Month: August, 2006

The Morgan Library

Friday, August 11th, 2006 | All Things, Arts, NYC History

The Morgan Library (now the Morgan Library and Museum ) reopened in late April 2006 after a three year renovation and expansion during which the exhibition spaces were doubled by the construction of Renzo Piano’s four-story, steel and glass atrium. We visited during Friday’s late evening hours, after a round of beers (Harp and Magic Hat #9, not Kiuchi Nest) at nearby Ginger Man.

Piano is the Pritzker-prize winning Italian architect, most famous for designing the Centre George Pompidou in Paris. The Morgan Library’s $100M addition is Piano’s first major work in New York City, but there are others planned in the years to come: the new headquarters building for The New York Times Company in Times Square, the Whitney Museum extension and a possible Northern extension of the Columbia University campus.

Renzo’s design links together the original 1906 library, the 1928 Annex, and the 1850s brownstone on Madison and 37th Street. The house was the home of J.P. (Jack) Morgan, Jr. until his death in 1943, after which it served as the headquarters of the Lutheran Church in America. The Morgan Library purchased it in 1988. Prior to the Morgan’s ownership, the house was home to wealthy philanthropists (and married cousins) Helen Phelps and Anson Stokes; their son, Isaac Newton Phelps-Stokes, was born in that house, and grew up to become a historian-author and architect of St. Paul’s Chapel on the Columbia University main campus. In 1966, the chapel was among the first buildings to be designated an official landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

But back to the Morgan. A windowless cube gallery sits off to the South of the airy, new Gilbert Court (below) and serves as a showcase for Morgan’s considerable medieval art treasures, the most important of which is the mid-9th century gold and jeweled Lindau Gospel Book. The room also holds the mid-12th century copper gilt and enamel Stavelot Triptych.

Gilbert Court

It had been several years since I last set foot inside to view the objets d’art culled together by the senior John Pierpont Morgan, and I was impressed all over again with the breadth of his collection. A large portion was donated to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, of which Morgan was one-time president, but a select few remain here. The original Italian Renaissance-style Library building was built next to Morgan’s brownstone residence (since demolished) as a three-room showcase for his treasures at a personal cost of $1.2M. The East room, actually known as “Mr. Morgan’s Library,” is a majestic yet intimate space with a leaded skylight and vaulted ceiling murals by commissioned artist Henry Siddons Mowbray, head of the American Academy in Rome. The three tiers of dramatic floor-to-ceiling encased shelves are filled with some 5000 leather-bound volumes dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries.

No photos allowed: this one somehow made it into my camera while B stood in between me and the guard’s line of vision.

Library

One highlight of the Library are the Gutenberg Bibles — one was on display in this room. The Morgan collection includes three of the ten copies in the United States — one vellum, and two paper, more copies than even the Vatican (which owns just two). Only sixty or so copies are known to still be in existence worldwide. The only other copy in New York City is owned by The New York Public Library. Yale, Harvard and Princeton Universities each own one copy, as does Bill Gates.

Below, the Rotunda, which sits between Mr. Morgan’s Library and Mr. Morgan’s Study — which with its red damask silk-covered walls and imported 16th century carved wood ceilings was once called the “most beautiful room in America.”

Rotunda

So much to see: drawings by da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Rubens, Dürer, Rembrandt, Degas and Picasso. Upstairs, an astonishing collection of literary and musical manuscripts: the only existing transcription of Milton’s Paradise Lost, Thoreau’s 40-volume journal, personal correspondence by Benjamin Franklin, crazily cramped early writings by all four Brontë siblings, Austen’s first unpublished novel, and works by Steinbeck, Balzac, Dickens, Poe, Burns, Byron, Keats, Shelley… sheets of music by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Mahler, Wagner…

Morgan Library

It’s almost too much to take in during one visit. I, for one, am thrilled to have my — okay, our — Pierpont Morgan Library (and Museum) back.

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Absinthe @ the Spiegeltent

Thursday, August 10th, 2006 | All Things, Arts

Spiegeltents (“mirror tents”) were an early-20th-century European creation; these hand crafted pavilions were used as traveling cabarets, dance halls, bars and entertainment salons. The one at South Street Seaport’s Pier 17 through September is one of the few originals remaining in the world. Since being built in 1926, the elaborately decorated tent of colorful leaded glass, mirrors, teak, brocade, and velvet, has traveled throughout the world before making its way to the southern tip of Manhattan last week.

The tickets were all for general admission seating (the spiegeltent seats up to 320 in the round), so we arrived at the pier early to line up. Heartland Brewery set up a biergarten outside the tent, so we could drink in the beautiful bridge views with our Summertime Apricot Ales.

