Our special ‘Members Only” nights at the Met are a lot of fun!
I had just finished Finance class at NYU and I needed a break. I could tell that my Professor wanted to leave early as well and the whole class was lost on learning the Income Statement so it was a perfect time to end the class for the evening.
I had signed up for the ‘Private Members Night’ on Valentine’s Day thinking that people would not attend this event on Valentine’s Day. Boy was I wrong! The museum was packed with people all over the museum. Since the whole museum was not open (the Roman and Greek Galleries on the first floor with the American Wing to the back being open and upstairs it was the Special Galleries and the Impressionist Wing), the areas of the museum including the restaurants and gift shops filled with members dining…
I have been a member of the Museum of the City of New York for almost twenty years and what I love about the museum is that its concentration is to be everything about New York City and what makes the City so great. Its development from a Dutch Colony to the Modern Metropolis that it is today. It covers the history so well that they created a permanent display entitled “New York at its Core”, an extensive history of the City from its start as being colonized by the Lenape Indians as a fishing and hunting set of villages on the island.
Each display takes you through a different point in the history of the development of the City and how each era brought dramatic changes to the fabric of the City from immigration over the years to the fires that leveled the original City and the raise of Wall Street and the Arts to make New York City the Capital of the World. The almost bankruptcy of the City in 1975 to the attacks on 9/11 have really shaped the direction and change in the City to the COVID-19 pandemic reshaping it again. We see how New York City continues to survive. The exhibition is now updated to add the COVID pandemic to the fabric of what is happening in New York City now. This exhibition will continue to evolve over the coming years.
The film “Timescapes” in the basement theater again tackles the issues of a changing City since its development and the City continues to morph over time. The movie narrated by Stanley Tucci tells the story of New York from the time of the Dutch settlement to the attacks of 9/11 and like “New York at its Core” the issues that come about after every event. The film is shown five times a day and do take the time to see it when visiting the museum.
Just recently I attended a special event at the Museum to honor the Founding Members of the “Talking Heads” Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth and their groundbreaking film “Stop Making Sense”. I was lucky to get tickets because the second I saw this on the museum listing I bought the tickets immediately. The event sold out quickly.
‘Talking Heads’ founders Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth
The event was discussion with the creators of the group and how the Talking Heads emerged as a popular group through the 1980’s and 90’s. I have to admit that the two of them have not changed much but looking a bit older. They enchanted the audience with their time with the group and some new things they have in the works. After a quick Q & A, we watched their popular concert film “Stop Making Sense”.
We had such a good time at the event, the I wrote about it for my blog, “MywalkinManhattan.com”:
Day Two Hundred and Eight: Private Members nights at the New York Museums:
On another recent trip, I visited the exhibition “New York New Music 1980-1986” which was an exhibition on the development of the music scene after the Disco era was over and the rise of MTV. You had a combination of Club Music, Hip Hop, New Wave and the English Wave from Australia and New Zealand coming into the United States plus a resurgence of Rock and Roll after years of the “Disco Duck”. The exhibition highlighted the music of Debbie Harry and Blondie, Run DMC, Cyndi Lauper and Madonna and the rise of music videos. The exhibition brought me back to my last years of high school and my college years as I remembered all these groups.
Over the years I have seen exhibitions on everything from the Bankruptcy exhibition of New York City and the rise of crime, the Gilded Era with Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt’s “Electric Light” dress that she wore to Alva Vanderbilt’s famous ball and the wonderful toy exhibitions of early playthings. I have also been to many lectures at the museum with guests such as former Brooklyn President Marky Markowitz.
In 2023, I visited the museum for the first time in months and was able to see the “Gingerbread House Bakeoff” exhibition of well-known and amateur bakers in New York City. The exhibition was a hold over from Christmas and it was interesting to see the detailed gingerbread houses that were on display.
There two that I really liked. One was of Madison Square Park at Christmas time and looked like the pictures I had just taken of the park.
