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Two Sundays in NYC - Jan. 11 and Jan. 25.

Author: RichardNika
Email: Corona70@aol.com (More Trip Reviews by RichardNika)
Date of Trip: January 2009

sphere fritz koenig new york city nyc memorialA little farther along in the park, and set well back from the street on a pedestal, was a large, battered-looking brassy object that I recognized immediately. It was "the Sphere," the Fritz Koenig sculpture that had stood in the courtyard of the Towers for 30 years and then was indeed battered when they fell. It was taken down to this park and mounted, kept just as it was. It has also become a memorial, and will probably be restored to the area of the Towers someday.

Battery Place curved north, and then we entered the modern-looking building that houses the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Unlike the Jewish Museum at 92nd and Broadway, which covers all of Jewish history and is also an art museum, this facility deals almost exclusively with modern-era persecutions, ghettos and, especially, the Holocaust. There were two special exhibits that day. One dealt with Irene Nemirovsky, and the other with the mass shootings of Jews in the Ukraine by the Nazis.

Irene Nemirovovsky was a writer in France between the wars. She wrote books and the script for a well known movie. Her family was Jewish but she converted to Catholicism, possibly to avoid anti-semitic violence, perhaps for other reasons - no one is sure. She was married and had two daughters. I'll provide the short version. Despite her conversion, she and her husband were both murdered by the Nazis in 1942. Her two daughters were sheltered, largely by nuns, and survived. One of her daughters saved a suitcase containing a manuscript which turned out to be a novel, "Suite Francaise," about the German invasion and occupation of France. The exhibit featured the original manuscript, the aforementioned suitcase, and dozens of memorabilia as well as photos and videos. I'd started to read the novel earlier but had stopped because I found her fate so depressing. Now I am determined to finish it.

The Nazi invasion of Ukraine was fast and brutal. Their instructions were to murder all Jews immediately - no work camps for them. The topic was so depressing that we mulled skipping the exhibit, but in fact, there was also a great deal about the history of Jews in the region - it wasn't all death and destruction,

My wife and I have been to the Holocaust museums in Washington, Jerusalem and Paris, and my daughter and I have been to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. All were impressive, but none of them had nearly as many original artifacts as this museum did. Clothing, uniforms, yellow stars, ration and ID cards, ghetto coins and currency - the list goes on. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed, but we were permitted to take pictures through the upstairs windows, which had incredible views of New York harbor, the Hudson and the Statue of Liberty.

We backtracked to the subway station at the foot of Broadway, trying not to slip on the ice, changed trains, and finally made a return visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There would be time for only one special exhibit there that day, so we chose the one honoring the 30 years of service of just-retired museum director Philippe de Montebello. We'd been advised to rent the audio guide, so we did. What we saw was basically the museum itself, but drastically downsized and in miniature. The exhibit consisted of acquisitions made during his directorship, and consisted of a little bit of everything - an ancient Egyptian figurine, Van Gogh's 'Wheat Field With Cypresses,' a Rubens painting of himself, his young wife and one of their children, a Congolese "Mangaaka Power Figure," a Gauguin drawing of "Tahitian Faces," a strange French dress and/or coat from 1919 made of silk, wool and metallic thread, and a German guitar that had been used by Segovia.

We usually carry our food with us, not because we don't want to pay for a restaurant meal, but because we don't want to take the time for one. Also, it's good to bring your own food when you fly. This is especially true on Spirit, which sells nothing but candy, muffins, beer and wine, and - well - spirits. However, I can't resist buying a hot potato knish from a sidewalk vendor and having him slice it lengthwise and fill it with mustard. Only in New York.

Then it was back to LaGuardia via the Madison Avenue bus and the M60. We regretted missing several other special Met exhibits, but caught up with them two weeks later.

When we landed at LaGuardia the morning of January 25, the weather was bell-clear and freezing - 16 degrees. The previous trip, the splendid view of Manhattan from the left side of the plane had been obscured by fog. This time, it was clear and sharp. It's always striking to see the skyscrapers suddenly appear - sadly, missing what was once the two tallest - and then seeing the "saddle" effect - tall at the southern tip, tall in mid-Manhattan, much shorter buildings in between. As always, we stopped on the way out to get coffee. There was a long line at Dunkin Donuts, so we got it at Au Bon Pain instead. It was just as good. We caught the M60, then the M1 down Fifth Avenue. The Sunday crowd waiting for it to open was small because of the cold.

Everything we most wanted to see was on the second floor. First was "Art and Love in Renaissance Italy." The focus was on love, often unrequited - usually a man spurned by a woman - marriage and childbirth. Paintings, plates, enamels and ceramics abounded. There was a colorfully painted ceramic inkstand with busts of a loving couple, a tin-glazed earthenware bowl with an image of unrequited love - this showing a woman seated outdoors, moping - a wedding ring with the couple's names inscribed, a jewel with gold letters spelling "AMOR" ("When the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that's AMORE" - remember the Dean Martin song?) , tempura on a small panel with a reclining nude Venus, a childbirth bowl, a lovely carved infant cradle, and a Titian painting of Venus and Cupid. There were a number of objects each showing a woman gruesomely killing a man, and there were two rooms containing some rather erotic scenes and suggesting that parents preview that section before bringing in their children. I was reminded of the two rooms in the Archeological Museum in Naples which contain far more explicit art, all found at Pompeii - as I left those rooms, a female teacher was leading her class of grade schoolers into them.

