Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Poppenhusen Institute

Poppenhusen Institute entry hall
Museums: Poppenhusen Institute (15 min) …………………… Free

Poppenhusen Institute
On the northern fringe of Queens lies a neighborhood under siege.  Called College Point after a college that closed over one hundred and fifty years ago, this neighborhood was once a small town of Victorian homes, summer resorts and German beer gardens, yet much of the remnants of that past are being slowly demolished today in favor of low cost, high density apartment buildings.  In the heart of this vanishing town lies an ancient community center with the esoteric name of the Poppenhusen Institute. 

A sign on the front proudly declares it the site of the first free kindergarten in the United States (began July 1st, 1870), but despite its official Landmark status the institute is not really set up for visitors and was difficult to get into.  We’ve found that historic buildings occasionally get noted as museums even if they are not set up as such, and this appears to be the case with the Poppenhusen Institute.  However, it was on our list and I was unable to determine its museum-y qualities online, so Paul and I combed their facebook site for times when they were open and we ended up crashing their summer fundraiser.  When we got there, the flea market and bake sale were up and running and the Beatles cover band was in full swing.  We didn’t know anyone at this neighborhood party, but we’ve gone far stranger places in the pursuit of our goal (see our post on the retirement home in Riverdale), so Paul entered the raffle and we gamely set about exploring the building.

Jail cells in the Poppenhusen Institute
The Institute is named for the German-American industrialist Conrad Poppenhusen, who built a factory here to manufacture hard rubber goods, transforming College Point from a sleepy farming community into a factory town.  Poppenhusen built the institute in 1868 to serve the community that grew up around the factory, and in addition to the kindergarten, this building also served as the local bank, the first library in College Point, a courtroom and the Sheriffs Office.  Paul and I stumbled upon two jail cells in the basement, left over from its law and order days.

Upstairs there were classrooms for the institute’s karate and dance classes, a large ballroom and a limited exhibit on local Native Americans, complete with a grass hut and a manikin dressed in a loincloth.  For me, the most touching part of the museum was a series of poster boards in the back, with pictures of the historic buildings that College Point has lost to development.  Faded black and white photographs of buildings were surrounded with notes of the battles that had been waged to save them and the descriptions of what has been lost.  It felt like looking at photos of lost friends whose lives had been tragically cut short by the rapid pace of high-density development.

Joe Beresheim's Butcher Shop. A note reads: "This building still stands."
The Poppenhusen Institute itself was almost demolished in 1983, but the community rallied to save it and on this occasion they won.   Its nice to know that some pieces of the old College Point will be around a little longer.

Pauline: 2 out of 10. Historic community center, but not much to see and limited hours.
Paul: 4 out of 10. A noble last stand against the destruction of a neighborhood.

Sewing class at the Poppenhusen Institutue

Monday, September 12, 2011

Louis Armstrong House Museum

Louis Armstrong on stage
MuseumsLouis Armstrong House Museum (1 hour) ……….………… $10

As part of our crazy mission, Paul and I have seen 25 historic buildings during the last year and a half, giving us a kind of unique expertise on the subject, and while our opinions differ on specific buildings, we are unanimous on what makes a historic house successful: its all about the tour

Take the Old Stone House in Brooklyn: it had a centerstage role in the bloody Battle for Brooklyn and an amusing later role as the club house of the beloved Brooklyn Dodgers, but all was conveyed by dated dioramas and raged posterboards.  The experience failed to engage and we left after 15 minutes.  Contrast this with the Van Courtland House, with a minor Revolutionary War role and staid history as a country house for a wealthy but faded Bronx family, but the docent gave a gripping and detailed lecture on everything from George Washington’s clever use of war time expenditures to the horrors of 18th century toilets.  It had us fascinated for 3 hours and a pair of jaded Bronx high school students peppering him with questions until the museum closed.  Clearly, the tour makes or breaks the historic house experience.

Louis Armstrong House Museum
Today we discovered our favorite historic house to date, which, not coincidentally, also had one of the best tours.  The house is the Louis Armstrong House Museum and was the home of famous jazz musician Louis Armstrong and his wife Lucille from 1943 until his death in 1971.  The house is an unassuming two-floor townhouse in the working class neighborhood of Corona, Queens, and at first glance it doesn’t seem much like the home of a superstar like Armstrong, who was one of the greatest musicians of his age and quite a celebrity.  However, the plainness of the house and neighborhood is actually what Armstrong (and we) loved about the place. 

