Medieval Marvels

Bonnefont Cloister Garden

Bonnefont Cloister Garden

The Cloisters has  always been one of my favorite museums.  Its location, in lovely Fort Tryon Park overlooking the Hudson River to the Palisades is a delight, especially in Summer.  The complex itself has a rather unusual history.  Long story short – in the early 20th century, over several years, the sculptor George Gray Barnard acquired portions and fragments of four French medieval cloisters which he brought to Washington Heights, where he displayed them, beginning in 1914, in the first version of the museum.  Some years later, John D. Rockefeller funded the acquisition of the collection by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rockefeller also  acquired and built what is now Fort Tryon Park (which he donated to the City of New York), and financed the complex we now know as the Cloisters. He also donated items from his personal collection – can you believe he owned 6 of the Unicorn tapestries?   For the full history, click here 

I started by visiting the new exhibit, Treasures and Talismans, Rings from the Griffin Collection   As its name implies, the heart of this exhibit are rings from the ancient, medieval and Renaissance periods. 

Cusped Ring, gold, hessonite garnet, 15th Cent.

Cusped Ring, gold, hessonite garnet, 15th Cent.

You’ll find exquisite gold work and ingenious stone settings. All of the rings on display are made of gold; most of them have gems:  lots of garnet, some sapphires, diamonds, pearls and amethysts.

Many are gold bands with inscriptions, including several signet rings and a few iconographic rings engraved with images of various saints.  The display also contains some cameo rings, as well as pendants and brooches. 

Leaf of Writing Tablet,  French, 14th Century

Leaf of Writing Tablet, French, 14th Century


There’s a small selection of paintings, statues, boxes  and metalwork from the Met’s collection that rounds out the exhibition.You can also find the medieval version of Snapchat:  an ivory writing tablet with a compartment in the back containing a wax tablet on which a message could be inscribed;  once it had been read, the receiver could wipe it off and write a new one.


The Falcon's Bath, south Netherlandish, ca. 1400

The Falcon’s Bath, south Netherlandish, ca. 1400

I then wended my way through other parts of the Cloisters.  In addition to re-visiting the Unicorn series, I took in other outstanding tapestries such as the “Nine Heros” and “The Falcon’s Bath” (check out the hats).  Since I’m interested in embroidery, I also sought out the embroidered vestments, some in their entirety, others of which survived only as fragments, but they are superb.


Mourning Virgin, Lautenbach Master, Strasbourg, ca. 1480

Mourning Virgin, Lautenbach Master, Strasbourg, ca. 1480

There are magnificent painted and stained glass panels throughout the complex, as well as paintings, statues, carvings, liturgical vessels and devotional objects.

I would recommend that you also spend some time in each of the three gardens; not only do they make for a nice resting spot, but they also contain herbs used in medieval times for cooking, making pigments, medicine, and magic.

Capital from the Cuxa Cloister

Capital from the Cuxa Cloister

The buildings themselves have a lot to offer in their architectural detail.  The Cuxa cloister especially has some great capitals on the columns of the arches.

There’s a lot to take in at the Cloisters; I’d say do it slowly, over a few visits.

Toshi Reagon

Toshi Reagon & BIG Lovely

Toshi Reagon & BIG Lovely

I’ve been reading a lot lately about Toshi Reagon and BIG Lovely  and wondering what all the fuss was about, so last week I went to see her at Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors  .  She’s an absolutely fabulous performer, whose blues-based rock songs are high energy, and not afraid to take on social issues, especially the environment.  She’ll be performing at Le Poisson Rough on September 19th as part of their “Celebration of Women’s Lives”  Try to catch her whenever she’s in town – she’ll make you get up and dance!

The Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors series continues through August 9th.  All events are FREE.  

Dance & Disability

Heidi Latsky Dance's "Gimp"; photo by Darial Sneed, courtesy of Dance/NYC

Heidi Latsky Dance’s “Gimp”; photo by Darial Sneed, courtesy of Dance/NYC

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Celebrating its passage, on July 8th Dance/NYC hosted a convening centered on their new report “Discovering Disability:  Data & NYC Dance.”    It was quite a learning experience for me.  Panelists included dancers, representatives of performance spaces, government officials, and educators.  Even though the discussions focused on dance, they provided a lens for how we can incorporate the disabled in the arts and other areas on a broader scale.

