A Museum for Math (you read that right)

Square Wheels Tricycle Ride - MoMath

Square Wheels Tricycle Ride – MoMath

I have to confess that math has never been my thing.  While my visit to the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath)  didn’t quite change my mind, it did make the subject way more fun.  Which is the raison d’être for the museum, the only one of its kind in the US.

Across two floors of interactive displays – its great to be in a museum where you’re encouraged to play with the exhibits – children and adults can explore concepts such as velocity, fractions, harmony and geometry.  So grab your spouse, buddy, child or colleague for something different!

You’ll find human guides throughout the Museum who can explain how the exhibits work – don’t hesitate to ask them, as sometimes the instructions aren’t that clear – and they can also explain the underlying mathematical principles and their real-life applications: designing buildings, roads, machines, musical instruments…. not to mention medicine, computer science, rocket science…  Here are some of my favorites (there are lots more):

By shining light through translucent solids such as cubes and spheres, The Ring of Fire lets you see the many two-dimensional shapes like triangles and circles that are inside them.   

Harmony of the Spheres - MoMath

Harmony of the Spheres – MoMath

The Harmony of the Spheres, based on a 12-tone scale, is designed to let you hear the relationship between math and music;  you can generate major or minor chords and harmonies simply by touching different colored spheres.

The Tracks of Galileo let you run “cars” over tracks whose shapes you can change, to see how they affect the speed of the “cars”

I even took the Square-Wheeled Tricycle for a spin, and learned about catenary curves!

The museum hosts programs  for both adults and children.  I’m especially excited by the upcoming Harmonic Series on music and math.

They’ll be open until 8:00 this Friday, November 27th – it’ll make for a memorable date-night!

The National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath)  is located at 11 East 26th Street, and is open 7 days a week from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (except the first Wednesday of each month, when it closes early).  The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving.

Yes, the gift shop is awesome!

Modern Stained Glass and Environmental Sculptures at Urban Glass

Isaac Hayes by Joseph Cavelieri

Isaac Hayes by Joseph Cavelieri

There are two small scale intriguing exhibits that just opened at Urban Glass  this week.  The Power of Pop  is a show of about a dozen works in stained glass by NYC-based artist Joseph Cavalieri, who applies this traditional medium to modern pop icons, making for a juxtaposition that carries heavy undertones of irony and irreverence, but don’t distract from his artistry. He has a great sense of color and composition, which is quite evident in “Lay Back and Think of England” where portraits of a young Queen Elizabeth II are arranged on a checkerboard arrangement of red, green, orange and yellow squares with subtly different designs.  The opening piece, whose red fist just about pushes out of the frame is a standout, as are his portraits of Jackie O, and Isaac Hayes.

Obsidian by Sarah Briland

Obsidian by Sarah Briland

The other show is of a completely different nature, but it too, is the work of a very talented artist.  In Problematica, Sarah Briland uses her sculptures to explore ecological issues.  Before becoming an artist, Briland had worked as a geological technician in Kentucky, an experience that clearly informs this show.  By mixing and manipulating materials such as plastic, paper and glass, Briland mimics the process of their degradation and reincorporation into the earth’s crust.  The end results are sculptures resembling geological and biological formations, such as quartz and coral, which cause us to consider the effect our use of man-made materials, especially plastics, has on our environment.

Urban Glass is a wonderful space in Downtown Brooklyn; founded in 1977, it is now the largest artist-access glass center.  In addition to their rotating exhibitions, they also host classes (even for absolute beginners), artist talks, and a fabulous gift shop.  Be sure to stop by.

Puerto Rican and European Art

"Pineapples" by Francisco Oller

“Pineapples” by Francisco Oller

Under the heading of “Be Sure to See” is the show of Francisco Oller’s work at the Brooklyn Museum which demonstrates how  Oller (1833 – 1917), one of Puerto Rico’s foremost painters, put the techniques of European painting in the service of depictions of Caribbean life.

By exhibiting 40 of Oller’s works along with 45 by Caribbean and European artists, the show essays to place Oller in the context of the worlds – Puerto Rico and Europe;  the artistic styles – realism and impressionism;  and the genres – landscape, portraiture, still life, through which he moved. Like the previous sentence, the subject can get a bit lost.  The show opens with paintings by several Caribbean artists, including Jose Campeche – a formidable portraitist and one of Oller’s teachers – and the 18th century painter, Louis Poret Alcazar, then wends on to depictions of the Caribbean by European and American artists (with several oils by Camille Pissaro (who was born in St. Thomas) and a few watercolors by Winslow Homer), all of which present lush, verdant, tranquil locales with no hint of strife or slavery.

Another section features the still lifes that Oller painted between 1912 and 1914, evocative of the European style of composition and technique, and featuring very detailed native fruits such as plantains, mangos and coconuts.  Their setting, on wood tables with a few utensils against plain backgrounds, simultaneously accords the produce prominence and intimacy.

Further on you’ll find about half a dozen portraits by Oller, which tended to be large scale, with the subject in a very formal, three-quarter length pose against a simple background.  Two of his more notable subjects were President William McKinley (who did not sit for Oller and never saw his likeness) and Jose Julian Acosta y Calbo, President of the Liberal Reform Party and ardent abolitionist.  I was struck by the almost photographic quality of this latter portrait, and how his gaze seems so knowing.

