Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Noguchi Museum & Manhattan Dining

I fell in love with a sculptor in New York City. Isamu Noguchi was born in LA in 1904 to an American writer and a Japanese poet. His studio was in Queens. In 1985 Noguchi converted a factory into The Noguchi Museum. Some of his best pieces he kept for himself, even making new sculptures for commissions if his first attempt was too good. He worked into his 80's and died 11 years ago. Noguchi’s sculptures glow with eternal light.

The current expedition (through May 31, 2009) shows Noguchi’s Akari light sculptures from the 1986 Venice Biennale. The word Akari means “light as illumination” and implies “weightlessness” in Japanese (exhibit pamphlet.) They appear to float in the dim gallery space like celestial objects. The exhibition also reminded me of the gardens of Kyoto at night time.

There is humor in Noguchi’s work that appeals to the child in us all. My 14-year-old son laughed over the enormous space larvae before a chessboard wall (above). My 11-year-old daughter loved the cosmic firefly (below) that looked like it might scurry away.

These gorgeous, glowing Akaris created controversy at the Venice Biennale. Critics called them too commercial and claimed that these were light fixtures, decorative arts. Yeah, and Rodin’s statues are garden gnomes.

The most impressive thing about Noguchi was his ability to sculpt in so many media. He is perhaps best known for his stone sculptures that stand in many a museum garden. Noguchi’s gallery displays some in a semi-courtyard space that allows the natural light to caress the work. Those are real trees in the background.

These larger than life sculptures look even more stunning close up. Check out the texture, color and composition of his cuts. It was hard not to touch. This was not my first visit to the museum with my children. Last time I had my baby daughter strapped to my chest and ran after my 3-year-old son who was delighted by the unusual and familiar shapes. “Don’t touch!”

I didn’t take in much of the art back then, but my little son loved it. This time we all appreciated it, and I could take my time to look closely. My children were equally mesmerized. My daughter danced through the studio in a trance. I enjoyed their reactions as much as the art.

We thought this piece was like driftwood or seaweed.

The Noguchi Museum has a sculpture garden as well. The weeping cherries are blooming at this time of year. This typical Noguchi sculpture before the cedar would look beautiful anytime of year.

These stones on mulch reminded me of Japanese rock gardens or space eggs. Noguchi’s work speaks to the classic Japanese tradition but also to something new and original. He embodies a balance of East and West. The Noguchi Museum is definitely worth a trip to Queens. The café serves a very good lunch too.

Later that rainy day we visited the new Museum of Art and Design. Affectionately called MAD, the museum has recently relocated to its own building on Columbus Circle, Manhattan. It’s a cool space, but only a few galleries are open so far. I was not especially impressed by the current exhibits although my DIY dad loved the radiators as art exhibit. This is a museum devoted to decorative art, very different from Noguchi’s work.

My favorite part of MAD was the funky, if expensive, museum store. My parents bought me a practical but stylish handbag there. In real life it’s more olive and metallic bronze than brown. I desperately needed something large enough to lug around my DSLR camera or manuscripts that wasn’t a backpack. I well appreciate decorative art too. Coincidentally, the creator of Highway bags was born in Japan.

Art, a bit of shopping and lots of dining are my favorite NYC activities. This visit I dined at two small restaurants with delicious food, good atmosphere and reasonable prices. They were both in Lower East Manhattan.

Frankie’s Spuntino is small and intimate like a restaurant in northern Italy. The homemade pastas and fresh salads were tasty and well priced for NYC. Dinner for 3 (appetizers, mains, one dessert and a half bottle of good wine) came to under $100. The candlelit atmosphere was very romantic with a high tin ceiling and a fresh cut bough of cherry blossoms in the large window.

My only objection was it was too dim to read the menus without a flashlight, a common problem in NYC restaurants lately. Luckily we had one on a key chain. My school friends and I spent hours over dinner without being rushed. I’ll be back.

Frankie’s Spuntino
17 Clinton Street
Tel: (212) 253-2303
No reservations.
There is a second Frankie’s in Brooklyn.

