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.


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.


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!!


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.

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!

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.

2010 Whitney 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.


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.

Georgia at the Whitney


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.



I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art today with my friend, Alli. I love that place. This is a photo of the Roxy Paine sculpture currently on the roof deck. We also checked out the 20th century paintings, some Modern Art, the American sculpture courtyard, the Egyptian section, and we made time for a Crumbs cupcake at the cafeteria. Yum.

American Museum of Natural History


Some of my extended family are vacationing in NYC this week, and since I almost never get to see them I took off yesterday afternoon to check out the American Museum of Natural History with them. What a fun place to go with a six-year-old! At first, when we entered the “Mammals of Asia” area with all of the old-school dioramas and taxidermy I was a little worried about how much fun it would be, but the dinosaur exhibits made up for the somewhat boring start and definitely kept Alex (the six-year-old) interested. I have been told that a lot of the dinosaur bones on display are not real, but the exhibit sign said I was touching a real dinosaur egg fossil in the interactive section – that is good enough for me!


NYC Tenement Museum


Travis and I are back in Eugene with Crusher happily by our side. The NYC trip was smooth and successful. On top of finding a new home, I got to spend a lot of time exploring the city.

One of the major highlights of my trip was visiting the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side. I have wanted to visit the museum since learning about it in my museum studies master’s program. It exceeded my expectations. The museum tells the story of urban immigrant life in the 100 years surrounding the turn of the (20th) century. The museum is essentially a complete tenement building that was used for housing from the time it was built in 1863 to the time it was boarded up in 1935. There are reconstructed apartments in the museum, as well as apartments left exactly as they were found when the museum was discovered and founded in 1988. There are fixtures and architectural elements that are original to the building’s construction, later gas light fixtures, and even later electric fixtures and indoor plumbing. The museum is taking their time on the building’s restoration in order to do it right and preserve all stages of its evolution. It was fascinating to see all of the many layers of plaster, paint and wallpaper exposed… but that might just be me. I am maybe a little too passionate about historic preservation.

I went on two of the museum tours (Getting By and Piecing It Together), but I also became a member so that I can go back and do the three additional tours. The interpretation by the tour guides was perfectly in line with all of the latest “museum theory” – it was interactive, accurate, unbiased, thought-provoking, and fun. We got to explore the building and “meet” actual families who had lived there in the past. I don’t want to go on and on, but truly, I can’t praise the Tenement Museum enough. My visit simultaneously educated me about the past and excited me about living in New York City. I left feeling like, in time, I could fall in love with the city.

Museums became something of a chore to visit after studying museum theory and scholarly literature for two years, but the Tenement Museum has really re-energized my enthusiasm and love for museums. I can’t wait to visit many more NYC museums!