24 Hours in NYC: 4 Museums, 3 Boroughs, 1 Magical Pizza.

With an hour by hour itinerary and dining spots mapped around each museum, Alex and I set out. First stop: the Morgan Library and Museum in Midtown. The Morgan claimed that they were pulling out their entire collection of Islamic manuscripts for this show. Their collection is notable, especially to me, since it includes this elephant illumination from the Manafi’ al-Hayawan.  

Isn't it Wonderful!
"The two interlocking and rather affectionate elephants shown here make up one of the finest of the forty-four large illustrations in the manuscript Manāfi˓-i ḥayavān (The Benefits of Animals). They are royal elephants, as seen from their caps and the bells on their feet. The text describes both the habits and medicinal derivatives of the animal. Among the former, for example, it is stated that the tongue of the elephant is upside down, for if it were not, it could speak, and that the elephant was called "barrus on account of its voice, whence the voice is called baritone." Among the latter—and these have not been tested by the Morgan—are suggestions that elephant broth is good for colds and asthma, that elephant dung (taken with or without honey) prevents conception, and that one dram of ivory filings will bring about conception." (The Morgan)

Two Gazelles and Two Mountain Rams
Ibn Bakhtīshū˓ (d. 1058), Manāfi˓-i ḥayavān(The Benefits of Animals), in Persian. Persia, Maragha, between 1297 and 1300, for Shams al-Dīn Ibn Ẓiyā˒ al-Dīn al-Zūshkī.

"Manāfi˓-i ḥayavān (The Benefits of Animals) ranked among the ten greatest Persian manuscripts, dates from the reign of Ghazan Khan (1295–1304), the Mongol ruler who ordered a Persian translation of the book. The Mongol invasion, culminating in the conquest of Baghdad, brought a new, Chinese naturalist style to Persian art. The text discusses the nature and medicinal properties of humans, animals, birds, reptiles, fish, and insects. On the right, two gazelles run in front of a steep, rocky mountainside, kicking up dust (derived from a misunderstood misty landscape model), while on the left two mountain rams fight on a fanciful Chinese-style bridge composed of colored rocks, with gold clouds in the sky." (The Morgan)

The Morgan has a great on line collection, follow this link to see all of these paintings in detail.

I was really hoping to meet my elephant painting on this occasion. Nervous, as if I were heading out for a blind date, I bounded into the gallery searching all over for it, the one. I got caught up by some other incredible miniatures of composite animals and flayed bodies until I found the image above displayed in a case. I recognized and admired the painting style, but the book was not open to the page I'd hoped to see! It was another remarkable page of animals, but how let down I was at that moment, kept away from a treasure that was so close but completely unattainable.

A Sun-bearing Peri Rides a Composite Lion
Mughal, Kashmir, probably third quarter of the eighteenth century

This show is worth seeing of course, as it is a rare occasion that these gems are taken from storage and allowed to share their magnificence. The Morgan also holds the Stavelot Triptych and is in general a fantastic place to spend an afternoon. 

True Cross Reliquary

After dark we headed uptown, walking along Central Park, toward the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our goal was to see Storytelling in Japanese Art, a collection of medieval and early modern Japanese illustrated handscrolls (emakimono). I loved reading these tales in one of my graduate seminars and it was thrilling to see the accompanying emaki at the Met. 

The Story of the God of Kitano Tenjin Shrine, Kamakura Period, 13th century. 

This tale recounts the afterlife of Sugiwara Michizane, a ninth century poet-statesmen, who after dying of a broken heart unleashes all kinds of weather related fury. Nichizo, pictured above, is sent on a journey to hell, where he meets the eight-headed guard monster, in order to placate Michizane.

The Tale of the Drunken Demon, Shuten-doji, Edo Period, 17th century. 

In this legend, Shuten-doji has a fatal habit of kidnapping young ladies. Raiko, a samurai, is dispatched to free the girls and eradicate the demon. In this scene, Shuten-doji, the largest figure, is surrounded by his demon underlings as well as Raiko and his retinue of samurai (they are disguised as monks). They are attending a cannibalistic feast. On the menu: arm and leg sashimi and blood. 

