Cooper Hewitt Design Museum reopens this weekend after 3-year renovation

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo

A few shots from my visit to the newly renovated Cooper Hewitt. (Photos: @collazoprojects)
A few shots from my visit to the newly renovated Cooper Hewitt. (Photos: @collazoprojects)

Let’s just cut right to the chase: I don’t adore the newly renovated Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, which seems like an absolutely terrible and unkind thing to say since the museum has been closed for three years, undergoing a meticulous $91 million once-over.

As I walked away from Tuesday morning’s media preview of the museum, which will reopen to the public this Friday, December 12, I searched for the right word to describe why such an ambitious project left me feeling so dissatisfied. The word is: incohesive. Among the 726 objects on display, there are some compelling ones, including Abraham Lincoln’s funeral pall and pocket watch, a pair of Toscanini’s pants, and–coming up to the present century–Damian Ortega’s most impressive installation of tools, “Controller of the Universe.” There’s also the Hansen Writing Ball and a Comstock Knitter, both of which are glorious representations of 19th-century industrial design.

But for every “Ooh” “Aah,” “Weren’t those the glory days of design?” object, there’s one that feels a little out of place, either “Too soon, too soon” (ie: the iPhone and MacBook Air) or boring because of its predictability and ubiquity in other museums (I’m looking at you, Zig-Zag and Vermelha chairs). Mostly, though, the collection as it is presented feels incredibly disjointed, the attempt to be representative yet selective not even cohering well within discrete exhibits, and far less across and among them.

That’s not to say I’m unswayed by the Cooper Hewitt’s new charms, however. I’m impressed by the effort and (most of) the execution of the museum’s new hands-on interactive elements, as well as the places in the museum where exhibits try to explain how design is relevant to daily life. The Cooper Hewitt has always excelled in this regard; its 2007 exhibit, “Design for the Other 90%,” was exceptional. When Cooper Hewitt’s good, it’s good. But that’s precisely what makes the “Meh” parts so disappointing.

Overlooked New York: Louis Armstrong’s House

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: wallyg (via Flickr, under a Creative Commons license)
Corona, the neighborhood where Louis Armstrong lived, is like a lot of harder-to-reach, just-far-enough-out-of-the-way outer-boro neighborhoods, which is to say: a bit down on its heels. The benefit? There are actual homes here, unlike the more densely constructed neighborhoods where people live in plain-faced multi-family walk-ups or tall, shiny, jewel box apartment buildings, all curves and abstractions that will eventually render red brick an architectural relic in New York City.

Louis Armstrong's House in Corona, Queens, NYC.
Louis Armstrong's House in Corona, Queens, NYC.

As I always do when I time travel without leaving the 21st century, I wondered how Corona was different when Armstrong moved here in 1943. And I wondered why he stayed for nearly 30 years–until death evicted him.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Corona… or with Armstrong’s home, which is on a quiet, tree-lined street. Did Corona serve as retreat and respite from the city’s core, or did it feel a bit too removed from the Manhattan action, the Midtown and downtown jazz clubs, and, farther still, the Cotton Club all the way up on 142nd^?

You have to love Armstrong to come to Corona. But to be surrounded by other jazz lovers who can’t forget Satchmo’s legacy, and to see the place where he lived and worked on so many of his songs, it’s worth the trek.

Armstrong’s home was donated to the city in 1986; by 1988, it had been declared a city landmark, and in 2003, it was opened to the general public as a museum. You can visit Tuesday-Sunday; full details for planning a visit are on the museum’s website.

Have you visited any “out of the way, but worth it” sites on your travels? Tell us about them in the comments.

^The original Cotton Club was on Malcolm X and 142nd. The contemporary Cotton Club is on 125th.

#FriFoto: Museums

Text & Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo

The biggest challenge of #FriFoto is choosing a single image to fit the week’s theme. Sometimes, as with the oceans theme a couple weeks ago, it’s impossible to choose just one photo. I’m tempted to put a series of images up for today’s theme, Museums, but since I’m on deadline, I’ll stick with just one:

The Dali Museum in Figueres, Spain
The Dali Museum in Figueres, Spain

More photos from the Dali Museum are in this portfolio.

What’s a memorable museum you’ve visited? Share a favorite in the comments.

New York City Police Museum/Museo de la Policia de Nueva York

Text & Photos: Francisco Collazo
Translation: Julie Schwietert Collazo
[vease abajo para la version en espanol]

“Every time we go out, you act like you’ve just gotten off the boat like a refugee,” my wife jokes.