Over the last 25+ years, I’ve noticed a sea-change in how society views the disabled.  When I was growing up, it was socially acceptable to make jokes or disparaging remarks about people with physical or mental disabilities.  The disabled were often institutionalized, or kept apart, if not out of sight.  Today, families are fighting for their disabled members to live at home and to be as “mainstreamed” as possible.

Disability affects all ages and ethnicities; according to a report by the NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, in New York City there are some 810,000 disabled people, about one-tenth of the population, of which 125,00 are in the workforce.  As the population ages, so will the number of disabled. The question is how will society allow them to fully participate?

At the heart of the day’s discussions was the concept of “ ‘Nothing Without Us:’ no policy should be formed without the full, direct involvement and vesting of members of the affected group.”

The keynote speaker was Simi Lintona writer, consultant and expert on the arts and disabilities, who, in 1971 was injured in a car accident that paralyzed her legs. She powerfully made the case for claiming disability as an identity, not as a medical condition. This theme was echoed throughout the conference, as was the motif of the role of disability in generating artistry.  Several of the dancers referred to themselves as “disabled artists” (not as “artists with disabilities”) for whom their wheelchairs or crutches were not tools, but a part of their bodies that need to be incorporated into the choreography.  Ms. Linton observed that the disabled are a transgressive presence on stage in much the same way that Alvin Ailey, Judith Jameson, and women actors were.  She pointed out the necessity for arts organizations to engage with disabled artists who have the “vantage point of the atypical.”

  Ms. Linton noted that the arts have been a testing ground for society’s most sacred beliefs and aspirations, and that the arts have a vital role in shaping democracy. 

She also spoke of needing to reshape society so the disabled have a place,  instead of “helping” the disabled “fit in.”

The dancer Heidi Latsky noted that while there are several dance companies that are physically integrated (having both disabled and nondisabled dancers), it can be very difficult for disabled dancers to get the support they need, not because people are being nasty, but because they are unsure of how to interact with the disabled.  She told of having attended “mainstream” dance classes where the instructors would critique and correct the other dancers, but not her, and how that didn’t help her develop as a dancer.

Other panelists discussed some of the key findings of the report, summarized below:

  • there are not enough facilities, especially outside Manhattan, which provide access for disabled workers, students, artists, audience members, etc.  It seems that New Jersey is ahead of the Empire State on this front; The Cultural Access Network Project assists New Jersey cultural arts organizations in making their programs and facilities accessible  
  • attention needs to be paid to universal design standards to improve accessibility
  • schools need to do a better job of both offering arts education, especially dance, to disabled students, and hiring disabled teachers and administrators.
  • dance companies need to improve the recruitment and training of both disabled and nondisabled staff in administrative, technical and artistic roles.

This is a very brief summary of the day’s discussions.  If you’d like to know more, take a look at the “Discovering Disability” report issued by dance/NYC, which also contains useful resources.

Kudos to Dance/NYC for having issued the report and organized the conference.  I’m looking forward to learning more on this topic.

MAD Pathmakers

Mariska Karasz (1898-1960);  Transcendence (1958)

Mariska Karasz (1898-1960); Transcendence (1958)

The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) has a lot going on this summer.  first up is “Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today” – the title nicely sums up the exhibit.  I enjoyed this show, which highlighted the wide-ranging way these artists used textiles, clay and metals, media that have often been relegated to the “alternative” category.  Combining both handmade and industrially produced objects, the exhibit captures the workmanship that went into their creation.  The show features over 100 works by international and US-based women in the 1950’s and  ’60’s as well as contemporary artists and designers.

Richard Estes (b. 1932); Staten Island Ferry Arriving in Manhattan (2012)

Richard Estes (b. 1932); Staten Island Ferry Arriving in Manhattan (2012)

Next up I visited “Richard Estes: Painting New York City,” a wide-ranging selection of this photorealist master’s large scale paintings – you really feel like you’re on that bus, or train, or ferry, although at first glance they can be a bit disorienting.  I was delighted that there were also some of the tools, proofs and woodblocks used to create the silkscreens and woodcuts, providing a look into his creative process.