Louis Armstrong's "Hello Dolly" Gold Record Award, 1964
Early in the tour, the docent tells a story of how Armstrong’s wife Lucille once tried to buy a townhouse in the swank Upper West Side neighborhood in Manhattan.  At the time America was still racially divided, but in this case race wasn’t the Armstrongs’ problem.  Louis was so famous that when he stepped out of the car to see the townhouse, he was immediately mobbed by fans and autograph seekers.  Here in Corona, Lucille’s family was well established and everyone knew Louis as her husband, and he was left alone.  This was the one place in the world where the great Louis Armstrong could take a break from his grueling schedule of 300 concerts a year and just go to the barber on the corner like a normal guy and play his trumpet on the front porch for the neighborhood kids.  Knowing that Lucille would have preferred a Manhattan brownstone, Armstrong bricked the front of their house to look like one, and offered free brickwork to anyone on the block to make their neighborhood resemble Manhattan just a bit (only one household took him up on it).  This was a house where a superstar could get a taste of the quiet life, and he clearly treasured it.

Louis Armstrong writing about his neighborhood in Queens
We know his feelings about the house because Louis was somewhat obsessive about documenting his life, writing two autobiographies, hundreds of pages of handwritten memoirs and most interestingly, leaving hundreds of reel to reel recordings of his daily life.  His beloved reel-to-reel player is still on display in his upstairs den and the best parts of the tour are when the docent reaches over and presses a button in the wall and you hear recordings of Louis hanging out with his wife, teaching his young niece to sing, or talking about how much he loved his den
The house is capably managed by the music school at Queens College (the Kupferberg Center for the Arts) and they could have focused the tour on Louis Armstrong’s legendary music (and no one would have blamed them) but instead the tour explores the man behind the legend and you feel like you get to know him personally.  You hear about Louis’s rough upbringing eating out of dumpsters in New Orleans.  When you see his gold plated bathroom the guide includes the embarrassing detail that Louis spent a lot of time in the bathroom due an overuse of laxatives initiated by his mother after dumpster diving.  You hear how he got that scar on his lip, and the sad stories of his three failed marriages until he finally “got it right” with Lucille, who was clearly the love of his life. 

Gold plated bathroom at the Louis Armstrong House
By the end of the tour you’re calling him by his nickname Satchemo and you know what it stands for.  You get comfortable in his homey den, looking at his reading glasses laid on handwritten sheet music and wondering if you could get a nip from the half bottle of whiskey waiting in the cabinet.  You hear him say how much he loved the portrait on the wall, painted by his good friend Tony Bennett.  Then, as the tour is winding down and you feel you know him like that sweet older gentleman on your block, the guide finally plays a song over the house speakers and the sounds of Satchemo’s magnificent trumpet escorts you out.

Trumpet given to Louis Armstrong by King George V in 1933

Kitchen of the Louis Armstrong House
Lucille is brought to life on the tour as well.  Louis met her when she was a dancer at the Cotton Club, and for a while she toured the world with him until she’d had enough of the crazy schedule and bought the house in Queens.  Lucille chose the décor and the home was clearly decorated by a woman who knew what she liked.  You may not love the foil wallpaper on the ceilings or the all-teal kitchen, but you can’t say that she didn’t have strong opinions on style, or probably anything else.

Louis and Lucille Armstrong's garden
The Louis Armstrong House is seen only by guided tour that leaves every hour on the hour.  If you’re very lucky, you’ll get to meet the gracious Selma Heraldo who lives next door.  Selma was Lucille’s best friend and toured with the Armstrongs.  Although the tour interrupted her gardening, Selma greeted us like visiting friends and her stories lent an even more personable air to this engaging historic house.

Pauline: 8 out of 10:  A glimpse into the private life of a superstar amid classic 60’s décor.
Paul: 9 out of 10:  It’s amazing that someone as famous as Louis Armstrong could live a normal life.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Alexander McQueen

Dress, Autumn/ Winter 2010-11, Alexander McQueen
     Special exhibit Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty ......... 1.5 hrs 
COST: Free with membership (otherwise suggested admission is $25)

Without a doubt, New York City's greatest museum is the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  As with many celebrities this famous museum needs only its first name to be recognized and is usually referred to as merely "the Met,” a cute moniker for an amazing museum housing over 2 million works in one of the worlds largest art galleries.  Paul and I had originally planned to save the best for last and make the Met the final museum in our trek, but a recent visit to the American Museum of Natural History changed our minds. 

