Washington D.C – Part 3: Monuments and Memorials

Whilst DC no doubt has numerous interesting characters,

It’s rare to see a huge amount of people trapsing the boiling streets of DC, so instead of my usual people watching, i headed along the broad streets, lined with imposing white giants

to see as many of the monuments, memorials and mammoth museums as was possible in the short time (2 days of sightseeing) i had available. Whilst there were many that i either didn’t want to, or wasnt able to, go in and explore, i was still able to marvel at their outwards grandeur. Pictured below is the National Archives and Records Administration which contains the United States Government’s Charters of Freedom, the U. S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence.

The records of the nation’s civil, military and diplomatic activities are also held by the National Archives for present and future generations.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

An extremely moving and confronting experience was visiting the Holocaust Museum. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) provides for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history. It is dedicated to helping leaders and citizens of the world confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy.

The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. “Holocaust” is a word of Greek origin meaning “sacrifice by fire.” During the era of the Holocaust, German authorities also targeted other groups because of their perceived “racial inferiority”: Roma (Gypsies), the disabled, and some of the Slavic peoples (Poles, Russians, and others). Other groups were persecuted on political, ideological, and behavioral grounds, among them Communists, Socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals. In 1933, the Jewish population of Europe stood at over nine million. By 1945, the Germans and their collaborators killed nearly two out of every three European Jews as part of the “Final Solution,” the Nazi policy to murder the Jews of Europe.

As well as documenting all of the facts surrounding the Holocaust, it also gave an extremely confronting human element to the horrific event we have heard so much about, but for them most part, have never properly listened. It’s the kind of experience that made me feel so incredibly uncomfortable that half way through, knowing how the story ended (it’s presented chronologically) and feeling emotionally numb – all i wanted to do was leave. Due to the deisgn of the museum – this is virtually impossible as you are directed along a one way route through the exhibitions. WHilst i certainly walked faster than i did at the beginning, i was glad it made me stay, as each photograph, each piece of clothing, each video, and each testament from survivors greatly contributed to my understanding of the Holocaust.

Union Station

A great point of reference for me during my time in DC, was the grande building of Union Station (est 1908).

This beautiful train station was my initial point of arrival, where i came to get the metro back to my hosts and one night, i even had dinner here at one of it’s restaurants !

Washington Memorial

Another icon of DC, towering above the rest, is the Washington Monument. The monument is an obelisk near the west end of the National Mall, built to commemorate the first U.S. president, General George Washington. The monument, made of marble, granite, and sandstone, is both the world’s tallest stone structure and the world’s tallest obelisk, standing at 169.294 m.

The Whitehouse

Just across from the monument, i patiently made my way between a crowd to reach the gate through which i peered in at the Whitehouse! The beautiful (but somewhat unimaginatively named) building has been the residence of every U.S. President since John Adams in 1789!

The central Executive Residence flanked by the East Wing and West Wing. The Chief Usher coordinates day to day household operations and has a staff of 90 workers to assist him. The White House includes: six stories and 5,100 m² of floor space, 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms, 412 doors, 147 windows, twenty-eight fireplaces, eight staircases, three elevators, five full-time chefs, a tennis court, a (single-lane) bowling alley, a movie theater, a jogging track, a swimming pool, and a putting green. – not bad Mr President!

Barack Obama speaking with Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office 2009

a stark contrast to the house of Australia’s current Prime minister – Julia Gillard! I’d imagine it has maybe 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a cosy living room and kitchen area combined? Perfectly adequate, but, not quite the Whitehouse…..

"The Brown House?" The house of Australian Prime Minister - Julia Gillard

across from the Whitehouse on the sprawling fields of the mall – hundreds of people were out sporting team colours and playing softball

National World War II Memorial

I made my way down to the (relatively recently added) World War 2 Memorial


Consisting of 56 pillars and a pair of arches one inscribed “Atlantic” and the other, “Pacific” surrounding a plaza and fountain

The Freedom Wall has 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 Americans who died in the war. In front of the wall lies the message “Here we mark the price of freedom

The Lincoln Memorial

The WWII memorial looks towards the Abraham Lincoln Memorial, dedicated who a man who has long stood in the minds of the American people as a symbol of honesty, integrity, and humanity. Worldwide, he’s renowned for his commitment to abolishing slavery.

The building is in the form of a Greek Doric temple. My hosts very kindly took me in to DC just so we could go around a visit most of the memorials in one go. We went at night as it’s particularly beautiful and the temperature is MUCH more forgiving.

It contains a large seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln and inscriptions of two well-known speeches by Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. The memorial has been the site of many famous speeches, like Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered August 28, 1963

Heres something quirky! – Some have claimed, that the face of General Robert E. Lee was carved onto the back of Lincoln’s head. Lee was basically Lincolns arch rival as he was the commanding general of the Confederate (A group of pro-slavery Southern States) army in the American Civil War and a postwar icon of the South’s “lost cause” and looks back across the Potomac toward his former home, Arlington House, now within the bounds of Arlington National Cemetery. Looking closing at Lincolns hair left of his ear, there seems to be the clear profile of a nose and you really can see a human portrait!

