I love traveling alone, and one of the things I like to do on my trips is go to museums. I just dig learning things I didn't know, I guess. The problem--when it comes to cities I've visited before--is that I have often already seen the better-known museums. And when it comes to New York City, I've worked my way through MOMA, the Met, the Museum of Natural History, the Guggenheim, and several of the other most well-known institutions. So this last time I visited, I decided to branch out and visit a couple I'd never heard of before.
One of the three museums I visited on my last trip was The Jewish Museum of New York City. Now before you ask, I'm not Jewish. But like I said, I enjoy learning things, and this museum just happened to be near the location of a theater where I was going to be seeing a show in the afternoon.
It was a Friday afternoon in August, and when I arrived, I was informed that due to renovations, only one exhibit would be open. I was disappointed, but it was very hot outside, and the cost to see this exhibit would be minimal, so why not?
The entire exhibit was dedicated to the art of Florine Stettheimer. Florine was born into a wealthy Jewish family in 1871. During her childhood, her father left the family, and once her two eldest siblings married, she was left to grow up with her mother and the other two youngest children, Carrie and Ettie. The four women traveled extensively, with Florine studying art both in the USA and abroad in Europe. Once they were adults, the Stettheimers became known in New York Society for holding a salon which was popular with modernist artists of the day. Marcel Duchamp, Gertrude Stein, and Gaston Lachaise were among the famous names who visited the Stettheimer home. Florine herself was a painter, though she refused to sell any of her art.
Wandering through the exhibit, I was delighted by Florine's work. She had a sense of whimsy and sly sarcasm that was clear among her group portraits and depictions of her New York social scene. But the thing that really caught my attention was her poems -- the museum had placed several of them on walls in among her paintings.
When I finally made my way to the gift shop, I discovered that they had a book of her collected poems for sale. Normally, I don't like to buy books at museums, because they're generally over-priced and annoying to carry around with me for the rest of my trip. However, this was a very slight volume, and a quick check of Amazon told me it would be cheaper to buy here and now. I continued to dither about it, until an unlikely lady named Ruth came over to start up a chat, and suggest to me that it was the universe that had brought me to this particular place at this particular time, perhaps even to buy this particular book!
There's really no arguing with that, is there?
Was I disappointed? Definitely not. Though it is a small book--poems collected and arranged by Florine's sister Ettie post-posthumously--there is quite a bit to see. Arranged by subjects, the breadth of Florine's opinions are on display. Some are deceptively simple (like the one above), many even child-like nursery rhymes with a sly undertone. Others hint at the societal conventions that couldn't be avoided during her time, even by a woman with the comparative freedom she enjoyed.
Wednesday, November 8, 2017
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