Another culinary gem is Shabu-Tatsu in East Village, featuring cook-your-own sukiyaki and shabu-shabu. The meal consists of paper thin slices of beef, fresh vegetables, tofu and noodles that you add to a simmering pot of brown broth. It gets tastier as the flavors mingle. My Japanese sister-in-law, who lives outside NYC, recommended this restaurant.

Shabu-shabu restaurants, common in Japan, are becoming hard to find in New York. Liability is making restaurant owners reluctant to risk splattering fat and open flames. Such a shame. The atmosphere upstairs was pleasant in cherry wood and rice paper, but the basement was a bit smelly. The small restaurant was packed with Asian clients, always a good sign, and reasonably priced at $18.75 per person for the complete meal, including ice cream. Sapporo beer on tap was a good addition.

216 10th Street (bet 1st and 2nd)
East Village, NYC
Tel: (212) 477-2972
reservations only for 6 or more

My friend Marika met me for dinner and was very tolerant of our fictional company. My characters were looking for a romantic first date, and there is nothing like cooking sukiyaki together to help break the ice. A novelist is an odd dinner companion. Luckily I site my stories in good places. You are what you eat, and I am what I write.

Central Park daffodils

It was hot and sunny 80's when we left NYC. Back in Maine it got to the upper 70's. We went to the beach, but only my son was brave enough to swim with Stella and the seals. The water was frigid, but the snow is finally gone!

Blog Watch: spring fever is in the air. Bee Drunken enjoyed gorgeous Texas bluebonnets while visiting her home state, reminding me of English bluebells captured by Just a Plane Ride Away. Both women moved to England from Texas and have fun expat blogs. New to my blog community, Cid@Blog Like No One is Reading posted a funny photo that encapsulated spring fever in northern climates. The biggest laugh came from troutbirder with a new twist on 2 eggs any style.


tina said...

I have to laugh at those space larve too. They look like the grubs I keep digging in my garden. Urrr! Very neat artwork.

Sarah Laurence said...

Tina, it was amazing how life like the sculptures were – they seemed to wriggle. I recall reading a post about a woman cooking the snails in her garden.

Elizabeth said...

Yes, indeedy - the sculptures did bring a smile to my face.
I was amused too by you scouting locations for your characters. This seems a great way to eat yummy food and do something useful at the same time.
Yes, Bee's blue bonnets were a delight.
Thank heavens it isn't so hot today.

♥ Boomer ♥ said...

Just fantastic. I became a child, studying the first one. Trying to figure out how to climb up it and go down the slide!! ♥

Sarah Laurence said...

Elizabeth, we should start the eat to write movement. Characters and writers need food so why not enjoy it together? My kids think I’m nuts. We left the city just before it hit 90 – how miserable. Good to hear it’s cooler. It’s gorgeous 60s here today.

Mimi, I did the same thing with that sculpture. I loved how it was placed in the stairwell at the museum.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Popped over from Barrie's place. Love the pictures and the description of the museum. Will have to check it when we get to NY. One of these days.

LINDA from Each Little World said...

Sarah — went to the Noguchi museum ten years ago and it is still a very, very strong memory. The light in the indoor/outdoor spaces; the scale of the work and the variety of textures; it was a wonderful day. Thanks for letting me re-live it a little!

A Cuban In London said...

Indeed, that first photo drew me in completely. The space larvae look like fluorescent condoms, and this is a 37-year-old talking not an adolescent :-).

So, affectionately called MAD? Well, it is a good and maybe zany space. Thanks for the commentary and images.

Greetings from London.

Rosaria Williams said...

What a fun and informative post, art, sculpure, museum highlights and dinner choices. I will cherish these for the days when we can return to visit New York.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Great stuff here! We're taking the kids to NYC this summer; it's been over a decade since we've been. I will be carefully searching your blog for other interesting places to see.

The space larvae are now on my list. :)

Tessa said...

