New York State of Mind: Part 2-The Art

Detail of Mark Rothko at MOMA
Alabaster vase in the Egyptian wing at the Metropolitan Museum
Henri Matisse in the Met

Detail of Auguste Rodin's The Burghers of Calais at the Met
Collection of beads and scarabs in the Egyptian wing at the Met
Detail of Jackson Pollock's No. 1 at MOMA
Gustav Klimt's Hope II at MOMA
Umberto Boccioni's Futurist Masterpiece: Unique Forms of Continuity in Space at MOMA
Gino Severini's Dynamic Hieroglyphic at MOMA

New York City is an art historian's playground.  Whether you fancy contemporary performance pieces or Rococo paintings or Classical Greek vases, there's bound to be a museum with a collection to delight you.  On this particular adventure to the City, we had to limit ourselves to sojourns at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Frick Collection. 

As I saw tourists whirring through theses museums, stopping only at so-called masterpieces that they recognized from pop culture over-saturation (Starry Night and Waterlilies sorts of paintings), I started to think about how one should truly take in a museum. 

In New York or any other city with a stellar collection of museums, here are my suggestions for getting the most out of your visit:

  • For a large encyclopedic institution like the Met, do not even attempt to see the entire collection.  You could spend days, weeks, in that museum and still only get a brief overview.  I suggest you select a few wings that peak your interest the most or steer yourself to temporary exhibitions that are fleeting.  Aim for quality of observation of quantity of works seen.

  • Stretch yourself beyond your artistic comfort zone.  If you adore Post-Impressionists like Matisse and Van Gogh and Seurat, take a deviation and visit Pollock and Rothko and DeKooning the Abstract Expressionist galleries.  Spend some time getting to know an artwork that you don't necessarily feel attracted to.  If you cannot appreciate complete abstraction or nonrepresentational works, situate yourself on a bench in the gallery and give an artwork ten or fifteen minutes of concentration and quiet study.  You will be shocked to see what you might garner from a work once you allow yourself the time to sit and wait.  Far too often, as hurried American viewers, we simply cast aside works that we don't like because we have not given ourselves time to understand them.  Even a work which you may not find immediately beautiful can offer an edifying message should you be patient and scrutinizing. 

  • Take advantage of the resources that the museum makes available to you.  Read wall labels and ask docents questions.  Collect information to root the works in some historical context and your visit will be significantly more fruitful. 

  • Marvel.  In most museums there's bound to be at least one work that pulls you in like a vortex, that captures your attention and captivates you with its beauty.  Pause in front of that piece and take it in.  Notice the colors and the textures and the shapes.  Imagine what the artist was thinking when he or she created the work.  What did he have for breakfast?  What did her studio look like?  What was happening in the world at that time? Think about how the image makes you feel and why.  Stamp that artwork on your memory and return to it in your mind's eye when you need a spot of beauty amid a bleak day. 
How do you visit a museum?  What brings you the most joy when touring an artistic space? 


  1. Excellent museum-going advice! Contemplation (of art, ideas, or anything) should get its own special area in a day...

  2. Agreed! I hate going to musuems w/ folks who want to get through the whole thing... How could you fully appreciate it all? I am glad you had so much fun at the Met. It is a jewel!!
    I loved a painting by Cot there of a couple in the forest. The girl is on a swing and they way she is looking at her mate is enchanting...The translucent dress she is wearing is gorgeous... I never cease to be amazed at who artists can capture translucent 'things' for lack of mastery of the english language! :)


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