Dragon robe from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
Visiting New York’s galleries and museums is like visiting New York itself. No matter how many you take in there are always more. Three luxurious weeks allows for a lot of art and culture viewing but with 500 galleries and dozens of museums New York challenges the most ardent enthusiast. We managed about 12, every one edifying. There were the unmissables such as MOMA, the Met and the Guggenheim, all of which I had visited on my previous Big Apple sojourn. Newcomers on my list included the Whitney specialising in American art; Neue Galeries, displaying early 20th Century German and Austrian art and design; and the Rubin, featuring the art of the Himalayas, India and neighbouring countries; and the Frick.
Carved Chinese red and black lacquer box, late 14th C.
The Met, sitting imperiously on Fifth Avenue and backing onto Central Park, is a serious day’s – or more – work so I chose a section of personal interest, Asian art. Ceramic and lacquerware figure prominently, along with textiles, the sophistication of artists centuries ago always astonishing. It’s fascinating, too, to see how the precious artworks of the Far East, carried by the traders along the Silk Road, influenced the masterpieces of their Middle Eastern and Western counterparts.
Edo Period (1615-1868) porcelain with celedon glaze Hizen ware.
8th C. Chinese earthenware with black glaze.
Korean mid-18th C. porcelain with underglaze copper-red design.
15th C. Italian earthenware with two-tailed lion and…
..from the 9th-10th C. Persian Abbasid earthenware.
Modern-day Japanese stoneware (above and below).
New York is truly Picasso Heaven with many works in permanent collections and special exhibitions cropping up. Picasso was probably the most prolific artist of all time, no doubt helped by a career spanning 75-years and covering such a wide range of media – painting, sculpting, printmaking, ceramics, stage designing. Oh, and a bit of poetry and play writing thrown in. On my previous New York visit the Guggenheim was showing an exhibition of Picasso’s black-and-white paintings, including some depicting the politically inspired Guernica theme. On our most recent visit we were treated to an extensive collection of his sculpture works, at the Museum of Modern Art. I have to admit some of the pieces reminded me a bit of Michael Leunig’s cartoons!
Modern American art is the specialty of The Whitney, a striking structure designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano, and sitting alongside the High Line overlooking the Hudson River. The feature exhibition during our visit was the works of Jazz Age modernist Archibald Motley, a trendsetting African American with an eye for interpreting the mores of African American class structures as well as life in the Jazz Age. A scholarship to study art in Paris, where many African American artists made their home at the time, gave him the opportunity to depict that experience on canvas.
On a 2006 trip to Vienna I visited the Belvedere, mandatory for any art-interested tourist in that city, to see Gustav Klimpt’s Woman in Gold painting, regarded then by Austria as one of its most significant treasures. Shortly after the famous court case, recounted in the recent film starring Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann, niece of the painting’s subject Adele Bloch-Bauer, returned the Nazi-confiscated masterpiece and others to the rightful heirs. The stunning piece was subsequently sold to Ronald S. Lauder, of the Estee Lauder family, and it now sits in their Fifth Avenue Neue Galerie. Photography of the real artworks was not permitted but the results of an assignment by Viennese 10-to-14-year-olds asked to imagine Adele’s life in America did the trick photographically.