Pratt Manhattan Gallery

Edification value  2/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 21 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Kathryn Fleming’s Ursa Hibernation Station, an idea for a new home appliance:  a portable, pram-sized bear hibernator.  So that you can watch (and possibly envy!) your genetically modified mini bear as it sleeps the winter away.

Pratt Institute, Manhattan Campus

Pratt Institute, Manhattan Campus

The Pratt Institute dates to 1887, when it was founded to give an opportunity for an advanced education to anyone.  Today it is mainly known for programs in architecture, art, and design, so it’s fitting that Pratt’s Manhattan building, a handsome edifice on 14th Street, includes an art gallery on its second floor.

The Pratt Manhattan Gallery is a nice space, long and somewhat narrow, with high ceilings and large windows overlooking 14th Street.  Kind of the usual for a New York art space:  an older space repurposed with white walls, wood floors, periodic columns, exposed duct work and ceiling pipes lending a splash of color.

Pratt Manhattan Gallery

What’s on View

The exhibition when I visited was titled “See Yourself E(x)ist.”  I have seen a lot of contemporary, academic art shows during this project.  I’ve developed a theory that all such exhibits must be about one of four things:

  1. Migration and refugees
  2. Multiculturalism versus assimilation
  3. Gender and identity
  4. Our declining environment

Or I guess, further simplifying, there is only one topic for a contemporary, academic art show:

  1. Riling up conservatives.

This was a Type 4 exhibition, viewed through the lens of technology.  While its theme was different, “The Roaming Eye” at the Shirley Fiterman Art Center featured a number of works that would’ve fit right in here.

I liked it, though I remain somewhat mystified by the typography of the exhibition title.  Anything (x)ist makes me think of the men’s underwear brand, which I’m sure was the curator did not intend.  At least, I think.

Pratt Manhattan Gallery
Jaime Pitarch, “Chernobyl,” 2009

The exhibit offered a good diversity of pieces, including some video and digital art and a rather amusing interactive work that greatly amplified the sound that sand grains make falling in an egg timer.  I like shows that can unite artists in a broad array of media round a common topic.

I also like shows that have at least a little wit or humor in the mix; art that takes itself too seriously tends to lose me.  I enjoyed See Yourself E(x)ist on that front, too.  Jaime Pitarch’s Chernobyl, a mutant matrioshka doll, made me smile.

I felt similarly about a set of pieces by Fantich & Young called Apex Predator | Darwinian Voodoo, that re-envisioned common objects (men’s shoes, a basketball) studded with human teeth.  Eek, creepy and effective. (Lest you worry, the teeth came from dentures.)

Pratt Institute, Manhattan Campus
Fantich & Young, “Alpha Oxfords,” 2010

Should You Go to the Pratt Manhattan Gallery?

Pratt Manhattan GalleryIt’s always hard to judge a museum like the Pratt Manhattan Gallery based on a single show. But it’s conveniently located, and a nice space. I’m pretty comfortable asserting that if you happen to be around West 14th Street and you feel like seeing some contemporary, academic art, whatever’s on view will hew to one of the four themes above, but it’ll likely be interesting and worth the time as well.

For Reference:

Address 144 West 14th Street, 2nd floor, Manhattan
Cost  General Admission:  Free


Dia: Chelsea

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 46 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Art made out of ginormous freaking laser beams!

Dia: Chelsea
Rita McBride, “Particulates,” 2017, lasers, site-specific particulates, extraterrestrial dust, and water

The Dia Foundation is a powerhouse in the world of contemporary art.  It got its start in 1974 to help artists “achieve visionary projects that might not otherwise be realized because of scale or scope.” (Source: Dia’s website.)

New Yorkers probably best know Dia in the guise of Dia: Beacon, an important contemporary art museum located in Beacon, NY, a bit over an hour by train north of the city.  The Dia Foundation also manages the Walter De Maria’s New York Earth Room in SOHO.  And several other important art places and spaces around the world (most notably two key environmental art pieces out west: Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and De Maria’s Lightning Field).

Dia’s offices are in Chelsea, and it has two art spaces there, too. Continue reading “Dia: Chelsea”

Center for Jewish History

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 95 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned John Rainolds, president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, suggested the idea of an English Bible to King James.  The King James Bible, published in 1611, is maybe the most important book in English.

