“What daiquiris! What sherry, please! What burgundy! What pommery!
Have you heard? Professor Munch ate his wife and divorced his lunch?
Well, did you ever? What a swell party this is!”
Well, Did You Evah!
By Cole Porter
It’s been exciting in the world of art! I’m often surprised when people don’t like visiting galleries or have any interest in the unique exhibits or artists creating them. I do, however, understand how unappealing it could seem to stand around looking at lily ponds and depressed people posing from a hundred and fifty years ago. But to learn how a piece materialized, what happened historically to inspire the artists, and to get a grand tour from an enthusiastic teacher is what could tailor a visit to the art museum into an unforgettable experience!
The questions which arise are often what makes these events so interesting; I don’t merely see a flat image, I spy creations from ancient periods, time when people didn’t have the resources and tools we do now. I often can’t imagine how much harder they had to work to pursue this passion or how they even stumbled upon their talents in the first place. I don’t just see an ancient book in a glass case, there’s a shocking history lesson to accompany that first edition Ulysses written by James Joyce. It’s not just a quote on the wall, it’s inspired by societies across the ocean close to a century ago.
It took me two attempts to visit the Nassau County Museum of Art to view the exhibition Anything Goes: The Jazz Age in Art, Music and Literature (the first a very unsuccessful, ridiculously lengthy, and exhausting commute through Queens on the MTA), but what I finally discovered was the warm welcome of an artistic journey, a treasure chest of devotion to educating visitors on a variety of arts. I didn’t walk into a quiet, sterile environment, but a buzzing time capsule of collection, a space where the air carried jazz music from an antique gramophone that escorted me through rooms of paintings, sketches, fashion, sculptures, first editions, relics, and many pieces I never imagined could be so fascinating.
A quote on the wall was resonant of a bright ribbon in the forest, a tiny symbol I was on the right path and could head in any direction. It read, “What a swell party this is.” – Cole Porter. Setting the tone for this exhibit showcasing the very best of the jazz age, an era in which the director Dr. Charles Riley is passionate about, the music drew me into the phonograph room first. My eye immediately spotted Maxfield Parrish’s Daybreak to the upper left of the threshold, right above the room’s collection description, to add a splash of color. A sketch by George Gershwin across the room illustrated his doctor reclined on a couch, immersed in mixed models of old timey radios and record players.
As I wandered through the first floor solo, I noticed two men zipping back and forth through the rooms, one of whom greeted me and guessed he was the director given his excited demeanor. They were walking too fast through the place to not have seen everything already; nobody is going to race through Picassos, Chanels, and Marins without as much as a glance. I continued on to face the original Coco Chanel flapper dresses she designed for famous faces during the jazz age. Chanel chose black and silver for these specific dresses, a touch which makes them timeless, feeling many different emotions such as awe and gratitude for her setting women free from wearing restrictive designs while maintaining an aura of sexy.
I perused the hall of literature; in the center was a glass display with a lone first-edition, first-print of Ulysses by James Joyce. I skipped reading the description provided on my first pass and turned my attention to the other side of the hall with copies of The Great Gatsby and The Wastelands. Sheet music and photographs of Gershwin composing led me into another room with an e.e. cummings quote, “the world becoming bright and a little melted.” This might’ve been my favorite room if I have to choose one. Cummings has inspired me to write all my life; he’s one of the finest, bravest poets and like Chanel set people free from oppressive ideas and led writers to literary platforms to express themselves.
There was a line sketch made of black crayon by cummings in this room, from a boxing event he attended with his jolly crew in 1922. It is said one of the boxers in the ring is Hemmingway, making this piece a grand discovery for Dr. Riley who curated this collection knowing what a rare find this was and how it would elevate visitors’ experiences by tying many historical elements together. The camaraderie of artists during that era, the multi-talents showcased, and the idolization of creative social gatherings during a revolution in politics, religion, societal roles, and art.
Sculptures by Gaston Lachaise worshiping his wife circled the outer perimeter of the same room, another member of the cummings-Hemmingway-Fitzgerald crew, enlightening the world with uniquely romantic perspectives on what makes a woman beautiful, unafraid to expose his love and devotion. Standing in this room, there’s no denying The Jazz Age changed how people inspired, defined and presented themselves through art into daily life.
Admittedly, I did not record audio or write notes during my personal tour from the director Charles Riley. I knew in the moment it really had to be experienced, so a lot of the histories and stories behind the exhibit have escaped me, even with the photo collection to help jog my memory. No regret, really, but as I try to describe the visit, I find myself yet again simply encouraging you to experience it for yourself. The museum is cozy, warm, and welcoming. It was a great place to visit, forget about life for a little while, and ignite the creative starts that keep this arts section going.
I shall leave this here for now, but stay tuned for more on the Nassau County Museum of Art. I have plenty more to share from my first visit (like the whole second floor and The Manes Center) and hope to catch their new exhibit True Colors, which looks like a whole lot of fun as the summer comes to an end and the holidays loom. There are more people to meet, stories to tell, and events to attend! When shall we meet!?
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Have any ideas for exhibits you’d like us to check out? An artist who would like to be featured? A collective or organization with events you’d like promoted? Send over an email! firstname.lastname@example.org