Thursday, January 30, 2020

New York City is home to two museums that specialize in design

New York City is home to literally hundreds of museums. They each highlight a different aspect of art or history. Some art museums occasionally offer special exhibits on design, but there are two museums that are dedicated to the design of objects and commercial art, and I had the chance to visit them recently.
Something I saw walking through Central Park

I saw this also.

Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

In 1896, Sarah Cooper Hewitt, Eleanor Garnier Hewitt and Amy Hewitt Green asked the Cooper Union, in New York City, to open a museum dedicated to the Arts of Decoration. They were able to do this, as they were grand-daughters of Peter Cooper, who founded the school. This museum resided on the 4th floor of the Foundation Building until it was closed in 1963, with the school citing financial issues.

Over the next few years, a campaign developed to convince the Smithsonian Institute to take over the collection. In 1967, the Smithsonian agreed, and in 1970, the collection was moved into the Andrew Carnegie Mansion on the corner of 91st street and 5th Ave. This made the Cooper Hewitt the first Smithsonian museum located outside of Washington D.C.

My visit coincided with the Cooper-Hewitt’s Triennial Exhibition, which had the theme of Nature:

“The exhibition themes explore seven strategies that designers are using to collaborate with nature.”

The exhibition included designs that use biological forms and materials in place of man-made and non-renewable ones.
A glow in the dark dress made from silk with an added gene

Cups and vases 3-D printed from Biological materials

A lamp that uses bacteria to create electricity

There was also an exhibit on the influence of nature on many facets of design. From educational models of flowers to paintings of icebergs to floral designs on dinnerware, designers over the centuries have used the floral world for inspiration, and this exhibit shows some of the best of that work.

Floral models


3-D printed vases

Finally, there was an exhibition of work by Herbert Bayer, a graphic designer of the Bauhaus School, who greatly influenced the design of printed materials from the 1920’s onward.

Poster for a trade show

Museum of Art and Design

Sitting on Columbus Circle, The Museum of Arts and Design is New York’s “other” museum dedicated to the history of the design of objects. It’s home was originally built as the “Gallery of Modern Art” in 1964.

Original design of 2 Columbus Circle. photo by Seano1 via wikicommons

The MAD opened originally in 1956 as the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, by Aileen Osborn Webb. Over the years it transformed into the American Craft Museum, which was located next to MOMA on 53rd street. In 2008 they sold their building to MOMA and moved to their current location.

The building today. photo by Stefanweisman via Wikicommons

On my visit there was a large exhibition of clothing designed by Anna Sui (b. 1964). Born in Detroit, Ms. Sui studied at Parsons School of Design in New York. She got her big break in 1991 when Madonna wore one of her designs for a photo shoot for Vogue. The exhibition shows many of her collection from over the years.

Also on display were pieces by the finalists for the 2019 Burke Prize, given by the museum. The prize is for artists under the age of 45.

Detail of La resistencia de los nopales híbrados by Salvador Jiménez-Flores

Le Sapeurs by Bisa Butler

If you have an interest in design, and the history of and contemporary exploration of the integration of art, nature and objects in use, these are two places to explore.

Nuts and Bolts:

Cooper-Hewitt: Open Every Day 10 AM - 6PM. Admission -$14/Adults;  $8/seniors; $6/visitors with disabilities; $4/students. There are also discounts for advance purchase of tickets.

Museum of Art and Design: Tues - Sun 10AM - 6PM (Thurs - 9 PM). Admission - $18/adults; Seniors/$14; Students/$12.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Newport's Cliff Walk is a beautiful path between mansions and the sea

Newport, Rhode Island, is a town of old money. It sits on Aquidneck Island in the Narragansett Bay. If you visit, there is a lot to see, and I would suggest that its Cliff Walk should be at the top of the list.

The town of Newport was founded in 1639. It became the largest city in Rhode Island colony, and was home to a diverse population, including the first, and today oldest, synagogue in the United States. The town became a center for whaling and trading ships, which included playing a large role in the slave trade. In the middle of the 19th century, rich families started to spend the summer in Newport, building large “cottages” along the coastline. And it is a magnificent coastline. Many of the mansions sit along cliffs that overlook Narragansett Bay, and The Cliff Walk is a great way to see both these mansions and the views.

Cliff Walk is a 3.5 mile path that, as its name implies, passes along the cliffs of Newport. It offers breath-taking views along the water. I started my walk at Easton’s Beach (also known as First Beach. It sits along a strip of land that stretches in between Easton Bay and Easton Pond. And since my visit took place after Labor Day, parking was free. The beach also offers bathroom facilities and a snack bar.