The School of Master Raphael Cordero, by Francisco Oller

The School of Master Raphael Cordero, by Francisco Oller

While we’re talking about portraits, I’d like to turn to  one that’s in a different section, and completely different in mien. In The School of Master Rafael Cordero (1890-92) Oller’s affection for his subjects couldn’t be clearer.  In this masterwork we see a teacher of color surrounded by young boys of all backgrounds, some seemingly very quiet, others more rambunctious. Master Cordero looks directly at the viewer with an expression somewhere between exasperation and patience, and underlined with sagacity.  Cordero was the legendary founder of the first school for enslaved children in San Juan in 1810, which he eventually opened to children of all social strata.

Hacienda La Fortuna by Francisco Oller

Hacienda La Fortuna by Francisco Oller

Oller painted some great landscapes, which often included local people of color, in a very straightforward, unvarnished style.  You’ll find some lovely “portraits” of sugar plantations here, which reconcile Oller’s tendencies towards realism and impressionism.  Some show a thriving landscape, but others depict unblinkingly the plantations that were abandoned after the abolition of slavery rendered sugar cultivation economically unsustainable.  Throughout the exhibition, the explanatory labels refer repeatedly to devastating effects slavery, and European and American colonization had on the Caribbean economy, but the added commentary is not always that illuminating.

Unfortunately, “The Wake,” considered to be Oller’s masterpiece could not travel.  There’s a large-scale reproduction in the exhibit, as well as three earlier studies which allow us to see how Oller’s conception of the painting changed over time.

Oller studied in Madrid from 1851 to 1853, and sojourned there again between 1877 and 1884, during which time he was court painter to King Amadeo I.  A small room displays a few of Oller’s work and influences from Madrid, which include an impressive large scale portrait of Colonel Francisco Contreras by Oller, and a magnificent portrait of the French painter Ingres by Frederico de Madrazo, one of Oller’s instructors in Madrid.

Landscape with Royal Palms by Francisco Oller

Landscape with Royal Palms by Francisco Oller

The last gallery is focused on Oller’s time in Paris, which he visited three times, living there for a total of about 12 years, and becoming friends with Camille Pissaro and Paul Cezanne, among others.  This section contains some wonderful landscapes  by Corot, Claude Manet, Gustave Courbet, Charles Francois Daubigny and Alfred Sisley for starters.  Some of these works are placed side-by-side with Oller’s, which allows you to  appreciate how he so effectively applied the styles and techniques he learned in France to his local subjects, creating art that was both international and indigenous; however, this arrangement doesn’t really let Oller’s paintings breathe on their own.

Overall, I enjoyed this exhibit, and I hope you’ll make the time to see it.

Global Fashion and Nightlife

Nkhensani Nkosi, Stoned Cherrie - Summer 2005  Johannesburg - FIT Exhibit

Nkhensani Nkosi, Stoned Cherrie – Summer 2005 Johannesburg – FIT Exhibit

Caught the two exhibits at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the only museum in New York City devoted entirely to fashion.  “Global Fashion Capitals”   is an acknowledgment that fashion capitals are not confined to Europe and the US, but are to be found on other continents.  The show features 40 designs from 16 burgeoning fashion cities, including Lagos, Seoul, Beijing, Mumbai, Moscow, Sao Paulo and Mexico City.

You’ll find garments by the top names from London, Milan, Rome and Paris: Mary Quant, Christopher Kane, Pucci, Valentino, Paul Poirot and Worth, among others.  New York is represented by its fair share of big names like Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and Alexander Wang, but there is also a lovely evening dress from 1948 by Nettie Rosenstein.  Issey Mayake and Comme des Garcons are featured in the Tokyo section.

The show is organized geographically, so you can see designers from the established capitals right by works from newer fashion hubs like Madrid, Johannesburg, Stockholm and Berlin.  Its a great way to get a feel for what’s happening in fashion around the globe – and there’s nothing like seeing the clothes close up.  The exhibit closes November 14th.

Corset and skirt by Mr. Pearl at the Susanne Bartsch exhibit at FIT

Corset and skirt by Mr. Pearl at the Susanne Bartsch exhibit at FIT

Also at the FIT Museum is an exhibit on “The World of Susanne Bartsch,”  one of the more outrageous underground fashion figures who made her mark in NYC.  Hailing from Switzerland, Susanne became part of the vibrant music and fashion scene that defined London in the 70’s.  In 1980, she moved to the Big Apple, opened a boutique in Soho, and began organizing fashion shows and charity events, becoming heralded as the “Queen of the Night.”  The show, with close to 100 glittery, glitzy, highly imaginative nightlife costumes, makes it clear that Susanne knew how to make an entrance, and how to utilize clothing to transform herself.  The show runs until December 5th.

The Museum at FIT is free!

Art in Different Places

Sonya Sklaroff

Sonya Sklaroff

Most times when we see an art exhibition, its in a museum or gallery. However, sometimes its where you’re not searching for it, like the show of Sonya Sklaroff’s new work in the lobby of the Sofitel Hotel in mid-town.  Ms. Skarloff’s use of deep, bright colors and thickly applied paint lend her paintings, which in this show are all anchored in NYC, an urban texture : whether its the water towers that define our skyline, or the local shops that  define “neighborhood” or the crosswalks where we find ourselves literally and figuratively everyday – you’ll see them all in the dozen or so works on display. The hotel lobby is open 24/7, so you can catch the show at your convenience.  Sofitel Hotel, 45 West 44th Street.