Metropolitan Museum of Art
That museum took us two days and nine hours of concentrated museum viewing to get through, and we still didn't see everything.  After recovering from “natural history overload,” we decided that instead of cramming the Met into one long bleary-eyed viewing extravaganza, we would pace ourselves and see it in stages.  This was made even easier by a thoughtful relative who got us Met memberships for Christmas this year, ensuring free admission to both the Met and its sister museum the Cloisters.  Now the Met is a “suggested admission” museum, so membership may not seem like a good deal, that is until you enter its grand entrance hall and see the lines. 

This year over 5 million people visited the Met, and it can feel like you have to fight through a good portion of that number to enter the museum.  With our membership cards firmly in hand, Paul and I can now sidle up to the completely empty members desk and grab our admission tabs before most tourists figure out which line to stand in.  Then there is the fantastic benefit that members are allowed to “skip the line” at special exhibits, and the exhibit we were here to see today had a two hour wait.  It took us some time to trace the line to its head through both the Babylonian and European Painting sections, but it was a great feeling not to have to stand in it.  (Great Christmas present Mom!)

Ensemble from VOSS 2011 Alexander McQueen
We hadn’t intended on going to the Met this weekend, but a friend of ours from Seattle (lets call him Petruchio) had, like us, recently moved to the East Coast (in his case Baltimore) and was visiting New York with a friend this weekend.  Petruchio is a fan of contemporary art and of course we had some suggestions, but unfortunately he only had time for museums on Sunday, and all but the largest or most Jewish of museums are closed on Sundays.  We recommended the three biggest contemporary art museums: the New Museum, the Whitney and P.S.1 (all have Sunday hours).  However Paul and I have seen all of these, so we thought outside the box and offered to show him the hottest contemporary art exhibit in town, which, oddly for a museum best known for its ancient and classical art, has been packing them in at the Met all summer.

from The Horn of Plenty 2009-10, Alexander McQueen
This exhibit is “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” and exhibits the designs of recently deceased fashion designer Alexander McQueen.  A fashion exhibit might not be the standard fare of the average museum visitor, but the combination of McQueen’s celebrity, his bizarre sense of beauty and his showmanship have been drawing record crowds.  Current estimates indicate that over ½ million people have seen the show, bringing the most visitors to the Met since 1962 when the Mona Lisa made its first and only trip to the U.S.  The closing of this exhibit has been delayed twice due to its insane popularity and the museum has extended its hours to accommodate the crowds, but the exhibit is finally closing for good on August 7th.  Paul and I suggest that you see it if you can.

Jellyfish Ensemble, Plato's Atlantis 2010
"Spine" corset, from Untitled 1998
“Savage Beauty” is the third fashion-related exhibit we’ve seen, and it left the others in the dust.  It's not that the other two were bad (we enjoyed both the history of American fashion at the Brooklyn Museum and the special exhibit on modern Japanese fashion at FIT) but those exhibits were merely clothes.  The McQueen show isn’t really about clothes.  No one you know could or would wear most of the items on display.  Most pieces would be incredibly uncomfortable, like the bondage bracelets made of long lengths of barbed wire and the steel corset shaped like a spine with a rib cage and tail.  Many were too fragile or rigid to move or sit down in, like the dresses made of dangling microscope slides, layered seashells or coiled steel.  Then there is the problem that you can’t even imagine an occasion where covering yourself head to toe in iridescent scales would be appropriate (besides a really ritzy Halloween party).  And his shoes!  I have no idea how models made it down the runway in these sculpted torture chambers. 

Prosthetic leg from No. 13, 1999; shoes from Supercalifragilisticexpialidocius 2010-11 and Plato's Atlantis 2009
 However, the fact that these items are so unwearable is part of what makes this exhibit interesting.  As there is no way you would wear them, they stop being clothes.  Instead you begin to see them as parts of the themes and stories that McQueen was trying to evoke.  The clothes stop representing real people and become bizarre characters in a play that McQueen is putting on.
Ensemble from Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious 2002-03, Alexander McQueen