But really, I think she’s right.

It’s hard to go out in New York City without finding something new or interesting. It doesn’t matter how much time you’ve lived here. When we come home from traveling, we always have to familiarize ourselves with the city again. It’s strange; I suppose you don’t have to do the same thing in most other places.

It was only recently that I learned about the New York City Police Museum. During a tour of the city in a double-decker bus, our tour guide mentioned the museum and pointed out its location.

Today, we decided to visit it. Though relatively small, the museum could expand its existing collection with even more interesting objects. It’s a place that’s likely to be very interesting for anyone who wants to know about the history and evolution of the NYPD. Nevertheless, the museum has also been under heavy criticism from city historians, who accuse curators of avoiding the exhibition of items that might be controversial, yet which are also part of the city’s police history.

The museum is housed inside the building that served as the city’s First Precinct, which is located in lower Manhattan near Wall Street. The building itself is a testament to the NYPD’s history. And today, the area is convenient to several subway lines and other services, including banks, restaurants, and shops.

Among the items displayed is a collection of police uniforms from the 1800s to the present day. There’s a replica of a prison cell, an extensive arms collection (including a pistol used by Al Capone), a wall of accused criminals’ photos, taken around the turn of the century, and a collection of items salvaged from the debris of the September 11 attacks.

The museum offers a quick glance inside the department and is a great place to visit with kids during downtime. You can see the entire museum in just over an hour. It’s an ideal place to escape the intense summer heat, the winter’s cold, or to take part in the lectures and family programs the museum offers.

I’ve lived in this city more than eight years and I can’t stay that I know it top to bottom. Everything here happens quickly and without notice. Every summer is like arriving to the city for the first time. I still have the same curiosity about New York that I felt the first day. Lectures, open air concerns, and activities of every type cover the city, from north to south and east to west. The faltering economy has hit the city hard, causing it to scale back the activities it’s offered in the past, but there’s still life pulsing in this city that never sleeps.

Cada salida a la ciudad de Nueva York es como si acabara de llegar en un bote como refugiado-me dice mi esposa.

Y creo que es verdad.

Es difícil pasear la ciudad y no encontrar nada nuevo o de interés. No importa cuanto tiempo vivas aquí.

Cuando viajamos fuera de Nueva York por unos días, al regresar tenemos que familiarizarnos de nuevo con esta ciudad. Cosa esta muy extraña y que no sucede con muchas ciudades en el mundo o mejor dicho en muchas otras ciudades.

Hasta hace muy poco no conocía de la existencia del Museo de la Policía de Nueva York. Fue durante un recorrido por la ciudad en esos buses de dos pisos que escuchamos al guía de turismo mencionarlo y señalar el edificio donde se encontraba.

Hoy hemos decididos visitarlo. Este museo aunque relativamente muy pequeño, podría en mi opinión agrupar aun mas cosas interesantes. Es un sitio que puede ser de mucho interés para todo aquel que quiera saber sobre la historia y evolución del departamento de la policía en esta ciudad. Sin embargo, este museo esta bajo fuerte criticismo por parte de los historiadores de la ciudad, quienes lo acusan de no exhibir hechos de naturaleza mas controversiales que también son parte de la historia de este departamento policial.

El museo se encuentra localizado en el edificio que sirvió de Precinto Numero #1 en la parte baja de Manhattan cerca de la Calle Wall. Lugar muy conveniente por su transportación y servicios: bancos comerciales, café, restaurantes, tiendas y librerías de todo tipo.

Este pequeño lugar es un eslabón clave con el pasado de este departamento. Aquí se exhibe una colección de uniformes de la policía desde el 1800s hasta el presente. También muestra una replica de una celda para prisioneros, una colección de armas, incluso una pistola usada por Al Capone y fotos de detenidos con su fichas y cargos criminales, videos y objetos recuperados después del ataque del 11 de Septiembre del 2001 en las ruinas de los gemelos en el bajo Manhattan.

Este museo es una pequeña mirada dentro de este departamento y un buen lugar para visitarlo con niños durante tiempo de oseo. La visita en su totalidad se puede hacer en un poco mas de una hora. Un buen sitio para escapar el fuerte calor del verano, el frío del invierno o para participar en las lecturas y programas que allí se ofrecen.

