Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture


Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 19 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz in the guise of a fierce warrior queen, with over-the-top makeup and headdress.

Hostos Community CollegeLike many instutions of higher learning around the City, Hostos Community College has a small art space where they periodically mount public exhibitions. 

Hostos Community College Art Gallery
Next Door to the Swimming Pool

Hostos’s small gallery resides on the ground floor of Building C,  just past security, to the left of the door to the swimming pool. The small space boasts good lighting, high ceilings and large windows looking out onto the Grand Concourse.

Continue reading “Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture”

Edgar Allan Poe Cottage

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 70 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned During their sojourn at the cottage Poe and his wife had a cat named Katarina. And maybe that was Mrs. Poe’s idea but still there’s an endearing humor to that which changed the way I think about Poe a little.

Edgar Allan Poe, proto-goth, inventor of the detective story, writer of gruesome tales and horror-struck poetry, quother of the raven, had a hard life.  Baltimore has largely claimed him as its own (just think of their NFL team).  While he did live there for while, and died there in 1849, Poe was a New Yorker for a good chunk of his life.  Indeed, he was only visiting Baltimore when he shuffled off his mortal coil in circumstances that remain mysterious to this day.  For the last three years of his life Poe resided in a small rented cottage in what was then the village of Fordham in Westchester County, known today as the Bronx.

Built in 1812 by the Valentine family to house farm laborers, it’s a mark of how fast esteem for Poe rose after his death that his cottage has survived to the present.  In 1902 Poe Park was established, and in 1913 the cottage was moved to the park, where it has stood as a museum ever since.

Poe’s reason for moving north was as sad as anything else in his life:  his wife Virginia had contracted consumption, and they hoped that by escaping from the foul miasma of the city to bucolic Fordham, she might improve.  It was not to be, however, and she died less than a year after they moved to the cottage, in January of 1847.

The cottage is definitely the home of a poor man.  A realtor would call it cozy. While tiny, I imagine that during the winter it was freezing.  A kitchen, parlor, and small bedroom on the ground floor, and a study and bedroom on the second floor, a small porch out front, and that’s it.  Poe and his wife rented it for $100 per year.

It’s furnished with a fair number of period pieces, three items of which are known to have been Poe’s:  a rocking chair, a fancy gilded mirror, and the narrow bed where Virginia Poe passed away.

Virginia Poe’s bed

In addition to period furniture, the house also contains assorted Poe memorabilia: period prints of the cottage, a bust of Poe that used to be in the park, and several pictures of the man in various states of unhappiness.

There’s a brief video that describes Poe’s life in the Bronx: walking the High Bridge, wandering along the Bronx River, and visiting the Jesuits at then then brand-new St. John’s College (founded in 1841, now called Fordham), with whom he seems to have gotten on well.  Poe wrote some of his best-known works while he lived at the cottage, including “The Bells,” and Fordham lays claim to having THE bell that inspired the poem.

My guide during my visit was a local kid who really loved Poe and the place.  His enthusiasm helped bring the cottage to life. 

And he explained the most random furnishing of the cottage: a picture of penguins on the parlor wall.  They feature in Poe’s only novel, a whaling tale called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. I asked him who comes, and he said it was about 25% New Yorkers, 50% tourists from overseas, and 25% tourists from other states. 

Poe Cottage’s environs today

It takes some determination to get there.  It’s on the way (by subway) to the New York Botanical Garden or Woodlawn Cemetery, and kind of near Lehman College Art Gallery.  But it’s not especially close to any of those.  Thus, even though the city has grown up all around it, Poe’s cottage is still sort of a lonely place. 

Anyone with vaguely goth or romantic tendencies should absolutely go.  Underappreciated poets and anyone who can still quote the opening lines of the Raven should too. But those outside those categories could probably stick visiting other historic houses in the city, many of which are easier to get to.

