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A long weekend in NYC: Visits to the Cooper Hewitt, the Jewish Museum, and more

13 Jun 2016

I went to New York City a couple weekends ago—you know, to get away from the country.

My time was packed with museum visits, including my first to the Tenement Museum, at 97 Orchard Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side; I took their Shop Life tour. The museum’s sixty- and ninety-minute-long tours are docent-led through restored tenement apartments. Most tours focuses on one apartment, one period in time, and one actual family; the Shop Life tour is slightly different in that it highlights multiple families, across time periods, who lived and worked in the basement-level shops. I would highly recommend the museum for an engrossing, educational experience. (Summertime hint: the Shop Life tour is the only one air-conditioned!)


From top left, clock-wise: volunteers pull weeds on the High Line; the entrance to the “Shop Life” tour at the Tenement Museum (no photos allowed inside!); Fly By Night at the Brooklyn Navy Yard; Goshka Macuga at the New Museum.

I also stopped by the New Museum, since I was in the neighborhood for the Tenement Museum, and truth be told, I was mostly perplexed (I’m not that hip, apparently). I paid another visit to the High Line, which has expanded and—as far as plantings are concerned—matured since I was last there. And I saw a performance of Duke Riley’s Fly By Night, in which, “at dusk, a massive flock of pigeons … elegantly twirl, swoop, and glide above the East River.” The pigeons wear LED anklets and respond to whistles and waving flags, flying overhead as commanded. The performance pays homage to the mostly forgotten culture of pigeon keeping and—with just another week to go—is being held at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, once home to the country’s largest naval fleet of pigeon carriers. I loved it.

At the Met Breuer, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new home for modern and contemporary exhibitions (in the Whitney’s former building), I saw the exhibition Unfinished. There was nothing ground breaking in the actual exhibition design, but the premise was compelling and a lot of the artwork was fantastic. Sometimes it’s about visiting a museum just to see the fantastic; it can’t and shouldn’t always be whiz-bang exhibit marvels and touch screens.


While at the Met Breuer, I also took in the Nasreen Mohamedi retrospective. (Just closed, on June 5.) After the jam-packed Unfinished, the meditative exhibition was a welcome respite.


But hands down, my two favorite exhibitions during this visit were at the Jewish Museum and the Cooper Hewitt.


At the Jewish Museum, I fell in love with Roberto Burle Marx. Burle Marx was a Brazilian artist who drew upon diverse cultural influences to reinvent the landscape architecture discipline. He incorporated abstracted, irregular forms, native plants (he was a passionate environmental advocate), and Brazilian modernism into his landscape designs. His work is incredible; visit this exhibition!


The exhibition design was spot-on, evoking the geometries and curves of Burle Marx’s landscapes while not distracting from the art on display. An interlocked massing of display cases in the center of the room dominated the exhibition space; an 87-foot-long tapestry (below, left), designed by Burle Marx for the Santo André Civic Center in 1969, provided a stunning focal point. His hand-drawn and painted landscape plans are wonderful to behold; some examples from the exhibition are shown below.



A few blocks north, Beauty, the Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial was bustling. The wide-ranging contemporary design exhibition is a must-see for designers and artists.



The exhibition design was minimal, just the simplest of reader rails and small text panels. The museum encourages use of its “pens,” which allow you to interact with the digitized collection on touchscreen tables and to save objects from the exhibitions to be accessed later. A nice benefit of accessing your visit online is that for each object, museum curators have selected related objects for further exploration. For example, the online entry for “Atmospheric Reentry,” designed by Maiko Takeda (above, left), led me to this hat from Cameroon and this “hairy” garden pavilion.


Below is one of my favorite entries from the Beauty Triennial, “Architecture is Everywhere,” designed by Sou Fujimoto Architects. From the project description: “the project discovers architectural possibility in found objects and everyday materials. Simple artifacts such as a lottery ticket, an ashtray, or a ring of binder clips become intriguing structures when placed on pedestals with tiny human figures.” It was delightful.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Tom MacMillan permalink
    14 Jun 2016 2:29 pm

    Thank you Chrisrina. A very informative retrospect on your getaway…

  2. 12 Aug 2016 1:57 pm

    Really great blog – love your work. Are you a design historian (published) as well?

  3. 12 Aug 2016 2:39 pm

    Thanks. I’m not a historian; just a practicing designer who doesn’t allot enough time to writing. :)

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