May 27, 2007

The Gift Shops are Icing on the Museum Cake

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:12 am by classicalmusic

I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a sucker for a good museum gift shop.  If all else fails, the gift shop is sure to please.

I am not ashamed to tell one and all that, universally, my favorite part of any museum is the gift shop.  I have never met a gift shop that I didn’t like and that I couldn’t spend hours in.  The gift shops (plural – there are many) at the Smithsonian are the best in the world, though the shop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY is a close runner up.  In fact, one of my reasons for going to the Smithsonian was because I was out of greeting cards and I needed to re-stock.  I ended up getting these cards that had engraved white-on-white imprints of old American patchwork quilt patterns and I love them.  When I give a gift I usually feel that the card is the best part.  A check is just a check, but the card that I enclose is special, or at least I think so.  And no matter what museum I’m in, I try to buy cards with images of the paintings I’ve just seen.  So I have Chagall cards and Rubin cards and Picasso cards and Georges Braque cards and Monet cards.  I usually don’t buy anything else from the museum gift shop, though there are some unique things that you can’t find anywhere else.  I remember that my Mom used to get the catalogue from the Met in the mail around Christmas time and she once ordered a pair of silver snowflake-patterned earrings.  I have those earrings now and when I wear them I think of her, of the museum, and of winter in NY – great memories, all.


May 21, 2007

Madame Tussaud’s is the Museum Antidote

Posted in Madame Tussaud's, museums at 10:04 am by classicalmusic

Not all museums are serious and staid and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum is a good example.  If paintings and sculpture are not your thing, try for Tussaud’s for a twist.

If all this talk of art and museums is still not convincing you, then you should try for a museum that is not really a museum.  To some people any museum is going to be boring; just the idea of walking around and looking at stuff is enough to make their eyes cross.  For those people, hands-on museums – like the great science museum in
Philadelphia – is a good compromise.  Some people just need to do things and any hands-on museum is a good alternative.  The most non-museum ever, though, is Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum – either in
London or in NY City.  I went to the one in
London as part of a 40-hour, super-speed trip to that city a few years ago.  We arrived at Heathrow at 7:00 in the morning on a Wednesday and we left the next night at midnight.  In the course of those two days, we took a tour on a double-decker bus-? we actually did two loops because we fell asleep in the middle and just kept going around; saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and at Kensington Palace; went out to eat twice; shopped on Oxford Street; saw Les Miserables; walked through Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square; went to London Dundgeons (very dumb!), and, of course, went to Madame Tussaud’s.  It was wildly over-priced and we thought twice before going in but ultimately it seemed a shame to miss it so we gave it a whirl.  It was keetchy and silly but, if nothing else, it’s a great photo op and some of our best London shots are of us standing with the Beatles and Charlie Chaplin.  A few years later I was with my kids in
New York and I sent them to the Tussaud’s there.  I couldn’t bear to do it again – it’s not something that’s worth paying twice for – so I sent them in without me and they had a great time and again took some nifty photos.  Interestingly, though, on that trip to NYC, I did repeat a
London activity – I took my kids to see Les Mis, which most definitely was worth doing twice.  Not everything can be seen in a museum.  Just thought you may want to know.

May 17, 2007

Planetariums are a Great Way to Get Going

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:47 pm by classicalmusic

When you’re willing to wait on line for hours to see the Mona Lisa, you know
you’re an art lover.

Before, I waxed nostalgic to myself for a while, remembering why museums
always conjure up for me such pleasant memories.  One of the first non-museum
museums I remember going to was the Hayden Planetarium, which is one of the
coolest places ever.  Looking back, I think I may have liked it because you can
sit down (as a whiny, overweight kid, I would always get so-o-o-o-o tired so
fast in museums), and very little of what I learned actually sunk in.  I can
find the Big Dipper but that’s about it.  I even got a C in astronomy in college
so I guess the stars and planets are just not my thing.  Still, I have good
memories of the planetarium and it was one of the first museumy-type things I
did with my own kids when they were the right age.  My parents took us to the
Jewish Museum also when we were kids but although I’m Jewish to the core, it
didn’t do it for me.  It wasn’t until I went to my first art museum – and I
think it was the Guggenheim – that I realized that art rules.  I went on to
major in English  in college (reading and writing will always be #1 with me) but
I did a minor in Art History, so I guess I really do love the stuff.  I remember
when I was about 10 years old the Mona Lisa came to New York.  It was the winter – of course – and
really, really cold.  But my Mom and my sister and I stood on line for hours
just to catch a glimpse of the famous smile.  And as young as I was, and as
boring and cold as it was on line, and as brief a peek as we were allowed to
have (and from a distance of at least 10 feet), I remember that my young self
was impressed.  It was a combination of seeing something famous in person and
realizing that it was famous for a reason.  Years later, I told my kids, “That
Leonardo guy was more than just a Ninja Turtle.”  I’ll be ba-a-a-ck.

