The Christmas season has come and gone and February has arrived and, with it, a number of changes in the exhibition offerings in the New York City museums. Many of the exhibitions I noted in my December round up have closed and new exhibitions have recently opened. So, it is time for an update.
As usual I will begin with THE MET, which is the largest and one of the world’s great museums, as well as the place where I volunteer as an information guide.
At the Met’s main building, THE MET FIFTH AVENUE, the two blockbuster exhibitions that have dominated the last few months are still ongoing. However, Michelangelo, Divine Draftsman and Designer, which has been extended once, will be closing soon, on February 12. This show is huge and provides a complete overview of the great man’s work, from his boyhood studies in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio to his last great works, Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine and Pauline Chapels in the Vatican and preparations for his final Pietas. Comprising 133 of his drawings, mixed with sculpture, paintings and architectural renderings, a huge number of items have been loaned by other museums, galleries and libraries, as well as by private collections generally off-limits to the public, including the Vatican, the Laurentian Library in Florence (whose building was designed by Michelangelo) and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It features, among other astonishing things, the complete copy of his lost painting of the Battle of Cascina (part of a competition that pitted the young Michelangelo against the older and very famous, Leonardo da Vinci); all the drawings done for his friend, Tomaso de’ Cavalieri and now owned by the Queen; his drawings for his friend, Vittoria Colonna; part of the cartoon for the Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican; several statues from his hand and a wooden architectural model of part of the apse of Saint Peter’s Basilica. There is also a one-quarter scale reproduction of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the gallery that contains the relevant drawings. The reduced scale works well with the lower height of the ceiling in providing a fairly accurate experience of seeing those paintings in situ in Rome.
For all these reasons, this exhibition has been immensely popular and densely crowded. Therefore, I would suggest that you make every attempt to see it either very early or very late. The museum opens at 10 AM every morning and the hour between 10 and 11 AM are likely to be good. Also the hours between 7 and 9 PM on Friday and Saturday are a little less intense. And, don’t try to see the entire thing in one go. It is immense and you will wear yourself out, especially if the galleries are super crowded. Therefore, I suggest that you see as much as you can, but break off when you become too tired and return another day. Indeed, this is an exhibition that will greatly reward repeated visits. And, as the New York Times art reviewer stated “It’s a one-stop event with a non-extendable three-month run, which is the maximum exposure to light, even at dusk-level, that the drawings can safely stand. Once the show’s done, the likelihood of there being another on its scale within the lifetime of anyone reading these words is slim.”1
Sitting side-by-side with Michelangelo is another blockbuster, but this time it’s a retrospective for a living artist, the British painter David Hockney, and honors his 80th birthday. It will run until February 25, 2018. “From his early experiments with modernist abstraction and mid-career experiments with illusion and realism, to his most recent, jewel-toned landscapes, Hockney has consistently explored the nature of perception and representation with both intellectual rigor and sheer delight in the act of looking.”2 This exhibition is also creating quite a buzz and is almost as popular, and as crowded, as the Michelangelo. Do not expect to be able to see both in the same day unless you have really good stamina. Once again, I suggest that you try to visit it either very early or very late in the day.
The other exhibitions mentioned in my December post have all now closed, but their places have been taken by others, equally interesting.
In the exhibition gallery that forms the apex of the diamond-shaped Lehmann Wing is The Silver Caesars: A Renaissance Mystery. This exhibition brings together, for the first time since they were sold off in the middle of the 19th century, the twelve astonishing tazze (a form of stylized and decorative cup popular in the Renaissance and early Baroque periods) known as the Aldobrandini Tazze.
Their origins are obscure as there is no record of such cups being produced. However, the exhibition makes a strong case for their origin as the work of Flemish goldsmiths, probably made at the behest of Archduke Albert VII of Austria who was the governor of the Spanish Netherlands at the turn of the seventeenth century. He is presumed to have given them as a gift to Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini as a host gift during his stay with the cardinal in Italy in 1599. Broken up and dispersed over the centuries to different owners and locations, the pieces that form each tazza were frequently mismatched and confused. This exhibition not only reunites them, but puts them together in the correct sequence once again. It is a fascinating look at the scholarly detective work that frequently makes art history such an interesting subject.
