Monday, June 13, 2011

Two Museums and a Musical

Our New York Marathon
Day 11
Thursday, June 9, 2011
We packed two museums and a Broadway show into this very full day.

We began with the Museum of Sex, whose avowed mission is “to present the history evolution and cultural significance of human sexuality.  This Museum hit our radar screen when we read a very favorable review of their Burlesque exhibit in the New York Times shortly before we left home.  It was listed in our Frommer’s Guide to New York as a “find.”  

Well, overall the museum was a very seedy and poorly maintained place, a lot of its video graphics were too grainy or out of focus to do justice to the points they were trying to illustrate, a bunch of the other exhibitry was a bit graphic and prurient for our tastes, and the Burlesque exhibit took away all the glamour from the form, with (in this case in focus) videos of elderly women who no longer resembled their promotional posters reminiscing about the old days when their stars shone bright.  The most educational part of the exhibit was a quote attributed to present-day burlesque performer Scotty the Blue Bunny: “The difference between a stripper and a burlesque performer is a stripper will get upset if she doesn’t get money, a burlesque performer will get upset if she doesn’t get applause.”   Sorry, Sex Museum, no applause from us. 

On to The Frick Collection, which couldn’t be more different in every way.  Henry Clay Frick liked very high quality representational European art, and, since he made a fortune in coke and steel, he had plenty of money to buy the very best.  He built a French style mansion on Fifth Avenue where he could be surrounded by his beautiful collection in 1914, and unfortunately he didn’t get to enjoy it for very long--he died just five years later.  Fortunately for us, he arranged in his will for his collection to continue to be maintained in his home for our enjoyment today.   

They don’t allow photos in the house, but they made an exception for the New York Times, because the day after our visit, this photograph of “St. Francis in the Desert,” by Giovanni Bellini, illustrated a critic’s review of the painting.  It was in the spotlight, having been recently sent out for conservation and study.
There were plenty of other paintings to enjoy.  Frick collected three of only 34 attributed Vermeer paintings in the world—only the Met and the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam have more.  He also collected four Rembrandts, Hans Holbein’s famous painting of Sir Thomas Moore, and many French Salon and Barbizon school paintings.   

The paintings are impressive, as is the house itself, and the exquisite furniture and decor.  He redesigned one of his rooms to accommodate six huge panels originally painted by Fragonard for Marie Antoinette.  The panels cost him $750,000, and the rest of the period furniture and d├ęcor for the room cost five million dollars.  

The art is exceptional, the setting beautiful, the acoustiguide which is free with admission provides interesting stories about the artwork—this museum is a treasure. Thank you, Mr. Frick, for sharing your wealth with us.   

Our enjoyment of art today was not over yet.  Here is a picture of us on the subway at Broadway-bound rush hour.  We were on our way to “Memphis” at the beautiful historic Schubert Theater.    

Based loosely on the life of Dewey Phillips, the musical tells the story of a white DJ in Memphis in the 1960s who plays black music on a white radio station and falls in love with a black singer, creating controversy and scandal in both black and white communities.  It got the “Best Musical” Tony Award last year.  The show has a compelling plot, a great musical score by David Bryan (a founding member of Bon Jovi), and the cast members are dynamite singers and dancers. What’s not to like-- except maybe the caricaturish acting of Chad Kimball, who plays the DJ—but we forgive him, because he is such a fabulous singer and dancer.  

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