I have a Noguchi coffee table in my studio which my husband gave me as an anniversary present a couple of years ago, so the museum was a must-see on our list when we visited New York. Your photographs of the current exhibition are superb and I've thoroughly enjoyed these two posts about your visit to NY with your children. The dining experiences sound fabulous as well!

Anil P said...

I liked the space larvae, and feel as if they'll come to life if I looked at them long and hard enough. Light does it to them.

Of late art definitions have blurred distinctions within a given genre by a lot, maybe it begn long ago.

At times I'm tempted to distiguish one artistic representation from another merely by whether it appeals to me or not, irrespective of the genre they purportedly represent.

kate smudges said...

What a fine time you must have had with your children in the Noguchi Museum. I loved seeing the photographs from the museum. The restaurants you visited sound as if they are a wonderful dining experience.

Sarah Laurence said...

Sarah, welcome to my blog. Our names are so similar! I found your blog interesting too. Great to connect through Barrie.

Ms. Wis, I’m not surprised you enjoyed it. His work is a wonderful mating of art and landscape architecture.

ACIL, I did say the sculptures appealed to the inner child!

Lakeviewer, definitely add these places to your list. They are off the beaten path and give a true taste of real NYC.

FF, welcome to my blog. The museum is hard to reach but worth it. My blog is full of places in NYC that are kid friendly because I’m often there with my kids. I’d recommend the Japanese restaurant for kids over the Italian one. Click on the NYC label to find more relevant posts. Enjoy your trip! I’ll come visit your blog soon.

Tess, lucky you – what a nice gift! I have been on a NYC blogging spree lately – more interesting than mud season in Maine.

Anil, the light does make the sculpture lively. It is a challenge to define art, but I had no doubt about Noguchi’s work.

Kate, it was a brilliant trip, thank you.

David Cranmer said...

I like that "driftwood" best but all the art displayed is impressive.

Sarah Laurence said...

I'd have a hard time picking a favorite as they were all so good. I only photographed a fraction of the sculptures. The driftwood was among the best.

I should mention that the names are not his but mine. I foolishly forgot to write down his names. I was so caught up in the beauty of the art and the joy of having permission to photograph it.

david mcmahon said...

Yup, I'd have been entranced by his work too, Sarah.

Stacy Nyikos said...

I really enjoyed the light sculptures. They are whimsical. Noguchi sort of reminds me of Picasso in that he worked in so many different mediums. New challenges. New creations. New insights. I'm taking my daughters to Amsterdam and Berlin this summer. I hope that they do as well in the museums as your kids did!

Hana Njau-Okolo said...

Those weeping cherries look like they need that single shoulder to lean on. Lovely, lovely sculpture. And no wonder, your photographs are amazing with that big camera you have.

Thanks for taking us on the trip with you and for all the tips. BTW what does DIY stand for? :-)

And oh yes! I LOVE your comment about blogs being front porches where people meet to chat!!!!!

Bee said...

I'm completely mesmerized by that first picture of the staircase/slide spiral. It looks so smooth to the touch. I love the yin/yang and "infinite motion" aspect of it. And the "space larvae!" So irresistible.

I think it is fantastic that you take your children to museums and they actually derive PLEASURE from that activity. (Perhaps we are going to the wrong museums?) I sense that the development of the artistic eye/sensibility started early in your house.

Thanks so much for the mention . . . your blog watch is really a nice touch. And last thing: I can't believe that it is so warm there!

Cheffie-Mom said...

I love coming to your blog - it's like taking a vacation!

Donna said...

Thank you for adding some culture to my day. I really like that first sculpture of the winding walkway/staircase. What a talented sculptor he was.
I love that new bag of yours too!

Sarah Laurence said...

David, so I’m not alone.

Stacy, there’s a fabulous Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam that I bet you’d all enjoy. I loved our visit there but we went without the kids from England.

MS, DIY stands for Do It Yourself. My dad likes to do his own plumbing and home repairs. I love stopping by your virtual front porch.

