Kathryn’s Top 5 Museums in New York City

Edited by Morgan Moore.

Cover image courtesy of Luca Bravo.

Having grown up in and around New York City with a love of art history, I’ve always made it a point to visit the many museums the city has to offer. From a young age, I accompanied my mom to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on short, enthusiastic trips to see the Impressionist art. Today, that is one of my favorite art movements, and I owe my love of the Met, and of art history as a whole, to all of my visits there during my formative years. As I got a bit older, I embarked on my first trip to the Frick Museum. I immersed myself in the Medieval and Renaissance art that the Frick had to offer, and was enthralled by the museum’s beautiful and warm interiors. When I took my first formal art history class in my senior year of high school, I learned about Modern art, and had a most enlightening trip to the Museum of Modern Art, in which I was able to make connections to all that I had learned in my AP class. As I entered college and fully discovered my love of Fin de Siècle and Modern art, due to inspiring courses in those subjects, I developed a newfound appreciation for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and also experienced The Neue Galerie for the first time. By visiting these museums, I discovered my interest in topics like Italian Futurism and German Expressionism, and was able to connect back to what I had learned at Wellesley College. These five institutions in particular have shaped my love of art history, and I would highly recommend them to anyone wanting to experience the New York art scene. Below, I’m excited to share my personal review of the museums, along with a few must-see attractions that each has to offer:

1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: As the United States’ largest art museum and the most popular attraction in Manhattan, with a record-breaking 7 million visitors between 2016 and 2017, the Met is truly a defining museum of New York City. Founded in 1870, the Met holds a vast collection of 2 million objects, which covers every era from ancient times to the present day, as well as a wide variety of rotating exhibitions. Some of my favorite sections to visit are the spectacular Christmas tree during the holiday season, the Temple of Dendur, the rotating rooftop exhibition, featuring the works of cutting-edge contemporary artists, the Impressionist paintings, specifically the works of Claude Monet and Mary Cassatt, and Edgar Degas’ iconic sculpture of a dancer. Also not to be missed is the Cloisters, the Met’s beautiful haven of Medieval art in Upper Manhattan. Filled with over 2,000 works of Medieval art, reconstructed chapels, and lush gardens and outdoor spaces, the museum offers an educational yet peaceful experience. I love to bring friends and family here, either to share my knowledge of the art, or simply to enjoy the tranquil surroundings.

The exterior of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image courtesy of Go! New York.

2. The Frick Museum: A prime destination for European art, with a collection spanning from the Medieval ages to the 19th century, the Frick always offers a peaceful atmosphere amongst elegant surroundings. The institution was the home of Henry Clay Frick, a prominent figure in the American Industrial Age; after his death, and according to his wishes, the collection became a museum for public enjoyment. Each visit gives the feel of a luxurious, Upper East Side home, with wood-paneled walls, sumptuous European art, and large, floor-to-ceiling windows. One of my favorite areas of the museum is the West Gallerya long room filled with Renaissance-era furniture and iconic portraits by masters like Rembrandt van Rijn (all of which are also accessible in the Virtual Tour feature on the museum’s website). One of my favorite paintings in the collection is Officer and Laughing Girl by Johannes Vermeer. The depth and perspective (the figure of the officer in the foreground is twice as large as the one of the girl in the background) that Vermeer created through this painting was so new and ahead of its time, and eventually gave way to modern inventions like photography. The Frick always promises to impart a beautiful experience amongst the works of the legendary Old Masters.

Johannes Vermeer, Officer and Laughing Girl. Image per Wikimedia Commons.

3. The Museum of Modern Art: With about 200,000 defining works in its versatile collection, the MoMA is truly an enlightening place to visit for all things modern and contemporary. The MoMA was founded in 1929, by both men and women who supported the arts, as a means of defying the long-established art canon. The fact that women helped found the museum shows how truly progressive this institution was and continues to be. Forward-looking and enlightened in nature, the MoMA has continued to expand over the past century. In 2006, its most recent renovation project finished, giving the museum double the exhibition space, as well as The Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building, which is devoted solely to the teaching and learning of art. The prominent role that education plays at the MoMA resonates with me personally; I strongly believe that art is meant to be taught and shared with others, and the museum definitely fulfills this mission through its art-related workshops for school teachers, its vast library which holds about 350,000 art-historical documents, and its versatile art classes, which are accessible online as well as onsite. It is through this museum that I learned about the importance of modern art; some works definitely not to be missed are Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, a quintessential Expressionist painting, Giorgio de Chirico’s The Song of Love, which helped me to learn about the Surrealist movement, and El Anatsui’s Bleeding Takari II, a poignant work that illustrates the horrific effects of colonialism in Nigeria. I love the MoMA’s emphasis on education, and always enjoy revisiting my favorite works of modern art.

The exterior of the Museum of Modern Art. Image per Timothy Hursley.

4. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum: Businessman and art collector Solomon R. Guggenheim founded this eponymous institution in 1939, which was instrumental in making European modern art accessible to the American public. As his collection grew, Guggenheim sought to bring it to a larger edifice, which he and art advisor Hilda Rebay commissioned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to execute. Guggenheim’s and Rebay’s wish was that the architecture be unique; Frank Lloyd Wright envisioned a continuous spiral format, which was unlike any museum layout created before. The new building officially opened in 1959, and the unprecedented design enthralls visitors to this day. Whenever I visit the Guggenheim, I love ascending the various floors while viewing the art on the walls and in the side galleries; the spiral format makes the collection enjoyable and easy to access without feeling overwhelming and stilted. My favorite exhibit at the museum was Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe, which displayed more than 300 works in various media, like paintings, sculptures, manifestos, furniture, clothing, and poetry. The venue was perfect for the subject matter: the continuous layout made the elements of the vast exhibit flow seamlessly into each other, with the progression of the various floors mirroring the evolution of Futurism as an art movement. The Guggenheim does an excellent job of displaying each of its exhibits, with its layout always facilitating an enthralling experience.

The spiral layout of the Guggenheim. Image per Getty Images.

5. The Neue Galerie: Devoted solely to modern German and Austrian art, this museum is the most intimate of the five. The museum officially opened in 2001, though its history dates back almost 100 years earlier: Art historian Otto Kallir founded a museum of the same name in Vienna, Austria in 1923; subsequently, Serge Sabarsky and Ronald Lauder, noted individuals in the art world who shared a love of German and Austrian art, succeeded in bringing such a museum to New York. In addition to displaying beautiful works of art by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and housing the charming Cafe Sabarsky, which features authentic Austrian cuisine, the museum represents a complex history. Klimt’s iconic Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I, among other works, were confiscated from the Altmann family by the Nazis in World War II. After years of restitution battles, the family finally got the works back, and subsequently decided to sell them. In 2006, the Neue Galerie purchased the portrait from the Altmanns, and it has been hanging in the museum ever since. The portrait, a beautiful treasure that may have been lost to us forever, represents a sense of justice for the Altmann family, and is an attraction most certainly not to be missed at this iconic museum.

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Image per Wikimedia Commons.

2 comments on “Kathryn’s Top 5 Museums in New York City

  1. This was an excellent breakdown of each museum. Would love to see the Cloisters and the Neue Galleries next time I’m in NY.


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