We had been wanting to visit the Guggenheim Museum for a number of weeks, and our chance finally came this past Saturday. When I discovered that the museum’s Wright Restaurant was quite well-regarded, I came up with a plan to begin our afternoon with lunch at the restaurant, and then follow that up with a visit to the Guggenheim to see its two main exhibits, “Art of Another Kind” and the Rineke Dijkstra retrospective.
True to the museum, the Wright Restaurant is striking in its design. While I am not a fan of sitting on tall stools, the central elevated communal-style table is beautiful. Luckily, we got a conventional seating at a rectangular table. I did not have to struggle to find dairy free options on the lunch menu. I opted for a beet salad (hold the goat cheese) which was very good. I enjoyed the combination of pistachios and watercress and red beets – this was the most licorice-y and rustic watercress I’ve ever tasted (perhaps it came directly from someone’s garden).
For my main course, I ordered another appetizer, salmon tartare with avocado and cucumbers and salmon caviar. The crunchy cucumber slices were a nice counterpoint to the silky creaminess of the salmon, caviar and avocado. I piled cucumber and tartare onto the triangles of toast and happily munched. A very satisfying lunch, leaving us feeling full and ready for the museum.
This was actually my first visit to the Guggenheim Museum. Therese was surprised by this, but it is not so hard to miss some things when you live in New York City. In my defense, I have been to many other museums in the Museum Mile neighborhood that most people would overlook, such as the Cooper Hewitt/National Design Museum and the Museum of the City of New York. In any case, I was glad to finally be making my first visit to the Guggenheim.
I don’t consider myself to be a big fan of Abstract Expressionist art, but the “Art of Another Kind” exhibit offered many paintings that I enjoyed. For example, both Therese and I found Conrad Marca-Relli’s “Warrior” quite extraordinary. To me, it is very difficult to create truly abstract art, and I don’t know why you would want to, since I prefer to look at art that engages me on an emotional level. So it was great to see Marca-Relli’s painting, which plays with representation in the context of abstraction. The painting seems abstract, but if you keep the title in mind, as you look, you can almost see a heroic figure emerging from the abstraction. It helped to have the audio guide, which was free with museum admission, and gave us lots of insight into the artwork.
The main attraction for me at the museum was the Rineke Dijkstra retrospective, displayed in the museum’s annex over 4 floors. Ms. Dijkstra has an uncanny skill for picking the right subjects for her portraits, and putting them in the right situations, where they can show themselves to us. I was particularly struck by her series of photographs of a Bosnian refugee named Almerisa. In the first photograph, Almerisa has only recently left war-torn Bosnia, and I found this photo of a little girl trying to look her best under such difficult circumstances to be very moving. On the audio guide recording for this series, Almerisa herself told how the photo came to be, and listening to it brought tears to my eyes. I absolutely loved having the chance to see Ms. Dijkstra’s work.
The other work that touched me most deeply that day was a surprise. I associate the Guggenheim with modern art – and indeed, its founders were great champions of modern art. But the museum also has a great collection of Impressionism, the Justin K. Thannhauser Collection, displayed in a small gallery between the rotunda and the museum cafe. There were numerous wonderful Impressionist paintings that I’ve never seen before, including one by Vincent Van Gogh that especially struck me. “Le Viaduc” or “Roadway with Underpass” is a painting of a rustic-looking man-made tunnel through a hill. I’ve always loved taking photos of tunnels – there must be some deeply-rooted psychological reason why I find tunnels so fascinating. I found Van Gogh’s Viaduc to be a perfect gem, just extraordinary.
The Art of Another Kind exhibit was displayed on the walls of the rotunda’s famous ramp that encircles the building and takes the viewer from the entrance of the museum all the way to the top floor. The Guggenheim is one of those museums where the building is as much a focal point as the art that is housed within it. When you are walking up the ramp and you look across the open space to another place along the ramp, a place you’ve either just been or will be going to shortly, you get a feeling of a relationship between the art that is enhanced immeasurably by this unique setting.