Museum Challenge: Celebrating the Year of the Rooster @ The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the Chinese calendar, it’s the Year of the Rooster. I didn’t even realize that until I saw an exhibit listed to celebrate the Rooster in the Chinese galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I tried to guess at how they could put together an entire gallery of roosters. Rows and rows of roosters, in all mediums. Oil paintings of roosters, clay statues of roosters, pottery with roosters on it. Big roosters, tiny roosters. In my imagination, it was glorious, so of course, I made it a point to go check it out.

I had to ask for help finding the exhibit because I was standing where it was marked on the museum’s map, but I only saw one lonely rooster (pictured above). Unfortunately, that one lonely rooster was almost all there was to look at. There was also one wall display box with a few pieces of art in it and a wall placard explaining the significance of the Chinese zodiac animals.

When I think of an exhibit, I think of something substantial. I honestly felt like the advertisement was a bait and switch just to get people into the museum, which feels cheap and unworthy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art as an institution. Or maybe I’m just sad because I was hoping for something exciting or impressive. Something more. I guess I hold the museum to a higher standard because I hold it in such high regard.

Metropolitan Museum of Art - Year of the Rooster and Asian Art Gallery (March 2017)//, I did see some really old artifacts from China while walking back out of the Asian galleries that caught my interest. They were objects placed in burial chambers for royalty. They looked like buildings and servants and objects for service and entertainment. It’s a lot like what Pharaohs were buried with in Egypt. It’s odd how similar ideas were popping up all around the world in roughly the same time period. I was reminded of how the pyramids were built in Egypt, but that there were also pyramids being built in Central America. There are the remains of ziggurats in the Middle East, but there are also remains of similar structures on the ocean floor near Japan. I wonder how they’re all connected?

Also, turns out I was born in the year of the Rooster. Gong xi fa cai!

Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters

My wife and I have been taking some time to go out for long walks while I’m not so swamped with classwork. Central Park is nice, but we live a lot closer to Fort Tryon Park, which is also an awesome place to visit. We can walk there from where we live and the park itself has some great views of the Hudson River and The Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that houses a large part of the museum’s medieval collection.

We walked around there on a Saturday afternoon. Since it was a Saturday afternoon, the park was full of Jewish people relaxing for Shabbat. We saw families sitting on benches, walking together, taking in the view, and kids playing. There were groups of people on picnic blankets and some playing games.

My wife and I would like to go back and have a picnic. Maybe we can pull that off this weekend.

The Brooklyn Museum Photo Gallery

I never would have guessed there was another big museum out in Brooklyn on the north end of Prospect Park, but some friends of ours asked us if we wanted to meet up out there and take a look around there and the Botanic Gardens. It turned out to be a really good trip.

The museum is bizarrely light on displayed items, considering how much the Met has sitting in storage, collecting dust. You’d think they’d share their inventory and more effectively utilize the space available in the Brooklyn Museum, but what they do have there is definitely worth the time it takes to have a look around, especially if you don’t want to deal with the crowds that are usually shuffling through the Met. My only other complaint is the big glass monstrosity (aka the new lobby) that was attached to the front of the building. It destroyed the beauty of the original architecture.

My favorite photos of stuff from the museum’s incredibly diverse collection:

The Tupelo Elvis Experience

Between semesters, my wife and I went to Tupelo, Mississippi to visit some friends who are about to move abroad for a few years. I didn’t know anything about Tupelo before planning the trip. I had to look the place up on a map just to figure out where it is. Tupelo isn’t a large or bustling city. According to the town’s Wikipedia entry, it has “a population of 37,559, with the surrounding counties of Lee, Pontotoc and Itawamba supporting a population of 146,131.” It’s a one traffic-light kind of place. It did have a mall and a Barnes & Noble, which was nice. What surprised me most, though, was when I saw a sign directing people to the birthplace of Elvis Presley. I was thinking, ‘Wow! Elvis was born here?‘ I’d just always assumed he was from Memphis, probably because that’s where he became famous.