Its a Jungle Out There 1997-98 McQueen
The exhibit is divided into the separate themes that McQueen explored in his work and incorporates settings and films of McQueen’s elaborate theater-like fashion shows to set the mood.  For example, one room explores themes of Romantic Naturalism and Primitivism in McQueen’s work.  There are dresses made of animal parts like buzzard skulls and antlers, and pieces from a fashion show meant to depict a shipwreck and the subsequent encounter between the ship inhabitants and a primitive tribe on shore.  The centerpiece is a dress that looks like stacked oyster shells, and the entire ceiling of that room is covered with an eerie film of a woman slowly drowning.  
Still of a film from Irere Spring/Summer 2003, Alexander McQueen

Its Only A Game 2005 McQueen
Its Only A Game 2005 McQueen
Another room presents the outfits related to the show “Only A Game,” a fashion show staged as a chess game played between the East (Japan) and the West (America), using extremely odd adaptations of traditional dress to explore themes of racism and nationalism.  An quote from Alexander McQueen on the wall reads, "Fashion can be really racist, looking at the clothes of other cultures as costumes. . . . That’s mundane and it’s old hat. Let’s break down some barriers.”  McQueen’s most political show was “Highland Rape,” referencing the Jacobite Risings in eighteenth century Scotland.  In a film of that show, semi-naked, blood-spattered models look lost and wounded in their disintegrating clothes, evoking the bloody slaughter of war.  Paul particularly liked the show that ended with a box falling open to reveal a naked overweight woman covered in live moths and connected via a breathing tube to a monkey.  He found it a fascinating exploration of untraditional forms of beauty.

from Highland Rape 1995-96 Alexander McQueen
In short, Alexander McQueen may have been a fashion designer by trade, but the "clothes" in this exhibit transcended fashion, exploring themes and emotions that no mere dress has ever suggested to me before.  These clothes could be political, violent, twisted, tragic, macabre and primitive, in addition to being beautiful.  By the end of the exhibit I felt worn out, like I'd been on an emotional journey with a troubled yet passionate soul.  Its not often that you get to see an artist's life work collected in a single show, and the four of us agreed that it was an amazing experience, well worth fighting the crowds for.  
From Sarabande 2007 by Alexander McQueen

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Noguchi Museum

Core (Cored Sculpture), Isamu Noguchi 1978
9/25/2010, Saturday
MUSEUMS: Noguchi Museum (1.5 hrs) ……………………..…… $10

This day marked our first exploration into Queens, the largest of New York City’s boroughs.  Queens doesn’t have the upscale attitude of Manhattan and seems a bit shabby next to its hip neighbor Brooklyn, but at least it doesn't have the "running gun-battle" reputation of the Bronx.  Most tourists in Queens are just passing through on their way to the two gigantic airports in this borough, but Paul and I have really enjoyed our subsequent visits here.  In Queens we’ve discovered great ethnic food and our favorite museums outside of Manhattan to date, such as the newly renovated high tech Museum of the Moving Image and the Louis Armstrong Museum (great tour).

Today we visited the Northwest-most corner of Queens, just across the river from Manhattan, consisting of the neighborhoods Long Island City and Astoria.  This area was once very industrial and it’s full of old factories and warehouses.  Some of these are still in use, like the old Steinway & Sons piano factory and the Brooks Brothers tie factory.  Others have been repurposed into the kinds of businesses that thrive in areas with low land values like Silvercup Studios where "Sex and the City" is filmed, and of course old warehouses make excellent (and cheap) artist studios.  Thus this region has the largest concentration of museums, art galleries and studios outside of Manhattan, you can see the highlights at the Long Island City Cultural Alliance.

Probably due to its limited residential space, this corner of Queens seems a particular favorite of the types of artists who need lots of room and very tolerant/non-existent neighbors (i.e. sculptors) and nearly all of NYC’s museums devoted to sculpture are located here: the Noguchi Museum, Socrates Sculpture Park and the SculptureCenter.  The Noguchi Museum and Socrates Sculpture Park are across the street from each other on the banks of the East River and made a good paring today.

