Fashion: Functionality or Art? – Isaac Mizrahi, The Jewish Museum

In August of last year, I was able to catch the Isaac Mizrahi exhibit at The Jewish Museum on 5th Avenue during its last weekend. The previous month, I’d gone to see the Manus x Machina exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was very impressive. Assuming I would see something just as beautiful and fascinating, I was pretty excited to catch the Mizrahi exhibit before it closed.

I was somewhat disappointed. I think it’s because my expectations were high after seeing what the Met had to offer. The dresses on display at the Met were impressive, intricate, attractive, and, for the most part, they were outfits that I could picture people wearing in real situations. Mizrahi’s outfits bordered on the impractical or the odd, the sort of things you see in runway fashion shows but would laugh about if you saw on an actual person in the street.

Then there were things like this:

Unusual outfits at the Isaac Mizrahi exhibit at the Jewish Museum in August, 2016

Unusual outfits at the Isaac Mizrahi exhibit at the Jewish Museum in August, 2016

I was pretty put off by the whole experience. I found the most interesting parts of the exhibit to be the wall of cloth scraps in the featured image above and the chandeliers in the museum lobby. On the other hand, the exhibit made me re-evaluate my understanding of fashion. Does fashion need to be functional, or can it be art? Can it be both at the same time? Or one or the other?

Isaac Mizrahi Fashion Exhibit at the Jewish Museum - 2016
I suppose clothing can be art, rather than something that’s worn regularly or even occasionally. Even so, Mizrahi’s work didn’t appeal to me, but that’s a matter of personal preference. He’s obviously very talented.

City of New York Quote - New York Evening Post

Museum Challenge: The Museum of the City of New York (Feb 2017)

A few weeks ago I was standing in Barnes & Noble, looking around to see if anything would catch my eye. I didn’t really want to buy anything because I have plenty of books that I haven’t read yet, but sometimes I go to B&N just to look around and get an idea of what’s popular or new. Sometimes I can’t resist and still walk out with a few new books to add to my collection.Anyway, I saw a section for books on New York City and I realized that despite majoring in History and working on an MA in history, I haven’t read or learned much about the history of New York City.

Anyway, I saw a section for books on New York City and I realized that despite majoring in History and working on an MA in history, I haven’t read or learned much about the history of New York City. The only two books that I know I’ve read are City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860, by Christine Stansell and City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920, by Timothy J. Gilfoyle. I think I read them as part of an American economic history master’s course that was masquerading as a course on historiography and historical methodology. They were both excellent books, by the way.

Not knowing too much of anything about New York’s history struck me as odd since I live in New York City and half of my family has lived in New York City for multiple generations. At some point, I’m going to have to sit down and plow through a few good books on the subject, but my ignorance of the topic was the inspiration for my decision to visit the Museum of the City of New York on 5th Avenue.

A 1985 map of Manhattan, by The Manhattan Map Company Inc.

A 1985 map of Manhattan, by The Manhattan Map Company Inc.

The museum is not exceptionally large. I took the time to look at the special exhibit and read quite a few of the information placards in the galleries and still saw everything in about 3.5 hours, so it’s a great way to spend an afternoon without feeling rushed or having to go back again to see what you missed the first time through. Another bonus is that admission is free if you have a City University of New York student ID card.

A selection of artwork by students of varying ages in New York City schools.

A selection of artwork by students of varying ages in New York City schools.

The building’s collection has a mix of art and artifacts. In some galleries, there are old maps of the city, detailed information on how zoning works, and models to show how buildings were designed to fit the space limitations created by whatever the current zoning laws were. Other galleries have artifacts from the early colonial period, including Native American artifacts. There are galleries describing protest movements and fashion trends. There is a small hall dedicated to Tiffany’s. There is a gallery of contemporary children’s art from city schools. The special exhibit when I visited was on gay New York and the history of the gay rights movement and gay lifestyle in the city.

A selection of Tiffany's fans.

A selection of Tiffany’s fans.

The galleries cover a lot of ground. Some exhibits felt out of place, like the Tiffany’s gallery and the Stettheimer Doll House, for example. The special exhibit on gay New York felt empty. There wasn’t enough on display to make the exhibit interesting. The children’s art exhibit was really fun but also really small. The museum should dedicate more space to current New York City art initiatives and to modern New York City. By that, I mean there should be something that showcases contemporary diversity beyond the scrolling Twitter feed display showing New Yorker’s criticizing Trump’s policies. It should be something positive, like an exhibit on interfaith initiatives, cultural festivals, street fairs, and festivals, for example. It would also be interesting to see an exhibit on historical landmarks in the city and the process for designating a site as a historic landmark.

A gallery of more photos from the museum:

The Museum of the City of New York
I probably won’t visit this museum again. It was definitely worth the trip, but I didn’t see anything there that spoke to me, in the way that art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art does. This museum is more informative than awe-inspiring or inspirational.

A sitting area in The Cloisters

Museum Challenge: The Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park

Some photos from my trip to The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park in January:

The Cloisters
The Cloisters is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The building houses a collection of art from Medieval Europe. Because of that, most of the art depicts Christian religious stories and figures. It’s a pretty interesting collection that can be viewed in about 3 hours if you’re not stopping to read every information plaque in detail.

What stuck with me was the collection of reliquaries. It’s fascinating to think that people believed, and still believe, that being close to or touching the body part of a deceased person can confer some spiritual power or good fortune. I suppose it’s not too different from people buying souvenirs in Jerusalem today to bring back with them, or bringing dirt from Jerusalem, because people who were holy may have walked on it.I’m reminded of something I saw in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Like The Cloisters, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a conglomeration of chapels that were joined together. They building covers the supposed sites of Jesus’s crucifixion and the tomb where his body was placed. There is also a stone at the foot of the hill where Jesus was supposedly crucified. Jesus’s body is said to have been brought down off the cross and placed on this stone.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (March 2014)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (March 2014)

I’m reminded of something I saw in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Like The Cloisters, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a conglomeration of chapels that were joined together. They building covers the supposed sites of Jesus’s crucifixion and the tomb where his body was placed. There is also a stone at the foot of the hill where Jesus was supposedly crucified. Jesus’s body is said to have been brought down off the cross and placed on that stone. While I was there, women came in and poured oil onto the stone and then used a number of scarves to soak it back up. I assume they took those scarves home and distributed them to people who couldn’t make the trip and that they believed there had been some sort of transference of holiness from the stone to the scarves through the oil.

I didn’t take many photos on this trip because I’d been there before. The last time I visited The Cloisters was during the summer. I would definitely recommend visiting in warm weather. The open courtyards are much more enjoyable when there’s warm sunlight, cool breezes, and running fountains. I saw quite a few people sitting on benches and reading. There is also no herb garden during the winter, for obvious reasons.

Because The Cloisters is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, admission is donation based. There are suggested donations, but you can give a nickel and still be admitted to the museum.

Here are some photos from a previous trip:

The Cloisters, Fort Tryon Park, Manhattan
This post is the start of my Museum Challenge series.

“Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Last Saturday, I went over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th Avenue to conduct a scavenger hunt for certain types of items in this exhibit and then drafted up an essay response, but I thought it might be useful to people thinking about going to see the exhibit itself, so I’m posting it here as well.


The exhibit, “Jerusalem: 1000-1400 Every People Under Heaven,” is being shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from September 26, 2016 to January 8, 2017. Like the title of the exhibit implies, the selection of art being displayed includes pieces that are representative of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the “People Under Heaven” in the Abrahamic tradition.

Jerusalem 1000-1400 Every People Under Heaven
 

One of the displays contains a set of astrolabes, which, according to the description, were devices that were “used to answer questions related to time, geography, and the position of the stars.” The three astrolabes on display were all created in Andalusia and include the city of Jerusalem. The text on the astrolabes were written in Arabic, Judeo-Arabic, Hebrew and Latin. Another interesting item with text in multiple languages is “Slaughter of the Amalekites and Saul’s Last Stand,” which contains marginal notes in Latin, Persian and Judeo-Persian, written by subsequent owners of the book.

Most of the items were in pretty common languages used in the area, like those mentioned above, though there were exceptions. There is a text called “The Book of Kings” which I assume is written in an Ethiopian language, but I cannot be sure because the language used is not included in the description. More clearly labeled is a Copto-Arabic Book of Prayers, written in the Bohairic dialect of Coptic Egyptian. There is also a Book of Saints’ Lives written in what I can only assume is Georgian, again because the description is not clear.

There is a very large variety of items on display. There were at least three different versions of the Bible: a Samaritan Bible from 1232 CE in Yavneh, a Bible from northern Europe, ca. 1300, and a Bible from 13th century Rome or Bologna. There are also Jewish liturgical books like “Opening Prayer for Shabbat Parah” from 1257-58 CE, “The Catalan Mahzor” from 1280 CE, and “Next Year in Jerusalem,” a Haggadah from 1360-1370 CE. There were also choir books, swords, vases, amazing Jewish wedding rings, pillar capitals and reliquaries.

Two items that really caught my attention were the “A Knight of the d’Aluye Family” and the “’Umra Certificate.” The “Knight” sculpture was the covering of a burial place for a Crusader, dated to between 1248-1267 CE. What piqued my interest was the sword depicted in the sculpture, which is Chinese in appearance. It was fascinating to see actual proof of the exchange of items between Europe and Asia during that period. The ‘umra certificate from 1433 CE, which belonged to Sayyid Yusuf bin Sayyid Shihab al-Din Mawara al-Nahri, fascinated me because it emphasized just how important pilgrimage was and perhaps continues to be in the Islamic tradition. Going on the Hajj to Mecca had a direct impact on a Muslim’s social standing and warranted adding the honorific al-Hajj or al-Hajjah to one’s name. The ‘umra scroll shows that pilgrimage to areas in and around Jerusalem were nearly as important and warranted their being added to a certificate that could be displayed when the pilgrim returned home.

The exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is definitely worth attending. It shows the central importance that Jerusalem played to a huge range of areas between 1000 and 1400, with items on display from Africa, Europe, Persia, and various places in the Middle East. It would be nice if there were translations of the texts on display, or if the languages being shown were at least clearly labeled. The grouping of the items could have been somewhat clearer as well, either chronologically or thematically. On the other hand, the items were displayed in a way that made them easy to view and appreciate. It is definitely a worthwhile way to spend an hour or two on a Saturday afternoon.

An Afternoon at the Museum

Another week done. On the one hand, I feel like I should value my time more, but on the other, I’m always so glad when another work week is finished. Sometimes we’re too worn out to do anything on the weekend and we spend most of our time at home, just relaxing. This weekend, we’d made plans to try to get out and enjoy some art. We had originally planned to go to the Guggenheim on Saturday night. I did a little research on their website and found out that if you go between 5:45 PM and 7:45 PM on a Saturday night, you can pay whatever you want for admission, instead of the usual $25 apiece. I don’t mind paying to see art, but I can’t see paying $50.00 (the Met has the same suggested rate for adults, though it’s just a suggested rate) every time we decide to spend an hour or two inside a museum. We’re not tourists, after all.

We never made it out of the house on Saturday afternoon, so when we got ready to go out on Sunday we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art instead. We can go visit the Guggenheim next Saturday, if we’re not doing something else. Our plan was to go to the second floor and look at the 19th and early 20th century European paintings, but we got sidetracked when we stumbled into the “Manus x Machina” special exhibit behind the medieval European art section of the first floor. We were actually heading to the restrooms at the time. The exhibit wasn’t too big so we figured we’d take a look before heading upstairs. It was incredible how many people were in that small area. In a few places I felt like I was wading through the herds of people that are always moving through Times Square.

The dresses on display were way beyond what I was expecting. I didn’t think I would be impressed, because I’m not seriously into fashion, but looking at the dresses on display there, I think I finally understood that sometimes fashion can be art too, as cheesy as that sounds.

Some of the dresses were fascinating:

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Some were terrifying (this one is made with real gull skulls):

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Others were whimsical:

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A few more images in a Flickr gallery:

Manus X Machina
We finally found our way upstairs, but immediately got lost in the 1600-1800s era galleries. It wasn’t until we were about to leave that we finally found ourselves looking at Van Gogh, Degas, and Gauguin. After having visited so many times, I got overconfident in my ability to navigate to the area we were looking for. Next time I’ll just download the app before we go so I have a map in my pocket.

I’d hoped to spend 20 minutes or so in the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia gallery, but I think I was being too ambitious considering how late it was when we got there, but there’s always next time.

We polished off the evening with some awesome burgers over at Shake Shack. It was a pretty good end to the weekend.