Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Service of a Night of Contrasts: Art in 1905 vs AI in 2023

Thursday, November 16th, 2023

30 minutes well spent listening to the Met Museum virtual tour of the Fauvism show.

On a recent night I was watching the virtual premiere of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s tour of the exhibition “Vertigo of Color: Matisse, Derain, and the Origins of Fauvism.” At precisely the same time a friend attended a workshop about artificial intelligence—AI.

The years in question: 1905 and 2023.

I recommend that you spare 30 minutes to check out the museum tour conducted by Dita Amory, Robert Lehman Curator in Charge at the Met, and Ann Dumas, Consulting Curator of European Art at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. They tell us that in just over two months, in Collioure, a French fishing village, the artists “changed the course of French painting,” introducing modernism.

According to the notes accompanying the YouTube video, “With this new direction in painting, Matisse and Derain manipulated color in radical ways—nature took on hues responding to the artists’ sensations rather than reality. At the Salon d’Automne in 1905, when Matisse and Derain unveiled their controversial canvases, a prominent French journalist labeled them ‘les Fauves,’ or wild beasts.”

From the AI workshop, my friend shared an interesting AI-powered tool, Angry Email Translator, that will turn a nasty email into a polite, professional one. The workshop leader quoted Daniel Pink: “AI won’t replace humans. Humans using AI will replace humans not using AI.” His warning: “Be vigilant about the dangers” and advice: “Pay close attention and learn new skills.”

This morning, Dr. Arthur Caplan, Director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU shared some examples on WOR 710 radio. Take a radiology scan. With AI, the scan can be compared to hundreds of others. The experience of the radiologist can’t be nearly as extensive in identifying something that looks dangerous versus no problem. In addition, Caplan said, AI never needs to go to sleep and never gets tired which can happen to someone staring at scans all day.

Astronomer Carl Sagan said in 1979: “We live in an extraordinary age.” We still do. Isn’t it remarkable that we are alive to have access to such diverse, fascinating information?

Fifth Avenue in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fall 2023

Service of Memberships Chiseling Customers or Supporters

Monday, October 2nd, 2023

Many things include a membership these days from clubs and associations to charities and services. What irritates me is when I’m told the membership will expire far too early, followed by an attempt to alarm: “so hurry and renew!”

This recently happened with the company at which I register my domain, jmbyington.com. I’d paid for three years and had marked my calendar for mid-October to remind me to pay to continue the service. Mid-September they sent a frantic reminder.

I support a public television station and a similar thing happened only they were two months ahead of themselves. While I did respond to the domain reminder as I can’t afford a slipup there, I’ll wait for PBS.

Not that I want to let my PBS membership lapse. I’m watching a wonderful series on Passport—a benefit of membership– “La Otra Mirada.” Passport is also invaluable if you follow a series on TV and are out the night it airs. [I have no way to record programs.]

Clipping off a month or two for a membership or service is a little like reducing the weight of the contents while keeping the package size the same. I first noticed this trick decades ago with tins of coffee. It has become a habit with some manufacturers.

What kind of organizations or businesses send you early renewal notices?

Service of a Wednesday in New York, When Waiting in Line was Fun

Monday, September 25th, 2023

The first poster on the right promotes the Manet/Degas exhibit that just opened at the Met Museum.

If you’re lucky and you’re in line with the right people, waiting can be as much fun as the anticipated event or make a terrible time palatable—such as during a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles in NYC.

Gridlock during UN General Assembly week

I was early and at the front of the line for the Metropolitan Museum to open the afterhours entrance to The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. The goal: to attend the oversold “Dialogue: The Louvre and the Met,” featuring Laurence des Cars, President-Director, the Louvre and Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director and CEO, The Met. Ms. Des Cars was here for the opening of the “Manet/Degas” exhibit, a collaboration of the two directors. I was lucky to have seen the exhibit in Paris in the spring. Two days after the lecture I visited the member preview of this treat of a show.

