Art Not To Miss at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

I originally published this 11 years ago back in January 2009 upon the eve of what I thought was my final departure from the United States. I’m still looking for my shire. It’s not Morocco and it’s not Oahu and probably not the USA – Turkey was wonderful, until suddenly political and religious bullshit ruined it. Who knows where it might be but I wonder if I will ever find it?

 

The Journey’s Reason/ The Quest
Let’s start with the obvious, I leave the United States this afternoon. I have no idea what the future holds. I’m not even sure if I will ever be back here. That’s part of the reason why it’s nice to have been able to visit Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Ogden, Chicago, Boston, Providence, Warwick, New York City and Queens before I leave. In addition, I was able to look at just about everything in between from the windows of the train. It’s an incredibly beautiful country filed with a lot of wonderful people.

New York is a magical place, but unless I somehow become wealthy enough to have a car service, hire taxis every day, and have a beautiful apartment here, it’s just too cold in the winter for me to ever consider calling it home.

Ultimately, that’s what this trip is about. It’s about finding a place to call home so I can dig in, plant some roots, and put my energy into creation. What about Hawaii? Well, Hawaii is great but I like it to be a little cooler than Hawaii (but not as cold as the Northeast), Hawaii is too far from other places, and unfortunately, I saw myself staying in one service job after another if I stayed there. Or becoming an academic and frankly neither option appeals to me.

So that is why I am leaving. It’s a journey, a searching, a quest and I suppose unlike the Lord of the Rings, this quest starts from a magical land and ideally takes me to the Shire. I’m looking for a Shire, not too hot, not too cold, not too far from the world, and connected via the internet.

On Aging

As my friend James pointed out the other day, we are getting older and it is becoming obvious. Of course sometimes it manifests in ways that I don’t expect and I have to admit to not enjoying that at all.

On the upside, I am more in control of my life than I have ever been before. My capacity to make decisions is unsurpassed in my own life experience. I have learned the lessons of this life I’ve lived (hopefully) and I feel like I am cooler, smarter, better looking, and more together than I have ever been. That’s a pretty good upside.

The downside is more subtle. I’ve been having a hard time finding couches to surf since the West Coast. I attributed it to my lack of planning more than anything else, but there is another possibility that I have to consider. I’m 37. It says so on my couch surfing profile. Even though I meet people and they generally think I am in my late 20s to early 30s, I usually find that their behavior towards me changes (if they are younger) when they find out my age. It happened over and over again in college.

The book of the dead and those reflected in it.

The reason for this change and perhaps for this prejudice against people my age on things like couchsurfing.com is probably justified. Let me repeat that, I think it is probably justified. The truth is that for every guy like me (adaptable, smart, fun, and ‘ahem’ fairly normal) who is vagobonding, there are probably 10 weirdos of the same age that are out to exploit, steal, or who are just crazy. Let’s face it, at 37 I’m supposed to be married, in a career, a father, have some money in the bank, and be living a ‘responsible’ life. Either that or there is potentially something wrong with me…or (as in the present case) I am just a very different type of person who hasn’t followed the usual path.

Frankly, I feel like I think I was supposed to feel in my mid to late twenties. And I’m okay with that, actually, I’m really okay with that because I plan on living for a really long time so there is no need to become old prematurely. The problem is that for the past six nights I think I have been put in an ‘old men’s dorm’ at the Chelsea International Hostel. Nearly everyone in my dorm has been the same age or older than me and aside from ungodly snoring, farting, and other loud bodily noises, I’ve noticed that there has usually been something not quite right with these guys. So you see, maybe I’m guilty of the same prejudice. Here’s a funny thought, maybe all the old guys in the room (including yours truly) all are thinking the same thing.

In any event, I’ve become fairly certain that my age is working against me on couchsurfing and now in this hostel at least. Incidentally, aside from price and location, I wouldn’t recommend this hostel. It’s loud from repairs and old pipes, it doesn’t have a comfortable common area, no chairs in the dorms, and it doesn’t provide wi-fi. I think wi-fi and a comfortable place to sit are high on my list of desired traits in hostels.