Bryant Park at Christmas time in gingerbread
Christmas scene in New York City
The next exhibition I wanted to see before it closed was the “Food in New York” exhibition. It could have been a little more detailed than what I saw. I thought it was going to have more of the development and history of food in New York and how it pertains to today. It was more artwork related to modern food industry trends. It was interesting but not what I thought it was going to be.
‘Food in New York’ exhibition
Some of the artwork really stood out on the display. I like the Hispanic Ice Carts which you see all over Washington Heights and East Harlem during the warmer months.
Ice Cart “Pimp My Piragua” byt artist Miguel Luciano
Artist Miguel Luciano
“Twilight” by artist Suzanne Anker
The effects of pollination of crops and the loss of bees shown here.
Artist Suzanne Anker
The latest exhibition that I visited on a Members walking tour was the “New York Now: Home” exhibition that opened in the Spring of 2023. The exhibition is based on what the photographers perspective of what a ‘home’ is and how you live through it. There were photos of family events, life outside the home, what a family is, is it your birth family or friends that have become family? There were also some great shots of people taken during the COVID lockdown and how the home became the center point of their lives and sanity. Each photographer gave a different way of looking at these points.
‘New York Now: Home: A Photography Triennial’
The exhibition write up
There were many terrific artists displayed in the exhibition but these are the five that I thought stood out the most:
Photographer and Artist Anders Jones work on the loss of bodegas in his neighborhood due to gentrification.
Artist Anders Jones work at the Museum of the City of New York
I think the museum was looking for a more political and environmental view of food in New York City as opposed to the history and development. It still was an important issue. It also showed all the urban, community and roof gardens that are becoming part of the urban landscape. It is interesting how people are using space to grow food for the benefit of everyone. It was an interesting perspective.
The museum is really all things New York.
The History of the Museum of the City of New York:
(From the Museum of the City of New York website/Wiki):
The Museum of the City of New York is a history and art museum that was founded in 1923 by Henry Collins Brown. The red brick building with marble trim was built between 1929-30 and was designed by architect Joseph H. Freedlander in the neo-Georgian style with statues of Alexander Hamilton and DeWitt Clinton by sculptor Adolph Alexander Weinman, which face Central Park from niches in the facade (Wiki).
The museum was originally located in Gracie Mansion, where available space was limited. One of the first exhibitions was “Old New York” in 1926. This took place in the Fine Arts Building on West 57th Street. The success of the project led to a search for a new, permanent headquarters for the museum (Wiki).
A design competition was held between five invited architects and the Colonial Revival design by Joseph H. Freelander was chosen. The City donated the site on Fifth Avenue and the funds for the construction of the museum was raised by public subscription. The original plans for the museum’s building were scaled back as a result of the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The building was finished and dedicated in 1932.
In 2000, there was talk by then Mayor Rudy Giuliani to move the museum to the historic Tweed Courthouse near City Hall but that was over-turned by the incoming Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. In protect the museum director, Robert R. McDonald resigned.
In coming new museum director, Susan Henshaw Jones, planned an extension to the museum and it was completed in 2008. The extension including renovating the existing gallery spaces and adding a new pavilion. New displays and a remounting of valuable artifacts were done to give the museum a refreshed look. In 2011, the Museum of the City of New York temporarily took over operation of the South Street Seaport Museum which itself reopened in 2012 (Wiki).
The museum has a collection of over 1.5 million objects including many items from the 19th and early 20th centuries including paintings, prints, costumes, decorative objects, furniture and an extensive collection of toys. There are also extensive collections of police and fire items as well as shop models, rare books and manuscripts (Wiki).
The Museum of the City of New York in the early Spring
It is always nice when you discover a new museum. In all my years of walking around the Upper East Side, I had never noticed the Society of Illustrators, nor had I heard of it, but I am glad I have now. The museum is home in a stylish brownstone on a residential block away from the traditional “Museum Row” on Fifth Avenue.