It looks directly across to the Washington Monument which is eerily beaIuitful at night

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

After the Abe Lincoln we also went and visited the Vietnam Memorial. Truly something special. it actually goes beneath ground level and is a stark, long black wall, listing the name of every single soldier who died in the war.

Here’s an aerial view to give you a better idea of it’s layout

Aerial view of the Vietnam Memorial

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

The next memorial we drove to The memorial of Franklin D Roosevelt. The expansive memorial traces 12 years of the history of the United States through a sequence of four outdoor rooms, one for each of FDR’s terms of office.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial


The next and final memorial of the evening was in tribute to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was the third President of the United States (1801–1809) and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776).

Jefferson was one of the most influential Founding Fathers, known for his promotion of the ideals of republicanism in the United States

And that rounded off a momentous visit to a few of the top Monuments and Memorials of DC!

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Washington D.C – Part 2: Art Galleries

Having spent the morning learning of the politics of America and it’s legislative feats, i decided to turn my attention to the contemplative, creative and abstract at the National Gallery of Art! Open to the public free of charge, the museum was established in 1937 for the people of the United States of America by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, with funds for construction and a substantial art collection donated by Andrew W. Mellon.

The mission of the National Gallery of Art is

... to serve the United States of America in a national role by preserving, collecting, exhibiting, and fostering the understanding of works of art, at the highest possible museum and scholarly standards.

Two buildings comprise the museum: the classically designed West Building (1941) and the modern East Building (1978) linked by a spacious underground passage.

My afternoon was spent exploring the Eastern Building with it’s vast collection of Modern and Contemporary Art and some great exhibitions.

I started with “Small French Paintings” and the name does little to suggest the beauty and quality of these French impressionist and postimpressionist paintings. As well as admiring the sweet little paintings of Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, Corot, Manet and others, i was particulalry taken by the work of Edouard Vuillard, yet another artist who’d i’d never before known of.

Another exhibition was “In the Tower: Mark Rothko“. Held, as the name suggests, up in one of the galleries 2 towers. In the separated, minimalist space, it offers a rare look at the black-on-black paintings that Rothko made in 1964 in connection with his work on a chapel for the Menil Collection in Houston.

It’s an extremely peaceful place to sit and ponder and as you stare at them, you realize that there are in-fact very subtle distinctions with different colour and tonal combinations on each canvas

In an adjoining room there were also earlier paintings and an informative video that detail Rothko’s path to abstraction. I always love seeing the progression of an artist and that insight into their processes

The blockbuster’ show when i visited was Edvard Muchs disturbing “Master Prints“. Munch (best known for his work :The scream) is renowned for his haunting portrayals of love, alienation, jealousy, and death—universal human experiences that he filtered through events in his own life. By manipulating color, line, texture, and pictorial details, he reworked these images in multiple print variations, continually renewing their power to express his artistic goals.

I continued on to explore the collections permanent works which is of an incredible quality


until i went through a space age tunnel which adjoins to the West Building. Unfortunately it was closing time but

the next morning, it was my very first destination!

The gallery is arguable most famous for owning the only painting by Leonardo Divinci in the America’s, entitled “Ginevra de’ Benci”

but personally i think there are much grander paintings in the collections, like those exhibited in the “From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection” exhibition. Chester Dale‘s bequest to the National Gallery of Art in 1962 included a generous endowment as well as one of America’s most important collections of French painting from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This special exhibition, the first in 45 years to explore the extraordinary legacy left to the nation by this passionate collector, features some 83 of his finest French and American paintings.

Among the masterpieces on view are the paintings of Renoir, Cassatt, Manet, Picasso, George Bellows, Cézanne, Degas, van Gogh, Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, and Monet. Can you imagine having all of those in your own private collection?!

After going around the Chester Dale exhibition several times, I wandered on and came to a room of Degas’s dancing sculptures

and

The Thinker!

Created by the masterful hands of Auguste Rodin, it depicts a man in sober meditation battling with a powerful internal struggle and is often used to represent philosophy.

It’s a extremely powerful and moving work of art when you stand before it.

Whilst the original “Thinker” resides in Paris, the one here is one of the twenty bronze casts of the sculpture displayed in museums around the world (i’d seen another not long ago in the Met!).

Feeling equally art-fatigued and famished, I had a pleasant break and bite to eat at the Garden Café Français, which is a temporary feature of the Gallery in honour of the Chester Dale exhibition.

i wandered through some of the other rooms but have left many for a future visit! Leaving the National Gallery i made my way along the mall, past the Smithsonian Castle

and to the Freer Gallery, which came highly recommended by one of my hosts. Along with the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, it forms the Smithsonian Institution’s national museums of Asian art. The gallery was founded by Charles Lang Freer (1854–1919), a railroad-car manufacturer from Detroit, who gave his collections to the United States and also the funds to help construct a building for their display.