For Reference:

Address 2640 Grand Concourse, the Bronx
Website Bronx Historical Society Website
Cost  General Admission:  $5
Other Relevant Links


Lehman College Art Gallery

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 69 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Jesse Chun’s Landscape series.  What look like stylized, slightly monochrome landscape prints and turn out to be extremely enlarged images from passport pages. They are beautiful, meaningful, and you can play “what country is that?” with them.

Lehman College occupies a lovely campus (built as the Bronx campus of Hunter College in 1931) in the far northern reaches of the Bronx, a couple of stops south of the terminus of the number 4 train.  Like most colleges, its architecture is a mix of classical and modern, the former mostly beautiful, the latter mostly notsomuch.

Lehman College’s Fine Arts Building (modern) is home to a small museum space, divided into two galleries.  On the day I visited, one of them was filled with propaganda posters from the first and second World Wars.  It was also in the midst of having its floor painted, and therefore while I could peek in, I couldn’t enter without tracking paint all over the creation, which the painting contractors politely asked me not to do.

Space number two was the larger, arranged around a central column supporting the roof of the building, which sloped down from all sides to the column, in a modern show of form following function, of the sort that makes me think, “yes, it does, but you could’ve done it differently and gotten both better function and better form.”

That said, the space is at least interesting, and features windows high on the exterior walls that flood the room with light and views of the campus.

I didn’t quite know what to expect from a community college in the far reaches of the Bronx.  Lehman’s other current show, “Alien Nations,” surprised and delighted me. I’m used to contemporary art being hit or miss — everyone’s tastes are different, and mine are notably quirky, so in any show of young, contemporary artists I expect to see at most one or two pieces I really like, and rather more that I really don’t.  This show fired on all cylinders.  

Meg Hitchcock’s Red Lotus Mantra, 2016. Letters cut from Bible, threads from Tibetan prayer flags, pages torn from Bible

My museum buddy for this trip said, “Every piece spoke to me in a different way,” and I agree. The works included covered a broad array of media and techniques, but no piece felt like they added it to check a checkbox. It seems to me that many artists feel like political art has to be unsubtle and ugly to make a point.  The artists selected for this show prove the lie of that assumption: all made their points eloquently and subtly, and they weren’t afraid to be beautiful to boot.  Finally, this project is not supposed to be about me shopping for art, there were two or three specific artists here whom I will for-sure be following, and whose work I could easily envision owning.  Long story short, I really liked this show. Kudos to the curators of this show, Bartholomew F. Bland and Yuneikys Villalonga for, if nothing else, having taste that is a lot like mine.

Lisa Alonzo, Repetition/Waste, 2016 (detail)

Alien Nations is only here until May, though, so like other places, writing about the show doesn’t necessarily help you decide if you should visit or not. But I’d encourage a visit just the same.  The curators and staff programming this space have a really good collective eye, and generalizing from my experience there, a thoughtful approach.  And not just about selecting artists or works: the installation of the pieces speaks highly as well. Four planes from Richard Deon’s Quick Response Squadron were hung taking advantage of the jaunty angles of the roof-column junctions.

Richard Deon, The Quick Response Squadron: A Public Curiosity

I have no way of knowing if any future exhibition at Lehman is going to be as enjoyable to me as this one was.  But I do know that I’m going to keep an eye on their website, and have great interest in visiting again.

For Reference:

Address 250 Bedford Park Blvd West, the Bronx
Cost Free

Bronx Museum of the Arts

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 104 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Photographs by Cuban artist Felipe Dulzaides called Eighteen Reasons to Cease Making Art, depicting everyday objects that in their sublime ordinariness might well convince an artist he or she had nothing left to do. A bent frame of a chair; a tractor mysteriously cut in two, a la Damien Hirst; a particularly picturesque piece of giant, abandoned infrastructure; a paint spattered hammer and sickle. I have a weakness for cleverness, and the magic of the mundane.

I told several friends aware of this project that I was going to the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the universal reaction has been “I didn’t even know there WAS a Bronx Museum of the Arts. Not that there shouldn’t be, of course…”

But I think it’s a fair question, in our art-museum-glutted city, is there really a need for a Bronx art museum on top of all the other ones? Based on my visit, I think there really is.

