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

20th Century American Life Captured in Art


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American life in the 20th century are beautifully captured in exhibitions at two New York City museums: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of the City of New York.

America Today by Thomas Hart Benton, on display at the Met

America Today by Thomas Hart Benton, on display at the Met

America Today, at the Metis a ten-panel mural painted by Thomas Hart Benton in the late 1920’s before his career really took off.  The murals are hung in one large gallery in the American Wing at the museum, replicating how they appeared when they were first hung in the boardroom of New York’s New School for Social Research. The impact of standing in the room, and having an almost panoramic view of these paintings, is spectacular. Each panel vividly brings to life scenes from America in the 1920’s. In an adjacent gallery, you can see sketches and early paintings Benton did to prepare for the murals. I enjoyed seeing these, almost as much as the panels themselves, because you could see how Benton composed many of the scenes. There’s also a room with other works from the Met’s permanent collection that relate to America Today. It was interesting to learn that Jackson Pollack (one painting on view) had been a student of Benton’s and served as a model for his teacher’s mural. This exhibit is on view through April 19, 2015.

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Mac Conner: A New York Life, at the Museum of the City of New York, is the first exhibition of illustrator McCauley Conner. It contains more than 70 original artworks depicting American life from the 1940’s-1960’s. Conner, a New York native, was an original “Mad Men,” as much of his work was done for advertising agencies. Many of the pieces on view are editorial illustrations, bringing to life, stories that appeared in magazines like Good Housekeeping and Redbook.  I was particularly drawn to the sparse line drawings, with limited colors, that captured a moment in time. For more information on Conner, read an MCNY blog post Mac Conner, One of New York’s Original ‘Mad Men.’  The exhibit is open through January 19, 2015.

Bard Graduate Center: Art and Design From Colombia



bardThe Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture, is a  research institute of Bard College on West 86th street that opened in New York City in 1993. Of particular interest to an art lover is the  gallery affiliated with the graduate center. Located down the block in a lovely brownstone, the gallery presents two exhibitions annually, curated by members of the faculty, staff, or curatorial consultants with specialized expertise.

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On view now is a visually exciting exhibition called, “Waterweavers: The River in Contemporary Colombian Visual and Material Culture.”  The exhibit, according to the Bard, ” uses the trope of the river as a conceptual device to explore the intricate ways in which culture and nature intertwine across disciplines.”  Seventeen artists, designers and craftspeople are represented with work ranging from the practical, like woven chairs and rugs, to the abstract, like an installation featuring papers and fibers dyed with natural pigments.

It was a bit challenging learning what each piece was because there are no descriptions posted on the walls. The Bard provides a very detailed brochure to read while viewing the pieces. Unfortunately the print was tiny and the lighting not conducive to reading. Nonetheless, there is plenty to take in visually without the background.

“Waterweavers” is on view until August 10th. Don’t miss it.

Peabody Essex Museum — An Art Find Outside of New York


The atrium lobby of the Peabody Essex Museum

Summer is a time for both “staycations” and vacations. When I’m on vacation I try to check out local museums and historical sites. Just recently, I spent the day in Salem, MA.  The reason for the visit was to see the House of the Seven Gables, that inspired the Nathaniel Hawthorne book of the same name. But while I was there, I had the surprising pleasure of getting to know a wonderful art museum, called the Peabody Essex Museum.

Putnam Family Cupboard, 1680

Putnam Family Cupboard, 1680

Founded in 1799, the Peabody Essex Museum  is one of the nation’s major museums for Asian art, including Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Indian art, along with a collection of Asian Export art extant and 19th-century Asian photography. It has the earliest collections of Native American and Oceanic art in the nation.  Their American Collection includes historic houses and gardens, and American decorative art and maritime art collections spanning 300 years of New England’s heritage.

JMW Turner, Venice: The Dogana and San Giorgio Maggiore

JMW Turner, Venice: The Dogana and San Giorgio Maggiore

In addition to the PEM permanent collection, they also have special exhibitions like the current one, Turner & the Sea, on view until September 1st. Throughout multiple gallery rooms, you see the breadth and depth of Joseph Mallord William Turner’s lifelong preoccupation with the sea. It includes his Academy paintings of the late 1790s and early 1800s, to the unfinished, experimental seascapes produced towards the end of his life.

If you are ever visiting Boston or traveling North of there, make a stop in Salem and visit the Peabody Essex Museum.

Where Art Meets History: The New York Historical Society


 You may have heard of the New York Historical Society.  But you probably didn’t know that this is the oldest museum in New York City (it was founded in 1804), and it houses over twenty-five hundred American paintings from the colonial period through the twentieth century. It also holds one of the country’s leading collections of Hudson River School landscapes. Their permanent collection also includes some 800 sculptures and over 8,000 drawings. These cover the beginnings of American art when it was dominated by European artists, up through the 1860s.

Usually it’s the special exhibits at the NYHS that draw me there.  Past exhibits I’ve enjoyed include: The Armory Show at 100 and Swing Time: Reginald Marsh and Thirties New York.


This week I went to see “Bill Cunningham: Facades,” and “Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War,” two current exhibits. They were both very interesting and so different. I happen to be there just as a free guided tour began. I took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the permanent collection and discovered the greatest reason of all to visit NYHS: The Luce Center


One level of the Luce Center

Located on the 4th floor of the Society, The Luce Center is home to  nearly 40,000 objects from the New-York Historical Society’s permanent collection. You can see art and artifacts spanning four centuries,  from the nation’s premiere collection of Tiffany lamps, to “historical touchstones such as the draft wheel that played a role in one of the worst urban riots in United States history. “

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 I only got to see a small part of the collection. One of the objects that stood out  was a horse-drawn carriage from the late 1770’s. Owned by the Beekman family (of “Beekman Place”); it is one of only three such 18th Century American coaches to survive in original condition.  There was also a whole case devoted to artifacts from Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue founded in 1654. One of the funniest objects I saw was a ceramic cockroach trap from 1840.

It’s worth going to NYHS just to see this collection but hurry; it’s undergoing a massive renovation beginning in July 2014.