Museums on Fifth Avenue|The Guggenheim

The streets surrounding Central Park are bursting with luxury apartments, hotels, embassies, posh establishments and a vast array of museums, in an interesting mix of past, present and future, where the nouveau riche meet old money – very serious money.

The concentration of splendour, culture and wealth in these few blocks is so dense it needs to be consumed in moderation or else the unsuspecting visitor risks falling into the ”too much, too soon” trap.

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Most museums in the periphery are located on the Upper East Side, the section of 5th Avenue that became known as the Museum Mile. It is named after the festival held every year in June when, for one day, the car traffic is replaced by musical entertainment, artistic events and parades, with those museums that take part, offering free admittance.

Tip: Think twice before you buy one of the numerous city passes saving money on entry fees and giving free access to hundreds of attractions. Be sure to focus on those you actually want to see and scrap the rest – most likely you won’t find the time or energy to make it there. Also, it is worth remembering that a lot of attractions and museums offer free entry or operate under the ”pay-what-you-wish” scheme. Pay what you wish means exactly that – no questions asked. Have a look on this link, or check further on line.

Staying true to ”moderate consumption”, we only made it to three museums on 5th Avenue, very different in size and content and all incredibly interesting; but the most architecturally – and visually – stimulating of all is, without a doubt, the Guggenheim.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s futuristic spiral design with its white minimal surfaces, winding ramp and interconnected galleries, is mesmerizing both inside and out.  And yet, it attracted a lot of criticism even before its completion in 1959, not least by the artists themselves, who felt that the building would overpower their art.

Wright responded “On the contrary, it was to make the building and the painting an uninterrupted, beautiful symphony such as never existed in the World of Art before.” Mr Wright has most certainly succeeded but the critics had a point: this stunning, geometric and harmonious yet somehow appearing natural and organic structure does stand out; and it takes a lot of focusing not to be distracted by it.

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Its spiralling design reminded me of ”Vertigo”, one of my favourite paintings by Belgian artist Léon Spilliaert (1881 – 1946):

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Vertigo, 1908. Léon Spilliaert. Museum of Fine Arts, Ostend

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”Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe” was running when we visited, an exhibition showing key works of artists of the Futurist Movement.

The Guggenheim imposes strict rules about photography: allowed in the main lobby but not in the galleries or  from the upper floors looking down. This is obviously to prevent an accident and with good reason. I was only reminded of Vertigo and generally feel confident leaning from balconies (hence the sneaked pics) but others might be just steps away from actually experiencing it.

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Aristide Maillol (1861 – 1944). Pomona with Lowered Arms (Pomone aux bras tombants), 1937

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Giacomo Balla, Patriotic Demonstration (Dimostrazione patriottica), 1915. Oil on canvas. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

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Mr Wright’s uninterrupted, beautiful symphony extended to places less likely to be noticed. Yet, it’s the aesthetic detail that makes all the difference:  a waste collection corner, artfully concealed.

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Shared photo credits (Konstantinos & Lia)

New York, 13 June 2014

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5 thoughts on “Museums on Fifth Avenue|The Guggenheim

    • Thanxxx! It’s arguably more interesting than the collection itself, at least by some accounts. But as the exhibition about Italian Futurism was on, I can’t say I’ve seen much of the collection. I did spot a couple of works but most had travelled from other museums or galleries.

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