I walked up to the northern end of the Cliff Walk, which adjoins the grounds of The Chanler Hotel. Built in 1873, and a summer mansion for members of the Astor family, this beautiful house has lovely grounds which look out on to Easton Bay.

As I walked south along the Cliff Walk, I passed many cottages, but most of them were behind gates and hedges. But the bay looked great, and it gave gave a wonderful view back to the beach. About 0.75 miles down the walk is The 40 Steps, which offer a way down from the cliff top to the water.

Further on, the path drops down closer to the water, which gives a great view of the waves breaking on the rocks, but also offers a chance to get really wet. All told, I walked about 1/3 of the way, past The Breakers, and Salve Regina University, before heading in to town for lunch. There are several places along the walk to join or leave, and if you stay for several days, you can cover the entire length. 


Gazebo near Ruggles Ave

Path under the Breakers Overlook

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Fotografiska is a new photography museum in NYC

Fotografiska NYC

New York City is home to many museums, but only two focus exclusively on photography. One has been around for forty five years, the other for just a few weeks.

In 1974, the International Center for Photography was founded as a school and exhibition space in midtown Manhattan. For 45 years they have been the number one photography center in New York. They have offered exhibitions covering a wide range of photography, and classes for all levels of students.

In December of 2019, Fotografiska, a new photography museum, opened in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of the city. It is the New York outpost of a set of museums founded by brothers Jan and Per Broman. The sons of a Swedish photographer, in 2010 they opened their first gallery in Stockholm. They built a tremendous reputation, and have started to expand their presence around the world. In June of 2019, they opened in Tallinn. Then in December they opened in New York City at a totally refurbished 19th century building. They have maintained the beautiful, and landmarked, exterior, that was built in 1894 as the home of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church.

Fotografiska’s web page gives their mission as follows:

“Brothers Jan and Per Broman built the concept of Fotografiska on the foundation of photography as a haven for innovation and free expression. Our goal is to inspire a more conscious world through the art of photography.”

Their mission is to offer a wide variety of photographers and styles, from long established to emerging, from documentary to abstract. Their initial exhibits in New York achieve that goal.


The sixth-floor performance space has been turned over to Danny Clinch. This is appropriate as Mr. Clinch is a photographer of portraits of rock, pop and rap performers taken over the past thirty years. Danny Clinch is almost a New York City local, having been born in Tom’s River NJ in 1964. He started his career as an intern to Annie Liebowitz. Mr. Clinch’s portraits are wonderful look into the lives of his subjects. Whether it is Neil Young , taken in the rear-view mirror of his car, or Eddie Veder leaping across the stage, he presents his subjects in an insightful way.

Wall of Portraits

Niei Young

Ellen von Unwerth (b. 1954, Frankfort) has been given the fifth-floor gallery for a retrospective of her amazing images of women. Ms. Von Unwerth views herself as a feminist photographer who stated in an interview in with Harpers Bazaar “The women in my pictures are always strong, even if they are also sexy” (HB 5May2018).

Four portraits by Ellen von Unwerth


Casual Sunday

Fotografiska’s fourth floor has been split between to amazing, but vastly different photographers. Tawny Chatmon (b. 1977, Tokyo) produces beautiful portraits of African-American children. What sets her work apart is the way she has taken inspiration of Gustav Klimt. She adorns her photographs with gold paint and gold-leaf to her life size photos, creating multi-media works of art.

Sharing the fourth floor is Helene Schmitz (b. 1960 Stockholm). Her haunting landscapes bring focus to effect of human activity on nature. One example is her set of pieces on kudzu, an ornamental plant that was brought from Japan to the United States. It was planted in the south as a highway decoration, but now grows out of control, covering everything in its path.

The third floor gallery is showing an exhibit in conjunction with Time Magazine. In Other People’s Children, photographer Anastasia Taylor-Lind (b. 1981, Swindon, UK) documents to jobs of women in New York City who spend their days taking care of children who are not their own. From hospitals, to day care centers to nannies, thousands of women in the city make a living by leaving their kids at home, and spending their days and nights with other children.

Fotografiska is a wonderful addition to New York’s museum collection. I look forward to seeing what other treasures they bring to the city.

Nuts and Bolts:
Fotografiska is open Sun - Wed 9:00 AM - 11:00 PM; Thurs - Sat 9:00 AM - Midnight
Admission: $28 adults/ $18 seniors, students, military