When the Met Museum is closed, people use this door to enter for events at The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium.

My first conversation was with a woman who, like me, was waiting for a friend. We shared our experiences navigating the east side of Manhattan with all the street closures because the UN General Assembly was in town. The city had heavy hitters to protect like Presidents Biden and Zelenskyy.

Soon I moved back in the line to make it easier for my friend to find me. My phone was in dire need of a charge, and I discovered that my portable charger was on the blink. The kind man ahead of me, who also was waiting for a friend, let me plug my phone into his charger. Behind me was a man who couldn’t find on his phone the confirmation email that would be his passport to the lecture. We helped him locate it.

Once we were all together we learned that the generous charger man’s friend is a pediatric bone marrow transplant doctor who handles some 70 cases a year. My friend had worked for City of Hope, a leader in cancer care. Small world.

Have you enjoyed brief encounters with interesting people while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, a renewed driver’s license or for a store or event to open its doors?

“The Collector of Prints,” by Degas at the Manet/Degas exhibit in Manhattan, a collaboration between the Met and the Louvre.

Service of Museum Manners in New York and Paris

Thursday, June 29th, 2023

Unusual to see the Louvre so empty.
“Winged Victory” at the Louvre and not a soul in sight. Spooky.

I’ve written about behavior at museums quite a lot from, for example, strangers who glom onto a private tour to busy bodies who interrupt a stranger’s conversation about an exhibit only to insert incorrect information. I also wrote about people who express their anger over personal matters by destroying art.

A friend shared the idea for this post after an afternoon at one of her favorite NYC museums. She wrote: “Real lack of decorum at the museum: People noisily chatting, taking selfies, reaching over others to take pics, blocking paintings.”

I couldn’t agree more with her frustration.

Children waiting to visit L’Orangerie in Paris

This is not just a NYC thing. In fact, I found museum manners of tourists even worse in Paris. The most blatant example was at the Louvre. Because French President Macron was greeting dignitaries from Naples for the opening of the Capodimonte National Museum exhibit the day of my timed ticket, my scheduled arrival was moved first to 1:30 and at the last minute to 2:00 p.m. Our group was the first one in the museum that day so it was shockingly empty. I figured why not say hello to the “Mona Lisa,” known in France as Leonardo da Vinci’s “La Jaconde.”

This class of little ones waited quietly to get enter the Rodin Museum, Paris.

The room that housed her picture was set up for a huge line but there were only a dozen tourists there when I arrived. Were they looking at one of the world’s most famous paintings—the oil on poplar wood panel of Francesco del Giocondo’s wife Lisa Gherardini? NO. They had their backs to her while someone took their pictures with Lisa in the background or they snapped selfies. Then they hung out and chatted.

Same thing happened at L’Orangerie where tourists stood for far too long with their backs to Monet’s “Water Lilies” to have a photo taken to prove they’d been to see [?] the work. It didn’t occur to them that they were covering up the art that others were there to enjoy.

When visitors face one another to carry on a conversation right in front of a picture—and they are clearly not speaking about the exhibit or the work—it baffles and irritates me.

However, I’m thrilled to see public interest in art even if sometimes the inspiration is more “look at me,” not “look at what I saw.” Visitors come in all sizes. At the Musée de l’Orangerie and Rodin Museum I was charmed by the youngest ones who were anticipating a look at the collections.

Have you been peeved by the behavior of fellow museum visitors? Do you say something, or do you tolerate them?

She smiled at me even though I was wedged to the side in order to get a shot of her without the other tourists who had settled in straight in front for the best selfie.

Service of A Bad Rap: My Paris Trip II

Thursday, June 15th, 2023

Iconic clock at the former Paris railroad station, now the Musée d’Orsay

Bad raps abound. Some enjoy repeating them and are often smug about it. And as they utter tired claims, they look as though they think that they are clever and have made a discovery.

