New York’s Private Worlds Of Art
Even the most avid traveller cannot visit the whole world in a lifetime, let alone in a month or a year. Good thing, then, New York provides a backdrop for the world’s cultural riches in one location. The city’s major museums such as the Metropolitan Museum Of Art and the Museum Of Modern Art are well known for the depth of their collections, room after room bursting with thousands of masterpieces of the world’s most famous artists. There is another side to New York’s cultural treasures, though―those held and protected by private foundations and institutions, many of them focusing on specific countries or regions of the world. Some of these lesser-known, less-visited organisations house astonishing works of art that would be the envy of cities less well endowed than New York but here are just part of daily life.
Located at the corner of Madison Ave and 36th St, steps away from the shopping extravaganza of Fifth Avenue but worlds away in atmosphere, the Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum was once the private library of J Pierpont Morgan, one of America’s wealthiest financiers at the beginning of the twentieth century and an avid collector of books and items related to their world. Mr Morgan built a magnificent home specifically for his collections; the Renaissance-style building erected in 1906 is today supplemented by a modern wing displaying a diversity of interesting exhibits appealing to the bibliophile. Modern spaces are also put to good use at the Asia Society, an organisation dedicated to the advancement of awareness of Asian cultures in New York (and other countries, including Australia). In its red brick headquarters on Park Avenue at 70th St, the Asia Society displays temporary exhibits highlighting a cross-section of Asian cultures.
A private gallery with a billion-dollar-plus collection is the Neue Galerie located in a former mansion of the type that used to line the length of Fifth Avenue in its heyday as the most luxurious residential street in the world. Today, the house on Fifth Avenue at 86th St is the home of a priceless collection of Austrian and German art, bringing the extraordinary visions of Dix, Schlemmer, Kokoschka, Schiele, and Klimt to the forefront of the city’s art scene, albeit in a very discreet manner. While crowds clamour at the entrance of the Metropolitan Museum Of Art just four blocks away, hardly any of them venture north to the stately grace of the Neue Galerie.
If not for the presence of the American-Scandinavian Foundation’s headquarters around the corner from the Pierpont Morgan Library, the vibrant art history of northern Europe would be simply an afterthought for art aficionados in New York. The ASF, located at Park and 38th, looks from the street to be something of a Scandinavian bazaar with a busy café at the front, the ambiguous scent of salmon and dill emanating from the kitchen. Upstairs away from the crowd, though, are the rooms of the Foundation’s museum where rotating temporary exhibits present the evocative art for which the countries of northern Europe are (not so) well known. Rare glimpses of ethereal Icelandic landscapes mix with works from other Nordic countries. Aside from Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, few Scandinavian artists enjoy worldwide reputations; as their art attests, they are worth knowing about.
There are many other such institutions devoted to cultural advancement in the city of New York. The Japan Society on the East Side near the United Nations works hard to keep Japanese culture at the forefront of the city’s cultural activities by offering Japanese language classes in addition to serving as a place for the display of art; the Swiss Institute, located in SoHo, performs a similar role for Swiss culture. As its population reflects, New York is the whole world in one place.