The museum occupies a modern building that has a very early-millennium feel to it (it opened in 2004). One of the things this project is giving me is a very strong sense of how hard it is to do a glass atrium for a museum that doesn’t age like a 1980s Marriott. The Bronx Museum has an atrium that must’ve looked fresh and modern when it opened, but already, not so much. It’s a real museum, though, with a tiny gift shop, a (lackluster) cafe, and expansive gallery spaces on the ground floor, and an event area and terrace on the second floor.

You enter the building into an oddly shaped (ah, the vogue for asymmetry in the early 2000s) space, containing the ticket/info desk and the cafe, as well as a ramp that leads to one gallery space and from there to stairs up to the second floor.

Something that’s stuck with me from my visit is this sign, a patient explanation in English, Spanish, and French about why you shouldn’t touch artworks in museums. My first reaction was that of a smug, overeducated museum veteran. And I wondered whether the sort of person inclined to touch a piece of art in a museum is the type of person who’d bother reading a sign that explains why that’s bad for the art. But on further reflection I see in it an indicator that this museum’s constituency isn’t generally me.

The Bronx maybe wants to be a starter museum, helping a community that is turned off by museums, or at least inexperienced with them, get a taste of looking at and thinking about art. If it does its job well, maybe they move on to other museums from there. Hopefully. Maybe. And maybe it can help them pick up skills and savvy that will make them more comfortable in the fancier museums in the city.

Another thing that’s stuck with me is a quote from Mary Hellmann, who’s piece Monochrome Chairs, is in the museum’s atrium. In the description, she says “museums are places to hang out.” I’m not sure about that. Yes, lots of people just go to museums today, but I hope there’s more to it than hanging out. Still, with its free admission, and in its role as a starter museum, convincing residents of the neighborhood that they should hang out there is a good goal.

The Bronx has gone all in on Cuba. It’s currently running a show called Wild Noise/Ruido Salvage on contemporary Cuban art from the 1970s until now. This show is dynamite. Complex, diverse, and expansive, I came away from it feeling like I have a sense of the breadth of Cuban art today. I also feel like if this show were at say the Brooklyn Museum or even one of the smaller art museums of Manhattan, it would be something of a blockbuster. The museum claims that this is “the most extensive cultural exchange between Cuba and the United States in five decades” and also says that five years of work and research went into this. I believe it. Super timely, and canny in other ways, too: a significant number of the pieces in the exhibit are now part of the museum’s collection.

The other main show is called Love thy Neighbor, and in a way it’s sort of the opposite of the Alien Nation show at Lehman College. Interesting I saw both of them in the same day. It was hit or miss for me, but interesting and worth putting together, although I will say that the exhibitions description’s talk of exploring “cultural processes of ‘othering'” caused me almost physical pain.

Finally there were some pretty colored acrylic abstractions by Arlene Slavin on the terrace, and a series of photographs by Clayton Frazier of the people of St. Dominique (aka Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

Clayton Frazier, The Smoker, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 1998

Oh and a chunk of the old Yankee Stadium. Because it is the Bronx.

My museum buddy for this trek remarked of the Cuba show, “Isn’t this what you expected El Museo del Barrio to be like?” Yeah. This is the kind of meaningful exhibition that El Museo should or could be putting on. And definitely a happy surprise to find it here.

In my first and only visit to the Bronx Museum I feel great affection for it. The Cuba show is worth making a special trip for, and it’s got a sort of endearing scruffiness to it (partly due to the quirky, aging building, partly because it’s a little rough around the edges). The Bronx Museum of Art is on the Grand Concourse just 10 minutes walking, or one subway stop, north of Yankee Stadium. If you’re willing to schlep to the Bronx to see baseball–or even if you’re not–you should definitely schlep to the Bronx to see art.

