A set of prints by Julie Mehretu and Jessica Rankin titled “Struggling With Words That Count, 2014-2016.” Less abstract than I’m used to from Mehretu, they combined mostly serene and spacey images with obscure texts in a way I really liked.
I started this project a bit over a year ago fully aware that things would change — I’d discover new museums to add to my list, and remove ones that didn’t fit my evolving definition of “museum.” Sure enough, one museum I’ve reviewed, the terrific Fisher-Landau Center in Queens, has shut down.
And another museum, Columbia University’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, has moved to spiffy new digs. I recently edited my review of the Jewish Museum, based on the terrific reinstallation of its permanent collection. That makes this my second re-review of an institution. (Check out my review of Wallach 1.0 here.)
Note: Columbia’s Wallach Art Gallery was the second place I reviewed on this epic quest. I published the review below on March 5, 2017. The Wallach Gallery subsequently moved to spiffy new space in Columbia’s new arts center, and I’ve created a re-review of it. Read that here.
Should you go?
Best thing I saw or learned
A postcard rack with postcards based on a large-scale photograph Carissa Rodriguez took of a photograph by Trevor Paglen (of a secret military base), hanging in the home of Bay Area art collectors Mike and Kaitlyn Krieger. I am a sucker for meta.
My second entry and already I’m in trouble. Am I reviewing spaces, or exhibits? The Wallach Gallery, on the 8th floor of Schermerhorn Hall at Columbia, has no permanent collection. It is just a space for temporary shows. I started writing this about “Finesse,” the current show there, and realized that’s not quite right. Continue reading “Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University”
The tantalizing glimpse into the gold vault. I’m not awed by wealth, generally, but there’s wealth and there’s WEALTH.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York occupies a huge (full city block) beautiful Italian palazzo of a building constructed for it in 1924. Its classical grandeur meant to evoke the stability of many centuries of tradition. Solid and rich, like a Medici. Which was important, because the Fed was then still a fairly young institution created to stabilize the financial system and steer the economy in the right direction.
Security at the New York Fed exceeds even that of the United Nations. And frankly, in terms of relative institutional importance, that might be appropriate.
However, mere mortals can in fact visit. Limited free tours introduce visitors to the history and role of the Federal Reserve System, explain what the New York Fed does in particular, and, best of all, permit them to ogle one of the largest accumulations of gold in the world. Continue reading “Federal Reserve Bank of New York Museum”
Ellis Island’s mental health tests were simple puzzles designed to be as culturally and linguistically neutral as possible. In theory, they quickly weeded out anyone who needed a closer cognitive look.
The classic twofer of New York Harbor is typically viewed as nerdy little brother Ellis overshadowed by big sister Liberty, who enlightens the world. But from a museum perspective it is the reverse. Ellis Island’s outstanding National Museum of Immigration tells the story of a unique era in American history, in the space where that era unfolded. Twelve million people got their starts in the United States right here.
This 1934 pitcher and mug set featuring caricatures of FDR and other Democrats, created by the Stangl Pottery Company following the repeal of prohibition. Cheers!
Roosevelt House on East 65th Street is Hunter College’s public policy institute. Lots of schools name places after people who gave them money or famous alums (or both!) so you might just think, “Oh the Roosevelts bought naming rights back in the day.” Or, I mean, it’s Roosevelt, why not name something policy-related after any or all of them? But all those hypotheses are wrong!
For nearly a quarter of a century FDR and Eleanor lived there as their place in New York City. Actually it’s two houses designed to look like one from the outside. Franklin and Eleanor lived to the right, while FDR’s mom lived to the left. While few historic furnishings remain, the house’s internal fabric is similar enough that you can get a sense of the space the Roosevelts occupied. And it’s open for public tours on Saturdays.
For some reason, Hunter keeps this quiet. I stumbled on to the place late; it was not on my initial list of museums. I think this is the most under-the-radar historic house museum in Manhattan. And I’ve been to all of them. At least, I think I have.
