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The Museum Mile on the Upper East Side of Manhattan

Mary and Joe’s Excellent Adventure

by Joe Phelan

On an overnight trip to New York City this spring, Mary Gallagher and I actually visited four major art museums in the heart of the so-called museum miracle mile on 5th Avenue and Central Park West.

Mary was eager to see “Diva” an exhibit about the influence of classical style on women’s fashion since the 18th century. Curated by the Met’s renowned Costume Institute this show features sumptuous gowns by such designers as Madeleine Vionnet, Paul Poiret, Madame Grès, Yves Saint Laurent, Fortuny, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Gucci, Halston, Issey Miyake, Christian Dior, Roberto Cavalli, and Yohji Yamamoto.

I was determined to see the other big spring exhibits at the Met such as “Manet/Velazquez” and the “Art of the First Cities” both of which were as spectacular and rewarding as expected. I also wanted to revisit their awesome world class permanent collections like the Greek and Egyptian Galleries which never fail to renew my faith in humanity.

Anyone who’s been to the Met even once knows that you can spend a lifetime there and still not see everything worth seeing. So relax and enjoy what you can. For the tourist or even the day and a half trippers to New York City I would recommend doing one or two of the smaller venues first and then moving on to that cornucopia of civilizations and cultures.

If like me you love the history of painting there’s no better place to begin that the Frick which is perhaps the most enjoyable art museum in New York. The small rooms of this neo-classical mansion, furnished in an 18th century style, retain the atmosphere of a private house with many light hearted and decorative works by Boucher, Fragonard and Gainsborough. Yet the other works displayed by the famous artists of the major European schools are all A-List including outstanding pieces by Bellini, Holbein, Titian, Van Dyck, Rubens, Rembrandt, Vermeer and Turner. There’s even a small Piero dell Francesca here though you may miss it if you don’t ask where it’s located.

You could do either the Guggenheim or the Whitney next, two exceptionally fine middle sized collections devoted to the 20th century art. The Whitney specializes in American art especially the Ashcan school, the early modernists like Georgia O’Keefe, and the Abstract Expressionists and Pop artists. The huge exhibit spaces are ideally suited for showing modern painting and sculpture with their stress on vast scale.

The Guggenheim is housed in the last grand building of Frank Lloyd Wright. The pictures are often overwhelmed by the beauty of the design; you must take the elevator to the top and work your way down the spiraling ramp. This summer’s exhibit “From Picasso to Pollock” drawn from the permanent collection should be a great introduction to the history of 20th century art.

A new face on the block is the Neue Galerie of German and Austrian Art founded by philanthropist and art collector Ronald Lauder and Serge Sarbarsky. Housed in one of that fabulously elegant Upper East Side landmark building, this small museum contains delightful and sensuous pleasure to see, hear and taste. Right now they are hosting “From Expressionism to Bauhaus” a selection of work from the Museum of Modern Art (whose flagship building on east 52 is closed for renovation).

Further up the block is the Jewish Museum recently host to the very controversial exhibits “Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art” in which contemporary artist made use of imagery taken from the Nazi era. Now you can enjoy the very interesting permanent collection devoted to showing how Jewish culture is reflected in art.

The rest of your viewing time is best spent in the greatest art museum in North America and one of the greatest in the world. The Met is filled with flowers, and music and a general air of festivity. It is most famous for its early Italian and Flemish masters; Rembrandt and Vermeer; and for its 19th century French paintings. But there’s so much more to see since the Met is one of those encyclopedic collections drawn from all the grand cultures and civilizations of the world.

Check out the websites for each of these places before you plan your trip. Most of these museums have a late night (till 8 or 9 either Thursday or Friday.) and almost all are closed on Mondays.

PS from Mary: We also shopped, ate and slept – all in 30 hours!

E. 70th St. at 5th Ave.

1071 5th Ave. (88 & 89 St.)

Jewish Museum
1109 5th Ave. at 92nd St.

Metropolitan Museum
5th Ave at 82nd St.

Neue Galerie Museum for German and Austrian Art
1048 5th Ave at 86th St.

Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Ave at 75th St.

NYC Tourism:
For everything you need to visit New York City click on, call 1-800-NYC-VISIT or stop by NYC’s Official Visitor Information Centers at 810 Seventh Avenue at 53rd Street, or at the southern tip of the City Hall Park.

Embassy Suites Hotel New York City
102 North End Avenue
New York, NY 10282
T: 212-945-0100
F: 212-945-3012

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