Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Two Lesser-Known Gems in NYC

In honor of my brother's first winter break home from college, I took him and his girlfriend to the city for some low-cost gallivanting.

We started down on the east side of the Financial District at a free concert, and made our way up to the Asia Society Museum on the upper east side via the Municipal Archives and Superior Court Building.

Although I'd spent some time in the Municipal Archives building at 31 Chambers Street for a research project for the Tenement Museum, I never knew that there was a curated exhibit in the basement featuring treasures from the archives from the 17th through the 20th centuries. After walking down from the 7th floor admiring the building's marble halls, vintage mail shoots and bureaucratic-elegant architecture we literally stumbled upon the exhibit in the basement. Sometimes all you need is a chronological display of fascinating documents and photographs to pass an edifying hour. After marveling over bills of sale and freedom papers for slaves, payments to the administrator of the whipping post, architectural drawing for the original elevated train line and photographs of inmates on Blackwell's Island, it was hard to drag ourselves away.

I'm glad we did because the exhibits at the Asia Society Museum were fantastic. The artifacts and compositions on display in the Muslim Calligraphy exhibit were breathtaking. The exhibit space was quiet, informative, uncluttered. Everything about the exhibit experience was meditative.

In stark contrast, the Art and China's Revolution exhibit carefully constructed the visitor's intellectual experience, providing chronological context and contextual information to an evolving array of artwork created between the 1920s and 1980s in China. I was only temporarily confused by the exhibit because the chronological section was in a different gallery space from the artwork, but everything came together after viewing both sections. The exhibition was fun to view with friends because it sparked conversation about what makes "good art" and whether the meaning of "good art" changes based on cultural context. Highly recommended!

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