Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Subway Art -- or how to clock some of your winter miles underground

Still trying to walk those 10,000 steps a day, even in these frigid New York City temperatures. Coming back from New Jersey, we hoofed it down Broadway from the GW Bridge to the 168th Street station and were totally surprised to see this group of bird and insect mosaics. So far, we haven't been able to find out why this theme fits here.
These parrots could have escaped from a nearby window.
Mosquito? You don't see too many of these in Manhattan any more....
..Or grasshoppers.... if that's what it is.
This owl's on the prowl for his next meal. Could it be one of the creatures above?

Then there are mosaics at the West Side 86th Street Station created by students 20 years ago, recently highlighted in the NYTimes.

And this mosaic is a treat as you descend the steps at 42nd Street and 7th Avenue.

Roy Lichtenstein's work tells us where we are, an always welcome aid.

We found these great ceramic (?) bas-relief series, also in the Times Square station.Fashion Avenue, aka 7th avenue, is just upstairs.

The Joker? Or a generic magician.
Carmen Miranda and her giant fruit hats had nothing on these two...
It's hard to get tickets for the popular shows.

Here's a great series of Otterness sculptures we found on a blog.
Also, this NY Times article explains Otterness's project for 14th Street and Eighth Avenue Station.

Leaving Manhattan, we trained it to Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn and were met by angels.

We wonder if it is possible to make a day's excursion of viewing subway art all for one fare! Hubs are good for getting that pedometer toward our walking goal. Any one up on transfer routes?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Fort Tryon Park and Cloisters: What a Walk - or Take the A Train

We continue to explore Manhattan in our winter quest to walk the 10,000 steps a day unencumbered with traction devices snow shoes and all sorts of antifreeze that our hardier hiking friends must weigh themselves down with with during these months on the icy mountain trails.

Content Summary
  1. How to get there
  2. Facts about the Metropolitan Museum at the Cloisters
  3. Some structural features and atrium capitals
  4. Some of the interior treasures, e.g. The Unicorns Tapestries, Animal Orchestra
  5. Recommended books
We decided on park and cloister and took off for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's display of French tapestries and other treasures of the Middle Ages up at the Cloisters. We took the A train to 190th Street, then up the elevataor for the shuttle bus, or walk through Fort Tryon Park. Check out your exact route on HopStop. If you walk up thru Fort Tryon Park , follow signs to The Cloisters. (For a summer view and medieval garden tour, go to Walk Inwood Park and Fort Tryon Park to Cloisters...)

Baby, it's cold outside...just check out the ice...

Here's what we found out about this world-renowned place (if your eyes glaze over while reading, just skip down to the photos).

The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art dedicated to the art and architecture of the Middle Ages.

It's located in New York City in bucolic Fort Tryon Park at the northern tip of Manhattan on a hill with a spectacular view of the Hudson River and the New Jersey Palisades.

The collection houses some five thousand works of art, dating from the twelfth through the fifteenth centuries. Perhaps the most awe-inspiring pieces are the seven south Netherlandish tapestries showing The Hunt of the Unicorn. You can also see Robert Campin's Merode Altarpiece, and the Romanesque altar cross known as the Cloisters Cross or Bury St. Edmunds Cross. And don't skip the gorgeous medieval mauscripts and illuminated books, including the Limbourg brothers' Les Belles Heures du Duc de Berry and Jean Pucelle's book of hours for Jeanne d'Evreux.

The building housing the collection is itself a work of art. It is a composite structure, incorporating elements from five medieval French cloisters: Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, Trie-en-Bigorre, and Froville. These buildings arrived from Europe in pieces, then were reassembled between between 1934 -- 1938 in a setting with gardens planted according to horticultural information from various medieval sources. The gardens, overflowing with herbs, flowers and other plants, are a mustsee in fall and summer when everything is in full bloom.

The museum and adjacent park were created by an endowment from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who donated the majority of his collection. Much of the collection came from George Grey Barnard, an American sculptor and collector of medieval art, who had already established a medieval-art museum near his home in the nearby Fort Washington neighborhood. Rockefeller purchased Barnard's entire collection of art and architectural remnants as a gift to the Met. This collection, combined with a number of pieces from Rockefeller's own collection, combined with a number of pieces from Rockefeller's own collection (including the Unicorn tapestries), are the core of the Cloister's holdings. Another outstanding set of buildings, also built on Rockefeller, sits on the other side of the Hudson River in New Jersey. Its purpose was to preserve the view for the museum.

Here's a view of the main building from the road.

And this apse shows a nativity scene.
The ribbed, vaulted ceiling is a hallmark of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.

The Mérode Altarpiece, painted around 1426, shows The Annunciation of Mary.

This is one of our favorite pieces: a whimsical animal orchestra, featuring a gazelle harpist.

Here's another animal orchestra from 12,000 miles and more than 3 centuries away. This is from the city of Ur, in what is now Southern Iraq.

Here's another Cloisters favorite: a sand -colored camel.

l'icorne, or The Unicorn tapestries are unique, and not part of the series hanging at Musee Cluny in Paris. A docent explained the many images that are references to epics of religion and society woven into the scenes that fill one room.

The original capitals, abaci, sections of arcading, and portions of parapet copings that are incorporated into this cloister all come from the abbery of Saint-Michael-de-Cuxa

Some of thses figures almost look Mayan...

There are benches lining the square arcade that looks out at the bare, winter atrium. We gratefully sat and observed the carvings, the visitors, and fabricated stories to explain the presence of some of the curvilinear monsters and keepers.

A view of an apse featuring a trio of stained-glass windows... just as the sun began setting.

The guards announced closing at 5:00.

The early darkness transformed the appearance of the building and surroundings from our approach a few hours earlier.

We walked a little faster, keeping up with the few other pedestrians hurrying back through Fort Tryon Park to catch the downtown A train.

Epilogue: We thought you might enjoy the contrast between the winter views we saw in early December and our memory of the garden from our last visit a year ago this past September, so we posted these pix. Here's your chance to test your plant-identification skills: the medicinal and decorative plantings replicate those of monks in medieval France.
This fountain wouldn't be out of place in Medieval Alhambra, in Southern Spain.

Recommended Books
The Cloisters: Medieval Art and Architecture (Metropolitan Museum 
The Cloisters: The Building & The Collection of Medieval Art 
 Sweet Herbs and Sundry Flower - Medieval Gardens and the Garden
The Medieval Garden
Gesta: International Center of Medieval Art, Volume XIX/1
The Unicorn Tapestries in The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Unicorn Tapestry Brian Froud Ceramic Sensations Tile