Yeshiva’s Oxford show has one of only four surviving notebooks from the committee that fretted and deliberated over the translation, responsible for its majestic, enduring poetry.  Who says nothing good ever comes from committees?

King James Bible Notes, Yeshiva University Museum, New York
William Fulman copy of John Bois’s notes on the King James Bible, 17th C.

Center for Jewish History, New York

The Center for Jewish History comprises five institutions under a single, Greek Revival, roof:

  • American Jewish Historical Society
  • American Sephardi Federation
  • Leo Baeck Institute
  • Yeshiva University Museum
  • YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

It’s like a food hall for Jewish culture and history.  Kosher food hall, anyway.

Accordingly, at any given time the exhibits going on there will be diverse. And there are a lot of them, spread across two floors of assorted spaces of differing sizes, shapes, and capacities, all arranged around a central atrium. During my visit I saw:

  • A tremendous show of rare books on loan from Oxford’s Corpus Christi College.
  • The work of George Salter, midcentury book designer extraordinaire
  • Impressions of Jerusalem in pictures, video, sculpture, and words
  • A brief overview of the German origins of Zionism in the early twentieth century.
  • The story of a Portuguese diplomat who defied his superiors and eventually lost his job in his effort to give exit visas to as many people fleeing the Nazis as possible.
  • A group show of art by current students at Abby Belkin Stern College.

Dusty Old Books

Oxford Show, Yeshiva University MusuemThe rare book show, billed as “Five Hundred Years of Treasures from Oxford,” blew me away.  According to the wall text, many of the books on view have never left Corpus Christi College before. I can’t imagine the relationship that led to this exhibit happening.  The title misleads, though: although it’s Corpus Christi’s 500th anniversary, several of the works on display are way older than that. Indeed, at least two date to the tenth century.  I mean seriously.  Here there be books over a thousand years old.

Oxford Rare Books Show, Center for Jewish History
St. Basil the Great, “Commentary on the Psalms & Other Works,” 10th Century(!), Greek manuscript

Jewish-Adjacent Programming

I found it particularly interesting that although the show had a Hebrew section, it wasn’t really, well, super-Jewish.  I mean, who would expect Corpus Christi to come to Yeshiva. However, in the college’s early days, its founder emphasized the “new learning” of reading holy books in their original languages –so Hebrew and Greek alongside the more usual Latin. 

But it’s not purely Biblical, either. The show also features a copy of the Iliad, and numerous significant scientific works.  In terms of Hebrew, it featured some beautiful examples of dual Hebrew/Latin manuscripts. It also had a book of Jewish daily prayers, written in Arabic but using the Hebrew alphabet, that somehow made its way to England before the 1200s.

On the science front, they had a copy of Vesalius’s Anatomy from 1555.  It’s amazingly important, the first medical book based on contemporary dissections, not just received wisdom from the Classical world.  And even better were the tons of annotations from some harried medical student.  I love margin notes.  Even if I can’t read them, I can empathize with this long-gone person striving to learn and absorb all this new, revolutionary knowledge. Try doing that on an eReader.

Andreas Vesalius, “De Humani Corporis Fabrica,” printed in Basel, 1555.

While a small show, it went incredibly deep. If it was at the Morgan, I reckon there would be a line to see it.  It was hard to tear myself away to check out the rest of the Center for Jewish History exhibits.  But tear I did, eventually.Rare books from oxford, Yeshiva University Museum

More Books!

George Salter, Center for Jewish History, New York
Atlas Shrugged, Salter Designed

The George Salter show was fascinating, too.  Once you see some examples of his work, you realize that he did tons of midcentury classics.  And while  you can’t judge a book by its cover, his distinctive way with typography and design must’ve helped sell at least some copies of the books he worked on.

The show speaks to Salter’s philosophy of design, from pure typographical covers to ones, like Atlas Shrugged, that capture some resonant idea of the book in simplified, graphical form.

Rare Book Library, Center for Jewish History

Other Things at the Center for Jewish History

The Jerusalem show provided glimpses and views of the city by a whole variety of artists and writers.  It included a tremendous, handmade model of old Jerusalem. 