President Gerald Ford, one of our most athletic heads of state, was known as a klutz because of a widely publicized photo of him tripping down the steps of a plane. I went to a college that in the day had a reputation for cheap looking female students with big, overly sprayed hair and too much makeup. Nobody like that crossed my path. Recently on a local NYC radio station a morning show host claimed that Canadians were boring. That was news to me.

And what is Paris’s bad rap? If I had $1.00 for every time I mentioned Paris to some folks who’d parrot “Parisians hate Americans,” or “They are so unfriendly and rude,” I would cover more than a month’s rent. It happened as recently as Sunday when someone learned I’d just returned. I’ve been to Paris many times for a few days and hadn’t noticed it then and in 10 days you’d think I’d have an even better feel for things.

Manet picture at the Manet-Degas exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay that’s coming to the Met in NYC

Have these self-righteous ignoramuses forgotten the attitude of some New Yorkers who can’t control their overstressed, overworked, exhausted, grumpy selves that translates to rude and impatient behavior? Their Paris claims could be describing Big Apple’s citizens, bus drivers or subway employees, restaurant staff etc. Paris is a big city too and has its share of equal opportunity angry grouches. I’ll also describe a few.

Here are just some examples from my magical 10-day visit that challenge the overwhelmingly negative allegations:

  • I hadn’t made a reservation to see the Manet-Degas exhibit** at the Musée d’Orsay and asked the guard how long she thought it would take to enter the exhibit given the very long line. She asked if I was alone.

“Oui,” I said. She ushered me to the front of the line and in I walked like a celebrity. The smiles of the young guard who witnessed my happy surprise and overheard my ebullient thanks equaled hers. **The exhibit is coming next to the Metropolitan Museum. Don’t miss it.

  • I asked a keeper of one of the many kiosks that sell magazines, postcards and tourist items if he carried notecards with envelopes.

He asked, “Do you need an envelope?”

Me: “Oui.” He went into his cubby and pulled out an envelope and wouldn’t take a centime for it.

  • Many of the metro workers are over-the-top helpful. One printed out maps and directions for me. Another patiently explained the system to a British couple ahead of me in line. I was turned around in a metro station and a third walked me to the right set of stairs.
Waiting for the metro. It was a joy to ride
  • I was more than a half an hour late for my 11:30 timed entrance to the Musée de l’Orangerie, apologizing all over the place and out of breath. The young woman checking the timed document and my museum pass smiled and told me not to worry. Did I mention the long line outside of those without timed tickets?
  • I was parched and not the tiniest bit hungry and in a part of town with only two restaurants near the metro station I needed to use. I had a hard deadline as I was leaving town that afternoon so there was no time to explore other options. I asked a waiter at one if I might just have something to drink and he apologized, said they were serving lunch and as I turned to go he ushered me to the back and said to the bartender “she just wants a drink.” And that’s all I had.
  • I found a restaurant near my hotel with good food and a joyful staff. On my last night one server greeted me and declared that the table I’d chosen again was “your table.” I felt at home as I did when one of the young men at the front desk of my hotel ran to the door as I headed for my taxi, leaned out, smiled and waved goodbye.
  • Without exception the hotel employees were upbeat and helpful.
  • I was told Uber was unreliable in Paris. I couldn’t find empty city taxis. The Uber I ordered to take me to the airport arrived on the dot. Others ordered while on the run found me just fine.

Not everyone was perfect.

  • I didn’t return to a brasserie I’d visited for breakfast for a few mornings after a waiter I’d not seen before was exceptionally rude.
  • In another instance, the owner of a restaurant near my hotel that was recommended by an acquaintance acted as though she could live without my trade, so she didn’t see me again. [She preferred to chat up couples and single men. Hers was the only restaurant, from the most humble on up, where I wasn’t asked mid meal if everything was OK.] I haven’t written up my experience at this place in Yelp but am sorely tempted.
  • And last, the old woman selling tickets to the Montmartre funicular was supremely nasty to an Australian tourist ahead of me. She clearly hated her job and spewed her anger all around. We know the type.

