Down and Out in Manhattan

This weekend I went Downtown to take a walk along the High Line, the fairly newly created park and walkway on the old elevated railroad that used to carry freight trains above the crowded cobbled streets of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. The Friends of the High Line have done a magnificent job in creating a peaceful place just a few feet above the bustling streets of what is now one of the trendiest districts in Manhattan, and the views across the rooftops of Downtown and also across the Hudson to New Jersey are breathtaking. I loved looking at the way Manhattan used to be, filled with warehouses and red brick apartment buildings, many of which still have signs painted on them referring to long forgotten products and shops who last saw customers one hundred years ago, as well as the cobbled streets that used to ring with horses’ hooves and the din of many hundreds of workers rushing around the wharves and huge warehouses. This area is on a much smaller scale and feels more domestic and homely than the tall and more impersonal spaces of Midtown, and I very much enjoyed my walk through the district.

On Sunday I took myself off to the American Museum of Folk Art, which has an exciting exhibition of Quilts…opening this coming weekend. So, I will have to go back to see those. However, I did enjoy seeing their current exhibition of folk art taken from the apartment of Henry Darger, who is apparently quite famous, but I had never heard of him before. I found this exhibition very interesting, as his art work was basically torn out pages from magazines and colouring books, made into collages. Not being an art connoisseur, I couldn’t help thinking, ‘what makes this worthy of display in a Museum?’ – they looked like the pictures my nephew draws at nursery that are stuck on my sister’s fridge. In fact, the whole definition of what is ‘folk art’ and what is essentially a child’s drawing, was a bit lost on me, but I did very much appreciate the celebration of the often excellent work of unschooled artists creating beautiful objects and paintings that reflected their experience and used their abilities without feeling pressured to bow down to the accepted rules of the artistic establishment.

Right next door to the Folk Art Museum is MOMA, and I wandered in to see the Matisse exhibition, which was so crowded I couldn’t bear it, and instead I went down a floor to the 19th century room. I am not really a fan of contemporary modern art, but the work of Van Gogh, Klimt, and Cezanne, I particularly enjoy, and it was such a wonderful surprise to round corners of rooms to find more remarkable, famous paintings I know and love and have never seen in the flesh. My personal favourite was the Klimt below, and I know I will be going back to have a better look when it’s not so crowded. However, after having just visited the much smaller Folk Art Museum next door, I couldn’t help but think that some of the work dismissed as simply amateur ‘folk’ art is really a lot better than the abstract sploshes considered works of contemporary genius costing millions of dollars that are displayed on the walls of MOMA. Matisse’s paintings especially had many similarities to the simplistic, brightly coloured paintings in the Folk Art Museum, and I left my afternoon at these two museums really quite confused as to how the art world works, and who decides what is good and worth lots of money and what isn’t. It’s an enigma to me. But I still enjoyed looking at it, and that’s what matters.

I finished my day with a wander down to Little Italy, where I was meeting my flatmates for dinner. I popped into Shakespeare and Co books, where I bought some hilarious Anne Taintor postcards to send home to my domestically oppressed sister, and then found myself caught up in the delicious smells and wonderful sounds of the San Gennaro festival on Mulberry Street, where my friends and I ate and soaked up the atmosphere of yet another lively and warm night in Manhattan. Finally, I’ll leave you with a photo of the view of Manhattan from outside my apartment block; aren’t I the luckiest girl in the world?!


  1. m says:

    You are! What a wonderful view. (But I take it you won’t be coming home to a job at Tate Modern?)

    1. bookssnob says:

      I know! It’s truly incredible, and breathtaking. I have to pinch myself every time I walk home from the subway!

      No…I just don’t get it, Mary!

  2. Laura says:

    Great post, as usual. I visited the MOMA for the first time in August, and enjoyed it more than I expected to because I really don’t “get” most modern art. We enjoyed the Matisse exhibit although it was indeed crowded, but I enjoyed a women’s photography exhibit even more. Not sure if that was still there for your visit though …

    I’m not sure what defines folk art either. I haven’t been to the museum (note to self: may try that on my next visit to NYC), but have been to another folk art exhibit which had some lovely textiles but some other works that just left me scratching my head.

    Your view is fabulous!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks Laura! The good thing about MOMA is that there is plenty of 19th century ‘modern’ art as well as the more contemporary stuff which does mean there is something to suit msot tastes. I didn’t see the photography exhibit but the place is so huge I could well have walked past it without realising!

      Yes I really only wanted to see the textiles…but I’ll go back and see them another weekend. It’s well worth a visit but I think they could do with explaining more what they mean by ‘folk art’.

      I know, I am so lucky!

  3. Jenny says:

    You are way lucky! ๐Ÿ™‚ I am dying to go to MOMA – well, to all the museums in NYC really. I never get enough of museums. If I were there I would go to a museum every day. :p

    1. bookssnob says:

      Ha! I know!! Well you should come. And then you can go to several museums in one day!

  4. Oh, that is a spectacular view! Lucky you! So much fun to read your New York adventures – thanks for sharing.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Yes it is! It’s even better in the flesh – my camera work is not exactly brilliant!! Thank you, I am glad you are enjoying them. It’s a pleasure to post about them!

  5. What a fabulous view you have, Rachel, and just look at you, out and about the city of New York, seeing what you can see. I have been to the Folk Art Museum and viewed a collection of Amish quilts that was quite impressive to me, so, I hope when you return you will have a more fulfilling experience there.