Han pasado mas de 8 años que vivo en esta ciudad y no puedo decir con toda seguridad que la conozco de arriba abajo. Todo aquí sucede tan rápido y sin aviso. Cada verano es como si arribara a una ciudad nueva por primera vez. Me siento con la curiosidad del primer día. Lecturas, música al aire libre y actividades de todo tipo cubren la ciudad de norte a sur y de este a oeste. La decadente economía le ha dado un golpe fuerte en comparación a lo que ella ha ofrecido en el pasado, pero todavía le queda vida a la ciudad que nunca duerme.

Museo de Chocolate de La Habana/Havana’s Chocolate Museum

Text: Martin Pei de la Paz
Photos: Brayan Collazo; Indrani Soemardjan
Translated by: Julie Schwietert Collazo
[vease abajo para la version en espanol]
Every day, millions of people around the world consume chocolate in some form. Chocolate can be found in candies, drinks, and toiletries; it’s even been used in clothing designs and in the manufacture of exotic objects. If you’re a chocolate aficcionado and you happen to be in Havana, be sure to stop by the Chocolate Museum.

With a name like “Chocolate Museum,” perhaps you imagine a museum like any other, full of items with historical value, rare objects, antiques, precious artifcats, and an extensive collection of books, photos, and documents on display.

This museum isn’t exactly like that. This museum is for the display of the ordinary and the common, not just from Cuba, but also from Spain, Belgium, and Mexico… but what is true is that all the items in this “collection” are somehow related to the culture of cacao and chocolate.

Master chocolate makers from Belgium came to Havana to train an elite group in artisanal chocolate-making so they could open a store in Havana where chocolate truffles, bon bons, and bars would be made in front of visitors.

Bears and tobacco leaves are some of the whimsical figures this new generation of Cuban chocolate artists is turning out. The chocolates also run the gamut with respect to the percentage of cacao and sugar each piece contains; there’s bitter, dark, milk, and white chocolate on display here.

The museum is climatized and well furnished, offering several tables from which guests can enjoy the museum’s collection and watch the chocolate makers at work.

And remember– the chocolate museum isn’t really a museum at all, but a cafe where you can enjoy this delicious aphrodisiac hot or cold.

Besides the candies, the Chocolate Museum has an extensive variety of tempting drinks, like the Aztec hot chocolate, mixed with black pepper and nutmeg. It really is a drink for the gods.

Ironically, the museum is located on “Bitter Street” (Calle Amargura), which gives it a special touch! It’s open to the public each day from 10 AM until 7:30 PM. Stop by for a visit– just be careful to keep your temptation and weight under control!

Millones de personas en el mundo consumen a diario chocolate o los derivados de el mismo. Este se encuentra en golosina, bebidas, lociones, e inclusive se ha utilizado para la construccion de piezas de vestir y en objetos exoticos. Si es usted uno de estos consumidores que esta en La Habana con confianza acérquese y visitelo.

Al escuchar Museo de Chocolate quizas su mente asocie e imagine un museo como cualquier otro, lleno de piezas de gran valor historico, objetos raros, colecciones antiguas y preciosas con extensa coleccion de libros, fotos, y documentos. Bueno, no exactamente. El museo del cual les hablo a decir verdad tiene piezas ordinarias y comunes, no solo de Cuba, sino tambien España, Bélgica y Mexico. Todos relacionados con la cultura del cacao y del chocolate.

Maestros chocolateros Belgas con mucha experiencia en el tema llegaron a La Habana para entrenar y formar un grupo de elite que tendría la tarea de encaminarse en el arte de la chocolatería y abrir en La Habana un lugar donde elaborar frente al cliente, bombones y tabletas de una manera diferente, artística y artesanal.

Desde un oso a un tabaco se mueven las caprichosas figuras que nos presentan los artistas de nueva generación de chocolateros cubanos. No solo se diferencian de la forma sino de la cantidad de cacao y azúcar en cada mezcla, dando lugar a los amargos, oscuros, con leche y blanco.

Climatizado y bien amueblado cuenta el museo con varias mesas desde donde se puede apreciar la colección del museo y a la vez a los chocolateros trabajando. De hecho el museo de chocolate no es un museo, sino una cafeteria donde se puede consumir este delicioso afrodiciaco frio o caliente.

Una gama de ofertas de bebidas que exhibe el museo es extensa y tentadora, como la taza de chocolate azteca mezclada con pimienta y nuez moscada es deleite para dioses para decir verdad.

Ironicamente este museo se encuentra hubicado en la calle “Amargura” la cual le da un toque especial! El mismo abre sus puertas al publico todos los días de 10:00 am a 7:30 pm. Y mi unica sugerencia es cuidado con las tentaciones y su peso.