Jul 28, 2011

New York New York: Arts and Parks

As with all major cities in the Anglosphere, New York has many great museums offering a wide palate of art tastes as well as patches of green from as small as the neighborhood playground to Central Park. Having the entire month at my disposal I had my fair share of crowding for pay-as-you-wish museum entrances and lounging in the park. One thing I would really love to do is to picnic at the park - books, shade, and home-cooked casseroles. But somehow the significant half never showed up and I'm too cowardly to picnic alone, so the dream still remains a dream.

Central Park is smack in the middle of Manhattan, an oasis of greenery, natural landscape, and water amidst the hustle and bustle of sprawling skyscrapers around it. Squirrels hop around while tourists and Manhattanites seek refuge from the big apple outside.

Central Park Zoo is smallish and charges $12 for general admissions. However, it has sea lions and penguins, guaranteed to drive the little ones crazy.

Shooting a movie in Central Park. Someday if you see me wondering aimlessly at the background of some Hollywood movie, you know it's shot at Central Park on summer of 2011.

Flushing Meadows Corona Park is one subway station away from where we live. It has an awesome steel globe and was host to the 39/40 and 64/65 World Fair (a.k.a World Expo).

Hudson River Park at southwestern Manhattan, as mentioned previously, is sunny and very gay.

Washington Square has a faux Arc d'Triumph. And being just beside NYU, a very chic place to hang out.
Central atrium of Museum of Modern Arts (MoMa). The theme for summer is urban living, portrayed by little squares of individual "windows" forming together a collage of colorful yet harmonious landscape.
MoMA offers free Friday evenings. Definitely grab anything free in capitalist America. For me, finding inner peace is easier with museums than churches or temples. Art is more than colors and brush strokes, it is a form of expression - telling the story of an instant state of mind to an entire generation using a medium so diverse from photography to calligraphy.

The con of a free-for-all is the amount of people. I'm fine with people if they behave properly and have some simple courtesy (such as not walking in front of you when you're viewing an art piece). However, most of (us) don't. And they like taking pictures of famous pictures, which is understandable. Since showing off is every human's nature - oh, I went to MoMA and saw Starry Night. But you know what? Most of the time the picture just get stashed into your Facebook album and forgotten 2 months later. So please don't hog the space around Starry Night and let others take a good look at it. You can get your photograph at the museum store for $1. And they usually do a better job than your DSLR.

I'm really curious about the psychology behind photographing the famous works. We all know our camera has flaws, yet we never stop snapping them, knowing very well the colors and composition will be way off compared to the original. Is it our nature to preserve beauty? Our desire to own beauty? If we can't have the original, why not have a photograph of it? Shamefully I did that too during my trip to France - aimlessly wasting my pixel space taking inferior pictures of art I don't even know.

What I later learned is that art exists in your heart and not your eyes. Art is what you feel and how you react when your senses are bombarded by colors, textures, light, emotions - not simply what you see and interpret from a photograph. You can look at the greatest piece of art and not feel a thing - then that is not art to you. Similarly, you can stare at the most common objects and get a torrent of emotions.
If you get what I said, repeat after me: I will not aimlessly take photographs of art in museums anymore, because it's stupid, useless, and impede other's opportunity of appreciating them.

Metropolitan Museum of Arts (The Met) admits everyone by donation at any time. That means you could go in by just donating $1 even though the suggested donation is $12 for students. Extended opening hours on Fridays and Saturdays make it a nice place to spend the entire day if you're not tired of walking.

The problem with mega museums, such as The Met or the Louvre, is that their collection is so vast you can never ever see them all. To avoid feeling unsatisfied about not seeing as much as you planned, lower your expectations - choose only one or two "specialties" you wanted to see, say Nineteenth century Europe or Egyptian arts. When you arrive, don't get distracted and concentrate on your quest. If you're still feeling up to it after you're done, explore the other sections. If you wonder aimlessly like you did photographing canvases in MoMA, you get tired quickly, saw what you don't really like, and go home leaving having no impression of any specific pieces.

Since the admission is only $1, you can come back anytime again and again. That's the cool thing about The Met.

Smaller museums are nice if you, like me, can't get rid of the "must see everything" mindset. Guggenheim Museum is on my top list for its spiral architecture, pedestrian-friendly galleries, and vast exhibition spaces. Admission is by donation every Saturday from 5.45pm to closing.

Neue Galerie for German and Austrian Art gives free admission first Friday of every month from 6pm onwards. The collection is smallish but the interiors are authentically Austrian-Hungary and for psychology students, there's a 19th century Freud chair you can laze on all day.

Frick's Collection (or Museum) is actually the old residence of Henry Clay Frick, industrialist, financier, and art patron. Though much hated among his industrial colleagues, he had an enviable collection of furniture, porcelain, statues, and paintings. Many Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt are housed here in rooms untouched since early 1900's. Admission is by donation every Sunday from 11am to 1pm, and includes a free audio guide. If you have all day, stay for the free sketch trial from 1 to 4pm, where you might just unearth the next Picasso in you.

The Frick's Garden

Much as we believe arts and parks are two vital components of any global city, Asian cities are still lagging behind. I believe art is as important as religion - in fact art originated as a medium of expression and praise for religion - that must be nurtured, promoted, and freely available. Though museum admissions (during normal hours) costs around a meal for one, more so unaffordable after the conversion, free or admission by donation hours are certainly the right way to promote social awareness and art sensitivity. There is art cells in each and every one of us. Discovering and unearthing it will only do good in the sense of better appreciation, expression and communication of emotions and feelings. Art is definitely not for art school students only, and especially for heavily scientific people like myself, art is a way of doing things mindlessly - taking an uncalculated step against all my logic and reasoning.