With indoor dining and theaters closed, destinations during the winter in NYC are limited. However, my wife and I have discovered that it’s the perfect time to visit the city’s abundance of art galleries and museums. It’s easy to keep one’s distance and stay safe, especially without the throngs of tourists. Museum hopping has become our new weekend tradition. During a time of isolation and sameness, the art on the walls brings us a much-needed dose of human connection and adventure. Here are some highlights from three of our most recent outings:
Until March 13, the Mnuchin Gallery is displaying Church & Rothko: Sublime, an exhibit which juxtaposes the transcendent landscapes of Frederic Church with the abstract panels of intense hues by Mark Rothko, who painted about a century later. The works of the two artists successfully complement each other because of their surprisingly similar use of color. If you were to zoom in on a small section of a Church landscape, it would resemble the paired Rothko piece.
Amazingly enough, Rothko did not base his works off of Church’s, which is probably a natural thought upon first glancing the exhibit. But it is more than just a coincidence that the works of Church and Rothko have such a close resemblance. Both artists deal with the emotions following rapid social change by embracing an artistic category known as the sublime. Their relationships with the external world are conveyed, one by embracing and the other by dissociating: The Church pieces capture the aesthetic beauty of America and expansion, while Rothko’s goal was to stray far from realism.
Further down the island on Columbus Circle lies the Museum of Arts and Design, featuring Brian Clarke: The Art of Light through February 21. Normally when we think of stained glass, we picture well-defined shapes of a variety of colors separated by a lead border. Clarke explores stained glass without the restrictions of the lead, allowing for the different colored glass pieces to directly interact with and melt into each other. I found this refreshingly new take on stained glass truly captivating.
The gallery itself enhances the art with its floor-to-ceiling windows that incorporate a defining aspect of the exhibit: light. Like how Nabisco advertises Oreos as “milk’s favorite cookie”; their product pairs best with something we all already have in our fridges. In this case the oreo is the stained glass, and the milk is the light.
The theme of the MOMA’s Degree Zero exhibition is starting from scratch, which has particular relevance as we look towards recovery from the pandemic. It contains 75 drawings from the post WWII period between 1948 and 1961. While the materials used by the featured artists are minimal, the majority utilizing white paper and black ink or pencil, their intentions are profound. One Nigerian artist decided to start from scratch after gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1960, straying from the traditional flowy mural painting technique of the lgbo people and embracing imported pens and paper, sharp lines, and abstract shapes to mark a fresh start for Nigeria.
Another work by Martin Ramirez, created during his time institutionalized in California, especially resonated with me. The repetition of lines and patterns is hypnotizing, along with the fact that the artist was self taught while spending most of his life in a psychiatric hospital. Through the limited materials accessible to him, he exposed the outside world to the cultural and emotional symbolism by which he lived. While the art exhibited is interesting enough to stand on its own, the artists’ stories are what made this exhibit so special.