Adventures in Art and the Park

Like I mentioned in my last post, I have been trying to enjoy these last few days of fairly responsibility-free summertime. Wednesday was quite gloomy and rainy, so I decided it was the perfect day to finally visit that kinda-sorta famous building down our street, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Of course, it was not the perfect day to walk to said building because it was wet and rainy. The hems on my jeans got soaking wet, and I hate that, but it was OK because you know what? NYC is very pretty in the rain. I watched the documentary Bill Cunningham New York about the Times‘ fashion and society photographer of the same name, and there’s a segment where he just raves about New York in the rain or snow, how it transforms the city. He loves to get shots of impeccably dressed women leaping over puddles of rainwater or melting slush because it captures a sort of candid grace otherwise not often seen.

Yesterday, walking along East 82nd in the rain, I totally got that. Women in billowy maxi dresses and strappy sandals were arabesqueing from the curbs, doormen waved down taxis for impatient residents huddled under awnings, and tourists squealed while skipping through the puddles in a hurry to cross the street. It was wonderful and lovely.

I found this photo of a doorman on Humans of New York, a photography project/website that I highly recommend checking out. It reminded me a lot of my rainy walk to the Met.

I also love that in NYC, a rainy day is a business opportunity, at least if you are an umbrella salesman! There were two who quickly opened shop at the bottom of the Met steps, beckoning tourists from beneath their crowded cover to purchase their wares. There was also a saxophonist playing jazz music underneath a cheap plastic poncho, and it was like a scene out of a movie. Cue: soft rain. Cue: distant thunder. Cue: improvisational jazz music. Cue: enthusiastic umbrella salesmen.

Once I got inside, worked my way through the crowds at the entrance security and admissions/donations line, I was finally free to explore this labyrinth of rooms, full of works by names I once knew only from textbooks. I’m no art expert, that’s for sure, but I did take AP Art History my senior year of high school, and I’m so glad I did. I only vaguely remember a few specifics about various art movements and artists, but my teacher did a wonderful job teaching us to appreciate art. That was her big goal for us that she announced on the first day of class (that and learning the difference between “nude” and “naked”), and I think she certainly succeeded.

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze. How can you see something like this and NOT stop to look at it for a while?

As I began my museum explorations in The American Wing, I began to remember why I don’t always enjoy museum visits. I am appalled by the way some people approach artwork! I saw not one but two different individuals in different art galleries touching and leaning on decades-, even centuries-old sculptures!!! I don’t even…sigh, anyway. (Eventually the museum chaperones? Supervisors? Uniformed individuals creeping in the doorways? fussed at the sculpture-touching bafoons.)

I understand a lot of the museum visitors are tourists visiting from out-of-town, -state, or -country and they are hurried to “see all the sights” of New York, but what’s the point of seeing them if you don’t take the time to truly absorb what you’re looking at? My advice would be to pick a few wings/galleries of The Met that you know you are interested in and spend some quality time getting acquainted with the works on display there.

My pet peeve is when tourists rush from room to room in the museum, photographing artwork or displays along the way, without even so much as stopping read the plaques. If you aren’t literate in English, I understand, but for God’s sake, at least LOOK at the one-of-a-kind masterpiece in front of you. For at least five seconds. That’s not even that long. Sigh.

I enjoyed looking at the “period rooms” in The American Wing, which are replicas of rooms from various American country houses filled with all sorts of luxurious furniture and decorations. They kind of looked like sets from Downton Abbey, although I know that show is set in Britain and not the U.S. My favorite period room was one designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Gorgeous. I also liked the paintings in The American Wing, especially the cheery, picturesque depictions of country life, the like of which were printed by Currier and Ives.

A Jackson Pollock piece.

My other favorite section was the modern art gallery, which probably means I need to visit MoMa soon. I know this is the kind of artwork a lot of people understandably blow off, but I think it’s fascinating because these artists were bold enough to do it and proclaim it as artwork. It takes a lot of guts to splatter paint on a giant canvas and draw attention to the fact that those paint splatters can be just as visually engaging as the carefully rendered still-lifes of the realists in centuries past.

I decorated my college bedroom with colorful Warhol prints, so it was cool to see some real Warhol pieces as well.

Of course, I also had to pay a visit to the European painting galleries, mainly to check out the Impressionist exhibits. Impressionism is my absolute favorite art movement, and I decorated my bedroom in Florida with a number of Monet prints. I have seen one of Monet’s waterlily paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, but it was a real treat to check out a specific painting that I had a print of in my room growing up, Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies.