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in New York City
When Franklin and Eleanor married in 1905, Sara Delano Roosevelt, FDR’s mom, gave them a drawing of a townhouse as a wedding gift. It took a while to deliver on the real-world equivalent, and it’s unclear whether she specified she’d be their extremely close neighbor. But still, pretty neat wedding present.
The Roosevelts moved into the Charles Platt-designed house in 1908. They already had Anna and James, and had a further three surviving children while living there. The house feels big by New York standards, though small by modern McMansion ones. And maybe not so big for a family of 7 plus assorted staff.
Each of the paired houses featured a teensy elevator, installed mainly for staff use initially. They turned out to be extremely important once FDR contracted polio in 1921. His wheelchair, designed to be as small and discreet as possible, could fit.
The Roosevelts’ library is still a library today, and contains an array of interesting Rooseveltiana, including a complete set of travel guides published by a Works Progress Administration program to provide work for unemployed writers. Today, I guess, the government would just give ’em a blog.
Among other historic events, the Roosevelts were living in the house when FDR won the presidency in 1932. FDR’s first radio address to the nation (also recorded for newsreel distribution by Fox Movietone News, which I can’t help but find ironic) was broadcast from the drawing room.
The House and Hunter
Franklin and Eleanor were living in the White House when Sara Delano Roosevelt died in 1941. By that point, it seemed unlikely that their path would take them back to NYC, and so they decided to put the house/houses on the market. Hunter approached the family with an offer, and, generously, the Roosevelts both cut their asking price and donated some money to the school. In exchange, the house was named the “Sara Delano Roosevelt Memorial House for Religious and Racial Tolerance.”
Hunter used the house primarily as a student center, filling a vital need to build community in what was then an all-girl school that specialized in training teachers.
As a part of a not-very-wealthy academic institution, the house was hard used and ill repaired. Eventually in the 1990s the school had to close it; conditions inside were becoming downright dangerous.
Fortunately, Hunter admins and donors realized the importance of the house to the college, the city, and the country. The school raised nearly $20 million for a lengthy rehab. The restoration was bad in terms of the historicity of the place, permanently merging the two houses into a single space. But it was good in the sense that we might otherwise have lost the house entirely. As happened with Teddy Roosevelt’s torn down then rebuilt birthplace.
Should You Visit Roosevelt House?
Today if anyone thinks of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s residence at all, they likely think of Hyde Park, the estate north of New York that houses FDR’s presidential library. That’s absolutely worth a visit; Roosevelt House in Manhattan pales by comparison.
But Hunter’s public policy institute was the Roosevelts’ city home as they were growing their family; as Franklin suffered and recovered from polio; and as FDR and Eleanor plotted out the beginnings of a political career that would lead to arguably America’s greatest presidency.
So what if they don’t have the sofas or the lamps or the bric-a-brac. They have the place, and places matter. The guided tour was terrific, too. Rachel, a doctoral student when not guiding people around Roosevelt House, told the story with wit, warmth, and intellect, augmented by photos and videos in the various rooms to help bring the Roosevelts back to life.
If you’re at all interested in 20th century American history, presidential lives and times, or how wealthy New Yorkers lived in the early 1900s, Roosevelt House is well worth a visit.
123 minutes (not counting time going through security, waiting for the ferry, or on the ferry)
Best thing I saw or learned
I’d never given much thought to the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. So the story of its design — and the near failure of the effort to raise the money to build it — fascinated me. Yes, it’s like choosing frame over the painting, but still.
Think how different she’d look if they’d gone with a stepped, Aztec-looking pyramid as her base. Or something Egyptian revival.
There aren’t all that many museums built to honor a single work of art. Right? I assert that and now suddenly I’m unsure of myself. In New York, there’s Walter de Maria’s Earth Room. And I think of the Hall of Fame for Great Americans as a single, unified whole, even though many busts of great men (and a few women) comprise it. And the Statue of Liberty Museum makes three.
