Culture Vulture on the Cheap in NYC

Ah! I’ve been so busy lately that I’ve been neglecting this blog! First of all, I hope everyone has had a great start to 2012.  More specifically, I hope everyone has found their own little ways to wander and explore, even if they haven’t been able to take that much-needed vacation to somewhere exotic, sun-kissed, or beachy. (I for one, am suffering from serious sun deprivation, and am starting to go a little batty… must leave the country soon…)

Today I wanted to finish up a post that I had started to write a a really long time ago, back when the weather was still nice enough to inspire you to seize the day and explore the city.  I will say this: The name of my blog ain’t no lie.  I am pretty good at getting out and about. I like to wander. I like to do things. It’s really only because I have an insane inability to just sit at home when I know so much cool stuff is happening right out there in the world, much of it free, accessible, and just waiting for me to discover it.  Also, being relatively new to New York City, I was excited to take advantage of the great cultural institutions this city has to offer.  Another motivating factor for me was that I figured once winter set in, I’d probably spend a lot more time in the warmth of my bed, or on my couch in my sweet UC Santa Barbara sweatpants. (In fact, if I was one of those types of bloggers that liked to post gratuitous pictures of themselves, you would see that that is exactly what I am doing right now.) But that was also when I thought New York had bone-chilling, debilitating winters, none of this frou-frou 50-degree stuff we’ve seen this year–but hey, no complaints from me!

I found this randomly in Google Images... but I kind of liked the little tagline "Continued Lifetime Learning"... because I'm a nerd, but also because, seriously guys, you should always continue learning! Yay!

But to get back to the point: To help motivate you to also get a dose of culture in your weekly routines, here’s a little roundup of some of the things I’ve done recently to get my culture on here in New York City.  I’ll also include tips for when to go so you can get in for free, or for as much as your little strapped-for-cash heart desires.

A photo of one of the de Kooning paintings I stealthily took at the MoMA... shh... don't alert the authorities.

– The MoMA (Museum of Modern Art): Every Friday from 4-8pm is completely free at MoMA, and that doesn’t actually mean that there’s a suggested donation. You actually just line up outside the museum and they give you a ticket to enter.  Be forewarned though: Everyone–tourists, locals, students–loves the MoMA, especially when it’s free, so the museum is packed during these Free Fridays.  Despite having to literally dodge and sidestep hundreds and hundreds of people, I really enjoyed the Willem de Kooning exhibit (but really did not enjoy the crowds).  The exhibit was very well-curated, comprehensive, and easily digestible despite its breadth. Some of his later work, large abstract canvases with gorgeous swaths of blues and pinks and oranges were fascinating–more dreamlike and feminine than any of the other work I’d seen by him.  I also learned a lot about the artist, including that he had been trained as an extremely precise and realistic commercial artist.  Seeing some of his realist work reminded me of the fact that artists known for their abstract work are still classically trained artistic geniuses–and not just guys who randomly splash paint on canvases. Unfortunately for you, the de Kooning exhibit has ended, but there is currently a Diego Rivera exhibit running through May 14.

An interactive exhibit made of yarn! at PS1

– The MoMA PS1 Contemporary Art Museum: This museum is the sister museum to the MoMA, and you can get in free to PS1 with your MoMA entrance ticket, provided that you use it within a month of your visit to the MoMA.  PS1 does take a little bit of extra effort to get to–it’s located in Long Island City, Queens, accessible from the M or G train (that mysterious G train… I still don’t think I’ve ever seen it). The museum is a converted school, hence the name Public School 1, and architecturally it feels like you’re in a warehouse. But what it doesn’t have in soaring ceilings and impressive foyers, it makes up for in the art.  Often you go to see contemporary art and you’re a little baffled, or a little unimpressed, or just sort of confused (“I don’t get it…”).  There was certainly some of that type of art there, but there were three exhibits that I really connected with:

Meeting by James Turrell is a permanent installation at the museum, a square room with benches lining four tall, bare walls. The only thing of note in the room is the ceiling.  By the time we made it to this exhibit, it was just after dusk.  Sitting in the room, observing the sky in silence with a dozen other people, I wasn’t quite sure if there was a painted roof overhead, a large glass window, or if what we were watching was literally the open sky.  It looked very flat, but the dark blue space somehow felt much deeper.  It wasn’t until after several minutes of observing, I noticed a plane fly by in the distance, the twinkling of stars, and felt the chill from the open air, that I realized (SPOILER ALERT) there was no ceiling–the room really was just open to the night sky.  There was something very peaceful about everyone sitting together just observing the sky in silence.  It made me want to contemplate important things, and ponder the quiet enormity of the sky, and appreciate the feeling of meeting, of gathering with others.  “Meeting” opens at 3pm, weather permitting.

