Iberian and Latin American Treasures

Portrait of the Duchess of Alba, Francisco de Goya, 1797

Portrait of the Duchess of Alba, Francisco de Goya, 1797

Where can you find 3 Goya’s, 4 El Greco’s and 3 Velazquez’ under the same roof?  If you said the Hispanic Society of America, you’d be right on the money.  Tucked away in Washington Heights, the Society  – which is both a museum and a library – houses one of the more important collections of books, paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics and textiles from Spain, Portugal and Latin America.

 

Detail of Castille, The Bread Eaters, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida

Detail of Castille, The Bread Eaters, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida

On the first two floors, you’ll find not only paintings by the aforementioned masters, but other  works from Spain’s Golden Age (1550-1700) – think Jusepe de Ribera, Bartolome Esteban Murillo. The19th and early 20th centuries are also well represented:   one room is devoted entirely to “The Provinces of Spain,” 14 large scale canvases by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, depicting the country’s regional costumes and cultures.

 

Drop-front secretary, Spain, 1630

Drop-front secretary, Spain, 1630

 

There are also several fine examples of altars, statuary and tombs of various aristocrats and bishops in Gothic and Renaissances styles with intricate grotesqueries or decorative motifs.   As you go through the main gallery, take a close look at the handsomely decorated writing cabinets.  

   

Tin-glazed earthenware plate with cuerda seca decoration, Seville ca. 1500

Tin-glazed earthenware plate with cuerda seca decoration, Seville ca. 1500

On the second floor, off the main galleries I came across an amazing collection of ceramics, most of which seem to have been made between 1500 and 1800:  soft-paste porcelain from the Royal workshop in Alcora, Spain, and tin-glazed earthenware tiles, vases, bowls and plates from Spain, Portugal and Mexico.  There was also a small collection of blown-glass drinking vessels from the same period.

The Hispanic Society was founded in 1904 by Archer Milton Huntington a noted scholar and philanthropist, whose collection of Spanish manuscripts, decorative arts and paintings underpins the organization.  In addition to commissioning the complex where the Society is housed, Huntington also sponsored archaeological expeditions in Spain and Latin America. 

The building, which dates from 1908, is undergoing renovation, so there were parts of the collection I couldn’t see.  However, I would recommend that you pay a visit, because what’s on view is worth the trip.  You’ll also be able to spend as much time as you want with each piece;  on my last visit, there were only a handful of other people.  Hopefully the Society’s profile will be significantly raised, now that Philippe de Montebello , former director of the Metropolitan Museum, is it’s Chairman.

El Cid, by Anna Hyatt Huntington

El Cid, by Anna Hyatt Huntington

The Hispanic Society , located at Audubon Terrace (Broadway between 155th & 156th Streets) occupies one part of a complex that also houses Boricua College  and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.     Be sure to linger a bit in the courtyard to admire the statue of El Cid and the reliefs by Anna Hyatt Huntington that adorn these buildings.

On the last Saturday of each month, the Society hosts Cuéntame un cuadris, an educational program offered in Spanish at the Hispanic Society for families and children from 5 to 14 years old.  You can find more information here

Books as Art Objects

Ross Printing Press ca. 1870

Ross Printing Press ca. 1870

I was an avid reader as a child, and to this day, I love physical books:  their weight, feel,  binding, cover art ….  (There’s a reason people have libraries.)  Sometimes, I’ve gotten more pleasure from handling a book and looking through its illustrations, than I have from reading it.   

Never in a million years would I dream of cutting one up to refashion it as an art object – yet there are artists who do so with fascinating results.  Some of them are on display in the two current exhibitions at the Center for Book Arts where you can see how books are made and re-made. 

Barbara Mauriello, My Month in Colombia

Barbara Mauriello, My Month in Colombia

“Embraced:  The International Community”    showcases the work of several of the international artists who have studied at the Center.   There are a number of books which have been cut apart or refolded or whose pages have been embellished with paintings, embroideries or found objects.  There are books made from unusual source materials, such as  Miriam Schaer’s “My Hand of Egypt” a book literally in the shape of a hand, made from Egyptian newspapers sewn with packing string from the markets in Alexandria, and Steven Daiber’s  book made entirely from Cuban food ration books, sewn together with cord.   You’ll also find simple, elegant goat-skin book covers with gold stamping; books from handmade paper, or with hand-printed text or with drawings made from wooden engravings and linocuts, not to mention books printed using letterpress, intaglio and monotype.  I especially enjoyed John Ross’ “Invisible Cities,” relief prints  from collographic plates depicting the architecture in Italo Calvino’s book of the same name.

