Category Archives: Museums

The Norm — Lunch on 14 March 2018

Photography wasn’t allowed inside the Brooklyn Museum’s brilliant David Bowie is exhibition, but I do have one takeaway from the show. After spending a couple of hours immersed in the life and works of The Man Who Fell to Earth, my niece and I had lunch at the museum’s restaurant, The Norm.

No, I don’t know why it’s called that, and my online search for an answer came up empty.

Post-Bowie, the name of one of the menu offerings was irresistible.


Museums are not generally noted for the quality of the food they offer, but the Brooklyn Museum is an exception. Chef here is Michelin-starred Saul Bolton, who has developed a small but intriguing menu.

My Diamond Dogfish and Chips were excellent, and I say that as a connoisseur of fish & chips.

The Norm's Diamond Dogfish and Chips, with Mushy Peas on the Side

The Norm’s Diamond Dogfish and Chips, with Mushy Peas on the Side

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The Breathtaking Brilliance of David Bowie is at the Brooklyn Museum

David Bowie is at the Brooklyn Museum is the most exciting, dynamic, and fascinating show you’ll see this year.

Here are some of the things you can see or hear at the exhibition:

“Highlights of the exhibition include more than 60 custom-made performance costumes…85 handwritten lyric sheets, including those from “Fame” and “Fashion”… drawings, including a sketch for the Young Americans album cover; and oil paintings, including two of musician Iggy Pop, all by Bowie…more than 40 pioneering music videos, television clips, and filmed roles as well as a multimedia presentation of international tour footage…custom audio mix made up of snippets of Bowie’s songs…”

—from the exhibition’s web page

 

The show originated at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, in 2013. Since then, it has been on a tour that took it to 10 cities on five continents. David Bowie is has been seen by more people than any other show in the V&A’s 166-year history.

These reviews, from Vogue (“Go. Just go.”) and Rolling Stone (“Stunning”), describe parts of the show, and explain why it’s the Must See exhibition of 2018.

It runs through 15 July 2018. This is the last stop of the tour, so once it’s gone, it’s gone.


Souvenirs

Even if you can’t get to the exhibition itself, you can buy the David Bowie cotton tote bag ($10) or the lavishly illustrated David Bowie is exhibition catalogue ($45 softcover, $55 hardcover). All available at the Brooklyn Museum’s shop.


(Photography wasn’t allowed, so all these pictures are from the museum’s website.)

Brideshead Downton Abbey ReVisited

After years of relentlessly mocking the looniness of Downton Abbey while never missing an episode of the series, there was no way that I could pass up a chance to spend an afternoon at “Downton Abbey: The Touring Exhibition” while I was in New York.

It was a treat.

Throughout the New York show, you’re greeted by some of the principal Downton actors, in costume and in character, via HD video. The exhibition covers three floors and contains hundreds—or, more likely, thousands—of props, costumes, and furnishings from the TV series. Snippets of dialog from the series play at related parts of the exhibition.  The use of technology to enrich the experience is flawless.


The first floor of the exhibition focuses on the servants and the “Downstairs” portion of the house, starting with the kitchen.

The informative signage that explained the roles and duties of the various members of the household was particularly good.

The servants’ dining table.

Mr. Carson and Mrs Hughes in Mr. Carson’s Office.

Mr. Carson’s Desk shows an attention to detail that’s typical of the exhibition.

If you looked closely at the pictures, you might have noticed something peculiar about the representation of the servants. I think that it must allude to a particularly dark episode in the Crowley family history. During the 1926 General Strike, Lady Violet was left in charge of the Abbey while the Crowley men went off to shoot some random strikers. As the hours wore on and her consumption of sherry grew apace, she became increasingly unhinged, until, fearing a violent revolution was about to bring down the Abbey and all it symbolized, she had the entire Downton underclass decapitated and stuffed.

The next morning, in the cold light of day—cold, because she’d offed the servant responsible for seeing that the rooms were warmed before the family awoke—she expressed extreme regret for her impetuous actions, once she realized there was no one left to prepare her morning tea.

Churchill helped the family cover up the incident, and the TV series tactfully ignored it.


Leaving behind the Morlocks who labour below the earth, we ascend to the golden, carefree world of the Eloi….

Oh, wait.  Wrong story,

The second floor is all about The Family and everything here—the clothes, the furniture, the people—is brighter, richer, and more colourful.

The Dining Room was a show-stopper.

Lady Violet has a little display area entirely to herself, where the audio features some of her better-known witticisms, including the one that has always seemed to me to be an excellent example of the series getting things hopelessly, unforgivably wrong.

Viewing a well-set dining table like the one in the picture above, she says, “Nothing succeeds like excess”, at which point I’ve been known to shout “No. No. No!” at the TV screen. A tacky sentiment like that would never come from Old Money. It’s something a Trump would say.


The third floor has a small display of miscellaneous costumes. After the richness of the rest of the show, it’s a bit anticlimactic.

Wedding Gowns.


So that was my afternoon at Downton. The show is beautifully put together, and I had a delightful time.

David Bowie is…in Brooklyn

Big News

I’ve been waiting for this for five years.

“David Bowie is”, the Victoria and Albert Museum’s magnificent exhibition chronicling the life of Ziggy Stardust, has returned to North America. It opened at the Brooklyn Museum last Friday, and will run through 15 July 2018.

I’ve already got my ticket.

