New York City is arguably the museum capital of the world offering literally hundreds of museums, cultural institutions, and historic sites of all sizes. It is especially strong when it comes to art museums, featuring art from all over the world and every period of history.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the United States and continues to attract some of the most exclusive collections of art for public display, including seventy-eight Cubist paintings worth $1 billion by cosmetics magnate Leonard Lauder. Built in 1872 and residing at on Central Park West at 82nd Street, the Museum stands out with a permanent collection across 17 curatorial departments including Ancient Near Eastern art, a collection of more than 35,000 costumes and accessories, and medieval art from the 4th to 16th centuries. Colloquially known as the Met, its quarter-mile-long classically-inspired facade is a work of art in itself, architected by many and most prominently by Richard Morris Hunt, the first American to study at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
On the other side of the Park is the Whitney Museum, dedicated to the American art of the 1900s and 2000s. Like the Met, the Whitney had humble beginnings, starting as a seed of an idea by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a successful American sculptor who wanted to bring attention to the unrecognized American artists of the 1920s. Its permanent collection of more than 18,000 works features America’s greatest artists, including a dozen from Edward Hopper alone.
Museum of Modern Art
Jumping back to the West Side is the Museum of Modern Art at 53rd Street, noted as one of the world’s most influential museums of modern art. It started as just six rooms of galleries in 1929 and quickly gained acclaim with a Picasso retrospective in 1939. The museum now features over 150,000 individual pieces. Equally importantly is the MoMA’s library and archives that hold more than 300,000 books, periodicals, and individual artist files. MoMA has held its own with classic works from Van Gogh, Picasso and Rousseau in addition to the more contemporary work of Dali, Mondrian and Warhol.
New York’s art community holds European art in great esteem and one of the best places where this happens is the Frick Collection. Housed in a 1913 mansion at East 70th Street, the Frick has major European artists’ work as well as sculpture, porcelain, enamel, and Oriental rugs. Known for its artistic elegance, the Frick makes the environment as artistic as the work itself with furniture, books, vases, and other household items.
Further uptown, a more contemporary building, whose most recent incarnation was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1959 as a “temple of the spirit,” the Guggenheim Museum’s collection began as Guggenheim collected work in the decadent 20s and into the 30s, when the first museum was opened in 1939. It took a 1962 exhibition by museum director Thomas Messer to provably overcome the challenges of displaying art and sculpture in a building that has attendees gently ascend on a circular ramp. Today, its permanent collection is shared among multiple locations, like Bilbao, Spain, and is built upon several private collections donated to the museum. The works include an extensive Impressionist collection from Justin K. Thannhauser, Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo’s Minimalist and Conceptual art, and pieces from both the Mapplethorpe and Bohen Foundations.
Art in New York has been thriving for a hundred years and will collections and curators like these can be expected to thrive for a hundred years more.