Bard Resurrects NYC’s Crystal Palace

The domed Crystal Palace depicted on a commemorative window shade

With its exhibition New York Crystal Palace 1853, the Bard Graduate Center gallery is offering an exquisite experience of one of the 19th century marvels of New York – the enigmatic 1,500-paned glass structure that rose on what is now Bryant Park.

In 1853, New York was trying to claim its place as a culture capital. Two years prior, London had mounted its world-class exhibition in its beautiful Crystal Palace, and New York wanted to do Europe one better.

By this time, New York was dominating in global trade, so the City thought it could elevate American taste (and spur consumer appetite for luxury goods) by assembling technology innovations, art, and manufactured items all under one big domed glass roof.

Why not build the world’s largest cast iron and glass exhibition hall on the edge of the city at 42nd Street next to the Croton Reservoir? For 50 cents, visitors could spend the day inside and people watch to their heart’s content.

Showpiece parlor furniture, an 1853 armchair by Julius Dessoir

It would be the largest building that anyone had ever experienced – so big that it had its own police force and you had to buy a guidebook.

The exhibition selects some choice items from New York collections – many which were indeed exhibited under the dome in 1853 – to tell the story of the endeavor, give a feeling of what a wonder it was, and bring you back to a time in New York when parlor furniture was the rage, ladies were just venturing out for ice cream on their own, and oysters were still so plentiful in the harbor that they reigned as the best quick snack for lunch.

Take a look at the galleries exhibition on the Bard website, but see a close-up view on our Flickr album.

Although the physical exhibition ends July 30, the Bard team offers a through-the-looking glass digital site, where you can actually stroll through the interior and examine different items along the way. The journey takes you by evocative sculptures, beautifully crafted musical instruments, spectacular parlor furniture, and vitrines filled with over-the-top ladies’ hats.

High-tech Singer sewing machine for home and business

The technology section features the latest in fire engines, Eli Whitney’s original model of his 1794 cotton gin, Colt’s revolvers, a pyramid made of innovative cotton rope, and the revolutionary iron sewing machine. To show how it worked for industry and the home, Singer had women demonstrate this new labor-saving device.

In-gallery and online interactive walk-through tour of the Crystal Palace

The scope of the exhibition was so massive – the footprint of Bryant Park between 40th and 42nd Streets – that publishers offered guide books so that visitors wouldn’t miss a thing.

Helpfully, Bard provides you with digital access to the free July 23, 1853 Crystal Palace supplement from the Illustrated News, modeled upon a period newspaper.

For a thrilling view, you can go up to the 270-foot tall, 8-foot wide platform of the Latting Observatory (New York’s first authentic skyscraper) and get a bird’s eye view of the city all the way out to Jamaica Bay. Or duck into the saloon below for smash, the cocktail of the day, a shaken-not-stirred icy mix of brandy, lemon, mint, and sugar. (And consult the guidebook to find out which saloons allow ladies to sip alcohol.)

There’s also a digital guide to other 1853 attractions, including how to take an omnibus over to the Hippodrome and where to find Matthew Brady’s studio.

Must-have tophat displayed and available from John Genin’s downtown mega-store

It’s all so lively, that it’s sad to learn that the entire edifice came crashing down in a dramatic fire in 1858, which likely adds to the mystery. The curators have found a tiny, insignificant piece of its melted glass from the Museum of the City of New York’s collection. Treasure it.

If you have three hours, watch Bard’s symposium on how it all came together – the palace, the exhibition, and the digital experience that will provide everyone with hours of 19th century summer fun in the City:

Behind the Scenes of the Revolution at NYHS

Women of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment, Continental Army, showing soldiers’ everyday life

To celebrate the anniversary of the United States, the New York Historical Society hosted the reenactors of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment of the Continental Army for a little show-and-tell about the private lives of the people who enlisted in the Revolution. Dressed in colonial garb, the men and women of the Third showed what the enlisted men were given as rations, how they cooked it, and what they carried into battle – beans, hard tack, and (maybe) tobacco to barter.