The Statue of Liberty Museum occupies a substantial space in Liberty’s pedestal. It tells the story of the genesis, engineering, construction, and gifting of the statue, as well as her absolutely iconic role as a symbol of freedom, democracy, New York, and the United States. Among other treasures, it includes the statue’s original torch, glass and lit from inside. Continue reading “Statue of Liberty Museum”
Who am I kidding. I’m pondering, “What’s my favorite thing at AMNH?” when there’s no way I would pick anything besides the dinosaurs. Triceratops was my favorite as a kid. Undoubtedly were I cooler I would’ve picked a carnivore. But whatever. Triceratops it is.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say about space.
‘Space,’ it says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.
I quote that not because the American Museum of Natural History is home to the Hayden Planetarium, a great place to learn about space. Although it is. Instead I quote it because at 111,000 square meters (1.2 million square feet), the American Museum of Natural History is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is.
And yet, whereas space is mostly utterly empty, so empty that stars and galaxies and planets and museums and all lesser matter is basically a rounding error on the emptiness of the vacuum, the American Museum of Natural History is almost always totally full. Of kids and harried parents.
Mindbogglingly full. All sucked in by the vast gravity of its impressive, unparalleled displays of taxidermied animals, dinosaur fossils, the wonders of space, gems, minerals and meteorites, artifacts and every other thing scientific-type people have sorted, classified and analyzed over the past century and change. Continue reading “American Museum of Natural History”
The Museum of Math puts model racing cars on a Möbius strip track and lets kids drive them round and round.
The depiction and the accompanying explanation of how one-sided shapes work are rich and complex, and epitomize the museum’s approach to learning.
The National Museum of Mathematics (or, inevitably, MoMath, sigh), occupies two floors of a deep, somewhat narrow storefront on the northern border of Madison Square Park. You know you’ve reached the right place because the door handles form a red letter π.
Automated vending machines dispense unique, reusable tags for visitors to wear. There’s a lot they could do to customize the visitor’s experience based on the tags. Possibly the things generate a useful datastream showing visitors’ paths through the museum and the exhibits they try or skip. I hope they do, at least; I didn’t see much in the way of visitor-facing uses of them. In which case why not use a traditional sticker or little metal badge? Continue reading “National Museum of Mathematics”
In addition to the historic photos and artifacts the museum has a series of odd, delicate, contemporary wire sculptures hanging below the skylight.
I couldn’t find any explanation for who made them or why they were there. Google solves the mini-mystery: they’re by Judy Moonelis.
Almost all Jewish people in the U.S. are either Ashkenazi or Sephardic. Ashkenazi Jews trace their ancestry to central or eastern Europe, while Sephardic people lived in the Iberian peninsula, until they were expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella. However, they are not the only European Judaic traditions. Tucked away on Broome Street in the Lower East Side is the only synagogue in the Western Hemisphere serving Romaniote Jews, a distinct, ancient, Greek community.
The congregation of Kehila Kedosha Janina occupies a modest 1927 building, currently one of the last active synagogues on the Lower East Side. And since 1997 the building has also housed a museum on its upstairs floor– open only on Sundays as of this review– presenting photographs and artifacts describing the community and its traditions. Continue reading “Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum”
The curators integrated visual depictions of track and field world records into the exhibition. Bars mark heights of high jumps, lines on the floor show long jumps and shot puts and such. It’s one thing to read a record, a much more viscerally impressive thing to see one in the flesh.
This is my second hall of fame (after the Hall of Fame for Great Americans), and the second museum in one of New York’s antique armory buildings (after the Park Avenue Armory). However, it is my first museum devoted to a sport. New York doesn’t have, say, a museum to baseball or football. Or soccer.
There are sports legends waxified at Madame Tussaud’s. The Jackie Robinson Museum hopefully exists in New York’s future. And the Met has its baseball card collection, which I suspect it keeps mainly to show it’s even more encyclopedic than the Louvre. But in general sports are an underserved museum topic in New York City.
The National Track and Field Hall of Fame resides in the 1909 22nd Core of Engineers Armory in Harlem. The entire building is now a track-and-field complex, with a running track in the vast former drill hall. Like most of New York’s armories the architecture is cool and castle-like.