by George Taniwaki

I just returned from a short trip to New York. I have been to the city many times, but not recently. So I took time to go to places that are new since my last visit in 2009.

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

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Immersion room, courtesy Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

As a software program manager, the Cooper Hewitt is one of my favorite museums. It recently completed a major renovation (Press Release, Dec 2014). I was looking forward to seeing the redesigned design museum and was not disappointed.

Upon entering the museum, each visitor is given a stylus and a code number. The stylus is a bit bulky but is rugged. The pointed end can be used with large touchscreen monitors (probably Microsoft PixelSense devices since the newer Surface Hub wasn’t released until after the museum opened) scattered around some rooms. Visitors can select images, write text, and draw images on the touchscreens. Visitors can tap the other end of the stylus to the touchscreens to save their work. They can also tap on exhibit signs to save them and get more information for later.

On the second floor is a cubical Immersion Room that contains another large touchscreen monitor. On this one, visitors can select wallcovering patterns from the Cooper Hewitt collection or design their own using the pen. They can save their patterns and project them on the walls of the room. It is a very enjoyable experience to see your pattern fill the room (see photo above).

After your visit, you can go to the Cooper Hewitt website, create an account, enter your code, and review your visit and further explore exhibits that interested you. If you are a developer or tinkerer, check out the Toys section to use the API and to access anonymized visitor data.

Museum of Modern Art

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Crossroads (promotional still) 1976, Courtesy Connor Family Trust

The Museum of Modern Art is not new yet. However, since my last visit, MoMA has announced a major expansion. An increase of 4,600 sq. m (50,000 sq. ft) will add about 17%  of new space the the already large museum. Construction has started, though it hasn’t caused any closure of the current space for now.

The addition is expected to be well integrated with the existing museum. Construction will take over four years to complete (Curbed New York, Jan 2016).

I saw a special exhibit on Bruce Conner (1933-2008) an avant garde painter, sculptor, photographer, and film maker (see photo). The show was organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In an ironic twist, I was unable to visit the newly remodeled SFMoMA while I was in SF in April since it was still closed for renovation (see SF Gate, May 2016).

The expansion of MoMA required the demolition of the American Folk Art Museum, which was a lovely bronze-clad building next door to it. (I saw a wonderful special exhibit on quilts during my last visit to New York.) The building is already gone and is now just a hole in the ground. The museum has moved to Columbus Avenue between 65th and 66th Streets.  I didn’t have time to visit it.

9/11 Memorial & Museum

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The north fountain with white rose. Photo by George Taniwaki

The National September 11 Memorial opened in 2014. It honors the victims killed in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania during of the awful attacks in September, 2001 as well as the people killed in the earlier attack on the World Trade Center in February, 1993.

The memorial consists of two square fountains, each encompassing the footprint of one of the towers. The fountains are surrounded by bronze panels with the names of each victim cut into them. A white rose is placed by each name on that person’s birthday (see photo). Water falls about 10 m (30 ft) into a reflecting pool. From there, it falls into a square hole so deep you cannot see the bottom. The sound of rushing water is emitted from the hole. The scale of the fountains is moving. Even on a busy summer weekend when thousands of tourists are viewing the memorial, there is plenty of space to stand and contemplate.

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View from the balcony entering the museum. Photo by George Taniwaki

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View of quote from stairs entering the museum. Photo by George Taniwaki

The 9/11 museum is also enormous and also within the footprint of the towers. The main floor is under the fountain about 18m (60ft) below ground. From the balcony you can see the slurry wall that holds back the Hudson River and a giant remnant of a column from the World Trade Center marked with spray paint (see photo).

An escalator takes you past a quote translated from Virgil’s Aeneid, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time” (see photo). The quote is surrounded by 2,983 watercolor paintings, one for each victim, by Spencer Finch recalling the shade of blue of the sky on the morning of 9/11.

Overall, the museum does a good job of explaining the events leading to the attack and the recovery effort afterwards. One can imagine the difficult task of presenting an evenhanded account in the face of enormous pressure from victim families, first responders, government agencies, donors, and politicians. Nearly every artifact and photo is heavily researched and annotated, which is somewhat chilling. One gets a sense of how invested the survivors are in preserving the memories of the loved ones lost in the attacks.

As a side note, when viewed in context, the use of the Virgil quote above is rather controversial. The “you” refers to the attackers, not the victims, giving it a very different meaning than what was intended (NY Times, Apr 2011). Yet the alternate interpretation is also true. Because of the horror they caused, we will not forget the attackers either.

The Cloisters

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A garden in the Cloisters. Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Panoramic view of the Hudson River and New Jersey. Photo by George Taniwaki

The Cloisters is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It houses artwork and architectural fragments from twelfth to fifteenth century Europe. The building is shaped like a medieval cloister and is located at the top of a hill in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan (see photos).

I’m not a big fan of art from this era, so have never bothered to go all the way up to the Cloisters. But after visiting Florence a few years ago I decided I should make the journey. It was well worth it. I took the subway and walked up the hill. The building is imposing.  The gardens are tranquil and beautiful. And seeing the historical transition in painting from flat to perspective is fascinating.

Dyckman Farmhouse Museum

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Irises in bloom. Courtesy of Dyckman Farmhouse Museum

On my way to the Cloisters, I accidentally missed my stop. Rather than wait for a train the other direction, I decided to walk back. On a busy street filled with businesses I suddenly passed by a small garden and walked in. It turns out it was part of the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum. Opened in 1916, the museum is not very large, but is well maintained and reveals some of the history of Manhattan beginning with the Revolutionary War.

Final Notes

When visiting a city, I rarely buy City Pass tickets or their equivalents. The list of venues is fixed and limited. Instead, I just buy tickets in advance directly from each museum I visit. In fact, I just go to each museum first, checked out how long the line is, and if it is too long, then use my phone to buy tickets online. Museums with long lines and that lack online ticket sales don’t get my business.

To get around a strange town, I need more than a map. I need info on the best ways to get around by walking, biking, using public transit, or hailing Uber. Also, I want to compare estimated travel times and costs for each option. I have found two excellent apps to help. They are CityMapper and Transit, both available for iPhone and Android.