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Culture Zohn: Happy Summer Culture

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Culture does not take a break over the summer anymore -- it just keeps on going. Here are two places in NY that bookend the city geographically but attest to our immigrant experience, the one that helps us assimilate the best of foreign cultures. If ever there was an argument against the pig-headedness and jingoistic behavior of Arizona, these two places would be it.

2010-05-27-ferryboat2.jpgJust last week I attended the Pritzker Prize award ceremony, this year given at Ellis Island. Ok: we all know about Ellis Island, but did you know there is a Museum of Immigration there? The Museum is fairly basic, but the boat ride by Lady Liberty and the vaulted tile ceilings make the trip worth while, especially on a nice summer night. Riding the ferry with architects Richard Meier, Frank Gehry, Rafael Vinoly, Thom Mayne, Todd Williams and Billie Tsien, David Childs and our fearless Commissioner of City Planning, Amanda Burden--the Pied Piper of architects--was a bonus. (Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, this year's prize winners, are pictured to the right.)

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The Great Hall of the Immigration Museum on Ellis Island. (Pritzker photos credit Jason Mun).

As the bookend to the week I went to the almost-deserted Hispanic Society, the museum founded at the beginning of the twentieth century by Archer Milton Huntington with help from his wife and his cousin, architect Charles Platt Huntington (so convenient in these old families--the one stop cultural shopping). It's more or less the same vintage as Ellis Island but the opposite end of town. The original display vitrines, burnished and not perfectly restored, make for an afternoon of stepping out of Harlem straight to Spain, like going to Madrid for the day. The Washington Heights neighborhood is totally European in feel: the wide streets, the apartments that curve around to follow them, the lovely cemetery, and the buildings and brick cobbled plaza that make up the splendidly faded square. There is a very good Dia Foundation exhibit by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster of dioramas of Latin literature where books are treated like the endangered species they are, or like the stuffed animals at the Museum of Natural History which is, in fact, where the team of their fabricators normally hangs out. (It's only open until end of June.)

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The Hispanic Society of America's Main Court.

But the old world vintage splendor of the main cloistered tiled burnished red room of the museum is eye popping. You walk smack into Goya's Duchess of Alba, hanging comfortably as if she were there to greet you personally, and can see marvelous examples of other Goyas and Velasquezs and Murillos. Finally, the Sorolla murals have come back from their European tour and been reinstalled in their bespoke room ; the regions and history of Spain depicted therein go down easy. Things are so casually and domestically displayed that it's almost as if you were at the Prado.

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Duchess of Alba by Goya.

Finally, in two buildings in the rear, an exhibition of all those who've just been admitted to the American Academy of Arts and Letters (Thom Mayne again, Alberto Siza, Ed Ruscha, more books) is a lovely counterpoint to the earlier works.

2010-05-27-lama.jpgOn the subway ride home, I got this image of Buddhists in regal dress with Chanel and Gucci bags as delicious intercultural counterpoint on their way to see the Dalai Lama at Radio City.

Friends are departing to Europe in droves: the Euro is weak and we are relatively stronger. Still, you could find nothing more compelling at the right price, by staying here at home.

I love New York.