Red Cube, Isamu Noguchi 1968 (in NYC)
Without a doubt, the Noguchi Museum is the best regarded of the Queens sculpture museums.  Maybe you’ve never heard of Isamu Noguchi, but chances are good that you’ve seen his work.  His gigantic abstract sculptures were popular public works around the globe from the 1930’s until his death in 1988.  His most recognizable New York sculpture is probably the huge “Red Cube” in front of the HSBC building on Broadway but there are Noguchi sculptures in many of the world’s major cities, like Paris, Tokyo, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, Bologna and Munich.  Even Seattle, where Paul and I recently moved from, has a famous Noguchi sculpture.  Called “Black Sun,” it’s a giant flat black basalt circle with a hole in the center that frames a nice view of the Space Needle, but the source of its fame is the popular song “Black Hole Sun” by the Seattle band Soundgarden, reputed to be inspired by the sculpture.
Black Sun, Isamu Noguchi 1969 (in Seattle, WA)

Death (Lynched Figure), Noguchi 1934
One of the things that make the Noguchi museum stand out is that it was actually designed by the artist it exhibits.  In 1974 Noguchi bought a gas station across the street from his studio and gradually converted it into an exhibition space with a Japanese style walled garden at its center.  He even chose much of the work presented in the museum and determined how it was displayed.  Paul thought this very egocentric of Noguchi, and maybe it is, but I loved the way the intentions of the artist showed through in every part of his museum. 

Behind Inner Seeking Shiva Dancing Noguchi 1976-82
As an example, apparently Noguchi didn’t like to bias people with the names of his sculptures before they formed their own impression, so all of the names of art in his museum are displayed in small print on tiny white cards several feet away.  As the sculptures are fairly abstract, this made for some fun guessing games.  On the tour we were on the guide asked us to say what a particular sculpture looked like to us before reading the title.  Looking at the sculpture below, I thought it was a duck’s head, Paul saw a sideways letter S and another person guessed a baseball cap.  Noguchi’s intention?  The title was “Slowly Slowly,” in reference to a snail.  (Once it was pointed out it seemed obvious.)
Slowly Slowly, Isamu Noguchi 1966

The tour also went into detail on Isamu Noguchi’s life and his inspirations.  Born in 1904 as the illegitimate son of the Japanese poet Yone Noguchi and his American editor Léonie Gilmour, Noguchi was a brought up partly in Japan and partly in the U.S., but in the early 1900’s there was no way a half-Japanese half-American boy could fit in either culture and he was a lifetime misfit where ever he went.  
Floor Frame, Isamu Noguchi 1962

To me, his alienation came through in his work and I loved the shapes and textures of Noguchi’s stone sculptures in the museum’s elegant walled sculpture garden, but Paul was not a fan.  According to Paul, being a great artist is at least 50% self-promotion and he felt that the museum was the pinnacle of Noguchi’s showmanship and ego, and it left Paul cold.  Feel free to weigh in on the debate in the comments.

Pauline: 9 out of 10.  Great modern sculpture in a beautiful setting.
Paul: 3 out of 10.  Art and ego left me cold.

Gallery in the Noguchi Museum
Images in this post, from the top:  Core (Cored Sculpture) Isamu Noguchi 1978, basalt, in the sculpture garden at the Noguchi Museum.  Exterior of the Noguchi Museum.  Red Cube Isamu Noguchi, 1968 site specific sculpture in painted steel.  Black Sun Isamu Noguchi 1969, basalt.  Death (Lynched Figure) Isamu Noguchi 1934, monel, steel, wood and rope.  Slowly Slowly Isamu Noguchi 1966, basalt.  Behind Inner Seeking Shiva Dancing Isamu Noguchi 1976-1982, basalt.  Floor Frame Isamu Noguchi 1962, bronze. Gallery in the Noguchi Museum.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park
9/25/2010, Saturday
MUSEUM: Socrates Sculpture Park (30 min) …………..………. Free