The exhibits were on the main and lower floors of the main building with the special exhibitions on the third and fourth floors. The museum also had a very nice restaurant with an open terrace when it got warmer on the fourth floor. The restaurant has been closed since COVID closed the museum, but the bar is open for a drink.
On the first floor and lower level, the exhibition “Illustrators 64: Advertising, Institutional, Uncommissioned, Surface/Product Design categories”. The exhibition is a presentation of outstanding works of the year by leading contemporary illustrators worldwide. This exhibit had all sorts of interesting pieces ranging from advertising art to pastels and drawings of all sorts of subject matter. There was everything from animals skateboarding to commercial portraits. There were also unique works based on national brand companies and New York City themed works.
The second floor was the “Eric Godal: A Cartoonist’s Fight for Human Rights” exhibition that had cartoons that are still prevalent to today. As I read and admired the works by the illustrator, I can safely say that his works are just as contemporary now as they were then dealing with antisemitism during WWII in Europe. His works ridiculed the party and the Third Reich’s power over people who they deem “unsatisfactory”. He also showed the rise of the labor movement and big businesses reaction to it.
Artist Eric Godal’s works on social justice
In the fourth-floor restaurant, was the “Kent State: 4 Dead in Ohio” exhibition on the May 4th, 1970, incident on the Kent State campus. The college students there like college students all over the country were protesting the war and there had been many incidents over the months leading to the shooting.
The illustrated story boards tell the whole story of the four people who had been killed and how the whole incident had happened. It was fascinating to see how each of the people involved how their lives came about during that time and how it led them to that horrible day.
The “128 Bar & Bistro” is currently only open at certain hours and the bistro part of the restaurant is currently closed and according to the bartender being revamped. It has not been that busy before the pandemic, so they have the bar section open only.
The outdoor terrace with its breathtaking views and planted edges will make for a nice place for a cocktail in the warmer months. The space is a nice place to relax after a long afternoon of touring the museum.
This is one of those rare museums in New York City that is fun to find and explore.
The Dining Room/Lounge that is a bar area for now
The History of the Society of Illustrators:
(From the Museum Website)
The Society of Illustrators’ mission is to promote the art of illustration, to appreciate its history and evolving nature through exhibitions, lectures and education and to contribute the service of its members to the welfare of the community at large.
The Society of Illustrators is the oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to the art of illustration in America. Notable Society members have been N.C. Wyeth, Rube Goldberg and Norman Rockwell among many others.
On February 1st, 1901, nine artists and one businessman founded the Society of Illustrators with the following credo: “The object of the Society shall be to promote generally the art of illustration and to hold exhibitions from time to time.” This simple dictum has held true for over a century.
At the time when illustration was in what has been called its Golden Age, the first monthly dinners were attended by prominent artists including Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parish, N.C. Wyeth, Charles Dana Gibson, Frederic Remington, James Montgomery Flagg, Howard Chandler Christy and special guests such as Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie.
Our museum of Illustration was established in 1981 under the stewardship of them president John Witt. We offer year round themed exhibitions, art education programs and annual juried competitions. Our Permanent Collection houses 2,500 pieces that are cataloged for scholarly use and displayed periodically. In 2012, we created the MoCCA Gallery with a focus on curated exhibitions of comic and cartoon art.
The Society of Illustrators is an organization of many layers, one which provides illustrators a center to discuss, demonstrate and exhibit their work, contributes to future artists and to the community at large, honors its preeminent practitioners, takes a stand on legal and ethical issues affecting the profession-and has a great dining room to boot!
As it faces the challenges of a swiftly changing future, the Society will continue to “promote generally the art of illustration,” as its founders dictated.
I put my walk of the Garment District on hold as many of the museums are having their Private Members nights before the holidays get into the full swing. It gives the members a chance to really enjoy the museums before the City gets crazy with tourists and people are beginning to return to the City.
It really was a wonderful night. First it was a warm and clear evening and you could see the stars because it gets dark at 5:00pm. We as members got to the museum before 5:00pm and waited in a long line by the Member’s Entrance on…