Marjorie Schick; Necklace

Marjorie Schick; Necklace

Before leaving, I stopped in the jewelry collection, one of my favorite spots in the museum.  The featured displays are always interesting, but what I really like is that you can open up the drawers that line the room and see even more necklaces, bracelets, rings, pins and other adornments.  This room is a must-stop for jewelry lovers!

The International – A Play for Our Times

Image Courtesy of Origin Theatre

Image Courtesy of Origin Theatre

I attended the opening night of this wonderful play which has returned to the New York stage.  The setting of The International  is deceptively simple: three people, in an art gallery, seemingly unrelated.  They each introduce themselves and tell the beginnings of their stories:  Irene, attending a village wedding in an unnamed country;  Hans, a Dutch soldier who joins the international peacekeeping force sent to that country; and Dave, a clueless American truck driver/artist who wages $800 on the outcome of the war as watches it unfold on his TV in Los Angeles.  As their stories unfold, we learn how the war affected each one of them – there are no happy endings here.  Irene recounts how the joyous village wedding was turned into a massacre; Hans confronts the impotence and inability of peacekeepers to protect the villagers; and Dave has to face the crumbling of his marriage and the cynicism that underlies his life.

Seemly based on the July 1995 genocide at Srebrenica (there are no program notes), this play sadly has much relevance for us today, given the conflicts in Syria, Sudan, Libya and other places.  Through their quiet storytelling, the characters raise the larger questions about whether the US and other countries should intervene to protect peoples who are truly unable to defend themselves, and their moral obligations to carry through with their promises of protection.

Even though this is a heavy play, I didn’t find it depressing, but rather extremely thought provoking.  The cast (all of whom were in the original production) of Timothy Carter, Carey van Driest and Ted Schneider deliver superb, riveting, nuanced  performances.  Kudos to writer Tim Ruddy, director Christopher Randolph, and the Urbanite Theatre and Origin Theatre   for producing this. 

The International can be seen Off-Broadway from through Sunday August 2 at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwrights Horizons  416 West 42nd Street.   

I recommend it.

Frida’s Garden

Cactus Garden - Casa Azul Exhibit at NYBG

Cactus Garden – Casa Azul Exhibit at NYBG

Got up to the Bronx to see  “Frida Kahlo: Art,Garden, Life”  at The New York Botanical Garden .   A great way to spend an afternoon!   As you might expect, the main feature is the evocation of the artist’s garden and studio at the Casa Azul (Blue House), her home in Mexico City.   Kahlo drew inspiration from her garden, as can be seen from the botanical imagery that suffuses much of her work.  At Casa Azul, Kahlo and her husband the muralist Diego Rivera cultivated a wide variety of plants, both native and non-native to Mexico: cacti, dahlias, sunflowers, roses and ivy, to name a few.  Without exactly re-creating their garden, this exhibit captures its feeling and flavor. 

The Two Fridas by Humberto Spindola

The Two Fridas by Humberto Spindola

There is also a small display of 14 of Kahlo’s works that use botanical imagery in the Garden’s Art Gallery, as well as an installation of paper dresses inspired by Kahlo’s double self portrait, “The Two Frida’s”.

Over at the Garden’s Ross Gallery is “The Mexico City of Frida and Diego” which details places in Mexico City where you can find Kahlo’s and Rivera’s works, as well as a hand-drawn whimsical “blue print” of Casa Azul.  Interesting that it shows indoor plumbing for the family, but an outhouse was specifically designated “WC for the servants”

The Garden offers concerts, dance and film programs in conjunction with this exhibit, which continues through November 1.  For more information click here  

Change to Events Listings

To make it easier to find events, I’ve created an “Events” page; just click on the link in the upper right-hand corner.  This page will be updated when I update the blog; right now it has some July events as well as the “Free” summer events.

If you know of an event you’d like me to add, just drop me a line.