The next exhibit was "Beyond Babylon - Trade and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium BC." The artistry shown here was extraordinary for that era - some items were more than 4,000 years old. There was a carved statuette, of bronze, gold and silver, circa 1760 BC, of a kneeling worshiper. A superbly engraved axe of precious metals, semi precious stones and wood from the 1600s BC, a beautiful inlaid pendant with semiprecious stones from around 2000 BC, and a nude female figure from about 1300 BC, of bronze overlaid with gold. Among the most interesting - to me, anyway - items were some ancient seals, mostly Sumerian, from the second millennium BC. These look like tiny stone cylinders, less than an inch long and not much wider than a cigarette. Roll one in wax, photograph the resulting impression with a good contrast and enlarge it, and you have some amazing art and ancient script. The Morgan Library on 36th street has quite a collection of these.

Then to "Raphael to Renoir," a collection of drawings from the Renaissance to about 1900. Having taken several drawing classes and often attending drawing workshops at the South Florida Arts Center, I always enjoy from such exhibits, and also learn from them - for example, how to shade with thin close lines and/or cross hatching. Many are so simple in design, yet so exquisitely done.

"Reality Check: Truth and Illusion in Contemporary Photography" featured many seemingly ordinary scenes shot in unusual ways. One photographer specializes in newly-constructed buildings and facilities not yet put to use; his shot of a new, unoccupied gas station at night is eerie. Many other photos focused on the deserted, the unoccupied, the unused, the empty. Two of the most haunting show collapsed ground next to homes after a California flash flood, and an urban warfare training center in Israel - a fake city with fake "buildings" of all kinds, full sized but movable.

By then, it was mid-afternoon, and I realized there would be time for only one more, smaller museum, preferably in the same neighborhood. We settled on the Frick Collection, a museum consisting of the mansion built by mining mogul Henry Clay Frick about a century ago at Fifth and 70th Street, and his large, impressive, selective and eclectic art collection. We walked via Madison Avenue, peering into windows of mostly closed-for-Sunday commercial galleries. It had "warmed up" into the 20s. Some of you may know why so many girls nowadays are named Madison. It originated with a scene in the movie "Splash," when mermaid Darryl Hannah encounters the avenue of that name.

Mr. Frick bought what he liked, regardless of the medium, so the galleries are filled with paintings, drawings, furniture, boxes, porcelains, vases, plates, even jewelry. There is almost no American art, almost nothing before the Renaissance, no primitive art and almost none of what we think of as modern art. Almost everything is from western and central Europe. Nevertheless, the variety of media is fascinating, We arrived at 2 PM only to discover that the admission fee was waived on Sundays - from 11 to 1. Oh well. After an introductory video, we each took an included and user-friendly audio guide. We had about two hours before closing, and that was just enough time. There are many rooms and hallways, all containing art, situated around a center roofed courtyard with gardens, water and benches. One unusual aspect of the museum is that nothing is kept under or behind glass or ropes or any other barriers, except for a few exceptionally fragile items. For this reason, children under 10 are not permitted; those ages 10 to 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

The Renaissance and the Dutch and Flemish of the 17th centuries are well represented. Frick was especially fond of Van Dyck, but the collection also includes Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens, and Hans Holbein. The best English painters of the 1700s and 1800s are present, including Turner, Reynolds, and George Romney - probably not related to the 1960s former Michigan governor who fathered former Massachusetts governor Mitt.

The West Gallery features features Rembrandt's stunning "Self Portrait," his mysterious "Polish Rider," Turner's stunning luminous painting of the harbor at Cologne - as well as those of Antwerp and Dieppe - Goya's striking image of workers at a forge, a 16th century French sculpture of Hercules fighting with a monster, a 15th century bronze of a nasty looking satyr with an inkstand and candlestick, a stunning 16th century Italian sculpture of a she-wolf, and Vermeer's stunning and haunting painting, 'The Mistress and the Maid." This is one of those paintings that you keep going back to. What is the maid telling and showing her employer? What do each of their expressions imply?

The Oval Room includes a lovely Renoir, a woman in a park with two children who could be twins. Is she their mother or their nanny? In the Living Hall is an extraordinary huge portrait of St. Jerome, expressive and totally different from his saints-and-halos stuff I saw in Madrid's Prado. Also, barely separated, are Holbein's familiar portrait of Sir Thomas More and of Thomas Cromwell. The mass murderer also known as Henry VIII had More, his Lord Chancellor, beheaded for refusing to sanction his divorce from his first wife and his position as head of the church in England. Cromwell, a top aide to the king, lost his head after arranging Henry's fourth marriage to a woman who turned out to be homely. Holbein also painted Henry himself, but that painting is elsewhere. Historians tell us that after his third wife, Jane Seymour, died, Henry began seeking a fourth wife from all the royal families in Europe. One princess reportedly responded to that inquiry by saying she might consider it - if she had two heads. This hall also contains numerous sculptures and other objects.

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