Yes, this staying at home and social-distancing routine is getting tiresome. But don’t forget that you can still enjoy lots of art and culture online and, in many cities, on foot, and by car.
If chess is one of the games you’ve been playing at home, you can learn about the history of the game and see some incredible chess sets in the online exhibition offered by the Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, WA.
If it seems like murals are taking over all the blank walls in many cities, you’re right.
But that makes it possible to take in free art shows from your car or during a socially distanced stroll through a city any time of the day.
Many cities also make their mural collection accessible online. One example: in Florida, the SHINE Mural Festival curates more than 90 murals in the St. Pete/Clearwater area and its virtual tours include photos, videos, and, in many cases, audio descriptions of the artworks.
The pieces depict a “a universal connection between people and the universe” and are located at the top of and alongside the Terminal 1 Metrolink escalator.
At San Francisco International Airport (SFO), the SFO Museum has a new exhibition about the history of lace from the 1600s to the 1900s.
Included is this fan from the late 1800s.
According to the museum notes, the folding fan originated in Japan and was introduced to Europe in the second half of the sixteenth century as a fashion accessory and “as a subtle tool for flirting with suitors.”
During the Victorian Era, when a woman drew her fan across her cheek it supposedly meant, “I love you.” Fanning slowly meant: “I am married.”
The exhibit – Lace: A Sumptuous History – includes edgings, lappets, parasols, gloves, collars, dresses and more and is on display on the departures level of the International Terminal, pre-security, through June 2014.
If you want to see some of the greatest art in New York City, steer clear of the museums and the art galleries.
Head instead to the bars, restaurants, skyscraper lobbies, airports and public buildings where the walls are adorned with murals by the likes of Marc Chagall, Roy Lichtenstein, Maxfield Parrish, Keith Haring and other celebrated artists.
“It’s like a museum, except the art collection is scattered around town and not just under one roof,” said Glenn Palmer-Smith, author of “Murals of New City: The Best of New York’s Public Paintings from Bemelmans to Parrish,” a new book with lush photographs from Joshua McHugh and detailed essays documenting the stories behind more than 30 of the city’s important murals.
Some of Palmer-Smith’s favorites may take a little work to find, but many are clustered in midtown, just steps from the shops, restaurants, museums, theaters and attractions likely to be visited by many of 5 million visitors city tourism officials are expecting in town this holiday season.
In Radio City Music Hall, where tourists flock to see the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” there are three notable murals. Ezra Winter’s 40-by-60 foot “Quest for the Fountain of Eternal Youth” – a painting Palmer-Smith said was originally “reviled and ridiculed” by critics – is above the main lobby’s grand staircase. “Men without Women,” by Stuart Davis, is in the men’s lounge and, in the women’s lounge, there’s a mural by Japanese painter Yasuo Kuniyoshi that’s based on the flower theme that Georgia O’Keefe had originally created and been commissioned to paint.
The city’s largest mural is Paul César Helleu’s 80,000-square-foot depiction of the constellations in the night sky. It stretches across the ceiling of the main room at Grand Central Terminal and, as it took an amateur astronomer to point out about a month after the terminal opened in 1913, the mural displays the signs of the zodiac in reverse. The mural was restored in 1945 and, after becoming blackened by smoke and city soot, refreshed again in the late 1990s.
When you’re in the terminal, look up in the northwest corner,” said Palmer-Smith, “There’s a patch of the ceiling that was left untouched, so you can see what it looked like before the cleaning.”
Keep looking around the city and you’ll find two murals by Marc Chagall at the Metropolitan Opera, a mural 62-feet tall and more than 35-feet wide by Roy Lichtenstein in the atrium of the Axa Equitable Center (787 Seventh Ave.), Maxfield Parrish’s 30-foot-long mural in the King Cole Bar in the St. Regis Hotel (2 East 55th St.) and work by Keith Haring in several spots around the city.
And then there are the two murals created by Edward Sorel, whose illustrations and caricatures are familiar to readers of The New Yorker and many other magazines. Sorel’s mural in the main dining room of the Monkey Bar in the Hotel Elysée (60 East 54th St.) is populated by a caricatured crowd of celebrities from the 1920s and 1930s, everyone from Isadora Duncan, Joe Lewis and Fats Waller to Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Babe Ruth, Cary Grant and Mae West.
“The Monkey Bar mural is a lot of New Yorkers who were famous celebrities between the first and second World Wars,” said Sorel. “But my favorite is the mural I did for the Waverly Inn in Greenwich Village. That one has caricatures of a lot of the creative, bohemian people who lived in the Village and those people were more interesting to me than the celebrities.”
Forty-three people are portrayed in the mural Sorel created for The Waverly’s dining room, including Allen Ginsberg, Fran Lebowitz, Edgar Allan Poe, Bob Dylan, Norman Mailer and Jack Kerouac.
Public murals “provide a lens through which visitors or viewers can understand the city with some historical perspective,” said Joshua McHugh, the book’s photographer. “Additionally, though, like all successful artworks, these murals create room for dialogue with viewers of any era, helping to make them living and breathing documents.”