Also worth seeing is Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings in the American Wing. This exhibition focuses on the development of the style of the greatest of the early Hudson River School painters, Thomas Cole.
Cole was born in England, immigrating to the US as a young man. His subsequent development as a painter was highly influenced by his encounters with the work of other artists through return visits to England and visits to Italy, his Atlantic crossings. His own paintings are presented in dialogue with those of his European counterparts, especially Turner and Constable and as the background against which later American, specifically later Hudson River School painters were formed. This exhibition runs through May 13.
However, it is The FRICK COLLECTION (Fifth Avenue at East 70th Street) that is hosting what will be the star attraction once Michelangelo closes (https://www.frick.org).
This is the just opened exhibition of thirteen paintings by the seventeenth-century Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbaran, Zurbarán's Jacob and His Twelve Sons: Paintings from Auckland Castle. The paintings are the only complete set of the many, many such sets that Zurbaran painted on different subjects for different patrons to have ever come to this country in one piece. Twelve of the paintings come from one place, Auckland Castle in County Durham, England, where they have been since the eighteenth century. During a two-year renovation of the castle the paintings are visiting the United States and are joined here by the thirteenth and final painting of the set, which is on loan for the event from another English collection. This is a remarkable opportunity to see a complete set of Zurbaran paintings and, like the exhibition of the Silver Caesars, also exhibits a mystery. There are no records of this commission that have so far come to light and one may speculate on the purpose for which these pictures were painted as they are unique in Zurbaran’s oeuvre, being not of saints or of scenes from the life of Christ or the Virgin, but of an Old Testament subject. Were they commissioned by a Spanish church or by a Spanish patron? Were they intended for export to the Spanish colonies in the Americas? Some clues may be found in some of the details of the paintings. So, come and see for yourself. The exhibition continues until April 22.
The Frick also continues to show two other important exhibitions of Renaissance and Baroque work.
The first is Murillo: The Self-Portraits, which has been extended until February 11, 2018. In celebration of the 400th anniversary of Murillo’s birth this exhibition originally united two self-portraits, made approximately 20 years apart, which are owned by the Frick and the National Gallery in London. “To provide context to these canvases, the exhibition also features a group of fifteen other works on loan from international private and public collections. These will include paintings of other sitters by Murillo, as well as later reproductions of the two paintings that reflect their fame in Europe.” Recently, a third, recently rediscovered self-portrait was added to the show.3
The second is Veronese in Murano: Two Venetian Renaissance Masterpieces Restored. This exhibition focuses “on two recently conserved and rarely seen paintings by the celebrated artist Paolo Veronese (1528–1588), St. Jerome in the Wilderness and St. Agatha Visited in Prison by St. Peter. “While the paintings are known to scholars, their remote location in a church in Murano, an island in the lagoon of Venice, has made them difficult to study. …. The exhibition provides a unique opportunity for an international audience to discover these two masterpieces in New York.”4 This exhibition will run until March 11.
The MORGAN LIBRARY (at Madison Avenue between East 36th and 37th Streets, http://www.themorgan.org) has a trio of relevant exhibitions on offer.
Continuing is Views of Rome and Naples: Oil Sketches from the Thaw Collection, which runs until March 18. This exhibition focuses on the oil sketches of these two Italian cities made during the second half of the eighteenth century. At the time, a visit to Italy, and especially to these two historic cities, by young artists was an essential part of their training. “Working outdoors, artists recorded their observations of these natural and man-made wonders in small-scale studies, mostly executed with oil paint on paper. In these oils, painters captured the grandiosity of Rome’s classical ruins and the sublime natural beauty of Naples, with its famous view of Mount Vesuvius. Artists from France, Belgium, Germany, Norway, and Sweden are featured in this selection.”5
Recently opened is Power and Grace: Drawings by Rubens, Van Dyck, and Jordaens, which runs until April 29. This exhibition allows us to “get up close and personal” with three of the greatest painters of the seventeenth century, the three Flemish masters Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens. We can examine their thought processes as they developed their ideas on paper.
Also recently opened is a show that I have long anticipated, Now and Forever: The Art of Medieval Time, which also runs until April 29. With miniatures drawn from medieval books the exhibition looks at the way time was felt by our ancestors, reflecting their relationships with the natural world, the classical world, their current time period and eternal time.