A small tent and campfire cooking pot were set up just feet away from portraits of Revolutionary heroes and the remnants of the statue of King George III that the citizens of New York had torn down by their African-American slaves moments after the Declaration of Independence was read to Washington’s troops in lower Manhattan on July 9, 1776. All that remains here is half the horse’s tail.

A Revolutionary soldier’s home and kitchen during maneuvers

At a nearby table, men and women of the Third showed how the soldiers made their own bullets and cartidges, and the range of apparatus to keep the hand-made ammunition dry — leather pouches and tin boxes. As far as supplies, muskets, and gun powder went, you were on your own during the 1776 skirmishes.

See it all close up in our Flickr album.

Upstairs from demonstrations on the everyday life of troops, you can glimpse the everyday life of the more famous patriots through July 13 in the exhibition, Thomas Jefferson: The Private Man, from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The show includes his inventory of books, crops, slaves, and letters – personal papers that he willed to his granddaughter and her husband, who lived in Massachusetts and eventually gave them to the historical society there.

Houdon’s 1789 portrait bust of 46-year-old Jefferson next to his handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence

The curators have displayed his architectural drawings of various iterations of Monticello, domed residences (never built) for friends, plans to improve the state capitol at Williamsburg (never built because the capitol was moved to Richmond), and an early plan for his summer residence at Poplar Forest (octagonal living room before he went all the way with a fully octagonal building with dramatic skylight).

Given the popularity of Hamilton, the gallery includes a copy of an 1801 letter to his granddaughter with an interesting postscript – a note telling her that Hamilton was doing everything in his power during the neck-and-neck presidential race between Jefferson and Burr to ensure Jefferson’s victory. We all know how that turned out from history and the plot arc of the show.

A nice touch of this small installation is the inclusion of Houdon’s famous 1789 portrait bust of 46-year-old Jefferson, which his granddaughter though made him look far too old. It’s a plaster copy of the marble original, and is positioned next to Jefferson’s own handwritten copy of the original, unedited Declaration of Independence (before the Continental Congress removed the part about slavery).

John Adams’ transcription of Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration — how scholars know what the Congress cut out to get it passed

The paper next to it is an even bigger surprise – a hand-written copy of Tom’s original grievances by John Adams, who was on the Declaration committee with Jefferson and Franklin. Apparently, during the hot summer of 1776 while Jefferson was toiling away putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece, Adams wrote out his own copy with which he could lobby the various state representatives in the days leading up to the controversial ratification.

Understandably, this copy from the Adams Family Archive also makes its home at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and here in New York visitors get to see it side-by-side with the version written by the Declaration’s original author.

Frida Khalo Extravaganza Ending with Colorful Surprises

NYBG’s Haupt Conservatory is transformed into Frida’s Casa Azul

NYBG’s Haupt Conservatory is transformed into Frida’s Casa Azul

Ever since the New York Botanical Garden installed its Frida Khalo: Art, Garden, Life show, it’s been a nonstop party and feast for the eyes, ears, and tastebuds.

Not sufficient to import fourteen of Frida’s rarely seen paintings for the formal gallery upstairs in its library building, the creative NYBG team has made environments, commissioned artists, designed apps, booked acts, hosted special events, transformed the conservatory, made a wall of cactus, redesigned menus, and even brought in a taco truck to give everyone an immersion into her sophisticated Mexican lifestyle.

This blockbuster sensory experience is in its last week, going out with a bang with a Dia de los Muertos theme as this traditional Mexican holiday collides with our own Halloween. Sugar skulls and whimsical skeletons are taking over Frida and Diego’s pyramid that serves as the centerpiece of the garden portion of the show.

