A Brooklyn Muse

"The Greek Slave" by Hiram Powers

New York City is a great place for someone like me who loves the arts. There are performing arts like music and dance, and visual arts like painting, drawing and sculpture. For the former, we have places like Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall; for the latter, there are places like the Met, MoMA, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, the International Center of Photography, the Frick Collection and the Morgan Library – not to mention an almost innumerable number of galleries.
As readers of this blog will surely know, I enjoy the art of the nude figure, and there are certainly many fine examples of this genre here in the city, in both two and three dimensions. Still, I think that the finest example is not in any of those places I mentioned, all of which are in Manhattan. I believe that it’s “The Greek Slave,” a sculpture by the American artist Hiram Powers, located here on my side of the East River, in the Brooklyn Museum.

I first visited this museum on a high school trip and returned many times after that. I’ve read that it’s the second largest museum in New York City. Someone once wrote that if it were in any city other than New York (with perhaps a few exceptions), it would be THE cultural attraction in town. It has one of the world’s premier collections of ancient Egyptian art and a wonderful collection of American art. Sadly, because it is not in Manhattan, there are plenty of morons out there who won’t lower themselves to cross the river to go.
Still, that is their loss. For some reason, though, I hadn’t gone for a while. Last December, when I was renewing my memberships at the Met and ICP (in time to get the 2010 tax deduction), I was thinking of joining the Museum of Modern Art for the first time. Then I stopped and changed my mind. I chose the Brooklyn Museum instead, both to support a more local institution and to give me the impetus to go more often if the admission fee’s been already paid.
Well, that last part didn’t quite work out. Every time I planned to go, something else would come up that I had to take care of. Finally, last weekend, I said that enough was enough and I went. I was glad that I did, feeling a bit like I had finally come home, walking through the permanent collections after first seeing a very good temporary exhibit of American art of the 1920’s (including photographs by Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Paul Strand, etc.).

As for “The Greek Slave,” you can read more about it here. I will say that the first version was carved by Powers in Italy in 1844, and that the one in Brooklyn is one of several copies he made over the ensuing years. It looks classical, but it’s supposed to represent a Greek girl being sold by the Turks during the Greek war of independence, and Powers countered claims that the nudity was obscene by saying that she was an example of Christian purity. (Whatever.) I remember reading that when the Brooklyn version was first displayed, there were separate viewing hours for men and women. It also became a symbol of the abolitionist movement during the Civil War.
Regardless of all that, it is above all a beautiful work of art. I hope you’ll enjoy my photographs of it here.  Even better will be for you to go see it for yourselves if you can.

Of course, those Manhattan museums are worth crossing the East River to see, and last weekend I also went to the Met  to see its newly re-opened galleries for (let’s see if I get this right) the art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia. (These used to be called the galleries for Islamic Art, which was a helluva lot easier to say, so I may now just refer to them as the “Alticalsa” galleries.)
There are many beautiful things to see here, including many wonderful works that were created during a time when Christian Europe was mired in the dark ages. They’re well worth seeing, too. Here’s a close-up photo I took of one small item.

About Dave Rudin

Dave Rudin is a fine art photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. He specializes in art nude and travel photography, using black & white film and making silver gelatin prints in a darkroom.
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2 Responses to A Brooklyn Muse

  1. Lin says:

    What beautiful art to wake up to on a Sunday morning. Thanks Dave!

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