Tag Archives: museums

Snorkeling Through Glass

Chasing art exhibits is never a budget-friendly experience, but it is always worth it. My first true art chase happened in January 2011 when I convinced the family that it was worth the money to fly to Paris to see David Hockney’s ipad art exhibit “Fresh Flowers.” There was skepticism at first, of course, and then tickets were booked, planes were boarded, art was admired, and everyone came home thinking “Wow! Let’s do THAT again.”

So we did. This time without planes.

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I don’t even remember when or where I read that glass artist Dale Chihuly had an exhibit in Montreal, but it happened sometime when we were in California this summer. Surfers surfed the ocean; I surfed the web, and suddenly we’re back in Canada for a weekend wandering through another museum. Because that’s what we do.

The Chihuly exhibit at Musee Beaux Arts Montreal, which is fun to say (go ahead and say it with a French accent) and even more fun to visit, has now been extended to October 27. When I booked tickets, the exhibit was scheduled to end on October 20, but people keep coming, and when you’ve got a crowd-pleaser, keep on keeping on. My husband is now well-accustomed to my art-chasing shenanigans, but he walked away really impressed by the Chihuly exhibit, and noted that I had successfully pulled off another spontaneous, art-chasing weekend in which everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves and no one felt bad about the money we should not have been spending. Now that’s a win. Our kitchen may crumble, but, by God, our minds are enriched!

What’s so awesome about Chihuly anyway? Why does a seventy-something, frizzy-haired chunky dude wearing an eye patch and who doesn’t even really blow glass anymore still draw crowds? Chihuly is a controversial figure from Tacoma, Washington, a multimillionaire whose contributions to art are indelible, but beyond that, I don’t have an answer as to why I, and, apparently millions of other folks, find his work so mesmerizing. Maybe it’s the way he bends color and light. I feel the glass more than I see it. The Montreal exhibit features trademarked Chihuly classics: “Mille Fiori” (my favorite), “Persian Ceiling” (very trippy), and “The Boats,” (my other favorite). “Mille Fiori” or “A Thousand Flowers” was inspired by his family’s garden, but to me it felt like snorkeling through the Caribbean, finding secrets within a buried coral reef unharmed by modern life. “The Boats” gave me a similar feeling, like I was floating. Tentacled glass reaches for you, for the ceiling, for the floor. Colors twist. Light bounces. Curves of glass play hide-and-seek. Chihuly’s work is playful and serious. It’s technique and abandon. It’s jagged and smooth. I found a place to sit in these galleries, to absorb all these contrasts, and to look for a long time.

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So if you live in the Northeastern United States or Southeastern Canada, get to Montreal before October 27. The art museum is quite full on weekends, so weekdays may offer you more Chihuly to yourselves. After all that gawking and staring at masterfully-designed glass, you’ll be hungry, so read my poutine trail story for CheapOAir, and find out where to get some decent fries, gravy, and curd. Should you miss Chihuly in Montreal, he has a longer-running exhibit at the Seattle Center, where you’ll also find the iconic Space Needle and Experience Music Project. Friends keep inviting us back to Seattle, and it’s on our to-do list. We’ll also be catching Chihuly in the Southwest this winter; a new Chihuly exhibit debuts next month at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona, and I’m already planning on getting tickets since we’ll be in the ‘hood.

Speaking of neighborhoods, while visiting Montreal, it’s worth going a bit out of your way to stop at Point G, a cookie shop on Avenue Mont-Royal. This is off the tourist track, where buildings are shorter and streets are a mix of apartments, cafes, dry cleaners, artists’ studios, and bars. Point G, which specializes in Plaisirs Gourmands or Gourmet Pleasures, is a macaroon mecca, and as colorful as a Chihuly exhibit. Flavors come in 22 varieties, like lime-basil, orange blossom, and balsamic vinegar, in addition to traditional dessert flavors like chocolate, caramel and raspberry. All macaroons are gluten-free or “sans gluten” as they say up north. I’m eating a couple macaroons from my box of twenty as I write this. I have two left, and I know that international macaroon-chasing is just not in the cards.

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Do Museums Inspire You to Change?