And that brings me to cafes.
In the age of the laptop, a cafe without wi-fi is like a cafe without coffee. I’ve been staying in Chelsea and for such a hip and cool neighborhood, I have been surprised to find the only coffee shops with comfortable seating to be Starbucks. How much does that suck? At least in Honolulu we had the option of Starbucks or a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and at CB &TL there was free wi-fi if you bought anything. Here, the Starbucks are packed and the wi-fi is a big rip off from AT&T.

I found a handful of places offering wi-fi and out of those the only one that actually worked was here at the Brooklyn Bagel Company. And I have to wonder if the brushed metal seats and marble counters and tables are designed with making asses and elbows cold. I do like this place though. Great bagels with huge gobs of cream cheese, free wi-fi that works, and some interesting art on the walls.

ART
I spent yesterday at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was astounding and wonderful and overwhelming. It is filled with millions of objects d’art from all over the world. There are entire Egyptian Temples, dozens of mummies, giant rooms filled Picasso, entire rooms from famous mansions and when I say entire rooms, I mean the floor, the ceiling, the wainscoting, and everything else. There is a library parlor designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and everything else you can imagine.

The problem with all of that is that I was trying to see it all in a day. I’ve come to the conclusion that I would rather spend long periods contemplating one exquisite piece of art than to be running around manically trying to appreciate so much in so little time. Not that I would change having gone yesterday, I just realize that I missed a lot by seeing so much.

And finally,
Let’s look at the United States.

As I’ve said, I love the land and I love the people, but I think that we, as a country have lost something within my lifetime. I don’t know if it was born of the cynicism of Vietnam or the excesses of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but there is a sort of ugly greed that exists here. The culture here has become very much “The United States of Me” rather than “We the people”. The difference is of course in who is being served and who is taking responsibility.

I decided to do a different perspective of Venus. I don’t think she noticed. Nice, huh?

It’s not a big surprise at this point that we are heading into a fantastic depression. It might be a good time to start reflecting on those famous words of JFK “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” I’ve lost faith that Americans are capable of such selflessness and perhaps I am simply one of the first rats fleeing a ship that I think is sinking.

Obama might be a fantastic change in the right direction though. I hope. We will see. The United States has become such an incredible slut to Israel, multinational corporations, and institutions such as the world bank, the WTO, and the IMF; unfortunately, I don’t see these relationships changing under Obama. I hope I’m wrong.

And then there is the racism. I’m terrified of the possibility that some nutjob racist will kill Obama. Or some foreign government pretending to be a nutjob racist. My mom, a bit of a nutjob herselftold me to focus on survival skills when I should have been focusing on math because she said that someday there would be a huge race war. She wasn’t a white nationalist, she was a freaky christian hippy, with some odd ideas and some leftover 1950’s prejudice. Frankly, I never considered her crazy ideas to have any merit even through Rodney King, Reginald Denny, and the LA Riots, but when I think of Obama getting shot by some redneck, suddenly I can picture LA happening on a nationwide scale…

Okay, not really. I think we are more rational and better than that, but it could certainly cause some problems. And what happens when Hope gets killed? It’s like the Langston Hughes Poem “A Dream Deferred”

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it sag on your back like a heavy load?
Or does it…Explode?

Anyway, I’m leaving. I might be back. I hope Obama can fix everything while I’m gone. Good night and good luck.

Originally posted 1/17/09

10 Things to See in the Louvre – Saturday Slideshow

Pyramid Paris LouvreOn my first trip to Paris, I went to the Louvre – saw the huge line of people waiting to go into the glass pyramid and said “Forget this, I’d rather walk along the left bank and look at the book stalls.” There are incredible things to see in the Louvre.

After hearing about the crowds around the Mona Lisa, I almost decided to skip the Louvre on my second trip too, but instead, I decided to do a bit of research so that I could enjoy the highlights of the museum, have some time to explore, and avoid the crowds. I’m glad I did. By itself, The Louvre is reason enough to visit Paris (as if you need a reason!) but doing it smartly is the trick.