This version (and its frame) is a lot nicer than the cheap print I had in my bedroom back in Florida. Unsurprisingly.

Maybe it’s cliche to like Rodin, but I love his works.

I also had time to check out some Picassos, Matisses, Seurats, and Van Goghs. I’m not that into sculpture, but luckily I stumbled across a few pieces by Rodin on my way out. I spent nearly three hours in the museum, but honestly, you could spend days. I didn’t even glance at the ancient Egyptian or Greek exhibits. All that looking at artwork–actually looking at it–and reading the accompanying informative plaques was mentally and physically exhausting! I headed straight back to the apartment, with a brief pit stop at Insomnia Cookies for a double-chocolate chunk pick-me-up.

Yesterday (Thursday) was a much lovelier day, sunny with little to no chance of rain. Shortly after eating some lunch, I set off on a trek to Central Park, my current read (Valley of the Dolls), some chilled cherries, and a water bottle in tow. After some aimless meandering about the park looking for the perfect reading spot, I finally decided to check out the Shakespeare Garden. See, I always thought the garden was named such because it is next to the Delacorte Theater, where Shakespeare in the Park is held every summer. Some quick Wikipedia research–I’ll be quick to confess that I Wikipedia everything in life–I learned that it is actually called that because the plants in the garden are those mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. How cool is that? Also, um, hello–could there be a more literary garden out there?

The peaceful view from my reading spot. I actually ended up moving a few benches down to a shadier spot away from an annoying bee, but you get the idea.

I spent an hour and a half or so here reading and snacking on my cherries. When I reached a good stopping point, I decided to check out the neighboring Belvedere Castle since the stairs to it were RIGHT THERE. I had been to the bottom platform of the “castle” before, but this time I climbed the narrow spiral staircase inside the tower. “Belvedere” translates to “beautiful view” in Italian, and boy, they aren’t kidding! From the top level you can see The Duck Pond that serves as the castle’s moat, plenty of sunbathing New Yorkers on the Great Lawn, a forest of park trees, and just beyond, the Manhattan skyline. On a clear, sunny day like this, it was picture-perfect.

After my visit, I learned that the castle was constructed in 1869 as a Victorian “folly” (a decorative rather than functional building). It definitely doesn’t feel that old, but the wall-climbing ivy and surrounding water cluttered with lily pads must do the trick, because I heard a little girl at the top observation platform asking her mother repeatedly, “But Mommy, where are the princesses?” Adorable, just adorable.

When I was finished exploring the castle, I realized I was hungry. Again. Darn you super-fast metabolism, that’s what the cherries were for! I debated buying a Belgian waffle from the Wafels & Dinges cart, but deterred by the prices, ended up selecting a cheap, plain pretzel instead (Why?!? Those things are loaded with calories!), and promised myself I would eat a small dinner to compensate for my afternoon gluttony. I found another bench along one of the main walkways to enjoy said-pretzel, one near a saxophonist jazzing up “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

I wouldn’t say “no” to being a princess in a pretend-castle if I had this view.

Then, I went home, and in reverse-fairy-tale fashion, ended up having fled a castle to play Cinderella before she met Prince Charming, cleaning up the seemingly endless amounts of cat hair that have found their way into every nook and cranny of our little apartment. Today I think I might do some shopping, check out the UES H&M, which seems pretty affordable, or maybe do some thrifting (my favorite). Ironically, I have more nice business casual clothes than I do nicer plain-casual ones, so I’d like to find a new pair of jeans and maybe a couple new tops I can wear to my new job. I haven’t gone clothing shopping since pre-wedding and honeymoon, so it would be nice to get just a few new wardrobe items. Everyone seems is so absurdly stylish here, and it has inspired me to, uh, go shopping.

I think I’ll also clock-in some downtime at home, where my new favorite activity basically consists of this:

An adorable cat and a good book, all you really need in life.

Also, I forgot to share this last time, but I think this is more appropriate to include here in a somewhat art-themed post, but I had a Q&A article with photographer Kevin Bauman published in the digital GALO (Global Art Laid Out) magazine Wednesday. The article discusses Bauman’s series “100 Abandoned Houses,” which you should definitely check out even if you don’t want to read a super-long article about it.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Adventures in Art and the Park

  1. Lol, I asked you a bunch of things about this kind of thing in my last letter but I just had to say re: Impressionism. Me too! Best Art Museum ever: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mus%C3%A9e_d%27Orsay

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