Gold Rush, Rachel Beach 2010
With nearly 200 museums in New York City, it seems odd that there are very few sculpture gardens.  This gap in the museum line up is probably to to the city's sky high real-estate prices, but today we saw a sculpture park that found a way around that problem.  This park is called the Socrates Sculpture Park and it's located on the banks of the East River on land that was once an illegal dumpsite and polluted eyesore.  However in 1969 a coalition of artists and community members under the leadership of sculptor Mark di Suvero bought the land (probably very cheaply) and transformed it into an outdoor exhibition space for large contemporary sculpture.  Now this previous wasteland has walking paths, an artist in residency program, a public vegetable garden, farmers market and a free outdoor movie series in the summer.  It’s frequently referenced as a model of urban reclamation and revitalization.  
Untitled Frank Haines
The Socrates Sculpture Park is across the street from the excellent Noguchi Museum (exhibiting the work of the famous modern sculptor Isamu Noguchi) and the two make a good pairing if you have them time.  Despite the name, the Socrates park is much less high-brow than the Noguchi Museum and has a slightly scruffy air.  You can still see the rotting docks and rusty cranes perched on its perimeter left over from its industrial past, yet the park is well tended and there is a wide variety of sculpture to see. 
Sponge Piece for Socrates Jory Rabinovitz
Paul and I both agreed that the most beautiful thing in the park was the view of the Manhattan skyline across the river (see image below), and one sculpture thoughtfully provided a telescope to view it better, but there was a lot to see in the park as well.  I was amused by the stack of colorful sponges stacked up like they were on a flag pole (“Sponge Piece for Socrates” by Jory Rabinovitz), while Paul liked the black and yellow contrasts of “Gold Rush” by Rachel Beach and the talking rock “Megafaux” by Clive Murphy.  We didn’t like everything (the crumbling floating house failed to impress) but there was certainly a lot of variety and it made for an entertaining walk.
Pauline: 3 out of 10.  Wide variety of contemporary sculpture in a riverfront park.
Paul: 3 out of 10.  Nice walk in the park is not ruined by the art.

View of the East River from Socrates Sculpture Garden
Images in this post, from the top:  Socrates Sculpture Garden, with Megafaux by Clive Murphy (2010) in foreground and the New York City skyline in the background.  Gold Rush Rachel Beach 2010, reclaimed wood beams and powder covered aluminum.  Untitled, Frank Haines 2010 mixed media.  Sponge Piece for Socrates, Jory Rabinovitz 2010, sponges, concrete and metal.  View of the East River and New York City skyline from the Socrates Sculpture Garden.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Brooklyn Museum

Winged Genie, Nimrud, Assyria c. 883-859 BCE
 7/24/2010, Saturday
TIME: 3 hrs
COST: $10 each

Mask for Mblo Masquerade, Baule
We hate to admit it, but we have come to dread going to Brooklyn.  We don’t want to disparage the borough: it has great restaurants, cool nightlife and an interesting and diverse culture, but somehow we always have a horrible experience.  Traffic is horrendous, parking non-existent and Brooklyn museums seem to open and close on a whim, seldom updating their WebPages.  Twice now we’ve taken a wrong turn on Brooklyn’s labyrinthine expressways and ended up in an orthodox Jewish neighborhood, with everyone wearing black hats and frock coats and glaring at us, while our GPS keeps insisting that we have reached our destination.  In our three visits to Brooklyn, we’ve managed to see only three museums.  To give you an idea of how horrible that is, in three visits to Queens (Brooklyn’s larger, supposedly rougher neighbor), we’ve seen eight museums, not including one we visited twice.  Simply put, Brooklyn has been a nightmare, and we are positive that our last museums will all be in this most difficult borough.

Pierre de Weissant, Monumental by Auguste Rodin
On this very hot day in July we visited the amazing Brooklyn Museum, and while we did take a few wrong turns in heavy traffic (as usual), we consider it our most successful Brooklyn trip (largely because the museum in question was open).  We were joined by our friends Peter and Petra, visiting from Canada.  The Brooklyn Museum has a massive art collection and an international reputation, but I think our motivation for visiting this museum today had more to do with finding good air-conditioning on a scorching day, and judging from the large number of people loitering and ignoring the lovely Rodin's in the indoor sculpture garden, we were not alone.

We went to breakfast beforehand at a local restaurant we choose based on air conditioning and the advertised “soul food.”  There were a fair number of people eating good looking, interesting southern food, but unfortunately our menus had nothing but very plain breakfast entrees, and we were not allowed to order anything else.  Annoyed, we ate our dry omelets and boring pancakes while everyone around us dug into delicious looking fried chicken and biscuits and gravy.  It set a bad precedent for Brooklyn, making the place seem closed and elitist, and future visits have not dispelled this feeling for us, but at least we were able to order the excellent strawberry lemonade, so Paul maintains that it wasn't all bad.
Brooklyn Museum
The Brooklyn Museum is a gigantic building (over half a million square feet), and is the lynchpin of a lovely complex of Victorian parks and gardens in this area, including Prospect Park, Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, and the Prospect Park Zoo.  The museum’s core is a splendid Beaux-Arts building, but it has a contemporary glass and steel entrance that gives it a modern vibe.  Walking in, our first impression was that it is huge.  In nearly any other city, this would be THE dominant museum.  It’s million-piece collection of art and historical pieces should be spoken in the same breath as the Met and the British museum in scope and range.  It’s truly impressive how much this museum crams into one building.  The museum is noted for major collections in Ancient Egyptian and Near East artifacts, the Art of Africa, American Art, Decorative Arts, and Feminist Art, and there are always several large temporary exhibitions as well.  We found this all very daunting but we jumped in and started looking around.  
The Last Supper by Andy Warhol 1986