    There is a children’s book you might want to try to find by Elizabeth Enright. The Saturdays is about a motherless family living in Manhattan in the early forties. Their father is away often, leaving them on their own and they cook up a plan to pool their allowance so that each of them can have a Saturday adventure of their own in New York each month. I remember reading it as a child and wanting so badly to go to Manhattan.

    Remembering the book, but forgetting the author, I googled it and discovered that Enright was the niece of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, her mother being his sister. Now, I have talked myself into find the book and reading it again.

    Enjoy, Rachel, enjoy!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Hi Penny! I just love getting out and about – there is so much to see and do, I can’t just stay at home! I am looking forward to going back and seeing the quilts, maybe in a couple of weeks’ time.

      That book sounds wonderful! On my next trip to the library I’ll see if I can find it. You always have such brilliant recommendations, thank you!

  6. She says:

    Ah! I would love to go to the MOMA. Klimt! He is fantastic. Did they have any of his portraits on display? He painted some of the best I’ve ever seen– so extremely life like! Have you ever seen Egon Schiele’s work? He’s somewhat like Klimt, being his protege helps I suppose haha, but his are so much darker and more morbid! I mean, most of them are of naked people, but Tod und Mรคdchen is an interesting one.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Hello! MOMA is very large and filled with so much stuff – if you love modern art, it’s very impressive and probably a must see. I didn’t stay long so there could be more Klimt that I didn’t notice – I’ll go again one day and report back! I haven’t heard of Schiele before, no – you have educated me. I shall have a look and see if any of his work is in the museum!

  7. Mae says:

    You are indeed very lucky! ๐Ÿ™‚ I didn’t know NY had a Shakespeare and co. Is it related to the one in France? I don’t know all that much about art but NY really does seem to be quite spoiled with it. Looks like you’ve well and truly settled in! You should do a post about bookstores in NY. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. bookssnob says:

      I know! I wanted to ask about whether it was related to the French one, but the man who served me was so grumpy I didn’t dare enter into conversation! I am starting to feel like I’m settling in well now – but bookstores are things I need get more knowledge of!

  8. Reading Life on the Cutoff’s comment made me think there is another children’s book you should read while you are living in NY. If you haven’t read it already, you should really check out From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler by EL Konigsburg. A brother and sister run away from home and live in the Met! Seems like it would go very well with your recent adventures.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Oh these books all sound amazing! Thanks Thomas, I’ll be checking all these out now I have my library card!

  9. I’m so enjoying reading about your new experiences. Wow what a view!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you! I’m glad you’re enjoying them!

  10. Kate says:

    What a view! I echo the suggestions for “The Mixed-up Files…” and “The Saturdays” – in fact, there are a few follow-up books to the latter, but the family moves outside of the city in those (still very good, though) I hope you’re off enjoying your Saturday in the city!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Well another recommendation means I have to read them! I’ll get on to them right away! I had a great Saturday thank you – brunch, a Broadway show – it’s so much fun living here!

  11. Emily Jane says:

    Oh, Henry Darger. He is such a…character. If you’re still interested (besides being a little non-plussed at first) check out the documentary Realms of the Unreal. It’s creepy, what with his little girl obsession and narration by Dakota Fanning (a little girl)…but it is really fascinating, and they animate his artwork in a really cool way. What’s amazing about him, to me, is the scope and detail of his imaginary universe. Did you see that thing at the exhibit about his “10,000 page novel”(the longest ever written!) about his characters, the Vivian Girls, who are engaged in war? Complete with war songs and detailed inventory lists for each battle, and the weather they were having that day? It’s just…wow.

    Anyway, glad that you’re enjoying New York so far ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. bookssnob says:

      Emily Jane, you are so knowledgeable! I read about that book in the exhibition and they had illustrations from it. It looked very strange! I’d be interested in reading more about him, but the book itself, I think I’ll skip that!

      Thank you very much – I really am!

  12. Love reading these accounts of your forays into all that New York has to offer. And, yes, that is some view.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you – it’s a pleasure to write about them for such lovely readers! The view is spectacular, isn’t it? I am so spoiled.

  13. Darlene says:

    While you’re out and about enjoying yourself at museums and such you might want to stop at a shop to buy some long underwear and warm boots. Ballet flats in November in New York, while very pretty, will not keep you warm!

    Keep the adventures coming, Rachel…sounds like you’re having a blast!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Oh Darlene, I’m already freezing my little bum off here! I only brought a thin patchwork coverlet with me to sleep under and I woke up in the night because I was so cold…I’m off to buy more suitable clothing and bedding this weekend, don’t worry!!

  14. Jane says:

    Wow! Yes you are indeed! I love that klimt too – the colours are so evocative. Beautiful.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you, I am so lucky, it’s unbelievable! I love Klimt – when the museum is less busy I’ll go back and see if I can find some more of his paintings.

  15. steve in minneapolis says:

    Oh dear! I won’t start a defense of the “abstract sploshes” that for me are often among the highlights of a visit to the museum. I have a reaction similar to yours to anything “interactive,””multi-media,” “site specific,” or “participatory”. Glad your continuing to enjoy exploring NYC.

    1. bookssnob says:

      I’m sorry, Steve! I just don’t get it – it’s interesting how different people’s tastes can be! Hahahaha I agree with those ones too! Thank you, I really am!

      1. steve in minneapolis says:

        And of course I meant “you’re” for “your” above. (I don’t want to besmirch the integrity of your blog; I know that this particular typo [or error] especially bothers some people.) I guess I was in a big hurry before leaving for work this AM and didn’t proofread. Oops.

  16. Cy Prian says:

    Just wanted to add that while a particular folk artist from the past or present may be ‘self-taught’ the nature of folk art typically lies in the person not being known, nor caring to be.

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