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May 16, 2007

100 Best Museums in America

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:55 am by classicalmusic

Great Museums: Press Room

Riches, Rivals and Radicals: 100 Years of Museums in America shows that the museum world does not lack heroes and visionaries: Franklin Delano Roosevelt believed that museums were part of the very “warp and woof” of democracy. His Works Progress Administration employment program engaged artists — such as Jackson Pollock and Jacob Lawrence, who worked in museums. John Cotton Dana, founder of New Jersey’s Newark Museum created integrated art classes and apprenticeship programs for young women seeking museum careers. He exhibited factory objects as works of art to increase awareness of the contributions of immigrant factory workers. Julius Rosenwald, founder of Sears & Roebuck also founded the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Frank Oppenheimer, the nuclear physicist, founded San Francisco’s Exploratorium in 1969.

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May 9, 2007

Deja Vu All Over Again

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:51 am by classicalmusic

For me, going to museums conjures up memories of museums past.  Museums always make me nostalgic.

Hi, museum fans, nice to have you back.  As I mentioned, when I was starting out, I went to the museum a few weeks ago.  I hadn’t been to a museum in about 5 years but I had just had a disastrous job interview right around the corner from the museum and a little art was just what I needed to feel better again.  Entrance was kind of pricey but I was thrilled to discover that my gold Mastercard got me in for free, a nice bonus.  As soon as I walked in to the first exhibit, I entered a time warp.  Spread out all over the floor, in different positions, pensive and pondering, scribbling away, were university art students.  I had to step over them as if I was walking through a mine field.  Distracting, to say the least.  And why a time warp?  Because when I was a freshman in college I had to do a paper on an artist who was currently exhibiting in a NY museum.  I remember I chose Jim Dine and I went to the Whitney to check him out.  This was in 1975 – Dine was only 40 and already pretty famous.  At the time, he was well-known for his heart paintings and I remember that for me it was love at first sight (very colorful and eye catching).  And, so like the students strewn all over the floor, I scribbled my way through the museum that day.  The thing is I just had to write about his paintings and I put it all together when I got home into a term paper.  The students I stepped over in the museum were actually drawing; I think they were doing their own renderings of the paintings they were looking at.  Actually drawing or painting is way more impressive than just writing about it.   In any case going to the museum a few weeks ago reminded me of everything I love about them and it prompted this blog.  More to come.

The Smithsonian Rocks

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:49 am by classicalmusic

Don’t make your first Smithsonian stop the Air & Space Museum – the American History Museum is way better.

Although I’ve told you that art museums are my favorites, I’ve been to others and I’ve enjoyed them, as well.  Last year I finally got to the Smithsonian in
Washington DC and it was pretty great.  I didn’t have the time or patience to go to all of the buildings but my first stop was the

Air & Space
Museum, which was good, though not nearly as good as I had expected.  I suppose I may have been influenced by the fact that I had just come from the

Museum, which as far as I was concerned was better done and much more memorable.  Yes, I know, you can’t compare, but on a purely objective basis, the
A & S
Museum couldn’t hold a candle to the

Museum in terms of effectiveness.   True, you don’t expect a plane or a jet to touch your soul or move you to tears but, a year later, I don’t remember anything about the
Air & Space
Museum and I remember many aspects of the

Museum to this day.  After the disappointment of the Air and
Museum we went to the

Museum of
American History and, probably because we weren’t expecting much, we were pleasantly surprised. It was great.  The permanent exhibits were terrific and we were lucky enough to have two great temporary exhibits – one was about polio and the other about Ray Charles (who had recently died).  I have a cousin with polio – he was one of the last victims – so I found that exhibit particularly interesting.  I loved the TV exhibit (we even took a picture of Seinfeld’s “Puffy Shirt”) and the movie section (Dorothy’s shoes also warranted a quick snap).  And the burned and blackened flag that flew outside the
Center on September 11 succeeded in doing what the Air and

Museum couldn’t – it moved me – and I’ll never forget it.

May 2, 2007

Museums are the Best When You Visit Them Alone

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:06 pm by classicalmusic

One of the things I love most about museums is that you can visit them alone. As a kind of anti-social person, there are very few activities I don’t prefer doing alone; I pretty much can’t stand doing anything in groups. This means that I’ll shop alone and exercise alone and it makes sense that I prefer going to museums alone. It’s been a long time since anyone’s said to me “Hey, do you want to go to a museum today?” so I haven’t had to turn anyone down, but since my husband doesn’t like museums and my kids haven’t taken to them either, whenever I have gotten to a museum in the last few years, it’s been on my own.

Walking around a museum on your own means doing it completely at your own pace, which is how I like doing everything. Museum goers fall into two categories – the ones who rush through like there’s a prize at the end, and the ones who have to read every word and stare at every exhibit endlessly. I don’t fall into either group and so just the idea of being with either of those two museum types gets on my nerves. If I’m in a museum, I usually feel like I’m floating, from room to room and from painting to painting. Occasionally, I’ll stop and stare at a particular work that really grabs my attention and every now and then I’ll read the short bio of the painter. But rarely will I use the headphones for a guided tour and even more rarely will I listen to a live guide “tell all.” The feeling of being alone with the painters, even when there are other people milling about, is special and unique; I can only compare it to reading in a library and becoming completely absorbed in a book even though there are other people right next to you. For me, it’s heaven.