Something rather fun is in store at the MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK (Fifth Avenue between 103rd and 104th Streets, http://www.mcny.org). It’s New York on Ice, a look at the development of the sport of ice skating in the city from the Dutch colonial days to the present.
The story is told through vintage photographs, posters, lithographs, paintings, and costumes. It will run until April 15.
The museum is also continuing several of the exhibitions mentioned in my December report.
- · New York Silver, Then and Now (ongoing) compares silver recently crafted in New York with that done by New York silversmiths during the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries.
- · Art in the Open, Fifty Years of Public Art in New York. This will open on November 10 and will run until May 13. Reviews the public art of the last half century which has a different character to prior public art.
- · Mod New York, Fashion Takes a Trip focuses on the decade of the 1960s a time in which a revolution in fashion accompanied so many other revolutions in manners, politics and morals. The exhibition closes on April 1.
Need to Sit Down/Drink Something/Eat Something?
Visiting museums is a wonderful way to spend the day, but it does tend to make one both tired and hungry. In my volunteer “job” as a Visitor Services representative at the Met Fifth Avenue I am frequently asked where to find food and something to drink. Apparently few people are aware that most New York museums have restaurants and cafes within their walls. These include:
• The Met Fifth Avenue (which has five public and two members only restaurants, plus a cocktail bar on weekend evenings from May to the end of October),
• The Met Breuer (which has two, one casual, the other more formal),
• The Morgan Library (which has two), a casual spot in the Enzo Piano lobby and another, more formal dining room.
• The Museum of Modern Art (which has several tucked away on different floors),
• The New-York Historical Society (which has two),
• The Museum of the City of New York (which has one),
• The Neue Galerie (which has two),
• The New York Public Library, Main Building (which has one).
There are also some reasonably priced places to eat within a block or two of those mentioned above as well as near the Frick, which at the moment does not have a restaurant. There is really no need to run the risk of eating from a street food cart, especially when the weather is frigid.
Although most visitors are grateful to hear that museums do offer so many dining options I’m sometimes asked where to eat outside the museum (and even near some of the mid-town attractions) and here’s my answer, at least for the areas around the museums mentioned here.
Near the Neue Galerie and the Met (86th Street – 84th Streets). This is an expensive, residential area, where the majority of the restaurants are quite pricey, but there are a few possibilities outside the museums.
Demarchelier – 86th Street and Madison Avenue. Classic French and pricier than most, but well worth the splurge if you can afford it.
Dean and Deluca – 85th Street and Madison Avenue. Not a restaurant as such, but you can get sandwiches and salads and drinks and perch on a few stools in the window.
The New Amity Coffee Shop – 84th Street and Madison Avenue, west side of the Avenue. This is a classic New York Greek diner. It has had the same décor for at least the last 40 years, but the food is good, the staff is friendly (except at lunch time, when no staff anywhere is friendly) and the prices are pretty good as well.
Le Pain Quotidien – 84th Street and Madison Avenue, east side of Madison. A branch of the well-known chain featuring some communal tables. A bit on the pricey side for sandwiches, but usually very good.
Near the Met (82nd to 79th Streets).
Lexington Candy Shop – 83rd Street and Lexington Avenue. This requires walking a couple of extra blocks, and is definitely a step back in time. It’s a genuine lunch counter/ice cream parlor from the 1920s. Presumably the stoves, etc. have been replaced over time and there was the “renovation” in the late 1980s when the pay telephone booths were removed to make way for two more tables, but that’s about it. It’s been run by the same family since the 1920s. Space is tight and it’s usually very busy. The food echoes the décor and prices aren’t dirt cheap, but it’s worth the trip for the experience and to help it survive.
EAT – Madison Avenue between 80th and 81st Street. This is one of the offshoots of the Zabar family’s empire. There is a pricier restaurant here, but there is also a take-out division, with prepared sandwiches, etc. and a convenient bench outside the door if it’s decent weather, especially if you are drinking something hot. Be warned though, the sandwiches and salads are not on the low end of price, although they are equivalent or slightly cheaper than you might pay in a diner.
