Artless in America: For the Final Installment of Her Column, a Few of the Columnist’s Favorite Things

Dragons and monkeys and fish, oh my!

Room #464
The Monkey King Vali’s Funeral Pyre
, from a Ramayana series, ca. 1780, Indian
This work—in ink, opaque watercolor, silver and gold on paper—portrays swarms of monkeys in the aftermath of the overthrow of monkey king Vali, who has recently been deposed by his brother monkey, Sugriva, with the help of the Vishnu avatar Rama. I recently was so engrossed by all the incredible detail in the illustration that I had to be reminded that the museum was closing.

Room #354
Headdress Effigy (Hareiga)
Chachet Baining people, late 19th-early 20th century, Papua New Guinea
The 2005 Noah Baumbach movie The Squid and the Whale confirmed what New York’s children already knew: that the Museum of Natural History’s giant squid installation is terrifying. The only thing as haunting to city kids is this awesome 50-foot headdress, made of barkcloth, bamboo, leaves and paint, which incidentally resembles a giant squid. It was once worn for a harvest-rite dance; at the Met it appears to be lurching at you.

Room #909
Ice gun, designer unknown, ca. 1935, American
This yellow gun is included in the exhibition “Highlights of the Modern Design Collection: 1900-2010, Part II,” which closes on July 1, so the race is on to view the L.A.-manufactured enameled and chrome-plated steel device. Its design was inspired by Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, a wall label informs, adding that it “crushed ice cubes with the pull of its spring-driven trigger, shooting ice—instead of death rays—into a glass held beneath it.” In case you thought the ice gun shot death rays. It doesn’t.

Room #217
Chinese Courtyard in the Style of the Ming Dynasty
Brooke Russell Astor’s childhood years in China “inspired” this room, which I’ve only ever wandered into by mistake. It is a perfect sanctuary within the bustle of the museum, constructed in 1980 by 26 Chinese craftsmen (and one chef) who labored for half a year in New York, using tiles made in an 18th-century imperial kiln that was fired up specifically for the task. The best part is that there are live koi fish in a small pond in the corner of the room. Fish in an art museum—at least someone gets to live there!

Artless in America: For the Final Installment of Her Column, a Few of the Columnist’s Favorite Things