Woody Leslie, Understanding Molecular Typography by H.F. Henderson

Woody Leslie, Understanding Molecular Typography by H.F. Henderson

/mit ðə detə/: Source Materials Visualized    presents artists’ books, book-related artwork that  re-interpret and re-contextualize maps, statistics, data sets, etc. Among my favorites are  Ward Shelley’s mapping of “The History of Science Fiction” and Candace Hick’s rendering of the grade school composition book in fabric with hand embroidery.  (In case you’re wondering, the first word in the title of this exhibit is “Metadata” written phonetically).

The Center for Book Arts, which is located in a great loft space at 28 West 27th Street,  offers a full range of courses in book making- from creating the cover and paper to printing the text and images, to binding it all together.  They also host artists talks, readings and discussions throughout the year.  You an find more information here 

The State of Culture in New York City

Creative New York report by the Center for an Urban Future

Creative New York report by the Center for an Urban Future

There’s been a lot of grumbling and hand-wringing and ink spilled over the artists and performing arts venues that have recently de-camped from New York for other locales.  Wanting to get a better handle on what’s really happening, I turned to  Creative New York ,  an important report by the Center for an Urban Future , which examines the economic impact of the creative industries.    Some surprising facts emerge:  the creative sector, which they define as being “advertising, film and television, broadcasting, publishing, architecture, design, music, visual arts, performing arts, and independent artists” is one of the fastest growing in New York’s economy, consisting of some 14,145 creative businesses employing 295,755 people, or 7% of all jobs in the City (figures are from 2013).  In addition, the Big Apple is home to  8.6 % of all creative sector jobs in the US, surpassing Los Angeles, even in the music industry. 

In some ways I’m not surprised by these findings, especially when I look at the new galleries, theatres and music venues that have opened in recent years, mainly in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but also in Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island, albeit in smaller numbers.    Frieze, a premier art fair based in London has it’s own Frieze Week on Randall’s Island, and the Art Art fair now has a show here.

NYC’s cultural institutions, especially the Metropolitan Museum, Lincoln Center and Broadway, are major tourist attractions, and smaller venues, such as the Apollo, have an international reputation.

You’ll find the City’s creative talent staffing fashion companies, advertising firms, tech game developers and  e-commerce platforms like Etsy.  I know first-hand that NYC’s vibrant cultural scene is a major draw for foreign companies looking to set up shop in the US.

So, overall, things are good. But, there are challenges on several fronts.  Detroit, Philadelphia, Austin and Portland are touting their low-cost locations while artists such as Patty Smith and David Byre are bemoaning the high costs of the metropolitan area and even encouraging local creatives to set up shop in other cities.

While affordability remains a major issue, especially in Manhattan and Brooklyn, smaller dance troupes, opera companies, and performing spaces are opening all across the five boroughs, many tapping into the traditions of the local immigrant communities, both established (2 Irish arts venues in Manhattan and 1 in Queens) and more recently arrived (Terraza 7, a Latin American venue in Queens).

Creative New York offers a series of well-considered initiatives that can be taken, mostly by government, to boost the cultural sector, including: re-purposing underused real estate, such as the upper floors of commercial strips for artists spaces; developing artists housing; increasing the supply of collaborative working spaces and encouraging the sharing of back-office resources among arts groups. On a very practical note, the report cites several existing models from other programs that could easily be adapted and replicated in the cultural sector.

One idea the report proffers is developing production and innovation districts in certain manufacturing zones, which would include live-work spaces for artists collectives.  While there is much merit to this proposal, I would like to emphasize that it is very important that the City retain the existing industrial areas and explore how they can be expanded or re-purposed to support the creative industries, especially the arts.  In addition to spaces for fashion and design companies for garment and furniture manufacturing, think of all the sets that need to be built for theatre,TV and movie production, not to mention the costumes and wigs, production and post-production facilities, rehearsal and recording spaces, etc., all of which are appropriate for manufacturing spaces.

Having spent almost all my career working for international businesses, or helping US companies export, or helping foreign companies set up in NYC, I see a lot of room for growth internationally in the arts, and in the creative sector more broadly, so I was delighted to read a recommendation in Creative New York that the City or State “develop a strategy to support exports and foreign direct investment in the arts.” 