Bastille Day – Taking NYC by Storm

Place de la Bastille Copyright Andreykr |

Place de la Bastille
Copyright Andreykr |

Even though the official National Day of France falls on Tuesday, July 14th, it will be celebrated this weekend.  You don’t need to wear a beret or sabots – just some joie de vivre as you take your pick of fêtes across la Grosse Pomme, on Sunday, July 12th.

Start the day on Sunday by viewing the parade of vintage Citroën cars, Beginning at 9:00 am, the caravan will wend its way from Grant’s Tomb at West 122nd Street and Riverside Drive, down the West Side to Union Square Park, then up 3rd Avenue to 86th, then along 5th Avenue down to Rockefeller Center.  

Perhaps the best known of all the Bastille Day celebrations is to be found on 60th Street between 5th and Lexington Avenues, hosted by the French Institute Alliance Française. In addition to tastings of wine, beer, cheese and champagne there are activities for children and adults including film and live music.  And can-can dancers!

In Tribeca, Le Cercle Rouge will be hosting a celebration, including a pétanque tournament.

In Lower Manhattan, Brookfield Place will be celebrating with music, films, games and other activities at the Winter Garden, Le District  and other venues.

Brooklyn, having become la Petite Paris, boasts its own Bastille Day celebrations on Smith Street in Boerum Hill whose road bed is transformed into pétanque courts starting at noon until 6:00 pm, from Bar Tabac   to Provence en boîte  .

In Long Island City Queens, you can catch the pétanque tournament hosted by the restaurant Tournesol or you could explore the other French restaurants in that neighborhood or in Sunnyside. 

Bastille Day has been transformed into Bastille Week, complete with French Restaurant Week ! Break out the Champagne! and le Bourgogne, et le Bordeaux, et le Languedoc, et….  

If you still have energy on Monday evening, head over to the Bastille Day Ball, at 404 10th Avenue, where Luxembourgoise/German singer Adrienne Haan  will be headlining (I caught her at the Cutting Room earlier this year performing her high-energy rock meets musette cabaret – she knows how to put on a show!).   

Amusez-vous bien!

All Things French

Copyright Pixattitude |

Copyright Pixattitude |

Not quite, since the French language and French culture are found throughout the globe.  According to the Organisation international de la francophonie, French is spoken by 274 million people on 5 continents.  For this edition, I’ll focus on France; future posts will cover the cultural activities of other countries which use French.

There are 67 French-related organizations in New York City, under the umbrella of the Committee of French-Speaking Societies.  I’m just going to talk about just a few of them.

If you’re looking for French film, theatre, lectures, books or even lessons, here are some great places to start: 

The French Institute, Alliance Francaise (FIAF) which has all of the foregoing, all year round.   In addition to their midtown facility, FIAF also has language classes in Brooklyn.  

The Maison Française at NYU  and the Maison Française at Columbia  offer a wide variety of cultural activities as well as language lessons. 

Take a look at the website of Cultural Services of the French Embassy in NYC  which has been a  force for spreading French culture in NYC.  Thanks to their efforts, especially to Fabrice Jaumont, there are now 6 dual-language French-English programs in the public schools at the elementary grades and 2 in middle schools.  More info here  

If you’d like to be part of an on-line community of French speakers and people interested in the French language, check out New York in French  founded by the above-mentioned Fabrice Jaumont. 

For more general information about French business and culture in NYC, take a look at French Morning  which publishes in both English and French, and covers French activities in LA, Miami, San Francisco and Texas.

There’s also French District, French District which is geared more towards the French who have recently moved here.

If you think there’s another organization or publication I should mention, drop me a line!

A la prochaine…

2000 Light Years from Home

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

In addition to being the French National Day, July 14th is the day NASA ‘s New Horizons probe will get near enough to Pluto to take some “close ups” of the planet.  Set your alarms for 7:49 am!  The probe was launched on January 19, 2006, so after after 9-1/2 years, this will be an exciting event.    After its 5-month fly-by reconnaissance of Pluto and its moons, New Horizons heads off to the Kuiper Belt.  I’m staying in New York, where it’s much warmer….

In case you’re wondering, the distance between Earth and Pluto is about 6 billion kilometers, or about 5.5 light hours.