One of the publicized exhibitions during our visit was a collection of Andy Warhol’s later works.  Titled “Andy Warhol: The Last Decade” it examined his commercial and artistic ventures during his last years.  Clips of his TV show and his gigantic series of “Last Supper” paintings were notable, but none of us are huge fans of pop art or Warhol in general.  We agreed that it was an interesting exhibit, but despite the fame of the artist, he didn’t really capture our interest.

Tree Evening Dress by Charles James 1955
Evening Ensemble by Norman Norell 1970
A bigger hit with us was the exhibitAmerican High Style: Fashioning a National Collection.”  This exhibit was a collaboration between the Brooklyn Museum and the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art focusing on the most renowned clothes from the Met’s fashion collection.  The exhibit consisted of approximately eighty-five outfits and a grand selection of hats and shoes, covering early America to modern times and detailing the evolution of high fashion over the last 200 years.  Pauline loved the emphasis on clothing shape and structure.  The extensive exhibit text explained that the shape of clothes was once derived largely from rigid internal garments such as corsets, but modern clothing has transitioned to shapes derived from cloth selection and careful tailoring, resulting in less stiff looking clothes.  Paul and Petra were particularly fascinated by the evolution of footwear, noting that high heels and ribbons on shoes have gone in and out of fashion over the years, for both men and women.

George Washington by Gilbert Stuart
The American Art section is famous for the iconic portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, but there was wide selection portraits of different people, famous and otherwise.  Peter and Petra spent some time playing what they claimed was a traditional Canadian game called “Dude or Not Dude.”  In it players decide whether portraits of women were in fact woman, or men in drag.  There were a number of portraits where arguments could be made either way, and Peter and Petra debated things like whether that was a 5 o’clock shadow or just a shadow.  It was a little surreal, but now when we see a portrait such as the one of Mrs. Thomas Mumford IV below, we can’t help wondering “Dude or not dude?”

Mrs Thomas Mumford IV by William Johnston
Another area that stuck out for us in the American section was an exhibit on landscapes, with one area concentrating totally on waterfalls.  (Paul grew up near Niagara Falls and has worked as a tour guide there, so this is a subject near to his heart.)  This part of the exhibit showed many different ways that waterfalls have been represented in art: such as realistic oil paintings, romantic Hudson River School paintings, direct modeling in sculpture and abstract representations in contemporary art.  Examining the different styles made us consider what each brought to the common subject and what they were able to evoke, turning a simple landscape piece into a thought-provoking exhibit.  This was one of the first times we’ve really thought beyond the wall text about what the curator was trying to say with an exhibit (bringing us one step closer to being real art critics).
Niagra, by Louis Remy Mignot 1866

Moorish Smoking Room, Worsham-Rockefeller House
The fourth floor of the Brooklyn Museum is devoted to two installations: the Decorative Arts Center and the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.  Demonstrating just how big this museum is, the Decorative Art Center takes the rather grandiose approach of including several entire houses and over twenty rebuilt furnished rooms.  They range from the older, plainer wood paneled Reuben Bliss house (1754) to more opulent rooms like the Moorish Smoking Room from the Worsham-Rockefeller House (1881).  Paul wanted to move into the Art Deco styled Weil-Worgelt study (1928); we only got him to leave after he took detailed photos of the paneling, muttering about “future plans.”  
Weil-Worgelt Study by Alavoine, 1923

The Dinner Party, by Judy Chicago, 1974-79
Also on this floor was the Center for Feminist Art, which is most well known for the major installation “The Dinner Party” by Judy Chicago.  The Dinner Party comprises a massive triangular table with thirty-nine place settings, each commemorating a woman from history or myth.  The settings consist of embroidered runners, gold chalices and utensils, and painted porcelain plates with raised motifs.  All the items in each place setting are rendered in styles appropriate to the individual women being honored.  The names of another 999 women are inscribed in gold on the white tile floor below the triangular table.  The amount of intricate work was stunning.  The exhibit came with a booklet explaining why each woman was included: some were well known and obvious (e.g. Mary Wollstonecraft, Georgia O’Keefe and Sacagawea) but others were much more obscure (Elizabeth Blackwell? Ethyl Smyth? Anna van Schurman?), with the implication being that maybe they shouldn’t be.
Mary Wollstonecraft place setting from The Dinner Party, by Judy Chigaco