The Freer houses 25,518 objects spanning 6,000 years of history, including but not limited to ancient Egyptian stone sculpture and wooden objects, ancient Near Eastern ceramics and metalware, Chinese paintings and ceramics, Korean pottery and porcelain, Japanese Byōbu, Persian manuscripts, and Buddhist sculpture. Collections span from the Neolithic to modern eras.

For many visitors, myself included, it is initially confusing as to why, in this Asian oriented gallery, the work of American artist James Whistler is also prominently displayed.

This is because it was after meeting James Abbott McNeill Whistler, an American artist influenced by Japanese prints and Chinese ceramics, that Freer began to expand his collections to include Asian art! Despite this pursuit, Freer maintained his interest in American art, particularly in Whistler, amassing a collection of over 1,300 works by this artist, which is considered the world’s finest.

One of the most well-known exhibits at the Freer is the Peacock Room, an opulent London dining room painted by Whistler in 1876–77. The room was designed for British shipping magnate F.R. Leyland and is lavishly decorated with green and gold peacock motifs. Purchased by Freer in 1904 and installed in the Freer Gallery after his death, the Peacock Room is on permanent display.


Formally titled “Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room” it is Whistler’s masterpiece of interior decorative mural art. The centerpiece is Whistler’s painting of The Princess from the Land of Porcelain

I then went through and saw the serene Chinese and Japanese works whose styles greatly inspired Whistler

And that rounded of my art-orientated explorations in D.C! Despite there being many other art galleries to see i had to make sure that i saw some of DC’s equally renowned monuments, memorials and museums!

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Washington D.C – Part 1: The Capitol

Into my second last week and wanting to make the most of it, i headed down to Washington DC last Tuesday evening. Staying with very generous friends of my Californian friends, I awoke Wednesday morning in the sweet suburb of Kensington, Maryland which is about 30 minutes from DC.

Washington, D.C. (formally the District of Columbia) is the capital of the United States, founded on July 16, 1790 and named in honor of George Washington,

The centers of all three branches of the federal government of the United States are located in the District, as are many of the nation’s monuments and museums. Washington, D.C. hosts 174 foreign embassies as well as the headquarters of other institutions such as trade unions, lobbying groups, and professional associations are also located in the District.

In 1814, British forces invaded the capital burning and severely damaging the Capitol, Treasury, and White House. Most government buildings were quickly repaired, but the Capitol, which was at the time largely under construction, was not completed in its current form until 1868

D.C. is a planned city, designed by the French-born Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant. The plan for Washington was modeled in the Baroque style and incorporated avenues radiating out from rectangles, providing room for open space and landscaping. By the start of the 20th century, L’Enfant’s had become marred by slums and randomly placed buildings. In 1900, Congress formed a joint committee, headed by Senator James McMillan, charged with beautifying Washington’s ceremonial core, bringing it the gleaming state it’s in today.

The District has a resident population of 599,657; because of commuters from the surrounding suburbs, its population rises to over one million during the workweek. I joined a portion of these commuters via the nice and easy Metro system (the lines are organised into colours – red, green , yellow etc). Venturing into Downtown DC, i popped out in Chinatown!

I walked down alongside the broad streets and beneath grandiose buildings, like the National Archives and Records Administration

I passed through the Sculptural garden

until i finally came to the Mall! The National Mall receives approximately 24 million visitors each year (more people than the entire population of Australia!!!). It was SO hot (think Jaipur, India) but i was nevertheless refreshed and invigorated upon finally seeing the area for myself. The “Mall” refers to the entire area between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol, with the Washington Monument providing a division slightly west of the center. It’s a HUGE area, spanning 3.0 km between the Capitol steps and Lincoln, and believe me, it feels even bigger when your spanning it by foot in damp heat!

The National Mall’s status as a wide, open expanse at the heart of the capital makes it an attractive site for protests and rallies of all types. One notable example is the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a political rally for African American civil rights, at which Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

So sticking to the shade as much as possible, i made my way

past the huge sculptures, galleries and museums that line the Mall

drawing ever closer to Capitol Hill! The United States Capitol is the meeting place of the United States Congress, and the legislature of the Federal government of the United States.

seeking cover from the blistering heat i went down into the newly renovated visitors centre, filling my arms with brochures and gulping down icy cold water. I didn’t at this stage go on a tour as i had something special already lined up 🙂

I had lunch and LOTS of ice cold water in a wonderful restaurant near the Senate Office buildings named “The Monocle”. Due to it’s location and fine food, its apparently the local haunt of Supreme Court justices and members of Congress – so i can only imagine who i was dining with!

I may have again passed them without noticing as i walked the halls of one of the Senate office building to, believe it or not, visit the office of the Senator of Missisiipi! What? I know, strange, but one thing i’ve learnt is contacts are extremely important. A very generous American friend, contacted his friend who contacted someone else and organized for me to do a special tour of the Capitol with the Mississippi Senators interns!

