If I had an afternoon and could only visit one museum in NYC it would be the Cloisters. The medieval art off-shoot of the Metropolitan Museum, the Cloisters is pretty much as far uptown as you can go. Take the “A” to practically the end of the earth and walk for 20-minutes, you’ll see the Hudson River and suddenly a castle on a hill and you’ll know you’re there. Because it takes a while to get to–even on the express A trains–and it’s a bit far from the action tucked as it is into Fort Tryon Park, the Cloisters isn’t overwhelmed with visitors and believe it or not, it’s a space where you can actually get a bit of calm and quiet amid the nuttiness of Manhattan. It’s also stunning. Actual bits of medieval and Renaissance architecture–mostly French–were painstakingly removed and reconstructed (come on, let’s argue the ethics of that in the comments, it’ll be fun!) and reassembled into a pseudo-monastery. It’s perfect. And luckily I have fantastic photos of it, not because I’m a decent photographer, because I’m not, but because my sister is. So, while most of my posts feature images taken by me, this one is special because it’s entirely illustrated with photos by my sister, Abbie Graham. Hallelujah for sisters and “borrowed” medieval buildings!
14 thoughts on “Stolen Buildings Never Looked So Good: the Cloisters, NYC”
So they just took the building from the original owners?
Sort-of. Here’s the history: http://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-museum/history-of-the-museum/the-cloisters-museum-and-gardens. Bits of buildings were “purchased” by people like Rockefeller and JP Morgan and moved to the US. However, at that period in museum/collecting history (and until very recently) very little consideration was given to maintaining cultural heritage or the proper way of acquiring/compensating/crediting places and cultures with the objects purchased/removed from them. The Elgin marbles originally from the Parthenon and currently housed in the British Museum are the posterchild for this sort of debate. Cultural heritage and repatriation are hugely thorny issues for museums and collectors, and while I don’t think there’s any real controversy over the bits of architecture at the Cloisters, it’s still an interesting question as to whether or not architecture should be moved in this way. I don’t have the answers, but it’s fascinating to consider (and I was being a bit facetious and calling them stolen buildings just makes a good headline. What can I say? I’m a bit of a sensationalist).
So it’s someone else’s cultural heritage. I see what youean by stolen. Apparently the history channel has a new show about that sort of thing.
Really do like your site. Great pictures. Which country was it btw, on a previous post?
Thanks! It’s the US– that was actually a picture of the Cloisters!
I love the Cloisters. It feels like you’re traveling to another country while in Manhattan—and now I know why, considering the (sketchy) back story.
It’s not wholly sketchy since this sort of thing was common practice at the time, but considered in 2014, yeah it seems a bit sketchy. It’s hard not to love though! Thanks for reading!
[…] if I were to hit up only one museum in NYC and I didn’t want to trek all the way up to the Cloisters, this would be it. I know, I know, I’m an art historian suggesting a non-art museum, what is […]
I loved the Cloisters. Thanks for taking me (and for the rockin’ photo credit). Hallelujah for sisters, indeed 🙂
I have never been to the Cloisters but they look amazing. As for moving architecture I think it depends on several issues. Yesterday I was visiting a NGO caring for heritage in Malaysua and their office is located in the old British quarters: a beautiful house and the woman explains to us that all the area was full of British officers housing varying in size and style according to the ranks of the officers. Only of course many of them have been razed to develop the very lucrative land and the remaining two are going to go in the next six months. At that point it seemed so preferable that they would move the houses rather than letting them being destroyed and lost. It seemed a lesser evil although moved away they would not link that area to a particular part of the city, of its history and evolution.
You bring up an interesting point– that sometimes moving things saves them. But, (and I don’t know what is right/wrong in this regard, I’m just thinking out loud; or in type as it were) should everything always be saved? Don’t objects/buildings etc have lifespans? Shouldn’t they “die” at some point? I don’t think we should willfully go out of our way to destroy things, but sometimes I think we need to let some stuff go with dignity. In Italy I’ve seen a wide range of approaches to preserving and not preserving objects/ruins/buildings, sometimes to the detriment of the individuals currently living around the object and sometimes to the object’s detriment and I think there has to be an incredibly careful balance struck between saving and letting things go… anyways, thanks for reading and your thoughtful comment!
[…] repatriation of objects are absurdly sticky (and I’ve touched on this stickiness before when discussing NYC’s Cloisters), you have to applaud the Germans for their looting past because MAN, the Pergamon Museum is […]
[…] at the Cloisters in NYC or the Pergamon Museum in Berlin (among other places too), putting buildings from far away inside […]