The report details how declining government support for the arts is another challenge, especially for the mid-size and small organizations that may not have the fundraising prowess of their larger cousins. It also addresses some of the ways the tax code hurts individual artists, who don’t always have a steady source of income.  To which I would add another problem with the tax code that creates difficulties for smaller organizations to raise funds from the private sector, namely the need for tax-exempt, not-for-profit status.  While I think the deductibility of charitable contributions is important, its clear to me we need to find a way for individual artists and smaller entities to benefit from this tax code provision without having to form a 501(c)(3).   Yes, it’s possible to use a fiscal sponsor, but that doesn’t always work. I recently looked at this issue for a small organization, so I know a bit of what’s involved.   The reality is that most small arts entities don’t have the capacity to form and sustain a board of directors or maintain and file the necessary annual reports that tax-exemption requires.  I hope someone can figure this out.

Despite the challenges, the creative sector in New York City remains vibrant, but it does need attention, especially if the Big Apple is to remain one of the world’s cultural capital. 

Creative New York covers a lot of ground, and I’d encourage you to read it.

Liz’ Theatre Picks

I don’t get to Broadway shows as often as I’d like, but every now and then I’m lucky and snag a decently-priced ticket through TKTS   Which is how I was able to see the two shows I’d like to recommend.

An American in Paris  is absolutely delightful, especially if you like dance.  And this production is all about the dance, for which it won a Tony. Set in post WWII Paris, with terrific stage sets (that also won a Tony), the story follows three men who have fallen in love with the same woman.   “S’wonderful” to hear that Gershwin tune and other standards such as “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “The Man I Love” performed in their original context.   If you’re looking for an evening (or matinee) of pure entertainment, you can’t go wrong with this production.

A few months back, I saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time . Based on a novel by Mark Haddon, it is the story of Christopher, a highly-intelligent 15-year old boy who has serious difficulties navigating the wider world.  The play follows his travails when runs away from home after he is suspected of murdering his neighbor’s dog.  In addition to having a compelling story line, this play had one of the most imaginative sets I’ve ever seen.   I’m not surprised that this production won 5 Tonys, including Best Play.

What Makes the Subway Run?

Early Subway Car With Ceiling Fans

Early Subway Car With Ceiling Fans

Have you ever wondered how the subway really works?  I know somedays when you’re stuck in a tunnel or on the platform, you probably wonder if it works at all.  The Transit Museumhoused in a former IND train station in downtown Brooklyn, is a great place to learn all about how our mass transit system developed and how it runs today.  When you enter, you’ll find photographs, videos and descriptions of  the construction of the first subway line, which opened in 1904:  the tunnel excavation (mostly cut and cover), the conditions the “sandhogs” faced (no workers comp or OSHA in those days), the politics of getting a job, as well as tools and other artifacts. My maternal grandfather worked on the subway, so this has always been of interest to me.  Horses were widely employed to transport people and equipment, both above ground and in the tunnels. Quite a contrast with the tunnel boring machine being used today on the Second Avenue Subway!  There are also photographs of the first subway station (City Hall) with chandeliers and Guastavino tiled vaults. 

The Transit Museum is a great place to bring kids, as many of the displays are interactive and educational.  They also run a special program for 2nd to 5th graders on the autism spectrum. 

Electricity: Powering New York’s Rails   is an interactive exhibit about electricity:  how it’s generated, transmitted and powers our transit system.  Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the third rail and switches.  It was a nice refresher course for me in some of the (basic) science principles I haven’t reviewed in a long time. Electricity was designed specifically for the Transit Museum by the Liberty Science Center  

1913 Brooklyn Tram

1913 Brooklyn Tram

In the back of the first floor are models of horse-drawn street cars from the 1800‘s and early busses (some of which you can sit in – a favorite for kids of all ages).  You’ll also find change dispensers and tokens, which have a comforting quaintness in this Metrocard age.  There’s also a small study center which has miniature models of every Brooklyn trolley that was in service between 1890 and 1956. 

Throughout the exhibit you’ll find displays charting the development of the bus system from private franchises to the current public system.

If you like bridges, in celebration of it’s 50th birthday, there are drawings, maps and photographs documenting the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, which transformed both Brooklyn and Staten Island.  The miniature model is not to be missed!

Diorama of the "El" ca 1890

Diorama of the “El” ca 1890

On the lower level you can stroll through subway cars of just about every vintage, as well as the rail cars that ran along the “El” which predated the underground system.  Displays explain the evolution of the subway from competing private systems to the public one we know today.

There’s a small exhibit room, with wonderful large-scale (3ft x 4 ft) photographs by Jack Sanderson of landscapes along the LIRR and Metro North .  I hope the Transit Authority makes more room for the art work it’s commissioned and that our trains, busses and bridges have inspired over the years.  I’m a big fan of the art in the strips above the windows on the subway cars, and I think that the art work incorporated into station renovations has been a major improvement to the system.