Three blatant negatives over 10 days isn’t enough to deprecate an entire city.

In a way I’m happy that Paris’s reputation as a place Americans should avoid lingers because there were already so many tourists [from all over] and it’s not even high tourist season. Let them go elsewhere.

What bad raps about institutions, countries or services irritate you because they are unfair and inaccurate?

In addition to Monet’s celebrated “Water Lillies,” the Musée de l’Orangerie has an incredible collection of magnificent pictures

Service of Elevators, Busses and Trains that Seem to Know When You’re Late

Monday, May 8th, 2023

This ensemble is made of rabbit fur. It’s at the “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” exhibition at the Met Museum

Have you noticed that if you’re running late elevators, buses and trains don’t cooperate? Waits for the first two are interminable and the trains stop and sit between stations. This usually happens when someone is picking you up to dash to an event.

Even if you leave early, such glitches can create stress. One of my “things” is I hate to be late.

Thursday I had a hard-to-get timed ticket for a member preview of the Karl Lagerfeld exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I got in a bus in plenty of time until traffic and a driver-in-training felled my schedule. The driver didn’t know how to reenter traffic after letting passengers on and off and he would then stop at almost every green light.

I began to squirm in my seat and to warn my friend by text as tick, tick, tick happened and I felt helpless. I still had a few long blocks to trot to the museum once the bus arrived at my stop.

I spoke with a passenger opposite me in the almost empty bus. He said, “Lucky we’re not stuck in an elevator.” I mentioned a memorable instance when a Business Week employee spent the weekend–Friday night through Sunday–in one. He said he remembered. He also said that many of the elevator starters are elderly and can’t hear the high-pitched ring indicating that someone is stuck in an elevator.

He told me of a recent job—turns out he was an elevator repair man—where a guy was stuck in an elevator overnight. He was suspicious when he opened the elevator door and asked the trapped victim how come he didn’t have to go to the bathroom in all that time. The fellow admitted that the elevator starter let him out to use the facilities. My bus companion then asked the person why he was playing this game. Answer: For 12 hours overtime. “Ah,” said the repairman, “I wouldn’t try for more than two. There’s video in every elevator and your boss will see in the tape that you stepped in and out. You’ll lose your job.”

Then he said to me, “Don’t you feel better? Didn’t I distract you?”

I imagine that he needs to entertain many a person until he lets them free from one of the malfunctioning contraptions he fixes. You’d need someone to calm you if you were floating many feet in the air locked inside a box.

I agreed and thanked him and dashed off the bus a few stops short of my destination. I was in fact late, but we were allowed in to the exhibit anyway, and the whole time my friend was calm and unperturbed.

These things happen and are largely out of our control. Do you get into a swivet when you’re late due to an equipment breakdown or system failure or do you shrug and relax and thank goodness for phones?

From the “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” exhibition at the Met Museum

Service of Reserving a Hard-to-Get Ticket

Thursday, April 20th, 2023

I think I now know a little about what it’s like to try to get a ticket to a Springsteen or Rhianna concert even though all I wanted was two timed tickets to the “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” member preview at the Met Museum.

Usually, museum members get to choose from four consecutive days to visit an exhibition at their leisure before it opens to the public. We just show up.  For Lagerfeld, there were only two possible member-only days, a Tuesday and a Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

We learned about the drill a month ago in an email that notified members that timed tickets were required and couldn’t be ordered before noon on April 18.

I marked my calendar, was happy I remembered and then, even though my laptop and iPad were open to the notice, it took me 10 frantic minutes to find a hotlink to reserve a time. By then, I was number 783 in the virtual line and the estimated time to get to the front of it was over an hour. I was advised to look for the next email to confirm my spot and then to keep an eye out for another email that would return me to the line.

And, we were warned to take care, because the place in line would only be kept for a certain amount of time once the museum tagged the hopeful member. I forget how long I had to respond because I didn’t pay attention: I was keeping my eye on my email box.