An estimated 2.4 million pounds of plastic enter the world’s oceans every hour, so Seattle-based artist Chris Jordan took 2.4 million pieces of plastic from toothbrushes, combs and all the other junk that fills modern life and created a recreation of the famous Japanese painting “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” by Hokusai. We’re drowning in a tsunami of plastic, says Jordan, whose interpretation is on display at the fiercely creative Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California aka the Central Coast.

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Seahorses and jellyfish are very cool, but the small, yet powerful plastics art exhibit had the greatest effect on me. A seagull made from plastic sporks. A collage of plastic bottles. A lamp upcycled from old plastic. What’s the message? Well, there are several. Plastic chokes the oceans and kills endangered wildlife (plastic comprises 90 percent of the manmade crap floating in the oceans). Plastic has promise (don’t just chuck it, make something beautiful from it!). Plastic is evil (got it). Change is happening, however. Thanks to Los Angeles for being the largest city in the country to ban plastic grocery bags, and now the city council at Manhattan Beach, one of my new favorite places on the planet, seeks to ban styrofoam food containers. I hope this kickstarts other coastal communities and parks into action.

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This past spring I volunteered at my daughter’s school lunch recycling program and was horrified by all the individual food packaging that clogs our lives. Afterward, I recycled as much of our household plastic as possible. I hate plastic. I love art (and the oceans). As others walked by these plastic art displays, what were their reactions to what these artists were saying? Did they worry about their plastic water bottles? All the plastic trinkets attached to their kids’ strollers? Would they eat their takeout and toss plastic containers into the trash or leave it sitting on a beach somewhere? Had they recycled all their plastic tupperware, as I did, and did they wrap their kids’ lunches in biodegradable paper towels, as I did? Did they ban Saran-wrap from the house as I did? Who wants to gaze out to the flowers surrounding the bay and see floating junk? No one. We’re all responsible for our environment yet are we all taking responsibility?

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The Monterey Bay Aquarium was visionary; founded in 1984 in the heart of the rusted out fishing factory scene of the early 20th century, this museum attracts about 1.8 million visitors every year. I’ve paid admission to aquariums and museums all over the world and Monterey’s aquarium exhibits are thoughtful, thorough and visually stunning. No one wants to see a plastic water bottle stuck in the kelp forest, but is anyone questioning their individual carbon footprints when they see litter on the beach? A lot of people were taking photos at the aquarium, but I wondered, does anyone leave these museums inspired to change their daily behaviors? The aquarium addressed responsible fishing and eating sustainably-sourced fish, yet Cannery Row has plenty of fried seafood joints. Were these fish responsibly netted before being dipped in beer batter? I have no doubt I ate sushi these past two weeks that probably were not trapped with at-risk sea turtles and sharks in mind. And had I asked the waiter, “Hey, how was this fantastic and deliciously-tender chutoro tuna caught?” I’m sure I would’ve gotten a blank look.

Museums educate, entertain, and elucidate. Do they inspire? I am an over-thinky type and already spend too much time in the grocery store reading up on how a particular organic apple was farmed or whether my lavender shampoo is phthalate-free or were these bananas or this avocado fairly traded? I try to buy local and I try hard not to buy anything made in China. And now I will wonder if my sushi added to the world’s ecological imbalances. Did the tourists at the aquarium, including the guy who blocked Mike’s view and the woman who whacked me with her backpack, feel moved by the aquarium’s many messages? Will they start carrying canvas bags to stores or remember to bring refillable coffee mugs to their favorite cafe? How many of these 1.8 million visitors are now changing their minds about plastic? I don’t often agree with Margaret Thatcher, but we are a society of individuals with individual responsibilities to each other. The aquarium seeks to instill individual action and collective dedication.

Museums are love letters, like the American Museum of Natural History is a Valentine to everything that ever roamed the Earth. Other museums, like the New York Botanical Garden, remind us the importance of preserving what remains. We visited the Museum of the American West at the Autry Center in Los Angeles, which was a time capsule of what glorified the frontier. And other museums like the Monterey Bay Aquarium are stalwart advocates. At the aquarium, tourists Instagrammed photos and tweeted messages, but will this translate into real change? Will people use less plastic at home because of what they saw behind a glass case and read on a plaque? I hope so.