Tissue-paper dresses for The Two Fridas by artist Humberto Spindola

Tissue-paper dresses for The Two Fridas by artist Humberto Spindola

It’s an appropriate mix, given Frida’s own proclivity to merge the everyday with the surreal in her own works. The Library has an exquisite collection of her self-portrait and still life paintings, featuring flowers, animals, and deep-rooted Mexican myth and culture.

Downstairs in the Britton Rotunda, there’s a stunning installation of The Two Fridas by artist Humberto Spindola – side-by-side mannequins wearing tissue-paper dresses in colors that Frida sported, but with the surreal outer heart that she painted more than once. Visitors approach as if it were a shrine with special powers.

Frida’s workspace

Frida’s workspace

The Haupt Conservatory serves up a riot of color with floating blue containers of vivid flowers, the dynamic blue of the recreated Casa Azul, where she lived, pops of the types of flowers with which she adorned her table and sills, and the intensely painted Mexican-style pyramid in the center of it all.

The sensations are so bright that it’s easy to miss the recreation of Frida’s studio, tucked away in the trees to the left of the main event – brushes, paints, paint sticks, and other tools.

Outdoors, the curators have succulents jammed into every piece of oversize Mexican pottery near a “wall” of cactus, replicating a natural fence that Diego had outside his studio for decades.

Soloist from Capulli Danza Mexicana channels her inner Frida for the crowd

Soloist from Capulli Danza Mexicana channels her inner Frida for the crowd

The “Life” portion of the show’s title is represented by the generous schedule of music, performances, films, and events that the NYBG has featured throughout the show’s six-month run. Dance companies, all-female mariachi bands, chefs, and authors provide sensuous infusions of movement, wit, gaiety, and sophistication that Frida embodied her entire life. Flashing red skirts, exciting beats, fast footwork, dramatic flourishes, and meaty conversation all contribute to the experience of who Frida was, how she lived, and what she loved.

Download the exhibition panel to see all the parts of Mexico City that meant so much to Frida and Diego – images of parks, gardens, markets, and historic sites, including photos of Casa Azul.

Download the app for your visit, and go to our Flickr site to see the photos and a few videos of the dancers in action.

Take a look at what the NYBG team achieved:

If you have time, check out the YouTube of the all-star kick-off symposium dedicated to Frida last May.

 

The Art of ElBulli’s Culinary Genius

Notebooks and menu drawings from ElBulli’s kitchen displayed in front of a mural of Ferran Adrià and staff in Roses, Spain in the most famous kitchen in the world. Courtesy: elBullifoundation, The Drawing Center

Notebooks and menu drawings from ElBulli’s kitchen displayed in front of a mural of Ferran Adrià and staff in Roses, Spain in the most famous kitchen in the world. Courtesy: elBullifoundation, The Drawing Center

If you weren’t able to visit the famed ElBulli restaurant on the coast of Spain before it closed two years ago, don’t worry. Pop down to Soho to meet the man, his team, and his legacy through The Drawing Center’s provocative show, Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity, running through February 28.

Even if you can’t taste the world-renowned creations, you’ll feel as though you’ve entered his kitchen during the six months per year that his team worked on R&D through up-close looks at experiments, plating, techniques, codes, inventions, and graphic treatises. Take a look at the installation on our Flickr feed.

Close-up of large working board of photo and diagrams document the plating and components of each dish. Courtesy: elBullifoundation

Close-up of large working board of photo and diagrams document the plating and components of each dish. Courtesy: elBullifoundation

Last weekend, the Wooster Street space was jammed with visitors eager to see glimpse the genius behind the magic of the famed elBulli – notebooks filled with diagrams of exacting platings of food, a room inside the gallery evoking elBulli’s Barcelona archive, huge storyboards pinned with drawings and photographs of artist-inspired dishes, and glass-topped tables containing inventions that created some of the most amazing food–art in the world.

Examples: the apparatus that turns cheese into “spaghetti”, the glass bowls used to serve diners “edible air”, or the cocktail device that literally sprays a dry martini right into a diner’s mouth.