Senwosret III, Hierakonpolis c 1836 BCE
Nespanetjerenpere c 945 BCE
Our last stop of the day was the impressive Egyptian section on the third floor.  It was packed with carvings and wall reliefs, and had some very impressive mummy cases.  Petra and Pauline were particularly intrigued by the Mummy Chamber, which had a number of human and animal mummies, a 25 foot long scroll of the book of the dead, and detailed instructions on the different ways that mummies were made. (They were all pretty disgusting.)  The museum has done CT scans of several mummies and has movies showing how everything is preserved.  Petra and Pauline felt that this was both educational and gruesomely fascinating.  The rest of the exhibit was broken down into the major epochs of the classical period and made for an interesting historical narrative of the area around the Nile River. 

Madonna of Humility, Sano di Pietro, 1405
By the time we finished the Egyptian exhibit, the museum was getting ready to close, so we got a cup of coffee, sat down to reflect and play “spot the Canadian.”  (Hint: If they are wearing “Roots” brand clothing head to toe, they are probably Canadian.)  We’d covered a lot of ground in three hours, but still had only seen about 70% of the museum and, despite the fact that the African Art section was closed for an exhibit change, we could have easily spent another few hours.  All of us had found the Brooklyn Museum to be both engaging and educational, and we were impressed by the huge variety of high quality exhibits.  It wasn’t quite the Met in size or scope, but it seemed more manageable and certainly less crowded, and it was a great place to spend a hot summer day.

Pauline: 9 out of 10.  Gigantic museum with amazing variety and range.
Paul: 8 out of 10.  It would be the best museum in any other city but New York City.

Images in this post, from the top: Winged Genie. Nimrud, Assyria (modern-day Iraq) 883–859 B.C.E. Alabaster.  One of many panels that once adorned the palace of King Ashur-nasir-pal II.  Mask for Mblo Masquerades, Baule, Ivory Coast, late 19th century.  This mask's delicate, symmetrical features, ornate hairstyle, and smooth surface exemplify personal beauty and composure.  Pierre de Wiessant, Monumental by Auguste Rodin (French) 1887, bronze 1979.  Exterior of the Brooklyn Museum.  The Last Supper by Andy Warhol, 1986, acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen.  "Tree" Evening Dress Charles James, 1955.  Rose pink silk taffeta; white silk satin; red, pink and white tulle.  Evening Ensemble, Norman Norell, 1970–71. Gold organdy, beaded gold silk jersey.  George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, 1796.  Standing in the classical pose of an orator, Washington appears in civilian clothing, but holds a sword that recalls his military achievements and suggests the might of his presidency.  Mrs. Thomas Mumford VI by William Johnston, 1763, the first portraitist to work in Connecticut, where he enjoyed the patronage of prominent colonists.  Niagara by Louis Rémy Mignot 1866.  Throughout the nineteenth century, few landscape forms were more recognizable than Niagara Falls, often employed to embody the natural might that underlay America's promise.  Moorish Smoking Room, from the Worsham-Rockefeller House, 1864–65, remodeled 1881.  Weil-Worgelt Study, originally part of the Park Avenue apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Milton Weil, decorated by Alavoine of Paris circa 1928–30.  The room is in the style now known as Art Deco, paneled in veneers of palisander and olive and a painted lacquered panel designed by Henri Redard and executed by Jean Dunand.  The Dinner Party, by Judy Chicago (1974-79) with a detail of the Mary Wollstoncraft place settingCartonnage of Nespanetjerenpere. Egypt, probably Thebes, circa 945–718 B.C.E. Linen or papyrus mixed with plaster, pigment, glass, lapis lazuli.  The decoration here associates its occupant, the priest Nespanetjerenpere, with divine resurrection. Senwosret III. Egypt, from Hierakonpolis, circa 1836–1818 B.C.E. Granite. A powerful king of the Egyptian Twelfth Dynasty.  Madonna of Humility, by Sano di Pietro, Italian 1405-1481.