I saw “David Bowie is” in 2013, in Toronto, the first stop of what was to be a five-year, five-continent, 10-city tour. It ran at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and it was possibly the most brilliantly staged museum exhibition I’d ever seen.

It was worthy of Bowie.

Here’s what I wrote at the time.

“Downton Abbey: The Touring Exhibition” — Now at a New Low Price

Wanna visit Downton Abbey: The Touring Exhibition in New York, but can’t afford the $35 admission? The Crawley family has a deal for you!

As you probably know, Downton Abbey is perpetually in danger of being sold to satisfy the creditors of the gullible and financially incompetent Earl of Grantham, who falls for the machinations of card sharks and Ponzi schemers with clock-like regularity. (On a recent trip to New York, he stumbled across a three-card Monte set-up in Times Square. The dealer now owns Downton’s East Wing.)

But Downton’s loss can be your gain! Even though the Crawleys are loath to admit commoners ne’er-do-wells poor white trash those awful people the general public to Downton’s hallowed halls, money is money, and needs must.

Travelzoo to the rescue! The site is offering tickets to the exhibition for $20, and the offer is good for the rest of the show, which is now scheduled to close on 2 April 2018. (No word yet on where it will turn up next.)

The Earl of Grantham—his given name is “Robert”, but grifters around the world call him “Mark”—will appreciate your patronage, particularly now, since he’s lent his daughters’ dowries to a former Nigerian Treasury official, and the rascal seems to have dropped out of sight.

Meanwhile, enjoy these pictures from the exhibition.


Budapest Miscellania

Well, Christmas Is Icumen In, and I’m rapidly using up what’s left of 2017. Considering what a terrible year it’s been—even worse than 2016, which I wouldn’t have believed possible when I was drinking my traditional New Year’s Eve Kir Royale last December—this is probably a good thing.

So here’s a condensed and somewhat random round-up of a few of the interesting things I explored in Budapest. I’m working on three final posts about my Hungarian adventure, which I hope to publish over the weekend, and then I’ll be ready to coast into 2018.


Over the River

The Fővám tér subway and tram station in Budapest’s excellent* metro system was a block from my hotel, so I used it almost daily. As I entered the station, I always looked across the Danube and saw this sight, which looks straight out of a fairy tale.


Buda Castle


During Hungary’s long and bloody history, Buda Castle has been destroyed four times, most recently by the Red Army in 1945, and rebuilt three. It’s now part of the Budapest World Heritage Site.


The Hungarian National Gallery

The Budapest History Museum, the National Széchényi Library,  and the Hungarian National Gallery are part of Buda Castle. I spent most of my time in the Gallery.*

The collection of Late Gothic winged altarpieces was overwhelming.


And in the 19th Century Art galleries, I was repeatedly drawn back to Pál Szinyei Merse’s portrait of a “Lady in Violet”.


The Best Way to Travel

Join me for a ride on the Castle Hill Funicular from the Palace to the banks of the Danube. I don’t know why, but I just love these things! Maybe it’s because they’re sort of like roller coasters, but without the screams and the sudden plunges.

For most realistic results, watch it on full screen.


House of Terror Museum

This grey building, on Budapest’s fashionable Andrássy Avenue, was used successively by fascist and communist secret police to interrogate, torture, and kill “enemies of the state”.

It’s now the House of Terror Museum, and visiting it is a grim and chilling experience. The museum makes full use of multimedia to show how authoritarian governments can take control of a nation, and the terrible results that follow.

In the basement, you can enter the (reconstructed) cells that once held political prisoners.


Strolling Váci Utca

My hotel was at one end of Váci Utca, the famous pedestrian walkway lined with upscale stores, restaurants, and tourists traps. Vörösmarty Square, site of the Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival, was at the other end, a pleasant and colourful 15-minute walk.

Many of the shops along the way were decorated for the season.


Winter Is Coming

Despite appearances, these equestrian statues have nothing to do with Game of Thrones.

They represent the seven Magyar chieftains whose tribes settled in the area in 896 AD, and founded what would become Budapest. Their monument is in the city’s Heroes’ Square.


The Best View Biggest Disappointment in Budapest

On one of my first days in Budapest, I went to the Citadella, which sits atop Gellért Hill, and is famous for having the best view of the city, as you can clearly see from this picture I took.

If you look closely, you might be able to make out the Golden Gate Bridge and the Transamerica Pyramid.

Here’s a picture I took from the grounds of Buda Castle on a less-San Francisco-like day:


*In many ways, it’s much better than Washington’s unreliable Metro. Trains arrive every three and a half minutes, the stations are bright, airy, and well marked, and the escalators are fast. It’s one of the most user-friendly mass transit systems I’ve used.

**Since it is a gallery dedicated to Hungarian art, I knew I’d be spared any possible exposure to the vile and treacly works of that talentless French hack, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Avoiding Renoir has become my main criterion for deciding which museums to visit, and which to avoid. See, most recently, Renoir Sucks at Painting 2, Renoir 0 for details.

“Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting” at the NGA

Meanwhile, back in Washington, I finally made it the National Gallery of Art for the brilliant “Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting” exhibit.

The show included almost 70 works by Vermeer and his fellow painters of the Dutch Golden Age. Some, like Jan Steen, were familiar names, but many were new to me. I was unaware of Gabriël Metsu, for instance, who created the sublime “Man Writing a Letter” painting at the top of this item.

The exhibition runs through 16 January 2018. All images came from the NGA.