Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Visit the Asia Society in NYC for an excellent exploration of art and culture

When you are looking for art in New York City you can spend your time fighting the crowds at the Metropolitan Museum, MOMA or The Whitney, me,  I prefer looking for the smaller museums and galleries. They offer excellent exhibits without having to push my way through throngs of humanity to see the art. One excellent choice is the Asia Society.

John D Rockfeller III photo by José Arturo Quarracino via Wikipedia
The Asia Society was founded in 1956 bu John D. Rockefeller III to promote greater knowledge of Asia in the United States. Its mission is to build awareness about Asian politics, business, education, arts, and culture, through education. It sponsors art exhibitions, film showings, performances, lectures, and educational programs. It covers the area from Iran to Japan and from Central Asia to the South Pacific.

Their main offices, in New York City, were renovated in 1999 and expanded to include two floors of galleries along with a cafe in the lobby and an auditorium. When I visited in May of 2019, there were four exhibitions being presented.
Photo via

On the third floor of the museum, there is Masterpieces of the Asia Society Museum Collection. The collection was founded by a donation from the Rockefeller family. The theme of this exhibit is Movement of Buddhism Across Asia. It includes ceramic and sculptures from countries spanning China to Southeast Asia to India, and presents many different versions of Buddha as visualized in the countries of Asia.

Bottle, China (11th Century)

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, Nepal (13th Century)

Dhumavati Shri Devi, Tibet (15th Century)

Ganesha India (11th Century)

Across the hall you will find Inspired by Modern Indian Art: Works by New York City Students. These are works by groups of students, inspired by art from India.

On the second floor you will find M.F. Husain: Art and the Nation.The heart of this exhibit is Lightning a 10 ft x 60 ft mural he created for a public rally held by Indira Gandhi’s Congress Party, in 1975. M. F. Husain was born in 1915, and started his career painting billboards for Bollywood films during the 1930’s. His use of bright colors and stylized figures harken back to those roots, but also show the influence of later cubist works. The horses in Lightning remind me of Picasso’s figures in his masterpiece Guernica.
Lightning by M.F. Husain
Lightning Detail

Lightning Detail

The final exhibit, also on the second floor, is Reza Aramesh: 12 noon, Monday 5 August 1963. Mr. Aramesh was born in Iran, and moved to London as a teenager during the 1990’s. This exhibit is inspired by the victims of government violence and torture and by the iconography of saints in the Catholic Church. The lime wood sculptures are both beautiful and horrifying, as they capture they bodies of victims in the throes of pain. Some critics have called it homoerotic, although I am not sure about that. I do believe that these figures are presented in a style similar to the ways that the deaths of the saints were in medieval times.

12 noon, Monday 5 August 1963

The Asia Society is wonderful resource. Whether you live in the city or are visiting, check out its website for fascinating exhibits, films, lectures and performances. Take in a piece of Asia in New York.

Getting There:
Take the Q train to 72nd street or the 6 train to 67th street. Walk to 70th street and Park Ave.

$12/ $10 seniors/ $7 Students with I.D.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Ferrara is home to wonderful and historic buildings and even a castle

Lion's tower of Castello Estenese

Having spent three days in Bologna, it was time to move on, and I was off to Padua. The drive was a short one, and I had time to make a stop, so I decided to visit the city of Ferrara.

Ferrara sits near the delta of the Po River, and its history is a long one. Construction projects during the 1920’s unearthed Etruscan durian sites dating back to 600 BCE. The name Ferrara first appeared in written records around 700 ACE. After several centuries of struggle for control, the city, and the royal title that goes with it, fell to the Estes family, which ruled from 1264 until 1598. It was during their rule that Ferrara’s main tourist attraction, Castello Estense, was built. But more on that later.

In 1570, a major earthquake hit the city, and greatly disrupted its economy. The blow was so severe that it really didn’t recover until the 1930’s, when it changed from an agricultural trade center to an industrial one. Today. It has a population of 130,000 people. While the metropolitan area is large, the historic center is easily walkable and home to many renaissance palaces and buildings.

I arrived in Ferrara on a rainy Tuesday, and parked in one of the large lots outside of the old city walls. Walking toward the center of town was like walking back in time. I started at the Piazza del Travaglio, really a public parking lot, surrounded by modern buildings. I walked north along the Corso Porto Reno, and started passing buildings that were older and older. I crossed the via Carlo Mayr, and half way up the next block I arrived at the covered entrances to via della Volta, a small street, really not more than an alley. It gave me my first glimpse to what Ferrara looked like in its past.

Via della Volta

Out for a morning stroll

I continued several more blocks, past the Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower), to the Piazza delle Cattedrale and the Piazza di Trento e Trieste. As in many towns, the main cathedral is placed across the street from the city hall. In Ferrara, the old city hall is now home to several stores and restaurants on the ground floor to a few museums upstairs. Given the rain, I couldn’t spend too much time walking around, exploring the town, although I did stop to take some pictures.

