The Museum as Place

I’ll start with a confession: last month, in New York City, I visited the Whitney Museum of American Art and didn’t pay close attention any of the art. It’s sacrilegious, I know—especially for a member of the Princeton Art Museum Student Advisory Board. In my defense, while I was in New York City, I also visited the Neue Galerie and went to the Met twice. Those times, I did pay attention to my glorious surroundings. I even read the placards. So why am I here now, writing about my experience at the Whitney rather than my—perhaps more, ahem, intellectual—experiences at other museums? Because there was something about my visit to the Whitney that was so much more striking. It showed me the value of museums as spaces for personal experiences.

It was my last day in New York City. The Whitney closed at 5 o’clock and, as a result of bad planning and late subways, my boyfriend and I only got there at 4:30. We had managed to conquer public transportation; we’re both art lovers; we didn’t trek all the way there for nothing. We still bought tickets. And I decided I still wanted to see everything.

We started at the top: the 8th floor was home of the outdoor terrace whose breathtaking view of the Meatpacking District I had seen countless photos of. Then we ran through that floor and all the floors below it (by “ran” I mean a breathless sort of fast walk—had we actually run, the security guards would have hated us even more than they probably already did). We were on a mission, surely—to take in as much of the Whitney as possible. It was a half-hour full of glimpses of beautiful art that my mind remembers in swirls of color and brushstrokes. It was doors that led to stark white staircases with drop-dead gorgeous views of the city I loved. It was a race against time; it was a scene from a John Green novel (though that sounds so painfully cliché to say). I wish I could personally apologize to the artwork—I know it all deserves to be stood in front of, pondered at. But the experience itself was art. It was the most powerful dosage of aesthetic I could take at once (and I can take a lot of aesthetic).

My experience reminded me that museums are not just vessels for art. They are living, breathing places themselves—places where magic can happen. Just take some of the yearly events at the Princeton Art Museum, for example: the Nassau Street Sampler, the Student Advisory Board Gala, Failed Love. I’ve heard a few of my peers worry about how they think people don’t pay enough attention to the museum’s artwork at these events. My response: maybe they don’t. But for everyone at those events, whether or not they spend enough time looking at the art, magic is happening. And that magic is an experience within itself. (And it will probably encourage them to revisit the museum later so they can give the art the attention it deserves. Like how I want to revisit the Whitney one day. And actually look at the art closely. Sorry about that again, Whitney.)

 

For more posts from the Princeton University Art Museum Student Advisory Board, visit https://puamsab.princeton.edu/

 

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Album review — I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

The_1975_-_I_Like_It_When_You_Sleep,_for_You_Are_So_Beautiful_Yet_So_Unaware_of_It_edited

Image from wikipedia.org

Go down
Soft sound
Midnight
Car lights
Playing with the air
Breathing in your hair
Go down
Soft sound
Step into your skin? I’d rather jump in your bones
Taking up your mouth, so you breathe through your nose.

—”The 1975,” The 1975

 

I didn’t think anything could beat The 1975’s first, self-titled album: a masterpiece devoid of filler tracks, whose every song was a tightrope-walk between bleakness and hopefulness. And so far, I was right. The band’s new album I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it (which I’ll henceforth refer to as I like it when you sleep) didn’t beat The 1975. Nor did it even meet its standards. But I still enjoyed I like it when you sleep—to the point where I play its best songs on repeat constantly. And I know I’ll look back and consider it one of my favorite albums of the year, even though it fell short of my expectations.

I like it when you sleep sounds happier than the rest of The 1975’s music. It’s a synth-filled, lyrically poetic stream of songs that at times bursts with exhilaration—before tracks that are mellower, like “A Change of Heart,” pull the album back to a moodiness that fans of the band are used to. I had always pictured driving down lonely night streets in my head whenever I listened to the band’s older stuff. With this album, I picture lonely night streets awash with a bright glow. Fittingly, that’s the aesthetic The 1975 is going for now. The promotional pictures as well as those in the album booklets depict abandoned nocturnal scenes with pink neon signs that spell out the song titles.

The album is on the experimental side, and though I applaud The 1975 for stepping out of their comfort zone, the more experimental songs sound like filler. Namely, the last four tracks on the album fall flat. “This Must Be My Dream” and “Paris” sound like contrite bubblegum pop, and “Nana” and “She Lays Down” are acoustic in a way the band just can’t pull off—these last two songs are far more boring than even their slowest synthy ballads. However, there are many songs on I like it when you sleep that are worth a listen—at the very least, “The Sound” and “The Ballad of Me and My Brain.” Tracks like these can stand against the best of the band’s older songs and lead me to believe that, no matter how discouraging it sounds, The 1975 should stick to what they’re best at—indie-electronic songs crafted with complexity and full of energy and emotion.