The Transit Museum has an Annex and store at Grand Central Station.  In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the New York’s Landmarks Law  it is hosting an exhibit on New York’s Transportation Landmarks.

The Transit Museum stores at both the main Brooklyn location and the Grand Central Annex are great places for unique gifts.

Make a New Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth IIThe British Consulate General in New York has a fabulous and fun opportunity for budding artists in the tri-state area:  producing a new portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  The impetus behind this call for a new likeness?  On September 9th, the Queen will become the longest-reigning monarch in British history when her reign surpasses that of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.  One winner in each of three age groups (under 11, 11 to 18, 18+) will be announced at a reception at the British Consulate on September 9, and their portraits will be on permanent display at the Consulate. The competition will be judged by HM Consul General Danny Lopez, the great British artist Tracey Emin, CBE, and the photographer Albert Watson, OBE

All details of the competition, including rules, can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/world-location-news/queen-elizabeth-ii-portrait-competition-launches

Deadline for entries is the 24th August.

 

Native American Art

Raymond C. Yazzie, 2005. Silver inlaid with coral, turquoise, lapis lazuli, 14-karat gold accents. 2⅜ x 1 in. Collection of Mark and Martha Alexander. Photographer: Michael S. Waddell

Raymond C. Yazzie, 2005. Silver inlaid with coral, turquoise, lapis lazuli, 14-karat gold accents. 2⅜ x 1 in. Collection of Mark and Martha Alexander.
Photographer: Michael S. Waddell

Earlier this week I stopped by the National Museum of the American Indian   to see the wonderful new exhibit, “Glittering World:  Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family.”   I’m so glad I did.

The Yazzie’s hail from Gallup, New Mexico, with brothers Lee and Raymond and their sister Mary Marie being the most celebrated of this incredibly talented family of jewelers.  Working mainly with stones native to the Southwest United States, they fashion rings, necklaces, belt buckles, earrings and other adornments primarily from turquoise, coral and silver, but also jade, lapis lazuli and occasionally, gold.  About 300 pieces of their finely handcrafted jewelry are displayed. In addition to showcasing the exquisite workmanship of this family, the exhibit also places their work within a larger commercial, geographic and cultural context, intermixing pieces from the Museum’s collection with the Yazzie’s jewelry.  

Raymond C. Yazzie, 2013. Lone Mountain turquoise, 14-karat gold, silver. Diameter, 2 in. Collection of Lloyd and Betty Van Horn. Photo by Scott Hill

Raymond C. Yazzie, 2013. Lone Mountain turquoise, 14-karat gold, silver. Diameter, 2 in. Collection of Lloyd and Betty Van Horn.
Photo by Scott Hill

 

Providing some more context is an informational display about the different types of turquoise found in the Southwest, as well as short videos that provide additional background on the exhibit, and feature the artists speaking about how their Navajo culture and the Southwestern landscape have influenced their approach to their craft. 

The exhibit continues through January10th, but I’d urge you to see it now, as I’m sure you’ll want to go back.

Greater Cocle footed vessel in the form of a stingray, AD 1100-1400, Panama

Greater Cocle footed vessel in the form of a stingray, AD 1100-1400, Panama

The Museum, located in the former Customs House at Bowling Green, has much to offer.  You can find wonderful examples of masks, ceramics, woven baskets, and textiles created by Native peoples from Canada, the US, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean  The main exhibition, “Infinity of Nations” is organized geographically, combining pre-historic, historic and modern examples of clothing, household and ceremonial objects, many of which have delicate, intricate, beadwork.

Sauk Moccasins, Oklahoma, ca. 1880

Sauk Moccasins, Oklahoma, ca. 1880

The Museum grew out of the collection of George Gustav Heye,  a New Yorker who collected individual items, archeological collections, and photographs of Native peoples in North and South America.  Heye opened the first iteration of the Museum in 1922 at 155th Street and Broadway; in 1989 it was transferred to the Smithsonian.  The current Museum has collections not only at the Customs House but also in Washington, DC.  You can read more on the Museum’s website

 

Walrus Spirit, Larry Beck, 1982

Walrus Spirit, Larry Beck, 1982

In addition to its more anthropological holdings, the Museum also displays the work of contemporary Native American artists.

You can find lots of activities for families throughout the year at the Museum.

On Thursday, August 27th, the Museum will host a concert:  Native Sounds Dark Water Rising and The Ollivanders       6:00 – 8:00 FREE       

Be sure to stop by the gift shop, especially if you’re looking for books on American Indian history and culture.

Not only is this a wonderful cultural institution, it’s also FREE!