Jerusalem, Center for Jewish History
Moses Kernoosh, “Model of Jerusalem,” ca 1880. Wood, cardboard, tin, wire, paint, rice paper

As with the Oxford show, I found it interesting (and welcome) that the perspectives on the city weren’t purely Jewish ones.  Mark Twain gets a quote, as does grumpy Herman Melville, who had much to say on the quantity and quality of the stones of Judea.  But my favorite quote came from a poem by Yehuda Amichai, “Jerusalem is a Port City,” where he builds an amazing metaphor.  I’ll just quote the first and last lines here:

Jerusalem is a port city on the shore of the ages of ages./Jerusalem is the Venice of God.

The student art show was a student art show.  A couple of clever things, a couple not-so-clever.  And “Portugal the Last Hope: Sousa-Mendes’ Visas for Freedom” and “Zionismus: The German Roots of Zionism” shows both had interesting things to teach, though both went heavy on wall texts and quotes, lighter on art and artifacts.Zionism in Germany at the Center for Jewish History

The Bottom Line

Center for Jewish History, New YorkWith its diverse institutions all pursuing their different missions, the exhibits the Center for Jewish History cumulatively deliver a comprehensive and diverse look at Jewish concerns and interests.  The Jewish Museum, by contrast, has a more narrowly artistic focus.  Which absolutely isn’t a bad thing, and puts it on equal footing with many of the other specific-culture-focused institutions in the city.  But I got  more out of visiting the Center for Jewish History. 

If the Yeshiva Museum does even one show every couple of years as deep as the Oxford Library show, I really need to make it part of my regular museum rotation.

Whatever your interests, it’s likely that something on view at the Center for Jewish History will align. Woe unto you if your interests are diverse, you’ll likely spend more time there than you intended.  I mean, woe in a good way, of course.  Seeing and learning more than you expected must count as among the best of all possible woes.

For Reference:

Address 15 West 16th Street, Manhattan
Cost  Yeshiva University Museum General Admission:  $8.  Other exhibition spaces free.
Other Relevant Links


Tibet House Gallery

Edification value  
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 31 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Poncar’s best photos capture amazing contrasts, both of light and shadow and of the greens in the valleys and the stark surrounding cliffs.

Jaroslav Poncar at Tibet House
Jaroslav Poncar, “Teri Samdrub Chodhing Gompa,” 2015

Tibet House is the Tibetan Cultural Center, founded in 1987 at the behest of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  Thus it celebrates its 30th birthday this year. 

H.H. the Dalai Lama, Tibet House
Hello, Dalai

Tibet House hosts an array of classes and events, meditation training, retreats in the Catskills, that sort of thing.  It’s kind of a starry place: in addition to His Holiness, Professor Robert Thurman, who teaches at Columbia, is the president of their board, and Philip Glass is vice president. It name-drops a whole bunch of other notables in its acknowledgements of “in-kind” donations:  David Bowie, Patti Smith, Christo, David Byrne, Emmylou Harris… Continue reading “Tibet House Gallery”

Rubin Museum of Art

Edification value  
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  
Time spent 203 minutes (including a leisurely supper)
Best thing I saw or learned Tibetan Buddhism has a macabre streak a mile wide, and I find it deeply endearing. They make bowls out of skulls and trumpets out of human leg bones.  Perhaps not for everyone, but I consider that a healthy attitude toward mortality. What goth (or goth sympathizer) wouldn’t love the idea of dancing in the charnel fields with the Lords of the Cremation Grounds?

Rubin Museum of Art, Manhattan

Update: Feb 17, 2024: I’m very sad to learn that the Rubin Museum of Art is closing down as of October, 2024. As you can tell from this review, I love the Rubin, and will be sorry to see it go, or as they euphemistically put it become “a museum without walls.” Uh huh. Well, Buddhism is nothing if not about cycles, perhaps a future wall-bound incarnation will return someday. In the meantime, New York will be poorer for the loss — go while you can! 

New York’s museums house themselves in a wide variety of repurposed spaces. Disused armories, synagogues, navy yards, customs houses, aircraft carriers, robber-baron mansions (galore), activist storefronts… nearly anything can be transformed into a museum with sufficient effort of will (and money).

But I believe only one museum in the city exists in a former department store. The old Barney’s, on 17th Street near Seventh Avenue, is now the home of the Rubin Museum of Art. It’s audacious that a former home of high-end fashion retail now teaches people about Tibetan Buddhism and related Himalayan cultures. Both rarefied atmospheres in their own ways, but that’s the only thing they have in common.