About The Louvre

The largest art museum in the world opened it’s doors in 1793 without the pyramid or the lines. Inside are some of the world’s most precious treasures. Not just Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa but more than 35,000 individual wonders that each could be the centerpiece of a smaller museum. With massive mazes of corridors spread through eight cultural departments including decorative arts, antiquities, sculptures and paintings. You could spend a lifetime there and that doesn’t even include the huge line.

Knowing what you want to see in the Louvre is essential. Study the map or go to the museum’s website.

Avoiding the Crowds

So, first things first – skip the line. The Paris Pass or the Paris Museum Pass allows you to walk by all the people waiting in line and go straight in. Or, if you don’t want the pass (and by the way, it is completely worth it) you can enter through the Carousel (Louvre Mall) across the street and go right to the ticket counter, thus avoiding the big line outside the pyramid. With your ticket you will get a highlight map that points out the major treasures. Of course, if you want to wait in the long line for some reason you can go very early in the morning or after 4 PM and it will be more manageable. During the week, the crowds inside the museum are smaller and don’t forget that it is closed on Tuesdays.Once you are inside, here are my suggestions for ten things to see that will make you thirsty for more.

My Top Ten Highlights

Mona Lisa Louvre1) Of course you want to see the Mona Lisa, despite the crowds and the poor presentation. To see the Mona Lisa, head straight for the 13th-15th century Italian paintings section (on the first floor).There will be a crowd of people elbowing their way close to the painting. Good luck getting a picture without someone’s head in it.

 

 

 

 

nike of samothrake2) Nike of Samothrace aka Winged Victory. Almost 2000 years old, massive and beautiful. Take some time to contemplate here, it’s worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venus de Milo louvre3) Venus de Milo – I mean you have to see her, but really, she’s not all that hot. A big armless woman not wearing a top. Here’s a funny fact, the statue used to be on the seal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Fill in your own punchline.

 

 

 

 

 

Louvre Islamic Art4) Islamic Art Collections – spanning thirteen centuries and three continents, this collection is astounding. Islamic art holds a special place in my soul because of my time in Turkey  and  Morocco. If you take a bit of time here, I think you will see why.

 

 

 

 

 

19th century dutch artists

5) 17th and 19th Century Dutch Artists. You know what’s great about this section – you will probably be alone and frankly, the art is mind blowingly wonderful. Not nearly as many religious themes and plenty of drunk, stoned happy looking people (in the pictures I mean).

 

 

 

 

 

raft of Medusa6) The Raft of Medusa. This 1818–1819 by the French Romantic painter and lithographer Théodore Géricault is simply astounding. Rather than a classic Greek theme as you might expect, this is the aftermath of the shipwreck of the French Vessel Meduse’ where 146 people struggled to survive on a raft. Only 15 were rescued, the others were eaten, committed suicide, were killed or died of the elements. The painting depicts the moment when rescue appears imminent. The history of this painting alone is worthy in terms of art history and historical events.

 

 

 

Louvre Madonna7) Madonna on the Rocks by Leonardo danVinci. The Virgin Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist. Not so much the religious icons, but this painting gives you the chance to see da Vinci’s mastery much closer than you can with the Mona Lisa.

 

 

 

 

 

Coronation of Napolean8) The Coronation of Napolean by Jacques-Louis David is ten meters by six meters. Massive and beautiful. Painted in 1807 and depicting the coronation at Notre Dame. This is a painting that will also enhance your visit to the Cathedral of Notre Dame and Napolean III’s Apartments.

 

 

 

cupid and psyche9) Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. This masterpiece, Antonio Canova’s statue Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, first commissioned in 1787. To me. this is the ultimate classical sculpture. Riveting.

 

 

 

 

 

Akhenaton Rebel Pharaoh10) Akhenaten, the rebel pharoah’s statue – his name and images were systematically destroyed by later Pharaohs. This statue piece is over 3,300 years old. The Sphinx at Louvre is another great piece – again over 4,000 years old. Check out the history of Akhenaten – awesome dude.

 

 

 

Finally, give yourself time to indulge in some aimless wandering.

Location, Admission, and Hours

To get to the Louvre take the Metro to Palais-Royal / Musée du Louvre or just walk along the Seine until you reach it. You can’t miss it, but you will only see the pyramid when you enter the Louvre’s courtyard. Inside you can find expensive food court food to sustain you – even a bit of wine, but here’s a winning tip, bring a small backpack and pack your own food. There are areas you can sit and picnic in the Louvre!

