Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Morgan Museum: Madison Ave and 36th Street

I lived in an apartment just behind The Morgan Library & Museum for over 6 months when I first moved back to NYC in 2005, but never made it into the actual museum until yesterday.  I could list the various reasons why I never got around to it before, but really I just did not make it a priority.  The collection specializes in forms of communication -- original antique manuscripts (a bank vault full -- literally), original diaries from the last 300 years (including Albert Einstein's, Henry David Thoreau's, and Queen Victoria's), drawing journals (like that of Bob Dylan), original musical scores (including from Chopin and Beethoven), and ancient stamps.  None of these things really appealed to my particular interests, but once there, I was really moved.

The grandeur of what was the original museum designed by Charles McKim before the modern addition completed by Renzo Piano in 2006, is really phenomenal.  The rotunda is a study in marble, mosaics, painting and sculpture--really, absolutely beautiful.  The spaces of the original museum are my favorites -- the library (see right) has on display one of the 3 Gutenberg Bibles in the Morgan collection, the librarian's office has stunningly detailed ancient stamps carved into stones, and, of course, the Pierpont Morgan study has an imposing, full-of-power feeling that I cannot adequately describe (you really need to just be there to feel the effects of the rich, burgundy wallpaper, the heavily carved ceiling, and the quirky, massive vault in the corner). 

The more modern part of the museum (see left) is very different -- very airy, glass everywhere, and open spacially.  It reminds me a little of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.  It is from this central lobby that you can get to the 2nd floor Engelhard Gallery where the diary exhibition is displayed.  Frankly, I didn't think I would spend much time reviewing these one-of-a-kind items, but as I explored and listened to the self-directed audio tour (yes, this is free with admission), I began to appreciate the uniqueness of this collection and was quite moved.  The lower level has an auditorium where they show a 15 minute film (every hour on the half hour) about Pierpont (the super industrialist and voracious art collecting father) and J.P. Morgan (the son who made the museum public) and the history and collection of the museum.  It is well worth attending a showing, especially at the start to get you grounded.  One particularly interesting art piece is the religious tryptic on the right side of the lobby that is supposed to have wood from the cross where Jesus was crucified.

The other part of the museum that was particularly interesting to me was the Morgan Stanley galleries and marble hall that currently exhibit a collection on loan from fashion designer Kasper, who collects old masters, Mannerist, and Modern art.  I took a tour led by a docent (check the website for exact times) and it was great to discuss the changes in perspective, the focus on alternative or stylized views (see Hans Hoffmann's 1580 painting of an affenpinscher with a lion cut at right--I cropped out the ugly bald back half for this photo but it still looks very stylized), and seemingly natural poses actually being beautiful but contorted. The collection included photography (traditional and camera-less), collages, paintings, and sketches (a couple by Matisse and Degas).

Anyway, I had a good couple of hours and felt enriched by the experience.  The gift shop is also worth a visit (with very good copies of some art from the Morgan collection, although pretty pricey for gift shop fare), and you don't have to pay the museum entrance fee ($15 for adults and $10 for seniors, students and children under 16) to either shop there or dine in the dining room.  I went to the museum on a weekday and not during free hours (every Friday from 7-9pm) and it was very pleasant and not crowded.  It was a great way to dwell in areas and enjoy certain works of art I liked without feeling pressed.

No comments:

Post a Comment