For Reference:

Address 1040 Grand Concourse, The Bronx
Cost  Free

Van Cortlandt House Museum

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 138 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned All the front windows of the house have neat, scary terra cotta faces centered above them. This was apparently a Dutch thing to ward off bad spirits.  Reproductions are available at the gift shop!

At the northern terminus of the Number 1 subway line lies Van Cortlandt Park, home of one of the oldest surviving houses in New York City.  Within the park, \ surrounded by an ancient iron fence, is a very fancy residence built in 1748 as a summer home by (surprise!) the Van Cortlandt family.  The grandest home in the area, the Van Cortlandts owned and lived in the house for about 140 years, until in 1887 as the family fortunes ebbed, they sold the property to the city as a park.  The National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York took over the house and opened it as a museum in 1897.  It is, of course, a New York City landmark.

The Van Cortlandts in the early days were super-wealthy, and the house showed it. They were also super-Dutch, proud of their heritage as New Amsterdammers, and many of the details of the house (including a blue and orange color scheme for the china cabinets in the parlor) reflect that as well. Little that’s in the house today remains from the Van Cortlandts, but most of the publicly accessible rooms are filled with period furniture and knick-knacks that give a sense of what the lives of the earlier generations of the family might have been like.

When it opened as a museum, one room was redone to depict a modest city house, simulating how a much less successful Dutch family would have lived down in Manhattan.  They’ve kept that to this day and while I would’ve liked  the place to be as close as possible to how the family lived in it, the contrast is informative.

I joined a tour being given by a guy named Paul — when they have tours, they do them in a repeated loop (which is probably not that fun for Paul), so you can join in progress and then stick around for the beginning of the next one to pick up what you missed.  It’s a little odd, leaving the Van Cortlandt background until the end, but it was very efficient.

Fancy, newly refurbished parlor/dining room, decorated a little later than the rest of the house. Note the neat Dutch tiles around the fireplace.

As I’m conditioned to do, I asked Paul about Hamilton.  There is no recorded occurrence of the great man visiting.  Washington did, though, thrice, as did John Adams.  The VC house was the only large, fancy home for miles around.  So Ham might’ve visited, but there’s no proof.

The Van Cortlandts lived a very different kind of life than the Dyckmans or the Hamiltons.  And of course their home is a huge contrast to a city house like the Treadwells’.  I wish that more of it was open — there are slave quarters up the back stairs that the only accessible periodically for special small-group tours because of the fire code.  And we didn’t get to see the kitchen — as a food lover I’m highly interested in the evolution of kitchens and cooking. But with each one of these homes I visit, my sense for life in and around the city in the 1700s-to-early-1800s gets deeper and richer.  And I have yet more appreciation for life in the 2010s.

On a sunny Sunday spring afternoon, Van Cortlandt park was full of people strolling, and several cricket teams in full whites, which made for interesting if rather bewildering spectating.  I highly recommend a visit to the park.  If you do, definitely venture past the iron fence and see how the Van Cortlandts lived.

For Reference:

Address Inside Van Cortlandt Park at 246th Street, the Bronx
Cost  General Admission:  $5, Free/donation on Wednesdays
Other Relevant Links

Hall of Fame for Great Americans

Edification value
Entertainment value
Should you go?
Time spent 46 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Honestly, the whole thing, as a total work of art, history, sociology, Americana, and miraculous survival.  The whole Hall of Fame is the best part of the Hall of Fame.

Halls of fame today are two-a-penny.  Everyone and everything from minor league lacrosse to rock n roll  has a hall of fame.  But it wasn’t always that way.  There had to be, at some point, a first one.

The Hall of Fame for Great Americans was the first hall of fame in history.  Designed by the ubiquitous Stanford White as part of his broader super-classical design for NYU’s campus in the then-bucolic Bronx at the turn of the 20th century, the Hall of Fame was a shining beacon on a hill, inspiring Americans everywhere by demonstrating greatness across all fields of endeavor.  And American greatness at that. Continue reading “Hall of Fame for Great Americans”