Piazza di Trento e Trieste

My main goal was the Castello Estense. Construction on the first sections of the castle began in 1162, when the Estes family won control of the city. They stayed in power for over four hundred years, until, in 1598, the Duke at that time died without a male heir, and the Catholic Church took control of the city, turning the castle into the home of the Cardinal Legates. In 1870, the castle was turned over to the Kingdom of Italy, and then to the Provincial government in 1927. This history of constant occupation, followed by government control, have left the castle in excellent condition.

The self-guided tour of the castle begins with its history. The ground floor rooms house models of the building along with posters and artifacts that describe and explain its history, and that of the House of Estes. From there, you travel down into the dungeon, yes, castles really have them, and they were used to confine the political enemies of the Duke. The rival of one of the Dukes was kept here for over forty years.
Coat of Arms room

Castle Kitchen

Bacchinalia room

I then continued upstairs, through various rooms and apartments of the castle. I can’t describe them all, but three things stood out to me. First, the terrace of orange trees. One of the Duchesses, who had gown up further south, wanted the trees, because they reminded her of home. So the Duke had this terrace filled with orange trees in planters. Second, the museum has installed large mirrors, placed at angles to the floor in many rooms. This allows visitors to see the wonderful artwork on the ceilings without having to strain their neck muscles. Finally, there was the Lion’s Tower. Part of Ferrara’s original city walls, it was incorporated into the castle, as the both it and the city grew, and the walls needed to moved. From it, I had views across the city, and if it hadn’t been raining, I would have sen out to the countryside. Be warned, it is a long climb up to the top, but they did have chairs available, for those of us who needed time to recover.
ceiling as seen in a mirror

Orange Terrace

View from the Lion's Tower

For lunch, I followed the suggestion of one of the people who worked at the castle, and crossed the square to the Osteria l’Quattro Angeli. I had one of my best meals there. I was trying to figure out what to order, and looked at the table next to me. The woman sitting there had just received a plate of oversized ravioli that looked out of this world. So I ordered the same, Cappellaci de Zucca, Burro e Salvia. The pasta was filled with pumpkin and served in a wonderful butter and sage sauce. The pumpkin was sweet and sauce was delicious.

After lunch, I walked to the Palazzo dei Diamanti. Built in 1493, the building is named for the diamond shaped marble blocks that form the walls of building’s exterior. It is now an exhibition space owned by the city of Ferrara, and what drew me was an exhibit of paintings by Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931). Born in Ferrara, Boldini moved to Paris and became one of the preeminent painters of Parisian fashion. He was so important that his studio was almost a “must visit” for women on the Grand Tour. They would come with their newly purchased dresses and have a portrait done to take home with them. The exhibit paired the the paintings of Boldini with some of his contemporaries, including Degas, and also with examples of the clothing he painted.
Cecilia de Modrazo Fornoy by Boldini

Fireworks by Boldini

Garden of the Piazza Diamonte

By this time it was mid-afternoon, and I had to return to my car to head on to Padua. But, on my way to the parking lot I stopped at Pasticceria Dario for a cappuccino and a delicious chocolate croissant. Then back into the rain, on to my car, and off to next stop.

Entrance info:

Castelle Estenese - Open 0930-1730. Every day 1March-30Sep. Closed Mondays the rest of the year.
€8 adults/ €6 children and seniors. Lion's tower €2

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Dozza, Italy - City of Art ond History

My vacation had brought me to Bologna on Easter Sunday. I was worried about finding restaurants and museums open to visit. I needn’t have been, everything was in full swing on Easter. What I didn’t know is that the in Italy, Easter MONDAY in the holiday. So there I was, looking for a place to have breakfast on Holy Monday, and having trouble finding even a small cafe that was open. I walked over a mile in my search, and by the time I ate and returned to my apartment my legs were telling me that they needed a rest day after a week of touring Florence and Bologna.

Dozza's Gates

This vacation to Italy had already been full of surprises, but maybe the biggest one was coming up on this day. I decided to take advantage of having a car, and driving the 36 Km (22 miles) to the town of Dozza. I left the big city around 0930 and about an hour later, I was pulling onto a football field that was being used as a parking lot in the small town. Why the extra parking? Well, Dozza was throwing a full on block party, and it was filling up with mostly Italians who were here for the afternoon.

The rooftops of Dozza

There are two reasons Dozza is a popular day trip. It is an old hilltop town. Old enough to be found in written records dating to the early 12th century. Entering through the town’s two gates, I came first to a small plaza and found the second reason that so many people visit. Dozza sponsors an art festival every two years, turning the walls of the town over to artists from around the world. As I walked around, I found dozens of murals decorating the buildings.

My visit on a festival day meant that all of the restaurants were booked solid at lunchtime. I had to find another option, and wandering around I ended up with a treat that mainly locals knew about. In a small piazza, off of the town’s main square, was a bbq stand doing booming business. They offered one choice, skewers of beef that were being cooked over the coals of a small grill, similar to yakitori. Each skewer sold for €1 so four of them with a €3 cup of local white wine made for a delicious and inexpensive al fresco lunch.