Tent

Beer Garden

3 Bridges

Just before showtime, ominous storm clouds began rolling in from Brooklyn. The first drops of rain came down just as the doors opened; by the time we made it to our seats (second row again!), we could see the water pouring down the outside of the stained glass windows. The torrents of water began pooling in the tent overhead, causing the roof to sink lower and lower with the weight. I was half-convinced that the tent canvas would burst from the strain, and collapse — drenching, and possibly electrocuting, us all. Thankfully, my fears remained unfounded; those Belgians built a stronger tent than I gave them credit for.

The Absinthe show was a risqué mix of vaudeville, circus and cabaret. The acts were as varied as they were original: a pair of gymnasts, performing wince-inducing feats in pinstriped suits and bowler hats (…until the finale when they stripped down to Union-Jack emblazoned briefs), a high-flying trapeze artist, a sultry hula-hoop twirler, a bare-chested bathtub acrobat, a bubble magician, cabaret singers. Even emcee Miss Behave got into the act, cheekily interacting with the audience and showing off her own weirdly impressive deep-throating skills.

Despite several postings — including one prominently displayed at the box office — advising that the show was NOT SUITABLE FOR MINORS, someone had actually decided to bring a six-year old boy to the performance. As the comedian Red Bastard observed, “Well, the kid’s gotta learn sometime!” Indeed: his act was followed by Ursula Martinez’s unforgettable magic striptease, which had the male members of the crowd — and a few female members — howling in appreciation. Check out her site for a description of the “Hanky Panky” act. No photos of that one.

Trapeze Artist

Red Bastard

Camille

Bubble Man

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Mother Meryl

Wednesday, August 9th, 2006 | All Things, Arts, Eats

SK treated me to a farewell lunch of sorts at newly opened Trinity Place. I’d been wanting to check out this intriguing subterranean bar restaurant since it opened across the street a couple of months ago, so was happy for the opportunity, and the Asian chicken salad – my second in three days – did not disappoint (though I can’t help but always approach the idea of an “Asian salad” with some bemusement.) SK’s Kobe beef burger first arrived at the table with cheddar instead of the blue cheese he ordered, but when the server comped him a second glass of wine, all was forgiven.

Trinity Place occupies the space which was formerly the bank vault of the United States Realty Company at 115 Broadway. The limestone facings of this building and the adjacent Trinity Building at 111 Broadway were designed with Gothic detail to harmonize with neighboring Trinity Church. The construction of “New York’s original twin towers” between 1905 and 1907 was a major undertaking, entailing the relocation of Thames Street and the construction of retaining wall foundations drilled 80 feet into the marshy subsoil beneath.

The owners spent $1.5 million converting the swanky new space. The vault is flanked by two identical round 35-ton steel doors, nearly three feet thick, one door leading into the bar and the other into the restaurant area, which was formally a secret meeting room for U.S. Realty’s directors, which included financiers Charles Schwab and Cornelius Vanderbilt. An old caged elevator has been re-purposed as a wine cellar.

According to the website, the vault in which the bar and restaurant are located was built in upstate New York and floated down the Hudson River by barge, and transported to its current location on railroad tracks.

Trinity Place Vault

We continued the festivities there after work with a couple more people in tow. Apparently more than a few Wall Street-types have discovered this new happy hour spot; the place seemed pretty lively for a Wednesday evening. This night, though, I had to leave the party after just an hour to join SYB uptown at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater for Shakespeare in the Park at 8:00PM.

For his efforts of waiting in line through the night, missing a day’s work and a night’s sleep, SYB managed to score us a pair of seats in the second row, dead center.  And his dozen-year streak of attending every Shakespeare in the Park production remains intact.  Awesome!

SITP Stage

This production of Bertolt Brecht‘s war-themed drama, Mother Courage and Her Children, features the incomparable Meryl Streep in the title role.  Fellow Academy Award winner Kevin Kline also stars.  It was adapted from the original German by Tony- and Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Tony Kushner (of Angels in America  fame.) It is SITP’s second production this summer season; I missed Macbeth (with Liev Schreiber), which ran June 13 to July 7.

This 20th-century piece is set during 17th-century Europe’s Thirty Years’ War (1618-48).  Anna Fierling, known as Mother Courage, runs a canteen wagon and makes her living off the Swedish army troops she follows through Eastern Europe — relying on the war for survival and profit, while cursing its costly toll on her three children.  The themes of war as a business advanced under the guise of a moral crusade seemed to resonate with the audience that night; during a couple of the more political speeches, several people broke out into spontaneous cheering and applause.

Streep was riveting in the tragi-comic role, holding the stage for almost the full three and a half hours, displaying impressive physicality and singing chops.  Not for nothing is she the most-nominated actor in Academy Awards history.  I truly felt I was witness to something special.

The Hayden Planterium on the walk home:

Hayden Planetarium

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