By Beth Gersh-Nesic
You have been planning your holiday vacation in New York for weeks: shop ‘til you drop, museum ‘til you moan and eat 'til your pants' button starts feeling it (oh, those cannolis in Little Italy—totally worth it). But where to begin?
Here is your guide to an art-packed holiday weekend in the Big Apple, complete with Rockefeller Center strolling and cannolis eating downtown. Ready, set, go!
After 4 p.m.: Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Target Free Fridays begin at 4 p.m. (you'll save $20). The museum closes at 8 p.m.
- Georges Seurat: The Drawings, through January 7, 2008. Neo-Impressionist sketches for Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte (1884-6) and The Bathers of Asnière (1883-4), plus scenes of café concerts and more in Seurat's inimitable conte crayon style.
- Martin Puryear, through January 14. Superb spare modernist sculpture of bent wood and polished stone: ethereal, meditative.
- Lucien Freud: The Painter's Etchings, through March 10. Britain's best-known contemporary figurative artist.
- New Perspectives on Latin American Art, 1930-2006, through February 25. A satisfying companion to the more exciting Geometry of Hope: Latin American Abstract Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, which recently closed at the Grey Art Gallery, NYU.
Rockefeller Center is only three blocks away, going south from MoMA, and the Saks Fifth Avenue windows and Saint Patrick's Cathedral are just across the street from RC and its iconic Christmas Tree. You can walk to the theatre district for an 8 o'clock curtain. There are plenty of restaurants in all directions in this neighborhood too, for either an all out dinner or a quiet nosh before the show.
AM: Rise and shine—the Morgan Library and Museum, Madison Avenue at 36th Street, opens at 10:30 a.m.
- Printed with Words: Vincent van Gogh’s Letters to Émile Bernard, through January 6. A thoroughly absorbing display of twenty letters from 30-something Dutch van Gogh to the 20-something French artist Bernard, replete with heartfelt thoughts and keen observations, wondrous sketches and assorted other works that flesh out this late period in van Gogh’s career. You will need a fresh and fully-focused mind to adequately engage with this demanding show.
- Drawing Connections: Baselitz, Kelly, Penone, Rockburne and Old Masters, through January 6. Intriguing, but requires less concentration. Best seen after the van Gogh letters, and preferably after a pick-me-up in the Morgan's pleasant café.
Japan Society on 47th Street, just before UN Plaza. Making a Home: Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York is the special exhibition on view through January 13. Try to catch the docent tour at 2 p.m. on Saturday—it will help tremendously.
This show is the most fun and challenging for this 2007 season—perhaps one of the best shows of the year. Be prepared for adult content, in the event that you have children under 12. There is one video that is quite suggestive, though hilarious for us old folk. The theme for this video and most of the works underscores the intersection of life, culture and private fantasy. In this show, Japanese culture sizes up New York culture, a salad bowl of piquant flavors that are constantly bombarding and sometimes abusing each other in this look-at-me city.
The room-size installations merit a special applause for originality—sort of a Barbie in her Dreamhouse experience. Your visit begins with a gift from Yoko Ono, a card entitled A Hole to See the Sky Through (1961/1971), which is given out in the first room where an information desk doubles as a work of art in the show.
After the tour—3 o’clockish: Leave Japan Society and turn right, going west, toward Lexington Avenue. Walk to 50th Street and take the local #6 Subway to 86th Street. Take the North East exit at 86th Street and walk north to 92nd and then west toward Fifth Avenue. You will be at ...
The Jewish Museum, 92nd Street at Fifth Avenue. The Jewish Museum is free on Saturdays and closes at 5:45 p.m. (The two hours you've left yourself is plenty of time.)
- Camille Pissarro: Impressions of City and Country, through February 3. A compact survey of Pissarro landscapes, many seldom or never seen in public.This show is a sheer delight. Relax and drink in the delicate excitement of modernity as it penetrated into the psyche of this independently-minded anarchist who was born on St. Thomas and always remained a Danish citizen. Pissarro's father was French, of Portuguese lineage. He married his uncle's widow after coming to St. Thomas to help her sort out her husband's estate. There is more family mishegas after that—but it is not necessary to know about the dirt under the rug to understand these works of art.
- Isaac Bashevis Singer and the Lower Eastside: Photographs by Bruce Davidson, through February 3. Sit down, already, and enjoy! Here you will view a 20-minute film, which can best be described as Surrealism meets Old World ethos in an over-heated Manhattan apartment. You can almost smell the chicken soup simmering on the stove. Davidson's photographs of I.B. Singer line this elegant "screening room," which also shows off the original Warburg Mansion décor, adding an especially appropriate charm to the video's magic-realist tale. Enchanting and weird!
- From the New Yorker to Shrek: The Art of William Steig, through March 16. I am an unrepentant New Yorker cartoons addict, so this show completely recharged my batteries—one of the few "author" shows of late that did not disappoint. Although this exhibition is for young and old, if you have little ones in tow, this may be the only exhibition for the day. If the kids get restless, skip over to Archaeology Zone: Discovering Treasures from Playgrounds to Palaces, located in the children's area upstairs. It features dress-up and other interactive stuff to get into an Indiana Jones spirit.
First: eat! The cafeteria closes at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturdays; the Petrie Café closes at 8:30 p.m., but you may have to wait a while to sit down. The museum closes at 8:45 p.m., but the guards start to sweep the galleries at 8:30. Also, the bathrooms are locked around 8:30—so don’t wait until 8:40 or you'll be out of luck.
