We had been wanting to go back to Brooklyn after having walked across the Brooklyn Bridge one of our first weekends here. On a crisp and sunny Friday in early November we took the #2 subway from Manhattan and got off on Franklin Street in Brooklyn.
We first walked to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, known as one of the two premier botanic garden centers in NY (the other is in the Bronx and we have not yet visited it). We walked around the gardens outside for a hour or more enjoying this place of quiet and beauty amidst the hustle and energy of the borough. It is a lovely spot including acres and acres of trees and gardens.
At one end of the gardens are two nature memorials. One is a stand of scarlet oaks called the “Liberty Oaks” that commemorates 9/11 loss. Originally the first generation of trees planted here in 1918 were Norway maples to commemorate the armistice of WWI.
The other memorial is an intricate tree house constructed from over fourteen types of wood from trees felled at the gardens last year by Hurricane Sandy including black walnut, Chinese chestnut, and Norway maple.
It is amazing in its construction and strength and the public is invited to climb into it…..so we did!
A lovely lake is bordered by a path that has stepping stones commemorating hundreds of well known individuals (politically, theatrically, socially) who were “born or flourished in Brooklyn and whose talents and significant achievements enhance the Borough’s reputation. The Greatness of Brooklyn is its people.”
There are various domed conservatories for different microclimates including both tropical and desert, but we did not spend much time in them because it was so beautiful outside.
We then had a casual lunch across the street at Lincoln Station and were then ready to spend a hour or so at the Brooklyn Museum. Our plan was to then go to Prospect Park and visit the neighborhood of Park Slope. However, as often happens with our plans, things did not work out that way.
We first enjoyed the vast collection European paintings that are hung next to the great rotunda, the Beaux Arts Court, on the second floor. We saw Monet’s and van Gogh’s that we have never seen before. Another section was on Russian art at the turn of the century that we found fascinating.
Dennis loves cloud paintings and was drawn to “Clouds Over Black Sea–Crimea” painted by Boris Anisfeld n 1906. He came to America in 1917 and within a year the Brooklyn Museum hosted his first one-man show.
We were in awe of two paintings by Vasily Vereshchagin painted in 1878-9 which dramatically recalled the horrors he had witnessed a year or two earlier in winter during the Russo-Turkish war. Each was at least 4′ x 6′ in size.
He painted contemporary themes, in contrast to most artists who were still painting classic subjects, in order to bring about social reform. The Czar rejected these works for his collection and they were eventually shown in America in 1891 and bought by New York collectors still reeling from the horrors of the Civil War.
During the time of our gallery visit, there was constant noise in the rotunda from workmen setting up for an upcoming social event. We chatted with them briefly and found out it was to be a Bat Mizvah celebration.
As we watched them unload crate after crate of stemware, we commented that it would be quite a celebration. They quickly told us that we should have been with them last week when they prepped for a $15 million wedding at the Waldorf Astoria. It’s New York, New York!
We moved to the more contemporary sections and enjoyed Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party by walking around the banquet table a few times to try to absorb it all.
This extensive work consists of a triangular table with 39 place settings commemorating significant mythological or historical women, many of whom had been lost to history until the feminist movement. This work of art celebrates the achievements of over 1000 women and was first shown in 1979.
In the next room an African American veteran was presenting a lecture about war and stress as seen through the eyes of minority populations. Around the corner we visited some historical re-created living rooms and bedrooms, but the museum had allowed an artist, Valerie Hegarty, to introduce an alternative history into each room for social comment. In one plantation dining room from the Civil War period, the room had been transformed into a dinner of crows tearing at watermelon and destroying the table. This was supposed to be representative of the plight of the slaves. It was unsettling but yet one more example of the various types of art presented in this interesting museum.
The final floor houses the Luce Center for American Art which consists of 12-15 rooms highlighting various periods of American history from different styles and view points. The section on New York was particularly interesting and consisted of so many classic items that we ended up spending much of our time in this area. They also allowed visitors to enter the Visible Storage Study Center where all of the collection is housed and we were amazed by the glass cases and glass closets housing thousands and thousands of items and paintings not currently on display.
Our final exhibit was the most unusual: “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.” This French designed is known as one who creates elaborate and bizarre haute couture for the very daring and the very wealthy, most of whom are in the entertainment business. He designed the clothes for Madonna for her recent tours. Much of his work is what we would call absolutely outlandish……which made it so much fun to view!
One of the fascinating parts of the exhibit was the use of animated mannequins. They were able to open and close their eyes, smile, and show their teeth. At times you were sure that one was following you as you walked about the room. It was a bit eerie and absolutely amazing.
The exhibit was packed with visitors and will undoubtedly be a hit until it closes in late February. We were so happy to have seen it.
We ended the day on the first floor at a final special exhibit of war photos. It was a solemn viewing of the many aspects of war and it was especially poignant when an elderly veteran walked in using a cane and wearing his vets jacket and hat. He moved about the exhibit and we wondered what he was remembering.
We finally left the Brooklyn Museum as it was getting dark. It had been such a great day but we never got to Prospect Park or the Park Slope neighborhood as planned……we just ran out of time. We will save it for a return to Brooklyn another day.