Friday, June 27, 2014

Neue Galerie - Too Small for the Price

Neue Galerie, New York
You can take a picture of the
outside of the building, of course
Visiting museums in New York is a pricey proposition. Every time you walk in the door of one, it seems you’re shelling out another twenty bucks. Generally, I think you’re getting some value for this. I don’t begrudge the Frick Museum its admittance fees, it’s a stunning collection.

But yesterday, I visited the Neue Galerie, which I wasn’t even aware of the previous time I visited New York (it opened in 2001, but gained a lot of attention when Ronald S. Lauder bought the Klimt pairing, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer). One nice thing about the Neue Galerie was that when I saw this and four other Klimts at the LA County Museum of Art, the crowds were so large that it was impossible to appreciate the paintings. This was shortly after the paintings were returned to their proper owner, Maria Altmann. (The Austrian government had forced Altmann’s uncle, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, to deposit the paintings in the Austrian national museum during the Nazi era, but they did not manage to get him to actually donate the paintings.)

The showpiece of the museum is the Klimt painting and it’s conjectured that Lauder spent about $135 million to acquire it. They must be trying to make up that $135 million at the door. The museum’s permanent collection consists of two rooms. Just two. They’re lovely rooms, filled with late nineteenth-century art and decorative objects, but it is just two rooms.

A third room on the second floor is part of the special exhibition space, as is the entire third floor. I’m not certain, but I think there is actually more publicly accessible space on the third floor than there is on the second floor. Most of the first two floors are closed off to the public; I don’t think there were even any doors to other areas on the second floor (given the general layout of the second floor, it is clear there are areas of the building beyond a wall, as some items on the first floor extend beyond that wall. It’s probably the museum offices, or something. Did I mention this was a really small museum?

The current temporary exhibition was “Degenerate Art,” a gathering of paintings and sculptures from the 1937 Nazi exhibition, Entartete Kunst and the simultaneous Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung (Great German art exhibition). Of course, the modernist works from the Entartete Kunst exhibit are far more interesting than the staid, overly conservative items from the “official exhibition.” In checking the Wikipedia page to get spellings, I noticed that the exhibition at the Neue Galerie is mentioned, but not the earlier exhibition at the Haus der Kunst, which was where the “non-degenerate” art had been displayed in 1937. I saw that exhibition on a trip to Germany.

Many of the works in the 1937 Entartete Kunst exhibit were subsequently destroyed by the Nazis. In the Neue Galerie exhibit, these are symbolized by empty frames. In a way, my visit consists of empty frames; this is another museum where you are not allowed to take photography. (When museums say this, I do respect it. Even if others are not. Unlike the Musée D’Orsay, here everyone seemed to be complying. No one was taking cell phone shots.)

It is a nice museum. The special exhibition was wonderful. But $20 admission? Not really worth it. Just for the record, the massive Metropolitan Museum of Art suggests a $25 admission (but requests you pay full price as it makes special exhibitions possible without separate ticket sales), and even then has free days.
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