– Index: Riots, Protest, Mourning, and Commemoration by Willem de Rooij is a powerful collection of photos clipped from newspapers between January 2000 and July 2002.  As part of the September 11 exhibit that was on display at PS1, it obviously makes reference to the political, religious, and ideological clashes at the root of the September 11 attacks.  But the pictures don’t display many direct references to September 11; rather, they show human beings snapped by photographers in states of despair, mourning, grief, anger and outrage, and, at the other end of the spectrum, of celebration and excitement. At times chilling and at times poignant, the large panels of photos give us a fascinating look at the plight of the human experience around the world at the turn of the millennia.

– For a change of pace from the visual arts, The Forty Part Motet by Janet Cardiff is a wonderful audio installation consisting of 40 speakers set up in a large circle. Each speaker plays the recording of one person in a 40-part chorus singing Thomas Tallis’s breathtaking “Spem in Alium” from 1573.  You can choose to absorb the music as a whole from one of the benches in the center of the room, or wander in and out of the 40 speakers, honing in on individual voices in the choir. Either way, the music filling the room is so full and rich–the voices so captivating, soaring, and hauntingly beautiful–that it almost seems to reach in and touch one’s soul. The entire piece runs 11 minutes long, on a loop, but it’s certainly mesmerizing enough to make you want to stay and take in the music for as long as you can.

The Arcade in the Cloisters

– The CloistersThe branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that focuses on medieval art, The Cloisters sits in Fort Tryon Park at the northern tip of Manhattan.  A quiet, calm departure from the craziness of the city, the building is comprised of elements from five different medieval cloisters, and houses tapestries, paintings, metalworks, and sculptures from medieval Europe and parts of Asia. Although this isn’t really my preferred kind of art, it’s truly a beautiful building and worth the visit. Walking through the courtyard and gardens, and passing under the arched hallways and intricate stained glass windows of The Cloisters, you feel transported to another place and time. One can almost envision the monks meditating here centuries ago.  The surrounding grounds in Fort Tryon Park also make for a perfect Sunday stroll.  And if you happen to go when the fall foliage is in full force (sorry… I told you I started writing this post a REALLY LONG TIME AGO), you’ll get some of the nicest views (of nature, not buildings) in New York City.  Entry into the building is donation-based, meaning you’re free to pay however much you like, even if it’s only $1.

Magical light at The Cloisters

– The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Once you’ve paid your donation to get into the Cloisters, you can also get into the Met for free, and vice versa, though you have to go on the same day.  If you’ve ever been to the Met, you know that it’s an utterly intimidating museum in terms of sheer size, and it’s easy to get lost (who remembers the children’s book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler where the kids hide out in the munseum?). The Met isn’t my favorite, but if you choose just one section of the museum, like the modern art section, it’s a little more palatable. Or, if ancient civilizations are your thing, spend a whole day and go to town!

The Moth: I’d first heard of The Moth on an NPR podcast, but it is nothing more and nothing less than people telling stories. Its tagline, “True Stories Told Live” says it all.  Often the stories are funny, but sometimes they’re shocking or poignant or saddening. But The Moth is simply a platform, at which comedians, actors, and also regular people like you, can give us a little piece of their personal history. You can catch The Moth live in Manhattan on Wednesday nights in Soho at the Housing Works Bookstore on Crosby Street. Be forewarned that The Moth has become hugely popular as of late, and like all events that are remotely cool in New York City, the line builds up fast. The show begins at 7:30p, but it’s best to get there by at least 6:30p to wait in line.

The slide, part of the Carston Holler exhibit, at The New Museum

The New Museum: I wrote about this at the travel website I used to work at when this Museum first opened up in 2007.  When I lived in the East Village, I loved walking by this museum on Bowery every week, because it’s such a cool work of architecture in an area that’s mostly old tenement buildings.  Anyway, I finally went to the New Museum a while ago because Thursday nights are free, and I lived so close, it would have been a shame if I didn’t go.  Again, the line is long and frankly, moves pretty damn slowly. When I went, the featured exhibit was “Experience” by Carston Höller.  A very hands-on, engaging experience, some of the works included were a mirrored carousel, a slide that went from the fourth to the first floor of the museum, and a sensory deprivation room with a tank filled with very high-salinity water in which you could float.

International Center of Photography: For those who appreciate photographic art, you can see some interesting exhibits, often of photos from a bygone time in New York City, at the International Center of Photography.  And during their Voluntary Contribution Fridays from 5-8pm, you can enjoy these photo exhibits for however much or little you’re willing to part with.  A relatively small museum with only a few small exhibition rooms, it’s totally digestible for a post-work, pre-Friday night visit.

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