Serafina Fabulous Pizza – Madison Avenue and 79th Street (upstairs). One of a chain of mid-priced Italian eateries. Offers pizza, pasta and entrees at moderate (but not cheap) prices. The only drawback for this particular Serafina is that it is on the second floor and there is no elevator.
I can’t recommend anything else in the stretch between 84th and 79th.
Near the Met Breuer (79th to 72nd Street). This area used to be plentifully supplied with restaurants and bakeries at all price ranges. However, the rents have risen so high in the last two decades that, one by one, they have mostly closed. What is left is one Greek coffee shop, one moderate to expensive Italian restaurant, one moderate Italian themed café and several expensive restaurants, confined primarily to the side streets, where the rent is a little less. What’s left are:
Sant’Ambroeus -- Madison Avenue between 77th and 78th Street. This is the oldest of the New York offshoots of the classic Milanese restaurant of the same name. If you are coming here for lunch or dinner, it's expensive. However, at the front of the restaurant is a bar area where you can have lighter fare, like panini or focaccia, and pastries at reasonable prices. Do not miss the gelato, which is the REAL thing.
Three Guys Coffee Shop – Madison Avenue between 75th and 76th Street, one-half block from the Breuer. A large and more elegant version of the classic New York Greek diner. The menu is extensive, the prices are a much steeper than usual for this type of restaurant and the crowds at lunchtime and on weekends are appalling, but it’s generally worth it.
Via Quadronno – 73rd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues. This is a tiny North Italian eatery. It’s incredibly crowded at lunchtime and expensive for dinner. However, the all-day panini/salad/pastry menu is reasonable and there are some bargains. For example, instead of a cup of American coffee for $5, you get a pot, containing about 3 cups.
Nespresso. If coffee and a tidbit (but not a meal) are what you want, you might try the newly opened branch of this Swiss company at Madison Avenue and 74th Street (the southern end of the block occupied by the Breuer). Coffee is the main menu item, tidbits are small and there are no tables. There are curved wooden seating areas where you can perch.
The Loeb Boathouse. If a walk in the park would clear your head, you might try entering Central Park at either 79th or 76th Street and following the paths to the main Lake. The Loeb Boathouse sits on the north side of the Lake. There are two distinct dining possibilities available within it.
• The first is the pricier Lakeside Restaurant, which offers somewhat upscale dining at somewhat upscale prices. However, the atmosphere of a beautiful room opening onto the lake leaves a memorable impression and is definitely an only in New York experience. This part is open late for dinner and can be accessed after dark by a shuttle bus that makes stops along Fifth Avenue from 79th to 72nd Streets.
• The second dining room is the counter service Express Café. Not quite as lovely as the Lakeside room this does have its own atmosphere, complete with a cozy fire in winter and a view of the lake. There is also a small sheltered patio where one can sit outside, even in winter, if it isn’t too cold. It offers burgers and hot dogs, as well as sandwiches, salads and soups, all of which are very good. Not surprisingly, it’s hugely popular, especially on weekends all year long. During the winter it is only open till 4:30.
Near the Frick Museum (72nd Street to 68th Street). What little exists in the immediate vicinity is very expensive. So, to find more reasonably priced food you may need to head to Lexington Avenue, three blocks away. Clustered around 70th Street and Lexington are several options, including a French restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a fish restaurant, a deli and a pizza joint. Two good lower priced options are:
Neal’s Coffee Shop (70th Street and Lexington Avenue, east side of Lexington). This is another Greek diner that hasn’t changed much since the 1970s, except for the addition of a back room with more seats. Usually very crowded from breakfast through mid-afternoon.
Diagonally across the street, is Corrado Café (70th Street and Lexington Avenue, west side of Lexington). Corrado is tiny, with limited seating inside and some seating outside which is useful in good weather. Premade sandwiches and salads are reasonable and usually very good. Also sells pastries and bread to take home. Well worth the walk from Fifth.
Ladurée – (Madison Avenue between 70th and 71st Street). This is the New York outpost of the famous Parisian patisserie. It’s not exactly a restaurant, since it sells only confections and only has two tables. It usually has a line, waiting to buy some of the incredible macarons. I love the rose macarons, which taste just like eating a rose petal, only better. Not cheap, but a macaron or two probably won't break your piggy bank.
