot, but we managed to meet Dana for dinner and even found a delicious cupcake shop! (I’ll have more on the cupcakes in an upcoming review.) It was a great day! I wish I could have stayed a few more days in DC, but I have so much going on over the next few weeks that I had to get home…

2010 Whitney Biennial

biennial

I met my friend, Suzanne, at the Whitney Museum on Saturday to see the 2010 Biennial. The Biennial, for me, has been a somewhat mythic art event ever since I learned about it as an art student in undergrad. It was always touted as a crazy, contemporary, magical exhibition where artists’ careers were made – If you can get into the Biennial, you are golden. Collectors will be knocking down your door. That is the myth, anyway…

There was no way I was going to miss viewing this year’s show in person! I considered this first visit with Suzanne as a preliminary scouting mission. I wanted to browse the entire show (consisting of 55 artist – less than in the past) and get a general feel for my likes and dislikes without stressing over studying every single detail. My plan was to get an overall impression. I was excited to learn that for the first time ever there were more women than men represented in the Biennial. As I expected, there was a lot of video, installation, and performance pieces, but also plenty of paintings, photography, and textiles. There was only a handful of sculpture.

juliafish

I may be old fashioned, but I liked the paintings the best. My very favorite (at least after this first viewing) were three pale oil paintings by Julia Fish of the floor, entitled “Thresholds.” (The two paintings above are hers, but not the exact ones in the show.) They are nearly abstract paintings, showing transitional spaces between two types of flooring. They reminded me of Agnes Martin – one of my favorite painters. I am drawn to washed out palettes. I think they calm me. I also loved the small, simple landscape paintings of Maureen Gallace which were displayed in the same room with Fish.

I was excited the see Ellen Gallagher in the show. Gallagher’s “DeLuxe” was one of my favorite contemporary pieces when I worked at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Oregon, but I must admit that I did not understand the collaborative installation she created with Edgar Cleijne for the biennial… Something about space inside a big plywood box with a hologram of JFK’s head in the middle… I may need to revisit that one.

charlesrayI also enjoyed the full room of flower paintings by Charles Ray. I had kinda thought he was a sculptor – he has been in the biennial before with sculpture – but the full room of flowers was pleasing. There were more than a dozen of them and I think they may have been drawn with magic marker…

Other favorites included the beautiful, wall-size tapestry by Pae White and the watercolor/drawings by Storm Tharp. I think my favorites represent the most tame pieces in the show. There was plenty of much more controversial, heart-wrenching, and strange items… and maybe I will grow to love them in time. Each and every piece was definitely thought-provoking! I’ll let you know if my favorites change after a second, more in-depth viewing.

NYC Tourist Spectacular #2

After fueling up with our traditional Thanksgiving meal we were ready to hit more sights on Friday and Saturday…

Friday started with our usual walk to Prospect Park. Then, the three of us traveled to Bloomigdales and 5th Avenue to immerse ourselves in the shopping insanity. It was crowded, but not much more so than on normal weekends. I bought my first pack of Nuts 4 Nuts from a street vendor. Seth really wanted me to eat street food while he was visiting. I told him that Nuts 4 Nuts would have to count because I am not willing to risk eating street meat.

After we got our fill of shoppers we headed up to the Museum of Natural History. This was my third trip to that museum and I think that affected my enjoyment… It was incredibly crowded and very hot in the museum. We only stayed for a couple of hours because I pretty much freaked out. A nice stroll through Central Park cooled me off, though. We ended the evening in my new favorite location: Dylan’s Candy Bar. A magical place filled with candy where you can pay a dollar to dip a variety of items in a chocolate fountain. I bought a chocolate-dipped rice krispy treat. So tasty!

Saturday is waffle truck day in Park Slope. After a walk to the park, we all got waffles covered in chocolate and whipped cream! You can’t really ask for a better breakfast. Just ask Crusher. He is obsessed with waffles!

We tried to get to Manhattan a little earlier on Saturday so that we could catch the ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands. Unfortunately, every other tourist in the city had the same idea. After Seth and Travis tried some more street food, we waited about two hours for the ferry in the cold wind. We had an interesting encounter with a Churro vendor, went through a bunch of security, and final boarded the ferry. It was fun to see the Statue of Liberty, but we were not able to go up inside of it… I think you have to get special tickets way in advance to do that. We took a bunch of silly photos with Lady Liberty and then took another ferry to Ellis Island. I had high hopes for the museum at Ellis Island. I am really interested in the island from a historic preservation standpoint, but the museum was not quite as fantastic as I was expecting. It was fine, but it did not have many artifacts and the exhibits were a bit sparse and spread throughout the huge main building. I would love to tour the complete grounds of Ellis Island someday and peak inside the unrestored buildings!

Standing in the wind all day really tired me out, but the boys motivated me to go back to Manhattan by promising another trip to Dylan’s Candy Bar. We ate dinner at Patsy’s Pizzeria first, and then went wild at the candy store. I got another rice krispy treat at the chocolate fountain and we bought a bunch of fudge, chocolate, and gummy candy… Our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs, though, because we barely made a dent in our sugary loot when we got home. We capped the evening with a viewing Home Alone to further cement our holiday spirit. Fun times!

Georgia at the Whitney

whitneymuseum

I played hooky for one more day and went to the Whitney Museum of American Art with my friend, Alli, today. Georgia O’Keeffe is Alli’s favorite artist and the Whitney currently has an exhibit on view focusing on her abstract work. It was a wonderful show with with more than 130 O’Keeffe paintings and drawings from all over the world. Even more than seeing the paintings, I liked reading the biographical information about O’Keeffe and seeing the photographs of her taken by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. O’Keeffe was so passionate about art and she had such a long career – painting into her 90s. I studied O’Keeffe in school, but the exhibit was a great reminder of what a strong, intelligent woman can accomplish.

It really shouldn’t be this way, but it was extremely refreshing to see the career of a woman, an older woman even, celebrated. Lately, I think my brain has been saturated by television commercials for “reality” shows that are only interested in 19-year-old boobs. I needed to see a REAL person celebrated for REAL reasons.

I highly recommend seeing the show before it is over on January 17th.