I walked through the town, enjoying the murals, but my goal was up at the top of the hill. There, at the highest point, sits the Rocca Malevezzi-Campeggi (Malevezzi-Campeggi Castle) also known as the Rocca di Dozza   (Dozza Castle). The current layout of the castle was put in place during the middle of the 13th century when it served as towns fortress. During the 16th century, the castle was granted Cardinal Campeggi. His family was granted lordship of the area. They carried out renovations to first floor of the castle to create his apartments and a chapel.

Dozza Castle

Castle Courtyard

Castle Kitchen

In 1728, the last male heir of the Campeggi family died, and the Marquisate, along the its castle, passed into the Malevezzi family, through marriage. The Malevezzi’s renovated the second floor, and lived in the castle until 1960, when they deeded the fortress to the city of Dozza.

Today, the castle serves as a historical and an art museum. When I visited, there was an exhibit of young European sculptors.

Prigioniero della Terra by Ionel Alesandrescu
Tempo by Jitka Kursovò-Valevskà

This was my first time renting a car on a trip to Europe. It gave me the freedom to explore places that I would never have gone to see by bus or train. Dozza was an wonderful find, and an excellent day trip from Bologna.

    Getting There:
From Bologna: Take the E45 east for 20 Km. Exit to the SP19 South (Castle San Pietro Exit). Travel for 3 Km to SS9 (left, towards Imola). Travel 5 Km to via Nuovo Sabbioso. Turn right and go 3 Km to Dozza.

Entrance to the Castle: €5 for adults/€3 for students

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Visiting some of Bologna's Museums

Palazzo d'Accursio

Bologna is an old city with a history in education. It is home to beautiful churches and distinctive porticoed streets. It is also home to some wonderful museums that offer both classic and innovative views of art. After spending Easter morning visiting some churches (see last weeks post) I ate lunch and took in two of those museums.

For lunch I walked half a block off of the Piazza Maggiore, to a great lunch place, the salumeria Simoni Laboratorio. In 1960, the Simoni family opened a salumeria in the Centro Storico of Bologna, two blocks from the center square of the city. In 2015 they opened their restaurant/laboratory on via Pescherie Vecchia II where you can order and eat from a menu of sandwiches and plates. I ordered the ballerina and for €5 I received a large sandwich of amazing ham and pecorino cheese. It was delicious.

Salumeria Plate at Simoni Laboratorio

Meat and Cheese for sale 

After lunch I walked across the square to the Palazzo d’Accursio, or City Hall. This collection of buildings holds the offices of Bologna’s government along with the Collezioni Comunali d’Arte. The museum occupies the second floor (third floor for us Americans) of the palazzo. The rooms were originally built for the Cardinal Legates, representatives of Pope, who lived there from the 16th century until 1859. The museum houses a collection of artists for the Emilia-Romagna region. The art is good, although not outstanding. The rooms, however, are amazing. They have been maintained and restored, keeping the decorations from the papal era in place.

Prospettivo by Fernando Galli Bibiena 

Venus and Eros by Antonio Bellucci

The Trinity(artist unknown)

Coat of Arms room

The second museum I visited was the Museo Civico Archeologico. It was not the extensive collection of artifacts from Greece, Rome and Byzantium that brought me to the museum. It was to a fascinating exhibit entitled Ex Africa. This exhibit of 270 pieces from the continent, covering pieces created over the last thousand years, has been put together with the intent to show that art from Africa should be considered as at the same level as art in Europe. The artworks are arranged in themed galleries, presented works tied together by their role in society and culture. Religious statues, masks, and representational figures are shown with representations of the historical growth and changes. 

Figures from Senuto

Masks from Punu

The exhibit highlights the development of art forms, in the same manner that is applied to European art in many museums. Ex Africa also discussed the level of skills needed to create these works, along with how these skills and styles were shared throughout the continent, thus illustrating that the art of Africa was not “tribal,” but represented continent-wide movements. Finally, the exhibit presents modern representations of traditional African art, along with works by contemporary artists, who have incorporated traditional styles.

Salt Cellars from Sierra Leon

Messenger from Edo

Power Figures from Songye

Being a university city, Bologna offers many opportunities to explore art in ways that the more traditional tourists spots miss. It is worth a visit for its history and for its unique presentations.

Getting There:
Collezioni Civico d’Arte - Palazzo d’Accursio, Piazza Maggiore, 6 - 40121 Bologna (BO). Entrance fees are: full € 6.00/€ 3.00 for visitors over 65, groups of min. 10 people, Comune di Bologna Family Card and YoungERcard holders, € 2.00: visitors from 18 to 25.

Museo Civico Archeologico -Via dell'Archiginnasio 2 - 40124 Bologna

Entrance fees are: € 6.00 full/ € 3.00 for visitors over 65, groups of min. 10 people, Comune di Bologna Family Card and YoungERcard holder/ € 2.00: visitors from 18 to 25. Ex Africa had a separate entrance fee of €14/€12/€10 including an audio guide.