Of course, New York isn’t the only city with an impressive collection of publicly accessible murals. Artists hired by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression painted murals that remain in post offices, libraries, courthouses and other civic buildings around the country.
And in tiny Toppenish, Washington 75 historically accurate outdoor murals dot a city less than two miles square. Each year, on the first Saturday in June, the Toppenish Mural Society sets up bleachers so onlookers can watch artists complete another mural in just one day.
Courtesy Toppenish Mural Society
“People come in the morning to watch the process begin. Then they go grab lunch, maybe look at the other murals in town or visit a winery,” said John Cooper, president and CEO of the Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau. “They might return in late afternoon to see the end result or just stay and sit and watch the paint dry.”
“Murals are big and bold and beautiful,” said Jane Golden, executive director for Philadelphia’s Mural Arts program, a city where more than 3,600 murals have been created in just the past 30 years, “and a welcome departure from the billboards all around us.”
(My story about murals in NYC – and beyond – first appeared on NBC News Travel in a slightly different form. All photos, except Toppenish, WA by Joshua McHugh.)
Flight was the last and largest mural produced under the auspices of the WPA and is 237 feet long by 12 feet high and, appropriately enough, tells the story of the history of flight.
Here’s Palmer-Smith’s description:
“The narrative flows from the mythology of Icarus and Daedalus to the genius of da Vinci and the Wright brothers. Pre–World War II aerial navigators are shown plotting their routes with paper maps and rulers. The culmination of man’s dream arrives at the golden age of the ‘flying boat,’ when glamorous Pan Am Clipper seaplanes would land on water after a flight from Lisbon, Rio, or any city with a sheltered harbor, and taxi up to the Marine Air Terminal dock.”
In 1952, after being on the wall for just a decade, the mural was painted over. It was the height of the McCarthy era and officials at the Port Authority thought the imagery somehow looked too socialist.
“In particular, these self-appointed art critics took exception to the mural’s suggestion that air travel would be available one day for ordinary people and not just the military and the rich,” notes Palmer-Smith.
Lucky for us, the mural had been sealed in varnish and was eventually discovered, restored and finally rededicated in 1980. It’s now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
In Cincinnati, Ohio in 1974 a portion of the city’s Union Railway Terminal was to be demolished, fourteen 20 foot by 20 foot Art Deco mosaic tile and painted stucco murals made by Winhold Reiss in the early 1930s were moved to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport, CVG.
The murals portray a wide range of local industrial history and have become a local tourist attraction. “We give around 150 tours a year for approximately 2,500 people,” said airport spokesperson Molly Flanagan, “and the murals are major part of that.”
In addition to the murals at CVG, the Art Deco-style terminal at Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport is home to two large oil-on-canvas paintings, created by William H. Gothard in 1937. “While today it is a general aviation airport, Lunken was at one time the largest commercial airport in the United States,” said Betsey Sanpere, creator of the Facebook page Arts in the Airports.
In the late 1930’s, local artist George Snow Hill created seven murals depicting the history of flight for what was then Tampa’s newly built Peter O. Knight Airport. When a new terminal was built, in 1971, the murals went along, but most ended up rolled up and improperly stored away.
A triptych showing the first scheduled airline flight in history and the panel about the Wright Brothers were displayed at the airport’s executive suite, but the murals showing contributions made by Icarus and Daedalus, Archimedes, The Montgolfier Brothers, Otto Lilienthal and Tony Jannus were getting ruined in storage.
A major mural restoration project was linked to the construction of Tampa Airport’s Terminal E and, according to airport spokesperson Brenda Geoghagan, the post-security concourse area was designed to accommodate all seven murals.
These aren’t the only airports with murals that needed to be saved. The Marine Terminal at New York’s LaGuardia Airport is home to “Flight,” a Works Project Administration mural painted in 1939-42 by James Brooks that tells the story of human flight beginning with Greek mythology on through to the mid-20th century. 12 feet high and 235 feet long, is it supposedly the largest WPA mural ever attempted. The mural was painted over in 1952, but uncovered, restored and named a city landmark in 1980.
And Sanpere, of Arts in Airports, is monitoring the six, ten-foot by ten-foot, colorful, transit-themed murals by Xavier Gonzalez currently behind protective walls at the art-deco terminal at Lakefront Airport on Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans. “The terminal is being accurately restored to its prior pre-Hurricane Katrina status and the entire city is waiting to see these paintings, which have been covered for decades,” said Sanpere.
While some murals need to be saved so the public can view them, at least one airport mural was created to save a view.
As part of a $35 million runway safety area improvement project completed in 2005, Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport had to relocate a creek and a roadway and construct a large embankment and a 30 foot by 800 foot retaining wall.
Rather than leave the wall blank and mar the view, the airport commissioned Eric Henn to paint a trompe l’oeil mural depicting a stone bridge, a federal style house and images from Kentucky horse farms.
The mural is so realistic-looking that “as an extra safety precaution we do publish information about the mural in publications typically accessed by visiting pilots,” said airport spokesperson Amy Caudill.