We first stopped by one of the halls in which many important announcements are made

Before going in this fantastic private, underground tram that goes straight to the Capitol! Apparently there is basically a whole underground city working for the senators and other government employees. We popped up in the visitors centre that i was in earlier and skipping through line began to explore the beautiful halls of the Capitol after a great intro video

Peaking into majestic rooms

like the Old Supreme Court Chamber

We came to Capitol Rotunda which is reminiscent of a Cathedral dome – but instead of the figure of god frescoes at it’s centre

It’s old mate George! (George Washington that is). Other historic US figures are immortalized throughout the building in the form of statues. Each state contributed 2 famous figures and they are al throughout the building

There are many classical artifacts

But i just relished in wandering the halls and rooms where so many important whispers and negotiations have taken place. Discussions that have have immeasurable impacts in every corner of the globe!

It was a fantastic tour and i highly recommend to anyone visiting DC as it’s gives you great perspective and understanding of the Capitol and it’s processes. And if nothing else – it’s a beautiful building!

I traded one beauty for another however when i visited the Library of Congress.

As its name implies it’s the research library of the United States Congress but it’s also the de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States (est 1800) !

Thomas Jefferson sold 6487 books, his entire personal collection, to the library in 1815 and a special section of it was on display in a wonderful circular formation (as was his wish)

One of the several exhibitions was on “The Red Book of Carl G. Jung”. Its a 205-page manuscript written and illustrated by Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung essentially detailing his experiments with the ‘unconscious’ – drawing elaborate portrayals of his dreams

I also peaked into the main reading room which is stunning – incredible marble and ornate wood and awning detailing

After this, i made my way towards the museums alongside the mall and a nice tree caught my eye (my mind gets in a weird space when i spend lots of time wandering alone 🙂 )

and as coincidence would have it – it was the American “Holly” tree! Sure my name has a slightly different spelling – Hollie – but just thought id share that little quirk with you!

And i’ll finish this post on that note as the next section -my visit to the National Art Gallery – will take too long and i have post fatigue! haha, hope you enjoyed. Oh and MY GOODNESS!!!!!!!!

I HAVE HAD OVER 9000 PAGE VIEWS! NINE THOUSAND!!!!!

absolutely incredible.

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A happy Christian and the Circle Line

The other morning I walked past a very expressive Christian man. He was causing no harm, simply standing happily next to his sign shouting every few moments “JESUS!“. As intended, it got me thinking…. about religion in the USA.

The First Amendment to the country’s Constitution prevents the Federal government from making any “law respecting an establishment of religion”, and guarantees the free exercise of religion.

A majority of Americans report that religion plays a “very important” role in their lives, a proportion unusual among developed nations, although similar to the other nations of the Americas.

76% of adult Americans identify themselves as Christians, with Protestant and Catholic denominations, accounting for 51% and 25% of the population respectively. Approximately 4% – 5% are aligned with Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, or Hinduism. And 15% of the adult population identifies as having no religious belief or affiliation.

Whilst religion isn’t personally displayed nearly as predominantly as i noticed in India (click here to see my posts about religion in India), it is a constant presence with countless churches, synagogues and mosques throughout the city. A search for “Religious Organizations” on NYC.com comes up with 6647 results! Despite this, i’ve noticed that Religion is far less openly talked about than it was when i was in India. It’s seems to be taboo with many appearing to feel slightly uncomfortable if it is brought up (Jewish jokes excluded – they’re quite common). I think this springs out of the intense self-consciousness about being politically correct. Whilst political correctness is no doubt important, it seems to stifle open and inquisitive conversation. For example, wouldn’t there be more religious tolerance if people felt more comfortable about discussing religion, not with the purpose to convert but rather, simply to share? If the facts, benefits and negatives of various religions were equally discussed within an inquisitive framework? Yes i am a young idealist i know and it is simply an observation, but maybe this lack of discussion is a key contributor to underlying tensions and built up intolerance. How can people respect a religion they know nothing about?

But enough of that! – and back to sensory overwhelming product of marketing masterminds – Time Square! Which i passed as i made my way to…..

Pier 83 – the Point of departure for the Circle Line Ferry. . I was setting off for a 3hr cruise! We pulled out, passing the iconic Intrepid Aircraft Carrier which is now a museum.

We floated on down past down-town Manhattan and the Financial district

cruising past the famous Ellis Island (the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States)

and drawing up alongside the lovely, Lady Liberty.

we went past Brooklyn Heights – the area which i live close by to and i loved how strange the highway there looks, with one lane stacked upon the other

Turning my attention back to the other side, we were able to look ALLLL the way down Wall St, and admire the buildings. Much easier to do from a distance as opposed to looking straight up from beneath them!

