When choosing a museum to visit, I feel like Goldilocks picking a bed.
Some are tooooooo big.
I break out in a sweat when I enter the Met. Tiffany windows? Suits of armor? The Romance of the Renaissance? I wander around for hours and at the end of the day feel like I’ve spent the time inside a kaleidoscope where I’ve looked at a lot of beautiful things but none of them stuck. The only strategy for attacking a mega-museum is to have a plan. Do a little research and plot out their top ten exhibits. Or, find a well-researched itinerary like this one for 2 hours at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Alternatively, try a mid-size museum.
A mid-major will have one or two exhibits that appeal to me but I stroll by more clunkers than gems. I’m sorry if you’re an art buff and this offends. While I appreciate beautiful things and the creative juices that go into producing them, I have but two undergraduate art history classes in my repertoire, so I just don’t get much deeper when it comes to the fine art of appreciation.
But I have found what I do like and that’s petite boutique museums like St. Pete’s Chihuly Collection and The Dali Museum and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. With these small, focused collections, I feel like I make a connection to an artist, learn about their life and influences and usually encounter one or two pieces that speak to me. All without a monumental investment in time or shoe leather. Again, I apologize for sounding bourgeois.
One of NYC’s boutique museums is the Frick, located across from Central Park at 5th and 70th. (The city’s famed Museum Mile ends on 82nd Street at the Goethe House – Museum Mile and a Half is not quite as catchy.)
Housed in the mansion of industrialist Henry Clay Frick, the museum features 16 permanent galleries. Currently, it is hosting 15 paintings on loan from the Mauritshuis in the Hague, a small museum undergoing renovation. The centerpiece is Vermeer’s famous Girl With the Pearl Earring. The small painting is featured by itself in the mansion’s Oval Room with descriptive text that’s just right. Not too short; not too long.
Spoiler alert: the girl with the pearl is NOT ScarJo; in fact, no one knows who she is or even if she was.
Spoiler alert #2: the oversize pearl is definitely NOT real (historians suggest that if there was a model and if she wore an earring, it was likely a glass crystal painted to resemble a pearl – Vermeer featured pearl jewelry in other paintings including another on permanent display at the Frick.)
The use of an oversize, out of place element in portraiture is known as tronie, a popular genre in the 17th century. Artists would paint portraits, experimenting with light and exotic costumes, like the pearl and the girl’s turban. Another example in the exhibit is Rembrandt’s Tronie of a Man with a Feathered Beret, a self-portrait featuring the artist with a grand Kentucky Derby-esque chapeau. I have several more fun facts about the Dutch Golden Age and will roll them out at cocktail parties this holiday season. If you see me coming, you may want to run. And I would understand.
Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis runs through January 19th. There is one admission fee that gets you in to the Frick’s permanent collection and the exhibit for $20. Follow @FrickCollection on Twitter to find out about free days and extended hours as well as supplemental programs (Yes. They’re screening the 2003 film.) A limited number of timed advance tickets are available through Telecharge or you can purchase tickets in advance at the museum. Members can visit any time (a membership benefit!). A limited number of untimed admissions are permitted at 10 a.m.; I suggest you queue up at 9 a.m. to make sure you get in. It was nice to be there ahead of the crowds too.
While at the Frick, check out the timepieces currently on display as well. There’s a Breguet and Fils carriage clock, designed as a timepiece for the 1% in the 19th century. It features an unusual alarm. Instead of setting it for the time you want to get up, you’d set it for the number of hours you wanted to sleep. I like the idea. Whether Herr Bürgermeister went to bed at 10 or 2, if his manservant plugged in 7, that’s how many hours passed until the alarm went off. The clocks are beautifully crafted; plenty of gilded era glitz and glam and not a Swatch in the bunch.