240 plasticine models used to standardize recreation of the sizes and shapes of various portions of food used as components in his highly inventive, artistic dishes. Courtesy: elBullifoundation, The Drawing Center

240 plasticine models used by staff to recreate precise shapes and portions of artistic dish components.

And how do you keep the beautiful dishes consistent? By making little plastic sculptures so that the kitchen crew knows how to duplicate forms for delicate platings precisely on everyone’s plate. When you’re delivering identical 40-course dinners to guests who have flown halfway around the world to join you for dinner, precision counts.

Improvisation may have happened during the six months of the year that elBulli shut down to devote itself to R&D, but not so much during dining-season crunch time. Just look at the large wall drawing that Adrià sketched for this show — Map of the Creative Process: Decoding the Genome of Creativity. Organization is key.

Last weekend, there were no empty seats in the downstairs video viewing gallery, as visitors sat mesmerized by 1846, the 90-minute film co-produced by The Drawing Center, showing every dish Adriá ever served at elBulli (1987 – 2011).

Plasticine model of the 1994 Le Menestra dish composed only of textures, including cauliflower mousse, basil jelly, almond sorbet, avocado, and numerous other components. Courtesy: elBullifoundation

Plasticine model of the 1994 Le Menestra dish composed only of textures, including cauliflower mousse, basil jelly, almond sorbet, avocado, and numerous other components.

Photos of gorgeous, glistening food on plates, rocks, and wood lilted by to an opera soundtrack punctuated by the sounds of water lapping on the shore near the restaurant.  Plates of vegetables, seafood slices, sprigs, and flowers wafted by. What are those spoons filled with? What appeared to be “hatching” out of that egg? What was the egg? What was perching on a stalk like an insect? The effect made you feel as if you were seeing life on Earth evolve…biomorphic shapes surrounded by foam.

You could tell that these art-and-food lovers had absorbed the exhibit upstairs when there was a collective gasp of recognition when the real-life version of La Menestra (accurately and lovingly represented in plascticene upstairs) floated onto the screen.

Since he shut the most desired and famous restaurant in the world, Adrià has been hard at work making sure that his thoughts, processes, philosophy, and research were well documented and translated to digital form. Although it’s still in beta, he’s incorporating it all into an online encyclopedia of gastronomic knowledge.

Kudos to Brett Littman and his team at The Drawing Center for mounting a show that pays tribute to food-as-art and shows us how creativity, inspiration, and documentation (in the hands of an genius, or team of geniuses) can turn experiments in a kitchen on a small Spanish seaside cove into a global digital export of wisdom and innovation for the next generation of chefs.

Take a look at Bullifoundation’s promo video to see what’s in store:

Happily, this show is going on the road in the United States before it leaves for The Netherlands in 2016:  See it at the ACE Museum in LA (May 4-July 31), Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland (September 26-January 18, 2015), or Minneapolis Institute of Art (September 17, 2015-January 3, 2016).

Here’s a link to Documenting Documenta, a 2011 film about Adrià’s life, inspiration, work, and participation in Documenta 12, an international cultural festival in Kassel, Germany that happens every five years.

Medieval Foodies

Cooking ScrollWhen you enter Mr. Morgan’s Library, you never know what you’re going to find, since the curators are always surprising us with treasures from the archives. Remember when the volcano spit ash all over Europe several years ago and all the flights were grounded?  The Magna Carta couldn’t get home, so it took up residence for a few months right in front of Mr. Morgan’s big fireplace in the East Room.

If you get over there before October 6, you’ll get to see something just as unique – a scroll from the mid-1400s containing 200 recipes (in Middle English, of course) that are fit for a king or royal lord. Move over, Smorgasburg!

The scroll would have been created by foodies some time around the reign of Henry VI (1422-1461) or Edward IV (1461-1483) during the War of the Roses. Henry’s objections to the aristocrats’ rights protected by the Magna Carta led to civil war, which was won by Edward, his successor from the House of York. At least someone was eating well and practicing penmanship during this tumultuous time in Merry Olde England.

