Yesterday I left home early and came home late. Apart from spending two to three hours in Central Park, I visited four museums along the NYC museum mile.
I started with the Frick Collection – which is situated in a ravishing building, former home of Henry Clay Frick. The mansion, built in 1913–14 by Thomas Hastings of Carrère and Hastings, has a delightful set of gardens – the one on Seventieth Street to the east of the Collection was designed by Russell Page, and can be spotted from the street. Unfortunately, no access to them is permitted – although they do have a charming inner sanctum filled with plants, stone benches, and fountains, complete with two little frogs spouting water. The rooms are beyond stately, they are gorgeous in a well-proportioned and impeccably decorated manner and the art collection is excellent, especially since it has a focus on French painting, which I adore. What I found particularly striking however were the Turners – simply exquisite capturing of the play of light on water. Needless to say, I relished every minute of the 90 I spent there. Sadly, no pictures allowed.
It rather went a bit downhill from there. I next went to the Museum of the City of New York, which has a rather catching installation at the entrance, and a few interesting exhibits.
The Stephen Burrows exhibit on fashion was actually good, but situated in a cavernous space that didn’t manage to do it much justice.
There was also a 20-minute film on the history of NYC narrated by Stanley Tucci which was highly enjoyable and contained a fascinating selection of period photos. The rest was a bit yawn-inducing, although the section on urban planning for the future – “Making Space in New York” is naturally a challenging topic and the micro-unit example was fun. Generally, it rather lacked panache though.
Next, I went to the Museo del Barrio, New York’s “leading Latino cultural institution”. Well, I was not impressed. The exhibition space was similarly dark – which I suposed could be explained by the need to protect the paintings and or / to create a better viewing experience for the video-viewing, of which there was quite a bit… but still. I felt like a mole. And it smelled rather weird inside, too. The works, somewhat unlovingly exhibited, were partly interesting, partly just so. More to the point, there were just not so many of them – I sometimes wished there had been more than one work from each artist, especially when I stumbled across something good and that was clearly part of a series. Representational, yes, but when I like something I am rather curious to see more from that person, and in this I was disappointed. What I liked best was a photograph of a plastic model of David’s Michelangelo, submerged in urine/blood/milk (unclear if all, I suspect yes). It was radiant and captivatingly beautiful, in quite a shocking manner.
Last but not least, I went to the Guggenheim, where I had to join a 1 1/2 block-long queue since it was “pay as you wish” Saturday evening. Suffice to say I was very glad I had decided to go at this time, as I think I’d have been rather mad if I had paid the full entrance fee. Contrary to expectations, there was little in the way of a permanent exhibition – with the exception of a few very nice Picassos, Van Goghs, Gauguins and the likes in the wonderful (yet small) Thannhauser collection. Instead, there were a couple smaller exhibitions – “No Country – Contemporary Art for South and South East Asia” eclectic and satisfying, “Danh Vo” plagued by an immense queue for what seemed like a rather self-indulgent project of collected items that anyone might find in their grandma’s attic or under their own bed. Can’t say for certain though, as I just glimpsed the room from outside.
But the “pièce de résistance” were a few gazillion levels on the Gutai movement. Now, I am a huge fan of most things Japanese, but this got pretty old pretty quick even for me. It was just… not very exciting. I understand concrete art, and am all in favour of the movement towards the conceptual; but this was frankly too much and too bland. That wasn’t the worst part of it though: no, it was that the impetus of the Gutai movement was apparently to facilitate contact, interaction, and a joint productivity of art between viewer and the objects; the viewer was supposed to become participant (hence the subtitle of the exhibition, “Splendid Playground”). Yet so many of the works which were designed to be touched, sat on, or interacted with, had a restricting cord / glass wall / barrier around asking the visitors to refrain from doing so. It wasn’t like that with all of the exhibit pieces, but I sensed a strong tendency – another case of art being created “for the people” and ending up in a museum behind a locked case.
As a person visiting the reknowned Guggenheim museum for the very first time, I was also struck by the inexplicability of the no-photo policy. Almost every second, I could hear a click or hear a flash near me, and also hear the reprimand of a guard yelling “No photos!” I found it sad and funny at the same time – obviously, photos were being taken non-stop, and people weren’t asked to delete them, so what was the point of the policy (besides probably managing to give the guards laryngitis?) It mainly created an unfriendly, prohibitive atmosphere for no clear purpose.
So there you go, my four museums in a day. All opinions entirely my own, and if I’ve stepped on any toes, I promise to buy you some band-aids.