Anyhow, we didn’t go to Tupelo to see Elvis; we were there to spend time with our friends, so when I saw the sign for the location, I didn’t mention it. But, when they suggested we stop by Elvis’ birthplace one evening, my wife and I were happy to agree. I mean, why not? It’ll probably be the one and only time we’ll ever see the place. I can’t imagine ever having a reason to be back in Tupelo. Not that it’s a bad place to be, but travel is expensive and there are plenty of places to visit in the world.

Replica of the 1939 green Plymouth sedan that carried Elvis' family to Memphis.
Replica of the 1939 green Plymouth sedan that carried Elvis’ family to Memphis.

The first thing we saw when we pulled up at the Elvis birthplace site was an old car sitting out front. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a replica of the 1939 Plymouth sedan that the Presley family drove when they left Tupelo for Memphis, which is where Elvis became famous.

House Elvis Presley was born in.
House Elvis Presley was born in.

Also close to the parking lot is the actual house where Elvis was born. It was in good shape. The only odd thing about it was the large air conditioning unit hooked up to the back of it. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have one of those when Elvis was growing up!

The house is surrounded by a “Walk of Life” which is a rounded set of paving stones with important years and events noted. Since it circles the house, I was humming the Lion King tune, “Circle of Life” to myself while looking at it. It’s pretty informative. I was surprised to find out that Elvis had a twin brother who was stillborn and that his father had spent some time in jail.

Elvis' Birthplace
Elvis’ Birthplace

The grounds are fairly nice. They’re certainly well-maintained, which is understandable. I imagine a lot of revenue enters Tupelo because of its connection to Elvis Presley.

Fountain at Elvis' birthplace with key dates.
Fountain at Elvis’ birthplace with key dates.

This fountain had plaques inset into the walls showing key dates in Elvis’ life, including his birth, move to Memphis and death.

Grove of trees around a statue of 13 year old Elvis Presley
Grove of trees around a statue of 13 year old Elvis Presley
Statue of Elvis at 13 years old.
Statue of Elvis at 13 years old.

In a grove of trees a bronze statue was set up of Elvis when he was 13 years old.

Assembly of God church that Elvis attended as a child.
Assembly of God church that Elvis attended as a child.

The Assembly of God church that Elvis attended as a child was moved to the location, so visitors could see the where Elvis received some of his inspiration. Other plaques set up around the area mentioned that Elvis was inspired by African-American music and rhythms. He was born poor, so he spent most of his time on the “wrong” side of the tracks where the poor African-Americans lived. The area was referred to as Shake Rag.

When we visited the site, the museum was already closed, so we didn’t get to look around inside. The Elvis Presley memorial chapel was also closed. I thought that was interesting, that a chapel was included at a museum. You don’t see religion mixed with much of anything these days. It was probably justified by the large influence that gospel music played in producing Elvis’ style.

We did get to look in the outhouse, but inside the door there was a plexiglass shield, probably to keep people from actually sitting down and relieving themselves.

Tupelo, Mississippi City Hall
Tupelo, Mississippi City Hall

Elvis is a pretty big deal in Tupelo, so he isn’t just represented at his birthplace; he also has a bronze statue in front of City Hall. The statue replicates a photo taken by Roger Marshutz (shown below) during Elvis’ 1956 homecoming concert.

Bronze statue of Elvis in front of Tupelo City Hall
Bronze statue of Elvis in front of Tupelo City Hall
Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi October 26, 1956 © 1978 Roger Marshutz
Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi October 26, 1956 © 1978 Roger Marshutz

I’m not the biggest Elvis fan. I don’t have a favorite Elvis song and I can’t remember the last time I looked up Elvis music online. Still, he’s an American classic and his music is still good. I don’t think I’ll suddenly become a die-hard Elvis fan, but I think I’ll spend some more time listening to his music and I’ll maybe even understand it better, now that I have an idea of where he came from.