Tuesday, March 12, 2013

City Musings

The CAJM conference in NY was a great opportunity to explore the experiences of the city as well as its museums. It was appropriately named The City as Muse. While there, I had the opportunity to revisit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. When I was last there I visited the residences within the building, located around the corner from where my father once lived as a boy. I recall how fascinated I was with how they reconstructed the stories of the residents who once lived there. This visit was somewhat different in that we visited the shops and bar that were once housed on the ground floor beneath the residences.

We entered what was once a German bar around 1870 when the area was largely German and traced the lives of its owners and the community that gathered there. Newspaper articles and documents aided in its reconstruction and painted a picture of the role it played within its surrounding community. Next door was another shop, actually a variety of shops over time from a kosher butcher to an auction house to an underwear discounter. The museum was faced with a choice, which store would they choose to represent? Their creative response was to represent all of them using technology that allows the viewer to place an object on a white board and pick up a phone which tells the story behind it. Documents appear on the board that expand on the story. This use of technology allows them build a story from an artifact, much in the way they reconstructed spaces themselves from documents and items found in the fireplace.

On another day we visited the Chelsea home of artist/architect Allan Wexler where he shared his work with us. Later he led us on a walk along the High Line, a former elevated railroad track that affords views of the city and soon will be the site of the new Whitney Museum expansion. Much like the Promenade Plantee in Paris, it is basically an elevated park and walkway. Public art can be found along the High Line and for the third time in my visit I saw the wonderful work of El Anatsui (Broken Bridge II Western wall between West 21st and West 22nd Streets on the High Line), a Ghanaian artist who makes use of aluminum, bottle caps and copper wire in his museum work and pressed tin and mirrors in the work along the High Line.

On the same visit I admired a beautiful piece of his at the Metropolitan Museum and many works which filled a huge area within the Brooklyn Museum.

I had the opportunity to visit the Brooklyn Museum with CAJM during the museum's Saturday event which is open for free to the public. The Brooklyn Museum has an eclectic collection and juxtaposes pieces that I would not always expect to be side by side. It was full of surprises and I suspect that helps to introduce people to the museum that might not normally seek it out. The Brooklyn Museum has been very successful in reaching out to the surrounding community and doing programming that invites them in.

On one floor they house the Judy Chicago dinner party, a triangular table with individually designed plates and tapestries that speak of the women that the creator imagined inviting to a dinner party, women who were pivotal in history and especially women's history, but frequently not adequately recognized. While I had heard of it for decades, this was my first opportunity to see it.

Earlier in the day I had been at the Metropolitan Museum where I observed films from the early 1900s. Similar films were at the Brooklyn Museum near the paintings from the same period. I was especially intrigued by these as I was reading the Inventor and the Tycoon, a book about Eadweard Muybridge and his creation of moving pictures. I could understand the delight and amazement of people as they watched images of their time as I felt a similar delight watching a windy day at the foot of the Flatiron building a century later where early NY residents grabbed their hats to save them from the wind. At the Brooklyn Museum I watched a 1901 film by Thomas Edison, who elbowed out Muybridge in the moving picture game, capture a Marilyn Monroe moment when a woman of the times walked over a grate with a gust of wind as she held down her skirt, then burst into laughter in her turn of the century garb.

On the last day of my visit we walked over to the 9/11 memorial. The design of it is both beautiful and moving. Each tower has a pool of water that echoes its footprint. Around it are the names of those who perished in its collapse. The names are grouped by logical groupings, firemen together as well as specific businesses. They are cut out of the metal so at night a light underneath illuminates them. A waterfall descends from all four sides forming rainbows. Ultimately it pours into a 20 foot square and disappears in much the same way that the towers did. The name of the memorial is Reflecting Absence.

1 comment:

  1. This past summer I had the opportunity to revisit (and go on a different tour of) the Tenement Museum and walk the HighLine for the first time. Both are wonderful. I'm so impressed with NYC for funding the exquisite High Line. I can't see many communities doing that so well - or at all.