The Rubin, though, stands as a supremely successful museum conversion. It offers seven floors of exhibit space, a far better restaurant than you’d expect, and (hearkening back to the DNA of the building) a lovely little gift shop full of Buddhist and New Agey treasures (but sadly no leg bone trumpets).

Continue reading “Rubin Museum of Art”

Museum at FIT

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 29 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Utterly unsurprisingly, there were four references to Michelle Obama in the text for the Black Fashion Designers show. Because I really miss having her in the White House, I’ll pick the Laura Smalls sundress Mrs. Obama wore on Carpool Karaoke.

Museum at FIT, ManhattanIf I think about the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), it’s generally in terms of the building — the brutalist concrete pile that jumps over 27th Street at 7th Avenue, the anchor tenant of the Garment District.  I’ve walked by it many times and surely I’ve seen the sign that said “museum” — it’s pretty evident.  But not being especially a part of that world, I probably just glossed over it, edited it out, walked on.  The Museum Project ensures that doesn’t happen anymore.  My museum-dar is now top-notch.

In any case, I finally had a reason to visit the Museum at FIT, and I was very favorably impressed.  The museum space occupies a narrow, cave-like gallery on the ground floor, as well as a much larger space downstairs.  It’s all very dark, with spotlights to better to highlight the garments on display.  And of course, black is always fashionable.  Where museum walls go, black is the new black?

The cumulative space is larger than I expected it to be.  Not just some leftover rooms they needed to do something with, it earns the name “museum” (even without a gift shop or cafe).

There were two shows on the day I visited.  The first was called “Black Fashion Designers.”  Refreshingly straightforward, non punny title.  And a good show to boot.  This show could not have been more different from the Center for Architecture‘s show on black architects I recently visited.  I realize buildings can be harder to show in a museum setting than clothes are, but even from an organizational perspective, the Black Designers show had a thoughtfulness and narrative to it that the Architecture Center’s display sorely lacked.

The second show was on Parisian fashion in the 1950s and 1960s.  Apparently the conventional wisdom is Parisian fashion houses were sort of stuck in the past at that point, and UK and American designers really stepped to the fore; this show examines and seeks to correct that misapprehension.  It takes up the two basement spaces, one a low-ceilinged rectangular room that my notes again call “cave-like.”  But the other space was quite different.

Parisian Midcentury Fashion, Museum at FIT, New YorkThrough a door, the second room opened upward and outward, to about triple height, a real surprise given the subterranean location.  Again black, but this was a wide-open, encompassing space filled, tastefully and carefully, with islands of beautifully dressed mannequins stretching into the distance. “Zou bisou bisou” (but not the Mad Men version) playing in the background quietly set the tone.  I’ve discovered I like museums that use music subtly and cleverly to set a tone or convey a time.  Here it works particularly well.

Museum at FIT, ManhattanI didn’t spend a lot of time at the Museum at FIT, but that was mainly because I had a meeting to get to.  Even with my fairly limited knowledge of and interest in clothing, I could’ve spent another 15 or 20 minutes.  Both shows were expertly and lovingly curated and beautifully presented. I have no doubt that FIT has the resources to deliver an authoritative exhibition on any fashionable topic it cares to. And both exhibits zoomed in on subjects that the Met Fashion Institute, with its more general audience, probably wouldn’t do.

Fashion design being a topic of fairly narrow interest, I wouldn’t say everyone should go.  Obviously anyone who is a fashionisto or fashionista (fashionistx?) should make a pilgrimage to the Museum at FIT.  Indeed, I  suspect that one reason for the museum’s existence is so that the fashionable who don’t actually get into FIT have a place to which to make a pilgrimage.  But if you go, I’m confident you’ll see something beautiful and interesting.Museum at FIT, New York

For Reference:

Address 227 W 27th Street, Manhattan
Cost Free
Other Relevant Links

International Print Center

Edification value
Entertainment value
Should you go?
Time spent 23 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned A couple of black and white, square, surreal architectural prints by Brandon Williams.  This project is not supposed to be about shopping for art for me, but I would totally like to own them.

Perched up on the fifth floor of an old industrial building in the middle of the High Line / Chelsea art gallery district is the International Print Center New York, a non-profit that puts on regular shows on the art of printmaking.

Continue reading “International Print Center”