We passed under the majestic Brooklyn Bridge

went alongside the United Nations

right up to the Queens Bridge

and a spot further

before we had to turn back due to some construction works – normally the cruise goes all the way around the island but we were warned when boarding that this wasn’t possible today. So we ventured back towards the setting sun

able to get a better look at what had previously passed. The photos below are of site very close to ground zero where the Twin Towers collapsed

we continued up up up the Hudson, going alongside the Upper West sides swanky apartments

getting as far as the General Grant National Memorial before turning back around

and heading into Pier 83, after a pleasant 3 hours on the water. Well worth the experience and wonderful to see it all from the outside looking in

With a spring in my step, i trotted through “Hell’s Kitchen” – not as nasty as it sounds – the area famous for it’s dense population of restaurants.

Making my way towards my subway stop,

along a path illuminated by the bright, hypnotic advertisments almost as much as by the streetlamps!

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Art crawling in Harlem

Though i’ve explored SO much of New York so far by foot, it has mainly been mid-town and down and i hadn’t gone higher than the top of central Park. So, determined to experience as many of the unique communities of New York as possible, safely, i headed to Harlem!

Are you crazy? Harlem?” was once the only response to news that someone was planning a trip to uptown Manhattan (indeed it was the response when i was talking to my father and told him of my plans!). Harlem, after all, used to be the embodiment of American urban decay. But public funding and private initiative, as well as ever-more-unaffordable real estate downtown, have helped jump-start the Harlem renaissance. Change has always been Harlem’s watchword, from its start as a Dutch village to the time, at the beginning of the 20th century, when it was the mecca of the new generation of black artists and politicians who came here in the years before the first world war and called themselves the New Negroes, to the dark days of the 70s and 80s, when taxis refused to take passengers uptown.


Today it is again safe to visit (the right way) and has come a long way since it’s rural beginning.

Founded as a Dutch village, formally organized in 1658, Harlem (named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands) was a synonym for elegant living through a good part of the nineteenth century.

Essentially, Harlem’s history has been defined by a series of boom-and-bust real estate cycles, with significant ethnic shifts accompanying each cycle.

As New York grew, the area became increasingly developed. A construction glut and a delay in the building of the subway led to a fall in real estate prices which attracted Eastern European Jews to Harlem in large numbers, reaching a peak of 150,000 in 1917. But Jewish Harlem was ephemeral and by 1930 only 5,000 Jews remained.

The mass migration of African Americans into the area began in 1904, due to another real estate crash, the worsening of conditions for them elsewhere in the city, and the leadership of a black real estate entrepreneur named Phillip Payton, Jr who negotiated with Landlords that could no longerfind white renters for their properties.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the neighborhood was the locus of the “Harlem Renaissance“, an outpouring of artistic and professional works without precedent in the American black community. Harlem was the center of a flowering of black culture but they were sometimes excluded from viewing what their peers were creating. Some jazz venues, including most famously the Cotton Club, where Duke Ellington played, and Connie’s Inn, were restricted to whites only. In the 1920s and 1930s, between Lenox and Seventh avenues in central Harlem, over 125 entertainment places operated, including speakeasies, cellars, lounges, cafes, taverns, supper clubs, rib joints, theaters, dance halls, and bars and grills. In 1936, Orson Welles produced his famous black Macbeth at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem.

However with job losses in the time of the Great Depression and the deindustrialization of New York City after World War II, rates of crime and poverty increased significantly. The neighborhood began to deteriorate to a slum. In the post-World War II era, Harlem ceased to be home to a majority of NYC’s blacks, but it remained the cultural and political capital of black New York, and possibly black America. The character of the community changed in the years after the war, as middle-class blacks left for the outer boroughs (primarily the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn) and suburbs. The percentage of Harlem that was black peaked in 1950, at 98.2%. Thereafter, Hispanics and, more recently, white residents have increased their share.

The notorious reputation of Harlem in the 70s and 80s and consequent refusal of many taxi drivers to enter the area wasn’t unwarranted. Harlem was ruled by organized crime – the movie American Gangster is focused on the drug trade centred here in the 70s which is considered it’s worst period. Of the 30,000 drug addicts then estimated to live in New York City, 15,000 to 20,000 lived in Harlem. Property crime was pervasive, and the murder rate was six times higher than New York’s average.

But thankfully this hasn’t lasted forever. With the end of the “crack wars” in the mid 90s thanks to aggressive policing under mayor Rudolph Giuliani, crime in Harlem has plummeted. New York’s revival in the late 20th century has led to renewal in Harlem as well. By 1995, Harlem was experiencing social and economic gentrification

and today is widely thought to be once again experiencing an arts renaissance. With a respectful nod to artists of the original Harlem Renaissance and “props” to contemporary Harlem artists, i took the opportunity to learn about both the history and current scene in Harlem with the ArtCrawl Harlem tour.

I knew i’d get the most benefit from a locally guided tour (as apposed to my usual wandering) and the guided trolley tour of local galleries was exactly what i was after.

The tour started at the Studio Museum in Harlem, a gleaming building with three floors of exhibition space that is a far cry from the rented loft where the museum got its start in 1968.

