As we were planning our holiday to New York, I knew that museums would certainly feature in our list of to-dos. I mean, there was no way we weren’t going to, right? New York is home to one of the largest art museums in the world, and then there are all the other cool museums as well.
A few things I learnt about exploring museums in New York:
1 | Temper your expectations – You cannot cover all of the Met in one day. Period. It is a VERY LARGE museum and I think you’d need weeks, if not months to see it all. I would say, either stick to certain era / style of art and cover just that. Or, you could look up a list of the 10-15 key exhibits at the Met, and just visit them. I wouldn’t recommend this second alternative though – that’s what we did, and we were just scrambling to get from one exhibition room to the other, but didn’t really enjoy the whole experience. If I got a do-over, I would just pick up 2-3 styles of art, and cover those in detail.
2 | Don’t give the audio-guides the side eye – Almost all of these museums offer free audio guides, and from my experience, I would say that they are absolutely worth it. Unless you’re an art history major and you know plenty about art and all the major artists and various art forms. Then maybe you don’t. But if you’re anything like me, ie, someone who’s only really getting to know the world of art and discovering museums, then audio guides are useful tools to get an in-depth perspective about the art piece that you are seeing. And you always have the option of switching them off if it gets too much.
3 | Give yourself time to wander – You’re probably visiting New York for only a few days and you have so many other things to do and see. I know, I know. But if you can, I would recommend that you give yourself some time and space to wander within the museums. They hold so much creativity within their walls that it’s hard not to feel inspired or moved.
Moving on. We visited four museums in all during our trip, and I am so glad for the experience. Each of these museums offered something different, and while I would have loved to have more time to explore them, I am happy with my overall experience.
Metropolitan Museum of Art (“Met”) – As you surely know, the Met is M-A-S-S-I-V-E! We were pretty certain that we wouldn’t be able to see all of it, so instead, we selected some 10 must-see art pieces (per various articles and guides) and decided to cover just those. Let me tell you, even then it was a mad rush. I was most disappointed that the “Temple of Dendur” was not open for public viewing on the day that we visited.
I’d also say we were poorly researched. We really didn’t spend any time planning in advance for the Met. We were literally googling “Things to See at the Met” after we’d purchased our tickets at the counter at the museum. Don’t be like us. Do your research. That’s true for all museums in general, but especially for a museum as vast as the Met.
Apart from all that fantastic art and the exhibitions in the various galleries below, I’d highly recommend that you make your way up to the Met rooftop to the Roof Garden Bar if you’re visiting during the warmer months – it’s open from May to October. It’s got a lovely, alternate view of the Manhattan skyline, and there’s gorgeous views of the Central Park to boot. When we visited last April, there was an exhibit by British artist Cornelia Parker, who recreated the Psycho house using salvaged wood from a dismantled red barn in upstate New York. The contrast against the more modern Manhattan skyline in striking for sure.
Also, there is a rather pricey Empty Met private tour available via Viator (it starts from US$ 125), but after having witnessed the enormous scale of the Met and the number of people that flock to it, I could make a case for spending that kind of money to experience the museum in a more private fashion.
Museum of Modern Art (“MoMA”) – I chose a rainy, Sunday morning to explore the MoMA, as did probably 3,429 other people! It was a bit mad once you got in, but thanks to the New York Pass, my wait time was only a few minutes (which when you’re on a it-is-my-last-day-in-New-York-I-
Anyway, there was so much goodness spread throughout the museum. A little bit of Jackson Pollock, a little bit of Andy Warhol, some Roy Lichtenstein, and of course the Picassos and the Van Goghs. I loved it all. I’ll be the first to admit that I find some of the abstract expressions of modern art difficult to comprehend (my thoughts are usually a mixture of “what on earth is that supposed to convey” and “what am I supposed to be seeing here“), but the audio guide was really rather useful.
A powerful exhibition that was on when I visited was The Mapping Journey Project by Bouchra Khalili, a Moroccan-French visual artist. She captured the stories of eight individuals who were forced to migrate from their home countries due to political and/or economic reasons, and it is heartbreaking to hear their harrowing accounts of all that they endure during their journeys.
Whitney Museum of American Art (“Whitney”) – It’s a hard tie between this and the MoMA for my favourite museum in New York. I was blown away by this one. Probably because my expectations were pretty much non-existent in this case. The main exhibition when I visited was “Human Interests: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection” (it’s still on, btw, and I would highly recommend that you visit if you’re in New York between now and 2nd April, when the exhibition ends).
I loved, loved the collection of portraits showcased throughout the museum. This polyvinyl cast of a woman and dog (by Duane Hanson) was so unbelievably realistic that it took me a while to comprehend that it was just an exhibit. Mind blown, seriously!
It was fascinating to see the evolution of portraits through the last century. From being prized, rare possessions (I’m sure that only the wealthiest of people had any interest in or the ability to commission portraits), portraits have now become somewhat universal – I mean, selfies are portraits, people!!! Anyway, like I said, the evolution was rather interesting to comprehend, and some of the pieces were truly exceptional and made my heart burst into multiple emotions, but mostly awe, amazement and an incredible respect for artists of all shapes and forms.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (“Guggenheim”) – This one makes for one stunning museum, for sure! The architecture is unlike most other museums and is visually striking. Also, it’s relatively small – you’d easily cover the exhibits in 3-4 hours. When I visited last April, The ongoing exhibition was by Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. It was interesting in pieces, and I liked that it offered a diverse experience than the other museums (lots of clay pieces, funky sculpture forms, photographs). And a lot of humour.
My favourite part of the exhibit was probably the Questions Projections. Different questions – many existential, some trivial – were projected onto the walls of a dark room in multiple languages, questions merging into each other, overlapping. It was thought provoking and extremely well executed. Here’s a short video, if you’re interested.
Obviously, there are way more museums in New York, but I thought these four museums made for an interesting initiation into the world of museums in NYC. A couple of others I would have loved to visit were the Frick Collection and Cloisters. Something for next time, right?
What’s your favourite NY museum? What other museum would you recommend?