 

For this and more posts, take a look at “What We’re Loving – Spring Break 2016” on the website for the Nassau Literary Review, Princeton University’s oldest literary magazine: http://nasslit.mycpanel.princeton.edu/wp/2016/03/what-were-loving-spring-break-2016/

 

princeton art museum // medieval art gallery // me

As someone who has loved art history and art museums my entire life, it excited me to no end that I would have a free museum with Monets and Warhols at my doorstep. I’ve gone to the Princeton University Art Museum more than your average student has, since I was in a freshman seminar that took place literally within the galleries during fall semester. I’ve wandered through all the displays, gazed at all the artwork on view (and some pieces behind-the-scenes). But my most magical moments at the museum have been in the Medieval Art gallery.

This gallery looks markedly different from the others at the museum. The stark whiteness of the room immediately strikes you. It reminds me of what believers imagine heaven looks like—full of light, demanding reverence. The decorative marble staircase, the arched stained glass windows, the elaborately carved columns all bring back an era of romantic artistry. There’s devotion in the religious panels that give splashes of color to the walls. There’s mystery: the tomb sculpture of a Spanish knight of unknown identity. And magic: the two painted sculptures, a monk and a knight who have a gleam in their eyes like they’re about to come alive.

It’s December, and I’m at the Student Advisory Board Gala at the art museum. It’s themed “Salon Cezanne” but here I am in this room—in the Middle Ages, far from the abstractions of Cezanne. I’m in a black lace dress and heels and I sit down on the old wooden bench for my friend to take a picture. But there shouldn’t be a camera, and I shouldn’t be in these clothes. I feel my mind slipping away. Now I’m wearing a gown woven with the greatest intricacy, in a dark-paneled room lined with tapestries, in a castle full of marble staircases, in a world resounding with the clang of swords and the tales of knights and the prayers sent up frantically to God.

I sigh as my friend and I join the rest of the crowd in the central gallery. The real world, where schoolwork and stress await me once I get back to my dorm. But it’s reassuring that behind me is a fantasy world I have always dreamed of entering—one I know I can always return to.

 

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see this post and others at the Princeton University Art Museum Student Advisory Board website https://puamsab.princeton.edu/2016/03/julia-cury-on-her-favorite-gallery-of-the-puam/

 

 

My Final Night in Neverland (Updated)

2/10/2015

I was always the child who wanted to grow up—who dreamed of having boyfriends and SAT books, of walking through pristinely green Ivy League lawns, of looking important and wearing heels while taking on a bustling city. Hardly did I ever find time to slow down, as busy as I was with making small-time fame at my Orlando elementary school. Every spelling test, every art contest, every math equation existed to prepare me for the future that, I was convinced, shone brightly ahead of me. I tried to be a super-kid. But I was still a kid—one who cried out in happiness whenever my family went to Disney World on the weekends. There, I did not have to impress anyone, not even myself. There, it was as though the seconds I willed my clock to tick away suddenly stopped.

It was our last night ever at Disney. We were moving in a few months, to Virginia, away from Orlando. I was happy about it then—Virginia had better high schools. It saddens me to think about now, though.

The park extended its hours on certain days, and we decided to stay at the Magic Kingdom until it closed. I remember standing in line for my favorite ride, Peter Pan’s Flight, bathed underneath pink and blue and orange light that made everything in the night sparkle—my mom’s eyes, my sister’s tennis shoes, the princess pins on the rose-colored lanyard around my neck. It was ten-thirty, and hardly anyone else was waiting to hop on one of the big purple ships to Neverland. It was just us, and Peter Pan watching us with a twinkle in his smile from the sign above.

The cheery instrumental of “You Can Fly” played in high, carnival-sounding notes from above our heads. I filled in the lyrics in my mind:

“Think of all the joy you’ll find/When you leave the world behind”

To this day I still have dreams about waiting in that line—the sky a sleepy black outside, the lights dizzying and cotton-candy-colored inside, my head full of pixie dust and visions of my animated childhood crush flying to my window and taking me to a fantasy land.

We got in our ship and flew to Neverland. My belly went cold every time we dropped in chase of Peter’s wayward shadow, but seconds later the ship would soar again, up toward the sparkling artificial stars, leaving a gray and miniature-sized London further and further behind.

When I stepped back into the black night I wished I could return to the ride, zoom past the mermaid lagoon again, defeat Hook a second time, extend my hand out toward the red-rimmed volcano that had been just out of reach below me, the chill of the ride sweeping forward as though I actually were in a flying ship. But there were other places I wanted to go one last time.

We left the Magic Kingdom and took the monorail to the Grand Floridian hotel, a stately palace flooded with chandelier light and smelling of cleanliness and magic. I have always liked to imagine what it would be like to stay there—not just to visit its lobby and shops. Seeing the large, gold-handled doors that led to deluxe suites made me think of wealth, success—the things I wanted to have in my future. But we bypassed the inside of the hotel tonight.

We snuck into the concierge lounge and surreptitiously took the soda and desserts they were giving to hotel guests. With a Sprite and a beautiful mini fruit tart in my hands, I felt like I was truly a guest at the Grand Floridian. We walked out, past the gushing fountains, spray hitting my face and sparkling like crystals in the night. I could smell the magic in the water, as though each droplet had just been made by a fairy.

