PJ and I went to three museums while we were in NYC last week: the Guggenheim, the Met, and MOMA. Each of these is, of course, world famous. As I’ve written before, I love going to museums and even have favorites. MOMA may now be on that list.

The Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim is, of course, famous for its distinctive architecture and spiralling exhibit space. The main exhibit while we were there was a collection called “Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso.” My previous experience with Spanish painting is visiting the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid and the Museu Picasso in Barcelona. While visiting the former, I fell in love with the seventeenth-century painter Diego Velazquez, so I was excited to see that the Guggenheim was showing Spanish art, including a few works by him.

One of my favorite paintings in the Spanish exhibit is BartolomĂ© Esteban Murillo’s Four Figures on a Step, which was painted sometime around 1655-60:

Four Figures on a Step

According to the description that accompanied the painting, the woman lifting her veil is, in doing so, indicating that she’s a prostitute. The older woman with glasses is probably a procuress. The placard audio guide also suggests that the little boy’s torn pants and exposed buttocks is meant to suggest his erotic allure for male patrons as well. The description did not mention the male figure on the left, but he too is presumably “for hire.”

What I like about this painting is its availability to be read. Once we know a little about the conventions of proper women wearing veils in the Spain during the period and about the genre of doorway paintings, what might otherwise seem like an innocent family portrait (or something like that) becomes a darker depiction of sexuality and commerce. The painting’s color palette also jumps out at the viewer with its contrasting darks and lights. And the three figures look directly at us, implicating us in their economy of illicit desire. I really like the way in which Murillo and Velazquez play with the relationship between painting and viewer in their work. Las Meninas is, of course, a prime example of the latter’s playfulness.

I do have one criticism of the Guggenheim: the placement of information about each of the works of art was too random and was often difficult to find. When paintings were displayed as a group, for example, the placards might all be together next to one of the paintings, but they also might not be. Sometimes the information was to the right of the work; sometimes it was to the left. Since I want to write down the artists’s names, dates, and titles of works for the art I like, not being able to find the information beside the work itself was often a little irritating.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met is a huge museum, one that should be enjoyed over an entire day rather than just in an afternoon, which is how long we were there. It contains a little bit of just about everything you can imagine when it comes to art.

I like several paintings and sculptures from the Met’s permanent and visiting collections, too many to list all of them here. So, I’ll only list three. One was Thomas Eakins’s The Thinker. In many ways, this portrait reminds me of the seventeenth-century Spanish paintings I like, especially in its color scheme and brush strokes. One of the special exhibits was a collection called “Americans in Paris, 1860-1900.” Among the paintings in this exhibition, I really liked Dennis Miller Bunker’s 1884 work, Brittany Town Morning, Larmor. And finally, I liked Gaston Lachaise’s take on the female form in Standing Woman (Elevation), a bronze.

The Museum of Modern Art

I don’t usually like modern art or modern art museums. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to find how much I enjoyed MOMA. First off, the space is excellent. In contrast to the Tate Modern in London, which is a great but somewhat crowded feeling museum, MOMA’s exhibition rooms have plenty of space. The artworks are well displayed and well described.

I was particularly excited to see Adonis in Y Fronts by Richard Hamilton, a work I fell in love with when I was an undergraduate just coming to terms with my sexual orientation. It is part of a special exhibit at MOMA called “Eye on Europe.” I also liked Gerhard Richter’s Elisabeth II, a 1966 portrait of the queen. And finally, one of my favorite works from MOMA’s permanent collection is August Macke’s Lady in a Park. I really like the colors and angularity of the painting.

MOMA also holds two of the most famous paintings in world: Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory and Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night. Seeing these works in person was amazing. I never knew that Dali’s painting was so small. It’s also great to see how textured van Gogh’s painting is. They alone are worth the trip!

Overall, I really enjoyed our museum outings on this trip. Like London, New York has a seemingly infinite number of museums. I hope to see more the next time we visit.

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