Bee, I thought of Ying Yang too and Escher stairways. Here are some tips on choosing kid friendly galleries: low crowds, fun work (sculpture is often better than painting) and go for a short time. The most kid friendly places are sculpture gardens. I think it helps that we’ve been doing it all along. Partly for them but also for me. We’re back to cooler weather but this had been an easy mud season without much rain and no snow.

CM, thanks!

go with happiness said...

The sculptures are too amazing for words.

vicki archer said...

The Noguchi sculpture Museum is breathtaking and i will definitely visit when I am next in NYC. Thank you for writing about it I would never have known otherwise.Have a lovely weekend, xv.

troutbirder said...

I must admit my knowledge of sculpture is quite limited. Though I love sculpture gardens and my favorite is at the Walker Art Museum in Mpls.

Dave King said...

What fantastic sculptures. I was particularly moved by the first image and the sixth. Quite incredible. I must try to research this Noguchi. I know of him only what you have told and shown me. Thanks for a special treat.

Sarah Laurence said...

Danielle, welcome to my blog! Nice to connect with another book blogger who loves art too. I’ll come visit soon.

Vicki, it’s a schlep to get there but well worth it. I think that’s the only reason more people don’t visit. Part of the appeal is seeing art without crowds. Great to reconnect with you!

Troutbirder, I’ll keep that in mind should I visit Minneapolis, thanks!

Dave, I thought you’d love these sculptures. I don’t recall seeing Noguchi’s work in England. There’s a bunch of info about him on the museum website.

marmee said...

very cool, i love going to museums. the louvre, the rom are two of my favourites. i love to see how others interpret the world around them. looks like you all had a wonderful time.

Rose said...

Thank you for for showing Noguchi's artwork, Sarah. I had heard of Noguchi before, but had no idea what his art was like. I appreciated the art lesson! If your novels aren't successful, you could always get a job as a food critic:) You visit such interesting restaurants; if I were visiting NYC, I'd check out your reviews before deciding where to eat!

Sarah Laurence said...

Marmee, I always get overwhelmed by the scale of the Louvre. We did have a wonderful time, thanks. So nice to reconnect with you!

Rose, Noguchi also did some stunning landscape architecture too. Wouldn’t it be tasty to be a food critic? I am obsessed with perfect meals. In case you hadn’t noticed….

Charlotte Agell said...

I MUST go to the Noguchi museum. Knew about him but not it!
(When WAS the last time I was in NYC?)

TBM said...

Sarah, how I would have loved to have joined you for every step of this day! The Noguchi Museum sound right up my alley. I loved this: "Yeah, and Rodin’s statues are garden gnomes." LOL

Love your new bag too! I recently went native (London native, that is) and bought a huge purse for my DSLR. But I really like all the zippers on yours. My things tend to roll around a bit too much in mine.

Your Japanese restaurant sounded so fun and reminded me of how much I used to love shabu-shabu! My mom would make it for dinner sometimes and it was always a delicious treat.

And finally, thank you for the blogwatch link! I love that you paired my photo up with Bee's bluebonnets. I am not sure I would have made the connection... you are a keen observer!

Sarah Laurence said...

Charlotte, didn’t I run into you at MoMA? That was before England. You would adore the Noguchi Museum.

JAPRA, I wish you could have joined me. I’m sure you’d love both the museum and meal. Lucky you to have a mother who cooked shabu-shabu. I can’t imagine slicing beef that thin. I’m just counting the days until we have wildflowers blooming. Maine lupines are as glorious as bluebells and bluebonnets. I’d have seen the connection because I love purple-blue wildflowers more than any other bloom.

Shauna said...

How wonderful that your children enjoy the art. My kids love it to and we eat up any chance to get lost in museums (of any sort).

The dining in Manhattan is certainly unparalleled. It sounds wonderful and reminds me of fond memories there.

Barrie said...

Love the photos. Thanks for sharing! And who wouldn't want those space larvae for pets!

Sarah Laurence said...

Shauna, museums are great for kids. I miss the restaurants of NYC.

Barrie, thanks. That sounds like a good idea for a sci fi story for kids.