The Studio Museum in Harlem is the nexus for artists of African descent locally, nationally and internationally and for work that has been inspired and influenced by black culture.

The main galleries currently feature photographs by Zwelethu Mthethwa, a South African documenting the domestic lives of migrant workers around Johannesburg,

Zwelethu Mthethwa "Untitled" from “Interiors” series, 2001

Unlike the ground-floor galleries in walkable neighborhoods like Chelsea or SoHo, many Harlem galleries are tucked into spots that don’t necessarily draw foot traffic so we hopped on an old trolley to get to each spot!

We visited seven Harlem art galleries over about 5 hours, where gallery owners and artists talked about their work.

One stop that exemplifies the gulf between the Harlem of old and new is Casa Frela, a gallery whose nervy exhibitions sit in an airy Stanford White brownstone.

Much of the artwork Casa Frela Gallery chooses to feature reinterprets or recombines art movements and styles from the past through a contemporary language. The exhibition when we visited was focused on ceramic glazes and all the wonderful experimental things a group of artists were doing with it

We continued on listening to a myriad of facts and stories of Harlem’s history

and of the history of our tour guide George. He has lived in the area since he was young and had a lot to share about tolerance, change, and opportunities.

One theme that kept coming up was the effort to change the negative stereotypes associated with Harlem. He agreed that some are still warranted but pointed to examples of the people who live in the projects and how the vast majority of them are hardworking families, not drug addicts and pimps as popular culture has led us to believe. This said as we drove past the projects themselves

Renaissance Fine Arts Gallery was showing a 3 part exhibition titled “Art Is: Visual, Functional, Wearable,” featuring stunning collaborations between visual artists and fashion designers. Part 2, now on display, featured fashion designer/visual illustrator Donna Dove and visual artist/designer Anton (pictured) both of whom we were able to chat with extensively.

Among the artists who defined the years between the renaissance and today’s gallery owners is the Weusi Collective, which was at the core of the black arts movement of the 1960s and ’70s. Founded in 1965, the Harlem-based Weusi (”way-oo-see,” which means Blackness in Swahili) are considered precursors of the Black Arts Movement and were among the first artists to make African imagery a central part of their work. The work of that still-active collective was exhibited at the Dwyer Cultural Center and one of it’s members who joined the movement at 18, talked to us.

Around the corner of one of the galleries was a street party going on! BBQ’s cranked up,

a singer and adults and children happily milling about, it was a nice scene to pass.

Our next and final gallery visit was actually to an old Warehouse thats been transformed by the Chasama Foundation. It currently hosts 18 visual artists on the 1st floor of this space and over 20 visual artists studios on the 2nd floor

and two of the artists present took us through the various workspaces of each artist. For someone like me who tinkles in various artforms, this was like peaking into ones Christmas presents on Christmas eve.

I say this because all artists work differently and it’s fascinating to actually see that process and the environment artists create to ‘harness’ and ‘best express’ their abilities.

We waited outside for a while for the trolley to come around

and the tour ended with a nice rooftop reception of food, wine, and music at the Rio II galleries.

Though it was highly enjoyable, the tour went over an hour too long and as i was due back at a certain time, i left before the end when they were going to take us back to the studio museum. This meant i had to navigate where to find the closest subway. In a completely foreign area, in one of the ‘slightly shadier’ parts of town, I’ll admit, i was far from feeling completely comfortable and walked with purpose. I occasionally asked people for directions, passing the strange fellows pictured below (celebrating something but i don’t think anyone actually knew what!) until i finally found the metro – Hurrah!

and made my way back to my ‘comfort zone’ in Brooklyn.

We had guests over and had some delicious brushetta with the MOST delicious heirloom tomatoes imaginable

up on the terrace and it was a very, very pleasant way to end a fascinating Sunday.

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A day-trip to Dia:Beacon

I set off relatively early on a Saturday morning, for an out-of-the-city day trip! My departure point for this was Grand Central Terminal, the largest train station in the world by number of platforms (44 with 67 tracks!). The Grand Central Depot was first built in 1871, was demolished and reconstructed as Grand Central Station in 1900 and then demolished and reconstructed once again as Grand Central Terminal in 1913 which narrowly avoided being torn down and thank god as it’s an amazing, iconic structure.

The main information booth is in the center of the main concourse. This is a perennial meeting place, and the four-faced clock on top of the information booth is perhaps the most recognizable icon of Grand Central. Each of the four clock faces is made from opal, and both Sotheby’s and Christie’s have estimated the value to be between $10 million and $20 million!

I found my platform ( i had to get the later train as my train left the platform just as i reached it!) and was finally on the “Hudson line” which takes you right alongside the Hudson river heading north.