30-foot walls of Mr. Morgan’s Library have three stories of inlaid Circassian walnut bookcases with treasures of world literature. Photo © 2006 Todd Eberle

30-foot walls of Mr. Morgan’s Library have three stories of inlaid Circassian walnut bookcases with treasures of world literature. Photo © 2006 Todd Eberle

The cookery scroll is displayed right inside the library door, past the historic marbled rotunda, keeping company with one of Mr. Morgan’s three Gutenberg bibles just opposite. It’s fitting that these two treasures are holding court together: one showing the hand-crafted way that oral traditions of the one percent were being preserved; the other suggesting the revolution that was about to unfold as movable type and printing presses made the printed word universally accessible. Check out the amazing digital facsimile of Mr. Morgan’s printed treasure.

The scroll is part of an ongoing exhibition series, Treasures from the Vault, which also features music, letters, and manuscripts from the greats of Western culture. Check out the surroundings.

Here’s a video of everyone’s favorite still-working Tudor kitchen at Hampton Court Palace. The palace wasn’t built until 1529, but it will give you a visual on how some high-end cooks could have been using the scroll 550 years ago.

For more detailed 14th century cooking techniques, check out the YouTube by MedievalArtScience.

 

Last Call for Global Kitchen at AMNH

Japanese cube melon. Photo: AMNH/D. Finnin

Japanese cube melon. Photo: AMNH/D. Finnin

Ever wonder what story is told by the food on your plate? It’s all explained in the show at the American Museum of Natural History, Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture, now in its final weekend.

It’s a fascinating walk-through of how food is produced, transported, and consumed by cultures all over the world. You’ll see examples of the zillions of varieties of potatoes archived by the Peruvians high up in the Andes and interesting twists like cube-shaped melons grown in Japan.

Diorama of the Aztec Tiatelolco market in 1519, just before the Conquistadors arrived. Photo: AMNH/R. Mickens

Diorama of the Aztec Tiatelolco market in 1519, just before the Conquistadors arrived. Photo: AMNH/R. Mickens

What’s everyone’s favorite part of the show? Most people can’t get enough of the interactive light table where you can watch the hands of master chefs making some incredible ethnic dishes and the Aztec market. The latter is a full-scale diorama of what shopping was like in 1519 down in Mexico City just before the conquistadors arrived. The market is vast, with an amazing array of items, all neatly arranged in sections, not unlike Eataly’s adventurous stalls near Madison Square.

You’ll get a glimpse of what was on the table of Gandhi, Roman royalty, the Great Khan, and other historic celebrities. The best is seeing what Otzi, the mummified Ice Man was packing as he crossed the Alps about 5,000 years ago.

Here’s the informative introductory video for this thought-provoking and mouth-watering show.

Crowds See Luxury on Vintage Rail Cars at Grand Central

Red CarpetThe red carpet is back at Grand Central, right where it belongs: leading visitors down Tracks 34 and 35 to the door of the 1947 observation car of the 20th Century Limited and to fifteen other vintage sleeper, dining, and lounge cars that once traveled the New York Central rails and other lines all over the United States between the 1920s and 1950s.

An unexpected treat was being greeted by former “Century Girl” Joan Jennings Scalfani, who politely posed for photos with admirers and talked about the 1960s when she represented the brand to celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Bess and Harry Truman, Ernest Hemingway, and Lena Horne.

Joan Jennings Scalfani, a former “Century Girl”, at the Parade of Trains

Joan Jennings Scalfani, a former “Century Girl”, at the Parade of Trains

Besides the streamlined 20th Century observation car, we visited the leather lounge of the 1923 Kitchi Gammi Club (Pennsylvania Railroad), the 1949 Babbling Brook observation car (New York Central), and the refurbished Broadway Limited baggage car that has transformed into a luxurious private-dining experience, Dover Harbor.

