Streams

Rubin Museum Hosts Pajama Party

At the Rubin Museum's first-ever adult's "Dream Over," patrons were invited to sleep--and dream--amid the art.

Monday, March 07, 2011 - 12:00 AM

WNYC

On Saturday night, more than 80 artsy types in pajamas filed into the Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea for its first ever adults-only sleepover. The purpose: to see what sorts of dreams the museum's priceless collection of Himalayan art might inspire. I'm not generally the type to spend a lot of time parsing my dreams, which generally involve me showing up somewhere without any pants. But the opportunity to spend the night in a museum—à la Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler—was something I couldn't resist.

Things got cooking on Saturday at about 9 P.M., when a gaggle of pajama-clad New Yorkers—and their copious luggage (and AeroBeds!)—arrived in the museum's lobby to check-in and be led to their assigned painting. As part of the registration process, we all had submitted forms outlining key episodes in our lives, along with a list of colors to which we felt a resonance. Museum staff selected works of art based on that information. I was placed under the stoic gaze of a 15th century Tibetan Medicine Buddha on the sixth floor—a selection that was intended to throw a little healing my way. (Freelance writers are pretty wounded people.)

The rest of the evening was designed to get us ready for dreaming. We carefully arranged our bedding. We attended a short lecture on memories and dreams led by clinical psychiatrist Dr. Edward Nersessian and Mt. Sinai neuroscientist Cristina Alberini. There was a group discussion on dreaming. We nibbled on tea and cookies and listened to super groovy sitar music. At around midnight, the museum's docents came to our bedsides to tell us a "bedtime story" related to the work of art that we'd been assigned. My story was actually more of a guided meditation, intended to get me relaxed. (It worked.) By 1 A.M., all was quiet—except for the industrial plastic moans let out anytime someone rolled over on their AeroBed.

Naturally, the big questions were: would we dream? And, if so, what? The fact is that scientists know very little about dreaming. Nersessian explained that there are any number of theories as to what dreams could be—from the brain organizing new memories to our consciousness modulating its emotions to prophetic visions of the future. Whether any of us staring at a work of art would be able to internalize its meaning, have it manifest itself in a dream and then be able to remember it all the next day was anyone's guess. To be sure that we didn't forget anything, a group of "dream gatherers" came around to talk to us first thing in the morning (before we'd even gotten out of bed) to get everything down while it was still fresh.

As one could expect with a subject as personal as dreaming, the results—at least anecdotally—were mixed. There were a number of folks who didn't dream, or couldn't remember their dreams. Several others had so-called anxiety dreams, during which they dreamed about trying to dream in the museum. (So meta!) There were dreams that involved Natalie Portman, hair dye and pancakes. Interestingly, a number of folks reported visual elements in their dreams that recalled the paintings they had been looking at. Juan Carlos Andrews had a vision of four Asian, sage-like men all wearing beige. "It was so vivid," he recalled. "And highly unusual. I've never dreamt anything like that."

And me? I dreamt I was floating, pleasantly carried away by a current—the type of restful dream I haven't had in eons. It's hard to say whether this was because of the Medicine Buddha's tranquilizing effects or because I'd been lulled to sleep in a serene spot to the tune of a sitar. What I do know is that it was a rare luxury to spend so much time before a single work of art. Over the course of an evening and a morning, I'd been able to study the myriad deities, the details of the Buddha's geometric cloak and the throbbing palette of crimson that held the work together. And for that alone, the night on a museum floor was worth it.

The Rubin Museum will be hosting its next sleepover—for children—in June. Check the Web site for details.

My deluxe apartment in the sky: After arriving at the museum, a docent showed me to my sleeping digs — before a 600-year old pigment-on-cloth rendering of a Tibetan Buddha.
Carolina A. Miranda
My deluxe apartment in the sky: After arriving at the museum, a docent showed me to my sleeping digs — before a 600-year old pigment-on-cloth rendering of a Tibetan Buddha.
The Aerobed quotient was high, leading to a cacophonous din of industrial whirring upon arrival.
Carolina A. Miranda
The Aerobed quotient was high, leading to a cacophonous din of industrial whirring upon arrival.
Once we were all set up, we headed to the museum's theatre for a short lecture on the science of memory and dreaming — followed by cookie snacks in the cafe. (Looooved the lemon thins.)
Carolina A. Miranda
Once we were all set up, we headed to the museum's theatre for a short lecture on the science of memory and dreaming — followed by cookie snacks in the cafe. (Looooved the lemon thins.)
At one point, we were asked to draw our assigned art work from memory. My sketch, above — proving the rule that those who can't do, criticize.
Carolina A. Miranda
At one point, we were asked to draw our assigned art work from memory. My sketch, above — proving the rule that those who can't do, criticize.
A view of what the actual work looks like: a depiction of a Medicine Buddha, along with 52 minor deities.
Carolina A. Miranda
A view of what the actual work looks like: a depiction of a Medicine Buddha, along with 52 minor deities.
At around 11 P.M., a docent led us on a guided 'art meditation,' during which we focused on this early 20th century image of Avalokiteshvara — alternately studying details and closing our eyes.
Carolina A. Miranda
At around 11 P.M., a docent led us on a guided 'art meditation,' during which we focused on this early 20th century image of Avalokiteshvara — alternately studying details and closing our eyes.

You can get a better view of it here.

Shortly before bedtime, a sitar player put on a concert of chill-out music. He is seen here, from above, in the museum's circular atrium.
Carolina A. Miranda
Shortly before bedtime, a sitar player put on a concert of chill-out music. He is seen here, from above, in the museum's circular atrium.
Visitors also were assigned works in the museum's contemporary galleries.
Carolina A. Miranda
Visitors also were assigned works in the museum's contemporary galleries.
Around midnight, docents came around to tell partipants
Carolina A. Miranda
Around midnight, docents came around to tell partipants "bedtime stories" related to their works.
In my neck of the woods (a.k.a., the sixth floor), folks hung out until well after midnight scrutinizing the paintings.
Carolina A. Miranda
In my neck of the woods (a.k.a., the sixth floor), folks hung out until well after midnight scrutinizing the paintings.
Carolina A. Miranda

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Comments [2]

Shane

I have to admit when I first heard of this it seemed like a hokey idea, but it sounds like it was well planned and interesting. Glad you had a sweet dream!

Mar. 07 2011 03:00 PM
Rachel from Chelsea

This is a riot. Cool idea and well-written piece. (I agree about writers being wounded.)

Mar. 07 2011 12:16 PM

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About Gallerina

Carolina A. Miranda is a regular contributor to WNYC and blogs about the arts for the station as "Gallerina." In addition to that, she contributes articles on culture, travel and the arts to a variety of national and regional media, including Time, ArtNews, Travel + Leisure and Budget Travel and Florida Travel + Life. She has reported on the burgeoning industry of skatepark design, architectural pedagogy in Southern California, the presence of street art in museums and Lima's burgeoning food scene, among many other subjects. In 2008, she was named one of eight fellows in the USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program for her arts and architecture blog C-Monster.net, which has received mentions in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. In January of 2010, the Times named her one of nine people to follow on Twitter. Got a tip? E-mail her at c [@] c-monster [dot] net

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