After 1hr 45 min i arrived at my destination – Beacon. It has a population of about 14 000 people and was named to commemorate the historic beacon fires that blazed forth from the summit of the Fishkill Mountains to alert the Continental Army about British troop movements. During the 1800s, the city became a factory town but by the 1970s a decline in the economy shuttered most of the factories. From about 1970 to the late 1990s, almost 80 percent of the city’s commercial business spaces and factories were vacant. The area has experienced an artistic and commercial rebirth since the early 2000s with the opening of one of the world’s largest contemporary art museums Dia: Beacon, the reason i had ventured here to this quaint riverside town.

Dia Art Foundation opened Dia:Beacon, as a museum to house its renowned permanent collection of major works of art from the 1960s to the present.

Located on the Hudson River in Beacon, New York, Dia:Beacon occupies a nearly 300,000-square-foot historic printing factory.

Since its founding in 1974, the Dia Foundation has been dedicated to supporting individual artists and to providing long-term, in-depth presentations of their art. Dia:Beacon’s expansive galleries have been specifically designed for the display of the such artworks, that because of their character or scale, could not be easily accommodated by more conventional museums. Each artist’s work is displayed in a dedicated gallery or galleries, many of which were created in collaboration with the artists themselves to optimize the intended impact.

As well as the works installed for long-term view, they also have about 3 temporary exhibition, and the feauture exhibit when i visited was dedicated to Sol LeWitt. Sol LeWitt was the man who made conceptual art an appealing concept. For almost four decades, LeWitt, who died in 2007 at 78, made immense abstract wall drawings that he conceived but almost never executed himself.
His method was to devise a set of instructions — for instance, draw 10,000 ten-inch lines, covering the wall evenly — that could be carried out by assistants or, for that matter, by anyone. Often he never even saw the finished work, much less touched it. LeWitt’s art is not about the singular hand of the artist; it is the ideas behind the works that surpass each work itself. I asked the museum guide what would happen when the exhibit was over, as these were drawn right on the walls, and he said they’d be painted over so it could be installed in another location

After a brief self guided tour, i enlisted the help of an expert and joined the guide for a tour of the exhibits which gave many of the conceptually based works meaning and certainly helped. There were John Chamberlains sculptures created from old automobiles (or parts of) that bring the Abstract Expressionist style of painting into three dimensions. As an indigent young artist he was drawn to scrap metal primarily because it was free and plentiful.

Then the Andy Warhol “Shadow room”. In the mid-1970s, shadows increasingly began to haunt Andy Warhol. In the Still Life drawing series of 1975 and the Hammer and Sickle series of 1977 (also titled Still Life), they assume an idiosyncratic, almost independent existence as compositional elements; in the Skulls of 1976, they become more expressive and fanciful in character. Finally, in 1978–79, in a brief but concentrated foray, Warhol confronted shadows as a subject in their own right. The result was an exceptional series of paintings, notably one vast environmental work in 102 parts, together with sundry others in different formats and with different motifs.

Theres a hall for Dan Flavin whose work is composed almost entirely of light, in the form of commercially available fluorescent tubes in ten colors

Of all the works my definite favourites were the immense sculptures of RIchard Serra

What interests me is the opportunity for all of us to become something different from what we are, by constructing spaces that contribute something to the experience of who we are.” – Richard Serra

Union of the Torus and the Sphere (2001), presents a closed form, an exception in Serra’s oeuvre: extravagantly tilting, obviously hollow, it encourages a kind of vertigo as the viewer edges around the deliberately constricted space, a site selected by the artist for its snug fit and for the dramatic immediacy of the encounter.

Then in another section of the gallery, Serra’s series of Torqued Ellipses elaborates concerns with orientation and movement into tightly contained sculptures that radically challenge modernist notions of sculptural space. For in these works space shifts and moves in wholly unpredictable and unprecedented ways: so destabilizing yet so beguiling is this sensation of movement that the spectator quickly gets caught up in an exploration of extended duration. Rolled-steel plates, each two inches thick and weighing twenty tons, stand abutted. This forthright, direct presentation, characteristic of Serra’s aesthetic, gives little hint of the fundamental newness and potency of the experience offered in these monumental works—and also fails to betray the prolonged and difficult process of their realization. By Serra’s account, the initial idea for this body of work was breathtakingly simple: take an elliptical volume of space and torque it.

After all the strenuous mind bending to try and understand the works, some obvious others painfully elusive (which is completely the purpose of them) i took a break out in the garden over lunch – food wasn’t anything to write home about but it did the job.

I had intended to visit the rest of the rooms i’d missed but was so mentally exhausted i decided it was time to head home. So i went back down to the river and whilst waiting for the train, took photos of the jetty and my surrounds.

until i was finally home-ward bound

arriving in the late afternoon in Grand Central Station

But it wasn’t QUITE home time as i was meeting my hosts at their friends apartment in the East village a bit later on. So i wandered through Mid-town Manhattan

having a break at Bryant Park ( a lovely place which i continually find my self returning to)

continued on in the glowing afternoon light

catching the metro to the village and walking past Union Sqaure park to get ot the apartment. A the park, i stopped in my tracks to marvel at the best street performer i’ve so far seen – i kid you not.