All sixteen cars were brought to New York for the Parade of Trains in honor of GCT’s 100 anniversary – the largest convergence of private rail cars ever assembled at one time in the City.

Small crews of people serve up meals and make guests comfortable whenever the rail cars are booked for parties, getaways, and dinners. Rail clubs, crews, and owners welcomed us in every car we visited, including the fully stocked barbershop aboard the Overland Trail, which once ran on the Southern Pacific.

Due to the crowds, not everyone who came to Grand Central was able to walk through the halls of long-distance travel history, so we’re providing a closer look at the luxury, design, and history on our Flickr feed.

Front of the streamlined Hickory Creek sleeper-observation lounge car (1947) for the 20th Century Limited.

Front of the streamlined Hickory Creek sleeper-observation lounge car (1947) for the 20th Century Limited.

To accommodate the overflow crowds who weren’t able to make it onto Metro-North Tracks 34 and 35 before the afternoon cut-off time, MTA provided a train made up of three vintage subway cars, which shuttled between Times Square and Grand Central  – the 1948 R-12 car that was still equipped with wicker seats and whirring fans, the red 1950 IRT R-15 (the first subway to be air conditioned) with its iconic “portholes” in the doors, and the R33-S “World’s Fair” car which took visitors to the 1963 fair in style.

Dining aboard the Babbling Brook (1949)

Dining aboard the Babbling Brook (1949)

What Seinfeld Ate for Lunch

Installation view of the pie section of the historic Automat

Installation view of the pie section of the historic Automat

If you’re a New Yorker, you eat the same stuff – Chinese take out, sushi, hero sandwiches, and the occasional power lunch. So, where did it come from? How long have these New York traditions been going on? Did you know that take-out began in 1976?

Get to see the New York Public Library’s walk-through of culinary history at Lunch Hour NYC. As soon as you enter, you see a reproduction of the oyster carts that fed millions of working New Yorkers in the early 1800s, when these small bites were so plentiful in our waters that entrepreneurs made fortunes shipping them to Paris and London.

Recipes for 1960s homemakers

Installation view of homemaker recipes

You’ll also see tribute paid to the ubiquitous Chinese take-out bike, learn that pretzels have been sold on street corners for 150 years, and meet the creator of the stainless steel hot dog cart, Ed Beller. Listen to his story yourself.

Of course, the genuine star of the show is the Automat wall. You not only get a glimpse of the original doors, but you can go around behind the scenes and see where workers put in the fresh creamed spinach, baked beans, beef with burgundy sauce, and pie. People tend to linger in this section of the show, watching videos of Marlo Thomas in That Girl, a career girl without a lot of cash eyeing the yummier selections chosen by more successful types – a theme that’s also echoed in the clips from other movies, too.

Nostalgia lovers will be delighted to see a vintage Frigidere, a wall full of lunch boxes, and an array of 1950s and 1960s homemaker recipe booklets, and to learn that dieting crazes go back for decades. (Favorite: the article “Nice People Don’t Eat” from a 1941 Ladies Home Journal.) There’s also a 1940s Betty Crocker book with open to an article that any New Yorker would find comforting:  “Meals at Odd Hours.” Watch the NYPL’s lively video promo:

Get a close-up look with these photos on Flickr.

Installation view of Alex Gard’s portraits at Sardi’s – Lorenz Hart, Dorothy Kilgallen, Al Capp, and John McClain. Collection: NYPL

Installation view of Alex Gard’s portraits at Sardi’s – Lorenz Hart, Dorothy Kilgallen, Al Capp, and John McClain. Collection: NYPL

NYPL has a terrific Automat-themed website, filled with revelations. Go read about how cafeterias began in 1898 at 130 Broadway, how peanut butter began in 1900, how Alex Gard did all those portraits at Sardi’s in exchange for dinners on a regular basis, and how NYPL needs volunteers to transcribe its collection of historic menus.  (Go sign up.)