We reached the dock that extended over the lake facing the Magic Kingdom and sat with our legs dangling over the water below. There, we ate our pastries and drank our sodas while we watched the fireworks over Cinderella’s castle. Reds, greens, golds—bursting in the sky with the symmetry of snowflakes, the timing of a musical maestro. The lights reflected in my eyes, washed over my wonderstruck face.

“Think of all the joy you’ll find/When you leave the world behind”

With the fireworks show’s grand orchestral music still ringing in my ears, I followed my family onto the Friendship, a steamboat sitting in the lake in front of the hotel. The water was black under the night sky, save for the moon’s reflection, lapping lazily in the waves. The lights strung on the sides of the boat and hanging from the ceiling gave the vessel a dream-like glow. In my memories, it drifts though the lake just as peacefully as the pirate ship in Peter Pan drifted through the sky, taking Wendy back home to London. At the time, it was my transportation to the parking lot, where I would leave Disney World—my Neverland—for the very last time.

Since that night, I grew up as quickly as I had wished. My childhood slipped from between my fingers like a handful of pixie dust.  Never did I return to Disney; instead, I spent my weekends writing and pouring over homework and books. I still do. But if Peter Pan were to show up at my window in a big purple ship, his eyes gleaming and his hand outstretched, I wouldn’t hesitate to follow him back to Neverland.

 

 

 

Update: 3/5/2016

Turns out my final night in Neverland wasn’t my final night in Neverland.

I went back to Walt Disney World last August with my parents—a trip to let me feel my childhood once more before I left for Princeton. I was seventeen, but felt happier at the resort than I had when I was seven. Seeing Cinderella’s Castle before me still gave me a flicker of excitement. I wanted to ride all the rides—plus some that I had been too scared to before. I wanted to eat all the Mickey-shaped food items I could, to trade my old Disney pins for new, exciting ones—preferably of Peter Pan. There was not one day where I took my sparkly Minnie Mouse ears off my head.

It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say I was literally raised in Disney World. But it took going back to the resort as an (almost) adult to see how much of a mark it made on me. The little things brought back years’ worth of nostalgia—the signs that lead up to the parks, the clean smell of the water in the rides, the background music that had played over and over again in my dreams once I moved away. It’s hard to articulate, but going back to Disney stirred something within me. In the mornings, when I would lie down in a hammock underneath the palm trees and intensely blue Florida sky, knowing I had a full day of magic ahead of me brought me absolute bliss.

That summer I was propped up between the medals and cords I had worn at high school graduation and the black and orange that marked my next four years at Princeton. But I didn’t care about any of that. At Disney, I’ll always be the happy kid who just wants to catch a glimpse of Mickey Mouse before hopping into FastPass line for Jungle Cruise.

Oh, and I still think Peter Pan and I are meant to be.

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art – Decorative Arts – 1/22/2016

 

Whenever I go to an art museum, I inevitably find myself in the decorative arts section. The excess in the richest of Rococo, Baroque rooms; the dark wood of medieval furniture; the lush tapestries; the stately splendor of Neoclassical decoration. These are the things that make me wish I could go back in time and feel the upholstery of that chair, the silk of this curtain, against my own skin. To be able to call it mine. I wonder if it’s this wishful thinking that excites me most about art.

 

3:23 a.m.

It’s only a night if you end up on the balcony of an Elizabethan-style mansion, freezing in a black skirt and a thin button-down. Your sweater’s tied carelessly around your waist, but you don’t want to put it on. You’ve spent an hour in a muggy mass of bodies and you need to feel the cold air. Your face burns. The wind soothes it like an ice pack. You look up and notice the stars—dozens of them, lined up to gleam down at you. They wink, like they know the things you talk about to your friend on the phone. He’s here with you now. He takes a drag.

“Doesn’t it feel like tonight will go on forever?”

It does. But your voice is too hoarse to reply. The cold seeps into your skin—it’s getting to you now. You cross your arms tightly.

It’s 3:23 a.m. when you make it back to your dorm. The morning comes eventually and you wake up disoriented, your eyes smudged black like a raccoon’s.

The night had ended, as nights do. But millions of little things take you back—the first sharp intake of air when you burst out of a building in winter, the moon and stars arranged like an art gallery. No, the night wasn’t truly over. In fact, you’re not entirely sure when it began.

It was already taking place months before, when you found yourself sitting in the laundry room at two in the morning, your hair disheveled and a secret on your mouth. Your heart stumbling through the world laid out bare before you.

It was still going on, weeks after you stood on that balcony. You held your friends’ hands and ran across the deserted road, your face lit-up by the street lamps and your scratchy laughter ringing out in the night.

Every time your legs are numb from dancing to music that hurts your ears; every time the December cold clashes with your overheated body—that night is there, and so are the gleaming stars. They’re in the text you were waiting to get, the floor of the friend’s room you crash in, the shoes you bought just to get dirty.

The universe has it wrong. No time was ever attached to that night.

“Doesn’t it feel like tonight will go on forever?”

It does. Your voice will always be too hoarse to reply.