All went well, I got the day and time I wanted or so I thought until the confirmation showed up with two times: One 10:00 a.m., at the top and the other, which was noon, the time I’d requested. [Photo below].

Once I read the fine print, I saw that the first time—10:00 a.m.–was when the exhibition opened. It was meaningless information on a ticket for noon entry. I wonder how many people won’t read the mouse type instructions and will be confused by the two times on their e-tickets. I predict that either there will be a crowd at 10:00 or the membership office will be inundated with calls.

I got it into my head that I would see this exhibition in preview just as music fans focus on acquiring concert tickets no matter what. I’m curious: Do most people have time to do this more than once or do they hire someone to do the ticket-acquiring for them or do they take days off from work?

Service of Why the Faux When the Real is Right Here?

Monday, January 30th, 2023


Claude Monet: Image by David Mark from Pixabay

I’ve covered this topic from food substitutes to forged paintings over the 15 years I’ve written the blog. A different slant hit me after two conversations on the same day last week. From one friend, who lives in the south: “Cannot help but envy you being near such great artwork.” Another friend grumbled “What’s the point?” after having seen a commercial for Monet’s Garden: The Immersive Experience downtown on Wall Street.

The website describes the experience as follows: “Art enthusiasts will have their moment to surround themselves with moving Monet visuals and curated music to create their own impressionist masterpieces. This is not a class, but an immersive, exploratory painting experience where you will get to reconnect, express and be present.” It was to close the end of January but has been extended for another month.

Anyone who has spent as little as an hour at a major museum anywhere around the world will have noticed students with sketchbook in hand studying and sketching the pictures or sculptures by masters that are in front of them.

So why go downtown to see digital images when you can see original Claude Monet’s in museums such as MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum? The downtown immersive experience charges $25 for kids, $28 for students and up to $45 per adult. If you live in NYC you need only give a donation of any amount—or pay nothing–to visit the Met. MoMA charges $25 for adults, $18 for seniors, $14 for students and children under 16 are free. Plus you can sign up for free entrance days.

But it’s not a question of money–which I mention for those who thought the Wall Street view of Monet’s work might be inexpensive therefore better than nothing and a way to get people interested in art. It sounds like a gimmick. What could be better than the real thing? A visit to a museum to stand in front of art that a gifted person has created that perhaps you’ve seen in books that is now just a few inches from your face is thrilling.

There had been a similar immersive show focusing on Van Gogh which must have been financially successful or there wouldn’t have been a reprise. Do you think that a painting that moves–or is huge–in a flashy presentation can be better–more insightful–than the original?

Van Gogh’s “Silent Night” at MoMA

Service of Chutzpah II

Thursday, January 26th, 2023

A picture by Edward Hopper at the Whitney Museum

It’s been eight years since the first post with this title so I’d best translate chutzpah for those still unfamiliar with the word. According to the Urban Dictionary it means “Unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall. 2. Audacity; nerve.” There have been plenty of examples since then that appeared under different titles.

A Vuillard at MoMA

Here’s an example. Mrs. Beck illustrated chutzpah in the recent “Surviving Siegfried” episode of All Creatures Great and Small on PBS. First, she chiseled the price of neutering her cat Georgina to way below market value and next she created more work than expected for the time-pressed vet. She handed the James Herriot character and his bride Helen an empty box. She told them to find and pick up her rambunctious feline who was roaming in the garden. Then she scampered inside her house. When the vet returned the cat—who had badly scratched several in the household—Mrs. Beck grabbed the carrier–a nice one while she’d started with a ratty cardboard box–and skipped out of paying the reduced fee saying she would at the checkup in a week’s time.