Near the Museum of Modern Art (53rd Street between Fifth and Sixth). This is in midtown. There are lots of opportunities to find something within a moderate budget. Going west, Sixth and Seventh Avenues are loaded with all manner of dining options. Moving east the options, while still there, are more limited. I can recommend two restaurants within one block of the Modern on the east side of Fifth Avenue. They are:
Le Pain Quotidien (53rd Street between Fifth and Madison). Another branch of the reliable chain.
Burger Heaven (53rd Street between Fifth and Madison). One of a chain of modern coffee shops that offers what is probably the best hamburger in Manhattan, way better than the greasy offerings of the various Shake Shacks.
Near the Morgan Library (34th to 40th Streets). The Morgan is also in a midtown area, with a variety of dining options. My personal favorites are:
Moonstruck Coffee Shop – Madison at 38th Street. This is a large, modern styled Greek diner with typical Greek diner food and spectacular bathrooms that are worth stopping here for.
Two branches of the popular sandwich and salad chain, Pret a Manger. These are reasonably priced, good but very busy. There are two within a very short walk from the Morgan. The nearest is at Fifth Avenue and 37th Street, the other is at Madison Avenue and 39th Street. The 39th Street Pret is quite large and not quite as crowded as it lies on a border between residential and commercial real estate.
Near the Cloisters (Fort Tryon Park, northern Manhattan)
Alas, the nearest thing to the Met Cloisters is the lovely New Leaf Café within Fort Tryon Park. However, while the food can be spectacular it is pricey and almost always requires a reservation, especially on weekends. The Cloisters does have a small eating place in the Trie cloister building, but only in warm weather. For now, you are out of luck at the Cloisters itself.
Near the New York Historical Society (The Upper West Side between 79th and 72nd Streets)
The Upper West Side is replete with dining opportunities. One block west of the Historical Society is Columbus Avenue, which offers many possibilities. As this is not my home neighborhood and I don’t eat here often I hesitate to make recommendations. However, a few suggestions are:
Coppola’s – West 79th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway. Long running Italian restaurant with decent food and a usually packed house. It has survived four decades of changes on the Upper West Side and is still going strong.
Shake Shack – Columbus Avenue at 77th Street. One of the numerous neighborhood outposts of the original in Madison Square Park. Offers hamburgers primarily. I personally do not like their hamburgers but they do have a large and faithful following.
Pappardelle – Columbus Avenue at 75th Street. North Italian with a lovely dining room.
Arte Café – West 73rd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. Pleasant Italian with a reasonably priced menu.
You will also find several Starbuck’s Coffee shops on Columbus Avenue, something that you will not find near the East Side museums.
Near the New York Public Library.
Near the Main Schwarzmann building, at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street there are several low-priced options and a rather special mid-priced one.
McDonald’s. The nearest is located on East 42nd Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues. There is another at 40th and Madison Avenue. The 42nd Street McDonald’s is closest to the north end of the library building, while the 40th Street location is closer to the southern end of the library.
Pret-a-Manger and Chipotle. Both had locations directly across from the 42nd Street side entrance of the library building, between Fifth and Sixth (Avenue of the Americas) Avenues.
The Bryant Park Grill, in Bryant Park, behind the library building and close to the 40th Street entrance to Bryant Park. A stylish alternative, a bit on the pricey side (lunch entrees run $20-30), but a lovely, if loud, experience.
There are other places to eat on the Sixth Avenue side of the park and, during the winter months, several temporary locations in association with the ice skating rink (which is installed over the enormous lawn).
Whichever of these exhibitions strike your fancy or respond to your interests, the important thing is to get out and see them. There is nothing better than coming from a cold exterior world into a warm and beautifully decorated world that centers around art.
© M. Duffy, 2018
- (Holland Cotter, The New York Times, November 9, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/09/arts/design/michelangelo-review-metropolitan-museum-of-art-carmen-bambach.html
- https://www.frick.org/exhibitions/murillo and Dalya Alberge, 'Lost' masterpiece by Spanish artist found hanging in Welsh castle”, The Guardian, November 19, 2017 at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/nov/19/spanish-artists-bartolome-esteban-murillo-lost-masterpiece-found-welsh-penrhyn-castle