New York, Day 4, part 1 (Day 243/365)

New York, Day 4

Today was our museum day. I got up early to catch up on blogging for the last two days, but by 9:30 it was time to move out the door. We encountered the Honeas and Carol Lee on the way out; everyone marveled at Ginny’s new haircut.

Off we went to the Cooper-Hewitt, a design museum which is part of the Smithsonian and housed in Andrew Carnegie’s luscious Fifth Avenue mansion on 91st St. The main exhibit was the design triennial, and there were lots of pretty things. The exhibit that had attracted my attention was an exhibit of model staircases that apprentice designer/carpenters had to complete to join their guild in the 19th century. Almost all were wood, and almost all were spiral or double. Quite nice.

We dropped by the Guggenheim, but it’s being renovated. I glanced up at the atrium, saw it with my own eyes, and we were out of there. They had some special exhibits, but we didn’t care about seeing any of them. The main collection is on tour while the main building is being refurbished.

Next was the Metropolitan, where we caught two special exhibits, the Louis Comfort Tiffany exhibit and the Barcelona/Gaudi/Picasso/everybody else exhibit.

The Tiffany exhibit drew together objets and photographs from his country estate, which he designed from the ground up, inside and out. He was truly an amazing artist, one I had not appreciated until today, and he must have drawn/painted/sketched/whatever every waking moment of his life. His artistic output rivals Schubert’s in terms of volume and quality. I was most impressed.

The Barcelona exhibit was also quite lovely, with many recognizable works from that crowd, the Modernistes that revolved around Barcelona but also gravitated to Paris.

The only other area of the museum we really wanted to see was the Costume Institute, but of course it was closed. We have this knack of getting to costume exhibits only when they’re closed.

Next was the Frick, but we were hungry, so we walked over to Madison Avenue and stopped in the first little café we came to. It was called the Café Ambroeus, lovely northern Italian food, but heavens to betsy the clientele was the most insanely pretentious you have ever seen in any movie parodying upper West Side behavior. It was great. It was not until we were seated that I realized that I was wearing jeans… and no one else was. The ladies were of the variety that lunched. The men were the kind who said things like, “I think the foundation needs to…” and “…why would I pay a million dollars for a smaller apartment that wasn’t as nice?” Yes, I overheard both those phrases.

We hoped to stop at the Whitney, since we were on Madison, but it’s closed on Tuesdays.

On to the Frick, which I had never visited. It’s Henry Clay Frick’s Fifth Avenue Mansion, and it’s gorgeous. The museum is not called a museum; it’s the Frick Collection, and it is essentially his home as he decorated it. It’s huge, it’s lovely, and the man had phenomenal taste. And money.

I did develop a theory, however. There was a quite nice “Portrait of a Man” by Hans Memling. I know it from art history books, and that’s what got me to thinking. How much of our iconic art history, i.e., those paintings that are The Works That One Should Know, the ones that you see in museums with a pleasant little shock of recognition, how many of those are actually the most outstanding of their kind, and how many are those which were bought by the rich Americans of the last century and are now in museums and printed in books? In other words, is Hans Memling’s beautiful little portrait part of my artistic knowledge because it’s perfect, or is it regarded as perfect because Henry Clay Frick bought it and it entered my cultural bloodstream thereby?

Something to think about.