- The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, through January 6. Many familiar faces, such as Rembrandt's Aristotle with a Bust of Homer (1653) and Vermeer's A Maid Asleep (1656-7). Arranged chronologically by donor, the exhibition celebrates great gifts-givers: the magnanimous collectors who have showered the MMA with their largess. Some misattributions are in evidence too—proof that acquiring Old Master works has its risky side. As always, the MMA has installed an ambitious and enormous show. It may take more than one visit to climb this Everest of an exhibition, if you can spare the time.
- Gates of Paradise: Lorenzo Ghiberti's Renaissance Masterpiece, through January 13. The most exciting Old Master show this fall season. Stunning and mercifully small, this show offers very interesting text panels (did I really write that?) which describe the lost-wax process, the history of Ghiberti's production and the fate of these panels in the past, present and future. Only three panels are on view: Adam and Eve, Jacob and Essau and Moses and the Exodus. A photograph of the Gate of Paradise provides a much needed reference.
- Tapestries in the Baroque: Threads of Splendor, through January 6. Massive and overwhelming at times. Titanic scenes taken from mythology, history and allegory. Requires stamina, but can be enjoyed by choosing selectively.
On the other hand, please welcome the MMA's latest guest: Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibly of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991) (a.k.a. "the shark"), on loan from Steven Cohen collection for the next three years. Great conversation piece. I really love it now—I do!
By now you must be museumed out. Time to stroll down Fifth Avenue or take a bus back to your lodgings. The buses in front of the MMA drive down Fifth Avenue. A feast of festive lights and decorations will gently pass you by while you gather your strength for tomorrow's adventures.
Sunday AM: Sleep late--the museums open at 11 a.m.
The Frick Collection, 70th at Fifth Avenue, offers a "pay as you wish" period from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Sunday. On view through January 27 is the special exhibition Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724-1780). Delightful scenes of eighteenth century Paris in deft sketches that are chock-o-block full of activities. A jewel of a show that doesn't exhaust the mind or the eyes. Magnifying glasses are available on site. (You'll need one.) While you are there, be sure to enjoy The Frick Collection’s newly re-opened Fragonard Room, a signature gallery that recently underwent its first major refurbishment in sixty years.
After lunch: Either The Whitney, Madison Avenue at 75 Street or The New Museum, 235 Bowery at Prince Street.
At the Whitney Museum of American Art:
- Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love, through February 3
- Laurence Weiner: AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE, through February 10
- Danny Lyon: Montage, Film and Still Photography, through January 13
- Television Delivers People, through February 17
- Beth Campbell: Following Room, through February 24
Visually driven shows that pack a wallop if you take it all in. Kara Walker explores her African-American female identity within the context of the physical abuse of female slaves during the Civil War; Weiner asks you to read the object into existence; and Danny Lyon revisits his life while talking to his child in one of two videos accompanied by a sample of his best known photographs. At this time, I have not seen Television or Beth Campbell, although I understand that the latter takes the ordinary and makes it strange. Isn't the ordinary strange enough these days?
If you opt for the New Museum, you are right next to Chinatown and Little Italy for dinner and dessert. Chinatown at night is the best post-modern show: the shops are crammed with inexpensive gift ideas and kitschy artifice. Ironically, this ethno-eclectic spectacle serves up the most authentic New York experience during the holiday season. Its copious displays of fresh fruit and vegetables, exotic food stuffs and colorful tchotkes represent America's obsession with abundance and material manifestations of identity. Here is the museum of the city.
Let's end our tour with the pièce de resistance: a traditional Christmas visit to any bakery in Little Italy—baba au rhum, pinoli cookies, cannolis, fig pockets, struffoli, ah, mmmm ... transcendent.
Alternate Exhibitions Especially for Children:
- Gods, Myths and Mortals: Discover Ancient Greece (no closing date posted), at the Children's Museum of Manhattan, 212 West 83rd Street, near Amsterdam Avenue. Interactive and attractive, this show will get your little myth-maven off to a great start. Recommended for children 6 years old and up—that means older people are welcome too.
- Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns and Mermaids, through January 6, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street. My friend Vicky and I took our teenage myth-mavens to test the waters this time. Our guest critics gave one thumb up and one thumb not impressed; they were eager to point out flaws and inaccuracies. The verdict: Needed to find its ideal audience. Too many signs for younger children. Too juvenile for older children. Still, it's near the dinosaurs and that's a saving grace. Tip: buy AMNH tickets in advance—the lines are monstrous.
- The Museum of Modern Art
- The Morgan Library and Museum
Read most of van Gogh’s letter and the translations online.
- Japan Society
- The Jewish Museum
Listen to curator Karen Levitov talk about Pissarro on The Leonard Lopate Show.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Watch curator Walter Liedtke talk about The Age of Rembrandt... on The Charlie Rose Show.
- The Frick Collection
- Whitney Museum of American Art
- The New Museum
- Children's Museum of Manhattan
- The American Museum of Natural History
-- Beth in New York
Georges Seurat (French, 1859-1891)
Model Facing Front (study for Models), 1886
Oil on wood
10 1/4 x 6 3/16" (26 x 15.7 cm)
Anonymous Gift (donor retaining a life interest), 2000
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
© Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource
Jean-Antoine Watteau (French, 1684–1721)
Study of a Young Man Seen from the Back and
Another Study of His Right Arm, ca. 1717
Black, red, and white chalk on light brown paper
8 3/16 x 9 in. (20.8 x 22.7 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene V. Thaw; 2000.56
© The Morgan Library & Museum
Tree and crèche display in the Medieval Sculpture Hall,
Metropolitan Musem of Art
Photograph © 2006 Robert Alan Espino
Gabriel Jacques de Saint-Aubin (French, 1724-1780)
The Flirtatious Conversation, 1760
Watercolor and gouache
7 7/8 x 5 3/16 in. (20 x 13 cm)
Forsyth Wickes Collection
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston