Museum Challenge: Arms & Armor of the Islamic World at the Met

On the same day that I saw the Year of the Rooster exhibit at the Met, I also decided to take a look at the Arms & Armor of the Islamic World exhibit. Most of my undergrad studies focused on Middle Eastern history so it’s an area I’m generally interested in. Plus, I grew up reading sword and sorcery fantasy novels like the Dragonlance series of books, the Lord of the Rings, and Song of Ice and Fire, among others. The Wheel of Time series is also pretty good. Anyway, seeing arms and armor in person isn’t as dramatic as those stories, or watching Game of Thrones, but it’s pretty cool anyway. The Arms & Armor hall in the Met is one of my favorite exhibits. I was hoping the Arms & Armor of the Islamic World exhibit would be just as impressive.

Books on my "fantasy-epic" read shelf on Goodreads

Books on my “fantasy-epic” read shelf on Goodreads

It really wasn’t though.

Metropolitan Museum of Art - Hercules Segers, Arms & Armor
The exhibit consisted of a few items packed into one small room, along with a sign saying, “Oh by the way, there’s some other stuff scattered around the rest of the museum that generally falls into this category but we couldn’t be assed to actually put it all together into a coherent display for you, but wanted to get more people into the museum and get more money so we pretended to set up a full exhibit and put it on our website and brochures.” Or something along those lines.

Disappointment in the size and scattered nature of the special exhibit aside, I took great pleasure in examining what was actually there and in looking at the regular items on display.

Next time I head to the Met, I think I’ll go take another look at the Islamic Lands wing. I haven’t been there since shortly after I opened, in 2012 I think it was.

Museum Challenge: Celebrating the Year of the Rooster @ The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the Chinese calendar, it’s the Year of the Rooster. I didn’t even realize that until I saw an exhibit listed to celebrate the Rooster in the Chinese galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I tried to guess at how they could put together an entire gallery of roosters. Rows and rows of roosters, in all mediums. Oil paintings of roosters, clay statues of roosters, pottery with roosters on it. Big roosters, tiny roosters. In my imagination, it was glorious, so of course, I made it a point to go check it out.

I had to ask for help finding the exhibit because I was standing where it was marked on the museum’s map, but I only saw one lonely rooster (pictured above). Unfortunately, that one lonely rooster was almost all there was to look at. There was also one wall display box with a few pieces of art in it and a wall placard explaining the significance of the Chinese zodiac animals.

When I think of an exhibit, I think of something substantial. I honestly felt like the advertisement was a bait and switch just to get people into the museum, which feels cheap and unworthy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art as an institution. Or maybe I’m just sad because I was hoping for something exciting or impressive. Something more. I guess I hold the museum to a higher standard because I hold it in such high regard.

Metropolitan Museum of Art - Year of the Rooster and Asian Art Gallery (March 2017)
Anyway, I did see some really old artifacts from China while walking back out of the Asian galleries that caught my interest. They were objects placed in burial chambers for royalty. They looked like buildings and servants and objects for service and entertainment. It’s a lot like what Pharaohs were buried with in Egypt. It’s odd how similar ideas were popping up all around the world in roughly the same time period. I was reminded of how the pyramids were built in Egypt, but that there were also pyramids being built in Central America. There are the remains of ziggurats in the Middle East, but there are also remains of similar structures on the ocean floor near Japan. I wonder how they’re all connected?

Also, turns out I was born in the year of the Rooster. Gong xi fa cai!

No pole dancing allowed

Museum Challenge: The New York Transit Museum – Fun and Interesting

Of all the museums I’ve visited in New York City, the New York Transit Museum was the most fun, even though it’s also (so far) the smallest. The museum is designed in a way that allows for interaction with many of the exhibits. There was a whole class of children on a field trip playing with the turnstiles when I first got there. I think the museum staff was aiming for making the place a popular field-trip destination. Besides all of the interactive exhibits, there is also a cafeteria/classroom area.Just because it was set up for kids doesn’t mean it can’t be fun for adults too, though.

Students on a field trip trying out old subway turnstiles.

Students on a field trip trying out old subway turnstiles.

Just because it was set up for kids doesn’t mean it can’t be fun for adults too, though. On the first floor or first basement level, depending on how you look at it, there are old buses or portions of buses that you can walk into and sit in. The driver’s seats are accessible and you can have a friend take your photo through the windshield. The newer buses are definitely designed better. The driver’s seat and the angle of the pedals were much more comfortable than an older model I tried out, which required me to keep my leg elevated all the time to press the pedals. I have no idea how people actually drove those older buses all day. Their right legs must have been twice the size of their left legs.

The bottom floor of the basement is where all of the old train cars are. They had everything from A trains, supposedly mid-90s to 2010 (some of which I still see on the A line, not sure why it’s in the museum), to trains from the early 1900s. A lot of the train cars looked similar inside. Even some of the same advertisements spanned decades. It was interesting to see how the seat configurations changed over time. I also thought it was interesting to see ceiling or rotating fans in some of the older train cars. Once a year, New York City runs some of these older trains on the 7 line (I think).

Vintage train advertisement.

Vintage train advertisement.

What really interested me, though, were the old advertisements. I’d like to go back and just spend a few hours studying them. You can tell a lot about people during a certain time period based on the products they were buying and how the appeals made by advertisers were framed. It’s also just neat to see the artwork styles.

Signage meant to regulate passenger behavior.

Signage meant to regulate passenger behavior.

 

More signage meant to regular passenger behavior.

More signage meant to regular passenger behavior.

Another awesome exhibit in the museum is of signs meant to regulate the behavior of passengers. The signs are from multiple transit systems around the world. Some of them are hilarious; all of them are necessary. Or at least, the ones for the New York transit system are necessary. I remember being shocked by how clean the trains and buses in Singapore were when I first moved there. The trains were so clean that sometimes people would sit on the floor, something that is totally out of the question in New York City trains. The buses in New York City are usually just as filthy as the trains. People litter everywhere here; they spit everywhere here. It’s a shame. The city would be so much nicer if people would take care of it, but they don’t. They just complain about how dirty the city is while contributing to the problem.

Anyhow, the New York Transit Museum is pretty awesome and I’ll definitely be going back at least one more time in the future. Take a look through the photo gallery below for more images of exhibits in the museum:

 

The New York Transit Museum

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.