The Student News Site of Great Neck North High School

Guide Post

The Student News Site of Great Neck North High School

Guide Post

The Student News Site of Great Neck North High School

Guide Post

Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell

As college applications start mounting and as upperclassmen traverse the East Coast searching for the best-fit colleges, a break is often necessary to rest and recharge. Cornell University, a prestigious institution best known for its architecture, agricultural sciences and engineering programs, is a popular choice—and it has a small yet beautiful microcosm of artworks from all around the world. Free-to-enter and surrounded by beautiful scenery and academic buildings, this place is perfect for any art-loving student.

An Architectural Marvel

The museum’s exterior is a testament to architect I.M. Pei’s genius with its harmonious blend of geometric precision and nature’s elegance. The modernist, rectangular structure crafted from concrete and glass sits against the backdrop of Cayuga Lake and the rolling hills of the Finger Lakes region. After exploring Cornell’s various buildings and main campus, finding the museum will be a relaxing respite against the bustle of college life.

Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art (Credit: ArchDaily).

Inside, the hidden nooks and staircases seemingly guide a visitor seamlessly through its many wonderful exhibits. The facility is also wheelchair-accommodating, welcoming visitors from all walks of life.

However, the isolated nature of the facility in Cornell’s sprawling campus requires a visitor to plan ahead—dining facilities are a considerable walk away, as are other sites, such as the Cornell Botanic Gardens. As such, I would recommend either walking after you have had something to eat, or driving through campus—the uphill climbs can be rather taxing.

Standout Exhibits

An exhibit open to the public until mid-December is Between Performance and Documentation: Contemporary Photography and Videography from China. A jarring series of photography and videography from emerging Chinese artists of the ’80s and ’90s shines a raw spotlight on ephemeral performance art communities of the era. 

Containing uncensored nudity, dysmorphic depictions of gender, and even gore, this exhibition is not for the faint of heart.

Between Performance and Documentation: Contemporary Photography and Videography from China (Credit: Katherine Zhao).

From color depictions of stern-faced audience members watching a long-haired naked male donning eye makeup and a video of a man suspended in bondage from a ceiling as a tube drips his blood onto a metal tray, the exhibition paints a picture of simultaneous beauty and horror that comes with pushing the limits of performance art.  

Tattoo 1 and Tattoo 2 (Credit: Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell).

Other works in the exhibit explore more “relatable” issues, such as a loss of cultural identity and generational trauma. For example, “Tattoo 1 and Tattoo 2” depict a frontal Asian male with the Chinese character for “no” painted across his chest and mouth in the former, and with buttons studding his skin in the latter—a bold and simplistic depiction that sparks discussion on the issue of cultural confusion.

Gifts of Modern Art (Credit: Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell).

“Gifts of Modern Art” is another wonderful installation, and is part of the museum’s permanent collection. It is composed of nine works spanning across various media, including metallic sculpture and painting. In the center stands the tall, jarring image of L’homme qui marche II (Walking Man II). Perhaps initially uncanny or odd, his vague impression of a face and long stride gives one a feeling of pity, fear, confusion, and serenity—a unique effect common in French modern art. 

Celia Vasquez Yui: The council of the Mother Spirits of the Animals (Credit: Katherine Zhao).

The final exhibition I wish to highlight is “Celia Vasquez Yui: The council of the Mother Spirits of the Animals”. It is an eye-opening exhibit composed of about fifty ceramic animals rendered in the geometric and expressive style of the Shipibo-Konibo indigenous reiding in the Amazonian City of Pucallpa. The maze-like patterns and sculpting conventions are traditions learned and passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter. It shows an underrepresented perspective of various endangered animals often labeled “exotic” in western culture, such as jaguars, monkeys and tortoises. The exhibit is also paired with a recording of an authentic ayahuasca ceremony performed by the indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon. The echoing sounds of bird calls and chants make the exhibit truly an immersive and unique experience. 

Nearby Attractions

The museum is also fittingly situated adjacent to the University’s famous Sibley and Milstein halls, the heart of Cornell’s Art, Architecture, and Planning program. Beside it are the famous falls and nature walks of Cornell, perfect for meditative promenades. The gorges and falls have narrow pathways leading down to the water and rocks, but make sure to wear appropriate footwear and hold onto the railings—it can get slippery! If you’re visiting in fall or winter, I recommend wearing multiple layers—the upstate cold is harsh, and makes New York City winters feel like a breeze. 

For dining, I recommend the Morrison Hall Diner—although a longer walk, the food is definitely worth it—a freshly-made, all-you-can-eat buffet complete with main courses like pizza and pasta and desserts like ice cream and pie. The prices are beyond reasonable: about $13 per person for lunch and $16 for dinner.


Overall, not only is Cornell a great institution to visit on an upperclassman’s hunt for the perfect college, but it also contains a wonderful respite for art and discovery. So, plan a day full of meditative study, hiking, tours, and picturesque photographs—because Cornell’s museum campus will give you all that and more. 

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