Frolicking Animals, Choju Giga, Heian Period, 12th century.

Night Parade of One Hundred Demons. 

In this tale, inanimate objects; spoons, chopsticks, and pots for example, turn into demons if they are not properly discarded.

A fantastic show. The works assembled here, some of the most important and well-known emaki, are a combination of permanent collection, local loans and loans from Japan. So unless you are planning to jet off to Asia, you should make a point to get to this museum. Another perk, the lengths of the scrolls with be periodically changed so that you can see different parts. I wish the Morgan would do something similar! Since we happened to visit on a Saturday where hours are extended until 9pm, we had the place to ourselves. We ran through some of the other sections with unbridled glee!

Rushing directly to Brooklyn after a day of museum exhilaration, we made our way to the legendary DiFara's Pizzeria in Midwood. I won't gush too much about our experience there, but it was memorable. It's a total dive in the middle of a wildly diverse and legendary neighborhood. We were running to meet our friends there and we ran right past it because from the outside (and the inside), it seems impossible that magical pizzas would be in progress. I have never seen pizza made with such care and affection. Neapolitan Domenico DeMarco, the main pizza guy and owner for about fifty years, makes each one, every day. On our two pies he: sprinkled top quality hand grated salty, parmesan, trimmed basil leaves from a fresh bundle, used an oil can to douse the entire thing with extra virgin olive oil. It was beautiful and it was delicious. Number one pizza, best of my life so far. But I haven't been to Italy. Yet!

The next day we ate leftover pizza for breakfast and happily ran over to the Brooklyn Museum for

An edited version of David Wojnarowicz's unfinished film, Fire In My Belly, 1987.

Another version with Diamanda Galas chanting the Plague Mass. 

From Rosa von Praunheim's Silence = Death (1990).

This NY Times article discusses the details around the removal of this film from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington. The decision stemmed from images of ants on a crucifix! Ridiculous. 

I enjoyed watching this film, it was disturbing and effective. Wojnarowicz filmed most of it while living in Mexico. There are momentary flashes of Coatlicue, the Aztec goddess of creation and destruction, which he would have seen in the National Museum of Anthropology and History in Mexico City. She wears a necklace of human hearts, hands, and a skull. Her skirt: made of snakes. She is badass. The concept of creation and destruction is central to Wojnarowicz's message. He died in 1992, age 37, from complications of AIDS. However, when he was making this, he did not know he had the virus. 

According to the NYT, Hide/Seek..."is the first major museum exhibition to focus on homosexuality and to trace some of the ways that same-sex desire — and unconventional notions of masculinity and femininity in general — have been manifested in early Modern, Modern and postmodern American art, as evinced primarily in portraiture." This is an important event in museum history and should not be missed.

Next stop: Queens! Cafe Triskell in Astoria for Breton crepes. A surly waitress/wife, who yelled upon our entrance, "can you just give me a minute!," French conversations loudly exchanged, delightful crepes made by the husband (and the waitress/wife warmed up later): this tiny cafe was an ideal spot for refueling for our next and final museum visit.

George Kuchar: Pagan Rhapsodies at PS 1.

I think Alex and I were both a little giddy about coming to this, on its closing day. We had attended a screening at Harvard a few months ago, George couldn't make the trip from California, but skyped in (see Alex's review here). We knew that something was not right. Sadly, he passed away only a month after that event. But what a legacy he left behind and I am thrilled to be aware of this mad genius. 

Kuchar was trained as a commercial artist, so we weren't surprised at how well he could draw. Still, it was a treat to get a close look at his small scale sketches and paintings. The exhibition included screening rooms for several of his films, one of which was Hold Me While I'm Naked. It's really terrific, check it out. There are many tender and awkward moments, there are parts that are romantic and sexy and there are a lot of parts that are tremendously weird and beautiful. There's no question that this is a true work of art. I love it.  

1 comment:

  1. What an epic post! The "peri" on the "composite lion" wins for best design of anything I saw that day with you. So many memories, every time we trek through NYC. It was a feast.