The Cloisters outdoor garden Heavenly Bodies exhibit

Flashback to an episode of Sex and the City when Sarah Jessica Parker’s character, Carrie,  introduces Miranda to “Manhattan Guy.” He’s the type of New Yorker who hasn’t left New York in over 10 years because he feels there is no need to leave. The city offers 24 hour access to the best culture, food, events, Central Park and cabs , all at your fingertips. They are known as a mutant strain of single men who graze at Zabar’s and frequent midnight showings at the Angelika (arts movie theater in Greenwich Village). In this episode, Carrie and Miranda are aghast since a whole world exists outside of Manhattan. However,  I completely empathize with “Manhattan Guy.” New York City is a microcosm of the world and then some.

Want a taste of Europe? No problem. Craving La Belle France and want to visit a medieval monastery? Well, even that exists in Upper Manhattan and is known as The Cloisters. Recently I chose a warm, rainy June day to visit one of the city’s most enchanting places which sits on 4 acres overlooking the Hudson River and houses some of the world’s most priceless art from the 12th-15th centuries. Oh yea, did I mention parking is FREE?

A main reason for this visit was to view the second half of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum’s  fashion exhibit, “Heavenly Bodies”. The Met (as we New Yawkas affectionately call it) is located on Fifth Avenue and E. 80th adjacent to Central Park. The Met acquired The Cloisters in the late ’20s and is located in Fort Tryon Park in Northern Manhattan perched above the Hudson River. Do read the fascinating history of The Cloisters here- https://www.metmuseum.org/press/news/2006/the-cloisters-a-history

About one month ago, I visited  the “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit at The Met and  wrote about it in this post.  For those who visited the Met portion of the exhibit and wondered whether to travel to The Cloisters to complete your “fashion pilgrimage”, the answer is a resounding YES! This exhibit exceeded my expectations.  It was by far my favorite portion of the extravagant, most ambitious fashion exhibit to date. I dare say this is my FAVORITE Met fashion exhibit to date. Full disclosure: I missed the McQueen exhibit and from what I understand that could have been a contender for fave status.

Victor & Rolf heavenly bodies the Cloisters

Gown by Victor & Rolf – the silhouette of this dress recalls the popular Marian devotion of dressing sculptures of the Madonna and child.  A “Russian Nesting Doll” is also something that comes to mind.

For starters, the intimate settings curator, Andrew Bolton, placed the mannequins among the treasure of medieval religious artwork. This setting was far more compelling and conducive to the awe-inspiring theme and garments. The fewer number of art pieces surrounding the costumed mannequins enabled me to concentrate on the detailed handwork and precious workmanship of the couture garments. The exhibit of clothing in this setting was truly a religious experience.

One setting was particularly moving since the focus was on the reverential splendor of the Balenciaga adorned bride.  She is standing alone, in front of the altar, Jesus Christ hovering above. “Ave Maria”  sung by Maria Callas is playing on a loop. The light shining through the window on the tableau lent an ethereal and sacred air which left me with goose bumps. I sensed an other-worldly presence and felt transported to another dimension of sanctity. Then again, “Ave Maria” does that to me. It always leaves tears in my eyes.

balenciaga wedding cloisters met exhibit

Wedding dress by Balenciaga. Spring 1967. This is my favorite room.

Just when I couldn’t feel more ‘divine’ and at peace with my surroundings, I was reminded how ‘divine’ nature is. There are several gardens at the Cloisters, and one that has a cafe, where you can sit, relax and eat overpriced cold sandwiches. Unlike the Met, which has many culinary options, don’t expect that at the Cloisters. Instead take a mile long walk down the road to eat in NEW LEAF restaurant,  a  fieldstone cottage built by John D. Rockefeller in the 1930s as a public cafeteria and park administration building.  Designed by the famous Olmsted Brothers, the classic structure has a cobblestone exterior, granite archways and a slate roof, with massive oak trusses supporting the dining room’s 18-foot ceiling.


the cloisters outside

The cloisters outdoorsthe cloisters gardens

heavenly bodies phillip treacy hats at the Cloisters

Witness three bust reliquaries of female saints which holds three white or pale gold straw Philip Treacy hats. Treacy called them “Madonna Rides Again.”

Thom Browne is one of my all-time favorite designers. This ensemble, located in one of the tapestry rooms is fit for royalty. Look at the front of her gown to find a hand stitched unicorn with gold threaded horn.

Thom Browne sheared mink gown at the Cloisters

Thom Browne wedding ensemble, 2018, with gold bullion, pearls, crystals and sheared white mink.

ART IS ALL AROUND US.

This exquisite door was not part of the exhibit, but is so beautiful, it called out my name. I am an overly excitable person. Unfortunately you really can’t take me anywhere. I am pretty sure I enthusiastically shouted–mind you, in a Godly, serene place–“Holy shit, would you look at this amazing fucking door!” Come on people, you have to be in tune with all your surroundings. This door deserved all my adulation and then some.

an old door at the Cloisters

SPEAKING OF DOORS…

Would you look at this entrance! And that door knocker? I would love to own a intricately sculpted door with a huge knocker.   I also can’t help but picture myself at the obnoxious age of 8, pummeling that door knocker at a creepy neighbor’s house until this mysterious, featureless hag with the humungous crucifix around her neck, opens the door wearing a John Galliano gown and shit kicking, ranch-hand boots.

John Galliano the Cloisters exhibit

John Galliano for Dior. Rubber-coated linen twill.

On a final note, there is so much to see in this exhibit, I encourage you to go and witness this extravaganza first hand.

For anyone who is disabled, I would like to offer some advice. While the museum is wheelchair accessible, getting into the building is a bit of a challenge. There are a few crippy parking spots in the front, so it is best to be dropped off at the entrance. From there a shuttle bus will drive you up a cobble stone bend, under a drop ornate gate, around to the back where you will be greeted by an unbelievably cheerful, accommodating staff. They will assist you through the basement entrance and bring you up to the ticket main entrance. Please don’t let that dissuade you. Just wait until you get your hands on that door knocker. It will be worth it.

 

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