Finding Art in a House of Books


More than one million books were in place when the New York Public Library was officially dedicated on May 23, 1911. The Beaux-Arts designed building was the largest marble structure ever attempted in the United States, according to the NYPL’s website. Today’s main branch, with its imposing lions keeping watch, has become not only a place for reading and research, but a tourist destination as well. However, it’s not often thought of as a place to view art.

The McGraw Rotunda

The McGraw Rotunda

To begin with, there is the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building itself. It was named in 2008 after the Wall Street financier Stephen A. Schwarzman who agreed to jump-start a $1 billion expansion of the library system with a guaranteed $100 million of his own. Besides the majestic outside, the ceilings, hallways and reading rooms are beautiful as well. Start with the third floor McGraw Rotunda where you will find murals by Edward Laning depicting the history of the written word.

Also on the third floor is the Edna Barnes Salomon Room, named in honor of the wife of former NYPL Chairman of the Board Richard Salomon. Though the room is now the home of a new wireless Internet reading and study room,  it contains some of the building’s most important paintings. Many of the artworks belonged to the families of James Lenox and John Jacob Astor and include portraits by Reynolds, Raeburn, Romney, Trumball and Stuart. In addition, to the permanent art found in the library, there are always interesting exhibits .

Print from "Sublime, The Prints of  J.M.W. Turner and Thomas Moran

Print from “Sublime, The Prints of J.M.W. Turner and Thomas Moran

Sublime: The Prints of J.M. W. Turner and Thomas Moran can be found along the hallway on the third floor. Between 1807-1819 Turner published his Liber Studiorum (Book of Studies). It’s a series of landscapes evoking a sense of the “Sublime,” a term philosopher Edmund Burke defined as “whatever is fitted…to excite ideas of pain or danger.” American painter and printmaker, Thomas Moran was inspired by Turner’s work. Shown at different ends of the hall, the exhibition provides an interesting comparison between the “British and American artists’ often complementary and sometimes divergent views of nature,” states the exhibition catalog.

Image from "Public Eye"

Image from “Public Eye”

Public Eye: 175 Years of Sharing Photography can be found on the first floor and is drawn entirely from the Library’s collections. It explores various ways photography has been shared and made public from 1839 to the present. More than 50 photographers are represented including Ed Ruscha, Gary Winogrand, and Thomas Struth. There’s  an interactive piece representing digital traces of life in a twenty-first century city, and a  stereogranimater which allows you to view, create, and share 3D images from the stereograph collections of The New York Public Library and Boston Public Library.

There are many other smaller exhibits on view. Check the library’s website for the full listing


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