Sunday, 21 February 2010

New York: Museums, Galleries and Stuff

New York is awash with galleries and museums, lots to see and do but, for some reason, we weren't in a museums mood this trip. Maybe there just weren't any exhibitions that sounded intriguing enough?

We went to the Metropolitan Muesum of Art to see the exhibition of painting in Jain manuscripts. I enjoyed the Garden and Cosmos exhibition at the British Museum last summer and assumed this would be something similar (there was nothing in the online description to make me think otherwise). So, after a big lunch in the restaurant (at which I discovered the simple delight of a screw-cap-that-looked-like-a-flip-cap rather than flip-cap Budweiser bottle) we started wandering the vastness of the museum to find the exhibition. The fact that no-one of the staff seemed to know where it was should have been a warning - all of them said versions of 'I'm not sure, but go down/up that way and ask there'. We eventually found it after waking throulgh a lovely reconstricted medieval Japanese garden and seeing some Buddha images in the distance. It was up some stairs to one room, roughly slightly smaller than my living room with, maybe, around 20 framed pages from Jain manuscripts with small illustrative paintings. To make it livelier, they'd added some small sculptures and big fabrics on Jain themes. And that was it - it was interesting as far it went but it didn't go far. The next room had some interesting Tibetan mandalas and Buddha images but that was it for the Jains. O well.

We also went to visit the National Museum of the American Indian (part of the Smithsonian) down at Bowling Green by Battery Park. I think the main museum is in Washington but the New York branch is based in the old Custom House, a building demonstrating the power of the USA to its new immigrant peoples and the main room still has the enormous oval desk in the centre that must have sat 50 or more customs officials at the same time waiting for people to decalre their wealth or poverty. It's a bit odd that this was chosen as the home for the museum. Unfortunately, most of the rooms were closed for renovation or for constructing new exhibitions but going in was a relief from the freezing temperatures and snow outside. There were two exhibitions running, 'A Song For The Horse Nation' and a corridor full of native American decorated skateboarding artifacts (ahem).

'A Song For The Horse Nation' was quite interesting, telling the story of native Americans and the horse since the first herd was brought over (or re-introduced, as we're told) by Colombus. It included storyboards, manequins wearing horse related clothes, saddles and other horse decorations and some machines that translated words into various native languages. There was some incredible antique beadwork on show and my favourite was a Cree saddlebag decorated with intricate beadwork flowers, still bright and alive.

Other than that, a trip to the MoMA shop on Spring Street is probably the closest we got to Art. I do find it odd that New York is home to some of the most iconic buildings in the world - the Chrysler Building, the Rockefeller Centre which is big fuck-off statement about personal wealth and power - but its public art is poor. Now, much as I like the Rockefeller Centre can anyone persuade me that the golden statue of Prometheus has any merit other than it's status of appearing on millions of cards and christmas cards? Mind you, public art in London isn't much better, mainly seeming to consist of long-dead 'war heroes' of Empire whose names few people recognise any more.

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