Sunday, November 14, 2010

Neue Galerie

In a town chock full of great museums, sometimes it's a pleasant change of pace to go to a gallery devoted to a single art form or subject. Such is the case with the Neue Galerie, a small space featuring German and Austrian artwork. Modest though its offering are, this gallery is real jewel. 

The Neue is housed in a three-story building on 86th street, right off Fifth Avenue. The permanent collection features paintings, drawings, and decorative arts by early 20th century artists like Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Marcel Breuer (amongst others). The most famous work in the collection is Klimt's 1907 painting Portrait of Adele Bauer-Bloch I, a woman from turn-of-the century Viennese society. Referred to sometimes as the "German Mona Lisa", this painting was rescued from the Nazi's during WWII and was bought by the owner of the Neue, Ronald Lauder, for $135 million in 2006. It is a stunningly complex painting of gold on canvas and, whenever you're at the Neue, it's the painting that always has the most people around it.

Currently the Neue is featuring a special exhibit of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. An 18th century sculptor, he became famous for creating "character heads", busts of people making bizarre, funny, and odd faces. When you look at them, you think you're looking at Dada-esque works of Modern Art but no ... these busts are over 250 years old. I had never heard of Messerschmidt before and this is the first full-scale exhibit of his work in the United States. It's great to know that during a period of great conservatism (18th century European art is generally referred to as "neoclassical"), there was someone like Messerschmidt stirring things up, challenging the predominating aesthetic and conventions. To say that he was ahead of his time is an understatement -- his works were dangerous and practically revolutionary. This exhibit is showing until January 10 and I would urge all Mr NYC to run out and see it -- you may never get the chance again.

So if you're an art lover and looking for something different yet classy, the Neue is a great find.

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