However, the instance in this charming series didn’t inspire this post. A friend’s irritation about a pushy couple at a Manhattan museum did. She wrote that “People who join your private group and latch on when it’s meant to be intimate and exclusive,” is what got her. The tour of the landmark Hopper exhibit at the Whitney Museum was organized by a university alumni association. She wrote that a couple slipped into their group of eight which was deliberately small as “crowds get unwieldy.” She continued: “eventually the woman asked our guide if she and her companion could join.” The stranger admitted she wasn’t a graduate of the university. “I thought our guide said ‘no’ but in the end, she let them stay.” My friend added that the guide’s voice wasn’t loud so to hear her you had to stand near which made adding two more to the group even more uncomfortable.

Impatient, entitled and pushy New Yorkers cross the line all the time—literally and figuratively– but human nature being what it is, residents were also doing it in a lovely town in the Yorkshire Dales in the shadow of WWII and long before. Some feel that they are above the informal rules of etiquette that are made to help people live together in peace. I wonder how they acquire that approach.

Don’t you think that the trick is for the rule-followers to learn how not to be disturbed by the obnoxious ones while figuring out how to stop them from taking advantage and overstepping? Any ideas?

A picture from the Tudor exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Service of Shining a Spotlight on a Wrong by Committing a Wrong: Is that Right?

Monday, October 31st, 2022

It’s tough when you are passionate about a situation that too many ignore. So how do you draw attention to it? That’s a challenge that marketing people address daily. It also causes some to lose sight of what they stand for.

Here’s an example of someone who got it right. I admired a political commercial featuring New Jersey Representative Tom Malinowski that I saw the day after Nancy Pelosi’s husband was viciously attacked in his home. It featured the representative’s valiant mother and the principles she taught him. He did not join the fray of colleagues who are neck and neck in midterm races on both sides of the aisle who try to whip up supporters’ emotions by verbally assaulting the opponent.

On the other hand, blatant examples of going to extremes while losing the point are wars to defend religion. Aren’t religions supposed to provide a roadmap to guide people to live good and peaceful lives?

Similarly, I am flummoxed by environmental activists who think they shine the right spotlight on the crises by defacing famous pictures in museums and/or pasting their hands on picture frames and walls. International media reported mashed potatoes tossed by members of Last Generation on Claude Monet’s “Grainstacks,” in the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany.

According to The New York Times, “Across Europe, climate protesters have sought to capture headlines in recent months by engaging in similar stunts tied to beloved pieces in the art world. In Britain, activists glued themselves to about a half-dozen masterpieces, including a 16th-century copy of ‘The Last Supper’ at the Royal Academy, a major art museum in London. And in Italy, activists glued themselves to a sculpture held in the Vatican and to works in the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence.”

The group “Just Stop Oil” attacked The Last Supper. Firstpostcom reported: “According to Deutsche Welle, the 500 year-old painting, attributed to Giampietrino, is a full-scale copy of the famous work by Vinci, who is thought to have been Giampietrino’s master. Just Stop Oil defines itself as a ‘coalition of groups working together to ensure the government commits to halting new fossil fuel licensing and production,’ as stated on the initiative’s website.” The group “said that they have been targeting art, as it is ‘part of our collective culture,’ adding, ‘We love our history and culture too much to just allow it all to be destroyed.’”

At London’s National Gallery two from Just Stop Oil covered John Constable’s painting “The Hay Wain” with a replica of the image and pasted their hands to the frame.

Newsweek reported “On October 14, two activists from the campaign Just Stop Oil threw cans of tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers painting before gluing themselves to the wall at London’s National Gallery. Nine days later, two activists from the German group Letze Generation smeared Monet’s Les Meules with mashed potatoes.”

There’s a risk to cockamamie or extreme initiatives and claims even if backed by valid propositions. Hate speech incentivizes the insane to perform violent acts; a religious war is an oxymoron that kills supporters and enemies alike and frustrated environmental activists who attack beloved objects of art claiming that they don’t want the environment to destroy the work–while potentially doing just that–get known but not for the right reasons. Does such behavior baffle and potentially turn off supporters?

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