Monday, June 8, 2009

Born in the USA

Every since the glamorous Obama-cized opening of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum, I've been itching to go see it.  I attempted to strong-arm Rob into accompanying me on Saturday, but the allure of Sophie Calle's show at the Paula Cooper Gallery was too strong.  Rightly, as it turned out.  Saturday was the last day of the show, and it was a provocative installation that was very much worth the trip.  And as an added plus we were able to witness first-hand the now famous line for the Picassos at the Gagosian Gallery.  Rather than stand in it, Marissa, Vivian and Rob and I headed over to the Empire Diner for some eggs.  I'm confident that our decision was the right one.  The eggs were great, as was the company, and the service was...entertaining. 

Sunday was my day.  I had no plans before a dinner with Paul, so I made my way uptown to see the Met's newly renovated galleries.  I'll admit I had somewhat moderate expectations.  As much as I love Shaker furniture (I actually really do, this guy makes some wonderful pieces in the style if you are a fan as well) I wasn't looking forward to galleries full of early American hutches.  

But let me say, the collection really is quite wonderful.  It is, at it turns out, a lot of furniture.  But many of the pieces were fascinating.  For instance, a grecian style sofa in yellow silk made me want to drape myself across it, perhaps while wearing a kimono of some sort, and although I can't say that I love the style of this piece (apparently it is called a tete-a-tete), I think the concept is absolutely genius.

What an utterly perfect configuration in which to have a conversation with someone!  Facing them, not too close, not too far.  Why on earth did these go out of favor?  Perhaps one too many people got caught in boring conversations with no hope of extricating themselves.

In addition to intriguing single pieces of furniture the wing also includes period rooms.  Now in general, I find rooms in museums really can run the gamut from overwrought and cloying to sublime.

The Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery is one of those rare examples that is both overwrought and sublime.

But the rooms in the American Wing tended mostly to the sublime.  There were of course those few mandatory Federalist style dining rooms, but there were some truly fabulous exhibits, many of which reminded me of the gorgeous old Berkley homes with loads of wood and enviable detailing (or I suppose I should say Bay Area childhood home is a fantastic craftsman bungalow which was not in Berkeley) that I love.

But oddly, my favorite example of this was an entry hall from a McKim Mead and White residential commission in Buffalo:

That basket pattern along the wall of the staircase was really one of the more compelling things I've seen in a while, and I love the screen dividing the stairs and the entry hall.

And of course Mr. Frank Lloyd Wright never disappoints, there is a fabulous large room of his on display as well.  Also lots of wood, also very Bay Area feeling while originating quite far from it (in this case Minneapolis).  Perhaps this style that I consider to be Bay Area is in fact simply American?  

It seems that by the time the midwest and the west had populations with enough money to build some of these gorgeous homes, the United States was old enough to have developed a distinctive style, and a very appealing one at that. I suppose that here on the east coast the money came fairly early, but the European influence was still strong, so we have a bit of a mish mash.

So if nothing else, the American Wing has shown me that my coastal snobbery is unfounded and that I should not assume that Northern California has the monopoly on good architecture and design!


The Townhouselady said...

This is one of the best posts I've read in ages. You've convinced me I need to get my butt out of the house more often and go see the wonderful things we have at our disposal.

I'm with on the eggs. I choose them over waiting on line any day. Even for Picasso!

Laura [What I Like] said...

Thank you so much for the kind words! I find that I go through phases...I'm occasionally totally devoid of cultural pursuits and then I have a spurt of energy and go all out to see everything available.

Rob M. said...

Had a great weekend - thanks for showing me around the city and taking me to Green Depot to buy recovered newspaper pencils.

Laura [What I Like] said...

It was so great to see you Rob! Hope you enjoy the pencils. I'm sure Laia will love them.

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