To see the video, click here or the link below. The first 2 performers are just there to warm up the audience for the 3rd who is an incredible acrobat — make sure you watch to the end as the finale is just ridiculous.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6VKAE5v7sQ

Despite my diversion, I finally arrived just in time at the friends newly bought and furnished apartment in the East Village

We sipped lovely wine as we chatted up on the terrace which has AMAZING views of the city

We had a wonderful evening of great company and delicious food. It was another of those special travel experiences that i’d otherwise miss if i was going from hotel to hotel and just sightseeing for the duration of my trip. I have been truly fortunate in many regards, but particularly in that i have met so many kind and generous people who’ve allowed me to experience their diverse and intriguing lifestyles

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MoMa

Wondering through the concrete jungle,

the many sculptures infront of the towering buildinss sparked my imagination and i decided to dedicate a day to viewing the artworks of MoMa (the Museum of Modern Art). It has been singularly important in developing and collecting modernist art, and is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world.

The idea for The Museum of Modern Art was developed in 1928 primarily by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (wife of John D. Rockefeller Jr.) and two of her friends, Lillie P. Bliss and Mary Quinn Sullivan. At the time, it was America’s premier museum devoted exclusively to modern art, and the first of its kind in Manhattan to exhibit European modernism. It has been widely acknowledged for drawing many European Modernists to live in the city and greatly propelling and encouraging American Modernists aswell. MoMA’s midtown location underwent extensive renovations from 2002-4, redesigned by the Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi. The renovation project nearly doubled the space for MoMA’s exhibitions and programs and features 630,000 square feet (59,000 m2) of new and redesigned space. MoMA’s reopening brought controversy as its admission cost increased from US$12 to US$20 but i was able to enter free of charge, sliding past lines thanks to my friends Membership card 🙂 i walked upstairs

and headed first to join a tour of their Pop Art Collection with the knowledgable guide, Kelly Sidley. Looking at works by the likes of Warhol, Lichtenstein and others, we learnt about the historical context and significance of modern and contemporary artworks through a process of looking and exchanging ideas with a lecturer. The best part of this tour was the extent to which Kelly engaged with us, continuously asking for our thoughts and responses and it was amazing to see the diversity of responses and personal insights within our small group.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) "Campbell's Soup Cans" 1962

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) "Drowning Girl" 1963

Andy Warhol "Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times" 1963

I slowly explored the rest of the 4th and 5th floors which are dedicated to their paintings and sculptures.

Jasper Johns (b. 1930) "Map" 1962

Every art gallery i go to, i take extensive notes of my favorite works and also the methods employed so i myself can try them later when i return home and unleash upon my easel!

Mark Rothko (1903-1970) No. 16 (Red, Brown, and Black) 1958

Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989) "The Persistence of Memory" 1931

Robert Delaunay (French, 1885-1941) "Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon " 1913


Then it was time! Time for Matisse

Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917

Henri Matisse painting Bathers by a River, May 13, 1913

In the time between Henri Matisse’s (1869–1954) return from Morocco in 1913 and his departure for Nice in 1917, the artist produced some of the most demanding, experimental, and enigmatic works of his career—paintings that are abstracted and rigorously purged of descriptive detail, geometric and sharply composed, and dominated by shades of black and gray. Works from this period have typically been treated as unrelated to one another, as an aberration within the artist’s development, or as a response to Cubism or World War I. Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917 moves beyond the surface of these paintings to examine their physical production and the essential context of Matisse’s studio practice. Through this shift of focus, the exhibition reveals deep connections among these works and demonstrates their critical role in the artist’s development at this time. Matisse himself acknowledged near the end of his life the significance of this period when he identified two works— The Moroccans (1915–16)

Henri Matisse's "The Moroccans" 1915

and Bathers by a River (1909–10, 1913, 1916–17)—as among his most “pivotal.”

Bathers by a River " - irst state, March–May 1909"

Bathers by a River

Henri Matisse. Bathers by a River. 1909–10, 1913, 1916–17

The importance of this moment resides not only in the formal qualities of the paintings but also in the physical nature of the pictures, each bearing the history of its manufacture. The exhibition includes approximately 120 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints, primarily from the years of 1913–17, in the first sustained examination devoted to the work of this important period. In “Dance 1” (picture below) The figure at left appears to move purposefully, while the other dancers seem to float weightlessly. The momentum of their movement breaks the circle as the arm of the foreground dancer reaches out. Dance, Matisse once said, evoked “life and rhythm.”

Henri Matisse "Dance I" 1909

Whilst later paintings increasingly focused on light, geometry and depth (or lack thereof) Eg Goldfish and Palette 1914-15 and The Piano Lesson 1916

Finally i was exhausted and hungry so i bee-lined towards the 5th Floor cafe which serves delicious, gourmet dishes and overlooks the sculpture garden.

Quite pleasant if i do say so myself.

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