Thursday, January 20, 2022

El Museo del Barrio


New York City is full of museums, but the has always been a lack of representation of artists who are not male, and of European descent. As the Puerto Rican population in New York City grew during the 1950’s and 1960’s a movement developed to remedy that situation. The movement saw fruition in 1969, when El Museo del Barrio opened.

Engine Company 53 - home of El Museo -Cover Photo from "A Tribute to EC 53"

Rafael Montañez Ortiz began to collect and create materials that highlighted Puerto Rican artists for schools in the neighborhood known as El Barrio, which was home to many of the Puerto Ricans that had move to the city. Ortiz expanded this project as a community resource, first in a classroom, and moving about the neighborhood, until, in 1969, it found a home in an abandoned firehouse. It role was to be place that exhibited the work of Puerto Rican and Nuyorican artists who were ignored by other museums in New York. In 1977 El Museo moved into its current space, occupying the first floor of a city owned building on 5th Avenue, as part New York’s Museum mile.

Today, El Museo has expanded its outlook to include all of Latin America, while maintaining a focus on artists whose roots are in Puerto Rico. The two current exhibitions typify both of these goals. Popular Painters & Other Visionaries (through 02/27/2022) brings works by thirty five self-taught and formally trained artists to El Museo. All of the artists are members of the African diaspora in the Americas, and were active during the middle of the 20th century. The organizers have chosen artists that have been excluded form many art histories because their work is considered “naive” or “primitive”, terms that they believe are pejorative. The exhibit is divided into four themes. First is Visible/Invisible, which explores the role of African and European religions and spirituality in the lives of people from the diaspora.

Untitled by Rigaud Benoît

Untitled by Jacques-Richard Chéry

In The World by Consuelo "Chelo" González Amézcua

Inside/Outside presents the influence of European art and culture in the Americas

Cabin in the Cotton by Horace Pippin

Capoeira by Maria Auxiliadora de Silva

Festa de São João by Alfredo Volpe

Public/Private shows architecture and landscapes in the Americas, while Animal/Human gives us works of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures.

Rascacielo del Balcones by Félix Cordero

The second exhibit is En Foco: The New York Puerto Rican Experience 1973-1974. These are photographs taken by the three founding members of the En Foco collective, which was formed in reaction to the mostly negative portrayals of of Puerto Ricans in culture and news reporting. Their goal was to use their reality as Puerto Ricans photographers to explore the lives of their community, presenting a more realistic picture. Each photographer focused on a different theme. 


Felipe Dante spent his time documenting the travails of Puerto Ricans in the labor force.

Roger Cabán visited the small businesses in El Barrio, concentrating on the role they played in community life.

Charles Biasiny-Rivera visited local schools, documenting the day-to-day life of students in El Barrio. Together they present an intimate view of the lives of Puerto Ricans in New York, one that outsiders often missed or ignored.

El Museo has become the permanent museum showing work by Latino artists in New York. It is worth the trip to El Barrio.

Nuts and Bolts:
El Museo is located at 1230 5th Ave., between 104th and 105th streets.

The Entrance fee is “pay what you want”, but the suggested donation is Adults $9/ Seniors and Students $5.

To get there take the Number 6 train to 103rd street and Lexington Ave, or the M1, M2, M3, or M4 bus to 104th street and 5th Ave.(heading downtown) or Madison Ave (heading uptown)

Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Cloisters


New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has an amazing collection of work. The main museum, on Fifth Avenue, is a place to get lost in art from around the world, and from many time periods. However, if you want to explore medieval art from Europe, you have to travel up to Ft. Tryon Park, at the northern end of Manhattan, to the city’s own medieval monastery - The Cloisters.

In Fort Tryon Park, The Met - Cloisters sits on a hilltop overlooking both the Hudson and Harlem Rivers. This castle is comprised of stones from several European buildings and chapels built over eight hundred years ago. The structures were originally purchased by George Gray Barnard, an American sculptor. While living in Europe prior to World War I, he began to deal in, and collect medieval art and religious items, with an eye toward creating a museum in New York City. His purchases included several chapels and Abbys that had been abandoned. In 1925, John D Rockefeller acquired Barnard’s collection for the Metropolitan Museum at a price of $700,000.

John D. Rockefeller had a plan to build a park in northern Manhattan, and in 1927 he hired Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., the son of the designer of Central Park, to design Fort Tryon Park, on land that he had acquired along the Hudson River. In 1930, a sixty-seven acre site in the park was picked to be the home of Cloisters. Stones from the abandoned European buildings were brought over and used to create one cohesive building that would house this new medieval collection of the Met. The museum was built on a steep hillside, with galleries on two different levels. It includes open courtyards and an herb garden that looks out onto the Palisades of New Jersey.

The Cloister’s galleries are filled with wonderful pieces of art. Most of them are from Spain and France. You will find altars and altarbacks built for churches, along with other religious accoutrements.

There are also many ceramic and architectural features from the lives and homes of European nobility.

To me, the highlight of a visit to the Cloisters are the Unicorn Tapestries. Titled “The Hunt of the Unicorn”, these seven pieces were made between 1495 and 1505 in the Netherlands. They depict the hunt, capture and death of a unicorn. While there are several interpretations of their meaning, these are beautiful works, and still in excellent condition.

While Medieval art is not everyone’s favorite, a trip to the Cloisters feels like a trip back in time, or at least to one of the many museum museum in Europe that are housed in their ancient structures. The walk through Fort Tryon Park is beautiful and that along with walking through the building make this a great afternoon out.

Nuts and Bolts:
The Met - Cloisters is open Thursday-Tuesday from 10:00 AM-4:30 PM.

Entrance fees for the Met are Adults $25/ Seniors $17/ Students $12. New York State residents have the option to pay what they want if and do not need advance tickets.

The Met - Cloisters is in Fort Tryon Park. There is limited free parking at the museum, and elsewhere in the park. You can also take the A train to the 191st street station, which has an exit near the park’s Ft. Washington Ave. entrance. The M4 bus stops directly in front of the museum.