The museum is open every day but Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Mondays the Musee d’Orsay is closed so expect crowds. Wednesdays are probably best because it is open late. There are also evening openings until 9:45 p.m. on Fridays. It is closed on New Year’s Day, Labor Day (May 1) and Christmas Day.

Entry costs 17 Euro for general admission. The price drops a bit after 6 p.m.  A ticket is valid all day for repeat entries. Entry is free for anyone under age 18 (or under 26 on Friday evenings) and the disabled. The first Saturday of each month, admission is free. By the way, a two-day Paris Museum Pass is gets you in this and 60 other museums around Paris.

Get the audio-visual guide and keep in mind that you are in France so don’t expect all the descriptions to be in English

 

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Top Five Paintings from the The Art Institute of Chicago + Saturday Slideshow

Back in 2008, I took Amtrak trains across the United States of America. I started in Portland, Oregon and ended in New York City. Along the way, one stop was in Chicago where I visited the glorious Art Institute of Chicago – one of the top art museums in the world. Below there is a slideshow of the pictures I took there but before showing you that, I’d love to show you the five pieces that hit me with the most power.

Founded in 1879, the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and most respected art museums in the United States. It is the second largest art museum in the United States (the largest is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City which I visited a few days later). With more than 300,000 paintings in it’s collection and thirty wings – the Art Institute isn’t a one day stop – but I did the best I could with the time I had. Here are five paintings that brought out a vivid sensory feeling in me….but these are just five…the collections at the Art Institute of Chicago are mind bending – Hopper’s Nighthawks, Picasso, Miro, Rembrandt, Andy Warhol, and so much more….take my word for it, you simply must go!

American Gothic Grant Wood

American Gothic by Grant Wood – 1930
I really didn’t expect this to have an impact on me. Of course, I’d seen it in books and film and I’d seen lots of parodies of it. Standing in front of it, however, I was quite taken with it. The allusion between the farmer’s face and the gothic window in the clapboard farmhouse behind him. The pitchfork also seemed to echo both elements and then there is the absurd, almost constipated look on the woman’s face. Interestingly, it’s not suppossed to be his wife but his daughter or sister. Looking at this painting, I could feel exactly where I don’t want to be and who I don’t want to spend time with.

Art Institute of Chicago

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-1895

The woman’s blue face and the energy in the drinking hall behind her captured my imagination and wouldn’t let go. All of Toulouse-Lautrec’s work captures my imagination with his modern art deco style and compelling figures. This one, however actually made noise in my head. I could smell the smoke and hear the chatter. There is a depressed somberness to this painting – like something that you want but know that you can never have.

 

Nightlife by Archibald John Motley Jr

Nightlife by Archibald John Motley, Jr. 1943

While there was something almost opiate about Toulouse-Latrec’s work – Nightlife just made me want to have a drink and go dancing, do the jitterbug and swing to some serious frenetic jazz. Again, I could hear the music in this one. The complete opposite of the Moulin Rouge but better and more fun.

 

Art Institute of Chicago

The Drinkers by Vincent Van Gogh – 1890

On a totally different drinking level are these guys sharing a drink (with the child as well) on a cloudy afternoon. It’s not starry night, but there is the same sort of dreamlike fluffiness to this painting that is real enough to take you there, but dreamy enough to make the entire world seem suffused in magical realism.

 

Resting by Antonio Mancini 1882-1892

She is so beautiful. Looking at this painting, I had the urge to call in sick and climb in bed with her. Could there be anything better than this moment?  The soft beauty of this painting is a major contrast to the nearly inch thick impasto of the work. The paint on this is so thick and hard and jagged and yet – the subject is so soft in the light. It’s no wonder this took ten years for Mancini to complete – no doubt it took him that long to buy enough paint! This impressionist painting captured all of the longing I’ve ever felt for love…

 

These pictures were taken with my old 8 megapixel Pentax back in 2008 – it’s amazing how much better my iphone takes pictures now – but these are what I have for the moment. I hope you enjoy the slideshow.

 

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