Selecting the best of New York City’s arts scene
A lot of people say they don’t like details but what they seem to mean is they don’t like detail that can’t be applied to their own experiences. In an odd way, that makes sense. After all, how can you be interested in stories or histories if you can’t find some point that connects you to them? In that case, the challenge is to find a way to transmit information in such a compelling way, people become interested in spite of themselves.
For example, you live in a city (or near one or work in one) but you’ve never thought about why it looks the way it does. You only notice the streets, buildings, transit, and traffic when something goes wrong. But what if you could see below the surface of all that: the questions, planning, and execution of a cityscape can be a dramatic spectacle, a never ending story of creation and destruction equal to the biggest movie blockbuster? Well, the exhibit Made in Tokyo: Architecture and Living, 1964/2020 at the Japan Society Gallery, doesn’t have a narrative as melodramatic as that, but what it does have is a lot of fascinating detail on how a city population that goes from around 9 million to more than 13 million people daily is being treated and accommodated as construction for the 2020 Summer Olympics goes on around them. The current activity is compared to the last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics in 1964, and how the city coped with the massive change to the urban landscape as well as to cultural issues. As you go through this exhibit, you’ll find yourself connecting the information to NYC’s current trends in development and wondering why we don’t use some of Tokyo’s ideas here.
Or maybe you’ve always found history to be boring. It always seems to have the same pattern: man is put into situation/has great idea, man reacts to situation (always being on the winning side)/discovers new thing, man immortalized in the history books. But every society throughout the ages isn’t just composed of men. Women have accomplished great things in the areas of arts, industry, sciences, and nation building as well, even if their numbers were small and their work often wasn’t credited by their male counterparts. Another problem is those who collected documentation didn’t consider information about woman’s work to be worth the effort of preserving. Historians and readers have suffered as the result of that decision: without a genuinely inclusive account of the past, it’s difficult to move forward as a society or country. However, over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries, Lisa Unger Baskin has been collecting writings and documentation about the unknown but essential women of the past and their work, leading to the exhibit Five Hundred Years of Women’s Work: The Lisa Unger Baskin Collection at the Grolier Club. In the show, you’ll see a wide range of professions and social classes actively involved in everything from political reform to running their own businesses, contributing to society, proving repeatedly the value and merit of their efforts. The backgrounds of these women are fascinating, and regardless of your own identity, you’ll find many of the details very relatable and even inspiring. It’s more than history coming to life: it’s history that begins to feel more inclusive and comprehensive.