Field Trip: Americana Week 2012

If I could open my arms
And span the length of the isle of Manhattan,
I’d bring it to where you are
Making a lake of the East River and Hudson
If I could open my mouth
Wide enough for a marching band to march out
They would make your name sing
And bend through alleys and bounce off all the buildings.

– “The Marching Bands of Manhattan”, Deathcab for Cutie

A few weeks ago I met up with grad school classmates in New York to hit up the Winter Antiques Show and other such nerdy material culture events. Despite the sudden weekend snowstorm, we marched all over the Upper East Side on our mission to gawk at old things. It was great. This was my sixth trip to Manhattan in the past few years, and I still feel every cliche song lyric come true the minute I step off my train.

What greeted us Saturday morning

 Here are some highlights and observations from the weekend.

  • The preview of Betty Ring’s needlework collection at Sotheby’swas pretty incredible. Dozens of samplers might sound dull, but the foremost expert on needlework has collected some fascinating and unique pieces. Besides excellent examples of patriotic and memorial artwork, there were fun whimsical touches like this girl skipping rope.

    Detail of LOT 651 Needlework sampler by Jane Catherine Esser, The Mason School, Kutztown, PA, Dated 1841. Pardon the glare.
  • On our way into Sotheby’s, we passed the picket line of Teamsters art handlers. (Does that make us scabs?) Their strike was not on my radar, but it appears the auction house has been disputing contract details for months. Since I don’t know all the facts of the debate, I’ll just say that art handlers are invaluable but often unappreciated parts of exhibition planning.
  • The Winter Antiques Show at the Armory was full of all kinds of things, as usual. I’m always drawn to the ornate European furniture and stark modernist pieces. Maybe I just need a palate cleanser from too much Americana?
  • The American paintings wing at The Met is finally open, and George Washington is crossing the Delaware in style. Curator Carrie Barratt went on the Colbert Report to talk about the painting, and managed to hold her own against Stephen’s ridiculous comments. “You mean this was painted by a Kraut and that’s not even Washington? THIS PAINTING IS A LIE.” 
  • The New York Historical Societyhas also reopened after renovations. The lobby galleries are fun and interactive, even if the giant touchscreens distract from the actual displays. I really liked the portholes in the floor showcasing archaeological finds. The swanky cafe is a creative display location for ceramics. And in the basement children’s section you can pretend to be a newsie or pose in the inauguration of GDubs himself.
    New York Historical Society cafe - with tea, coffee, and a full bar

    Of course, for every Manhattan gallery I’ve walked through, there are many more I need to see. One of these days I’ll make it to MOMA and the Frick. What are your favorite exhibition spaces in New York?