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Butterflies in the Snow

Perhaps my Snow Belt roots drove me outside last Saturday when New York City was quilted by a few soft inches of fluffy snow. “Snow storm” is an understatement regardless of what the weather channel would have you believe. Less than three inches fell, but Mayor Bloomberg had the salt trucks ready. I hauled the family to the New York Botanical Gardens to enjoy the Manolo Valdes sculpture exhibit and see his giant metallic butterflies flutter in the snow. Our last trip to the Gardens was six months earlier to see Monet’s work during one of the hottest days of the year.

Now it was winter. And last Saturday was perfect. No one was around.

Fat flakes fell as we strolled through the park watching cardinals, admiring seven bronze and aluminum installation pieces by Valdes, throwing snowballs and trying not to hit famous works of art, and believing that we had New York City to ourselves that day.

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There aren’t many quiet places in New York City. Even shoebox apartments several stories above the din do not buffer you. I do recall the “Blizzard on Bleecker” in 1996 when New York was silent for about three straight days. I lived on Bleecker Street at the time; the World Trade Center towers still dominated downtown. I was new to New York and vividly remember how quiet the city was after that snow storm, and how individuals who ventured out into Greenwich Village, as I did, loved the silencing of all that snow. It would take days to dig out. People cross-country skied down LaGuardia Place or threw snowballs down the middle of Bleecker because no cab or delivery truck was going to run them over. There was tremendous freedom in the snow. Eventually the snow became dirty, the congestion returned, and the purity of those lovely few days was gone.

And that’s how last Saturday felt. For a few hours, my husband, daughter and I played in a snow globe, scampering about like butterflies. New York City is hectic, expensive, tiring, a terrorist target, full of crazy people doing bizarre things, and dizzying. But on that afternoon, for us, it was briefly a giant, quiet playground made for three.

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Snowball Fight NYBG December 2012

The Gardener Who Painted

Considering the rock star quality Monet’s paintings still have nearly a century after his death, and the buzz that continues about the New York Botanical Garden’s exhibit “Monet’s Garden,” it’s hard to imagine that at one point, the old master struggled for work. Unapologetically, I’ve enjoyed Monet since I can remember and, as a teenager, kept a poster of one of his London prints up on my wall back when it was certainly far more cool to have a poster of Robert Smith pasted next to a bedroom mirror. I look for Monet’s work wherever I travel and have seen his paintings in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, London, Paris and New York. Recreating Giverny, the countryside estate that became one of Monet’s favorite projects, is no small accomplishment; I admire NYBG’s ambition.

NYBG refers to itself as “a living museum” and this certainly felt true walking through this exhibit. Strolling past the painstakingly selected elegant water lilies, over the Japanese bridge, past the geraniums, the foxgloves and sunflowers, the coy roses bashedly turning their heads to the crowds and cameras, one could feel the brush strokes swirling by, the blues overlaying the pinks overlaying the yellows overlaying the greens. Light peeping through here and there. One could see how these gardens, masterpieces themselves, were reborn on canvas. Monet once said his gardens were his greatest achievements. He kept meticulous records about the plants he purchased and pursued botany with an unquenchable curiosity that comes through his paintings. Giverny may have a new gardener tending the land for tourists, but the imprint of Monet’s green thumb is everywhere, and will, no doubt, continue to inspire generations to come, as we saw on the “Garden Gallery” wall at the NYBG children’s garden, and in our own kid’s eagerness to photograph the flowers all around her.

I won’t repeat what’s already been said about this exhibit, but if you’re passing through New York City looking to do something other than Broadway and the Empire State Building, Monet’s Garden is a treat and worth the hike to the Bronx. I’m so lucky to live here. It’s a crazy island full of crazy people who wear black when they shouldn’t, like on 90-degree days, and loudly bark remarks that they shouldn’t, such as someone yelling into her cell phone “What do you mean you can’t find the vaginal cream, Ma? It’s in the top drawer!” It’s noisy, crowded and expensive no matter which borough or which neighborhood, uptown or downtown. Yet, we have the most amazing museums housing amazing stories. When I visited “Monet’s Garden” on a 95-degree June afternoon, I was sweating my butt off, and pleased as punch because with some patience and an admission ticket, the world comes to my doorstep.