Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Lots of Museums

Every so often I get the chance to make a stab at being up-to-date on what's at some of the many museums worth visiting. Of course, the ones I seem to get to the least are in Washington, which is a shame especially since almost all of those are free, not a standard practice any more in most places. But last week I was in New York and had a rare opportunity to attend a members' preview at the Museum of Modern Art.

The subject was one Alighiero Boetti, whose first name is a variant on Dante's last name. His work is definitely different -- collages of maps made up of flags, lots of early variations on op art. Viewing a whole range of his creations was fun and his life (I believe he died in the 1990s) included a patch running a hotel in Kabul.

Of course, just getting a chance to take in the permanent collection at Moma is delightful. What's even better is that they seem to alter the makeup of that permanent collection by bringing some additions out to take up wall space and these invariably are of the incredible quality of the rest. Another permanent collection always worth a visit is at the Neue Gallerie, the home in New York, on 86th St. and Fifth, of German and Austrian art.  This time they were having a Klimt show, and that includes Josef Hoffman designs as well as the occasional Kokoschka or Schiele canvas. Klimt always fascinates me, and Neue has the Adele Bloch-Bauer portrait that the family which owned it fought the Austrian government here and there in court to recover, only to then sell it to Ronald Lauder for the Neue.

The Neue also had a great photo show upstairs featuring Heinrich Kuehne, a colleague of two not-so-shabby camera bugs named Stieglitz and Steichen.  Having a coffee downstairs in the lower-level cafe is also a treat. I know, it's not the equal of the first-floor Cafe Sabarsky, which is the perfect rendition of a Vienna coffeehouse, but I don't mind the lesser version. The next day, I took in the Weegee show at the International Center of Photography; Weegee is the ultimate master of the Speed Graphic crime shot, mostly in the 30s and 40s for all New York papers, but a few dead bodies go a long way, although his more experimental work which appeared in PM still is compelling.

Then it was around the corner to the Lunch Hour exhibit at the New York Public Library, not yet ruined by yet another profit-seeking venture envisioned for the grand 42nd Street building. This history of lunch hour in Manhattan featured the coin-slot windows from the old Automat, as well as menus going back to the original Delmonico's in the early 1820s. A fine lady contributed her menu collection in the early 1900s to the Astor Library, one of the three great components of the New York Public. Then there are menus and other items from war-time cafs at the Brooklyn Naval Yard and the great Joe Baum joints of the 50s and 60s--The Four Seasons, The Forum of the Twelve Caesars, Windows on the World. Lots of enjoyable stuff.

My last stop was my first ever visit to the Museum of the City of New York, which had a very sophisticated film on three screens on the growth of the great metropolis to accompany a carefully organized exhibit on "the Great Grid"--the 1811 street plan for Manhattan. There was also a show devoted to activists of all stripes.

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