New York: Miracle Mile for Culture Vultures

Tourists can enjoy free admission to eight museums on Fifth Avenue as part of New York’s Museum Mile Festival.

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Bernard O'Riordan

New York is a city where everything has a price: hey, even the publicly-funded Metropolitan Museum of Art now slaps a mandatory $25 fee on tourists.

But for just three hours this week, cost-conscious travellers will be able to visit some of the Big Apple’s most prestigious museums and galleries without paying a cent.

Between 6pm and 9pm on Tuesday, eight museums along Fifth Avenue – including the Guggenheim and The Met – with throw their doors open to the public as part of the annual Museum Mile Festival.

For one night only, the city’s most expensive tree-lined thoroughfare will be closed to traffic between 82nd Street and 105th Street as culture vultures swarm the area.

Special exhibitions and works from permanent collections will be on view inside various museums and live bands and street performers will entertain the crowds outside.

The Museum Mile Festival started in 1978 at a time when support for the arts was in rapid decline in New York City and is traditionally held on the second Tuesday in June.

Since its inception, more than 1.5 million people have visited a museum or gallery, with around 50,000 people expected to pour through the doors of some of the city’s finest institutions this year.

The eight institutions taking part this year include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Neue Galerie, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, The Jewish Museum, Museum of the City of New York, The Africa Center and El Museo del Barrio.

There are more than 1,500 museums and galleries to explore in the Big Apple.

There are officially seven museums on the so-called ‘Mile’, but with new additions like the Africa Center, it’s now actually a 1.2 mile culture strip.

Of course, with museums throwing their doors open for just three hours, there’ll hardly be time to explore what’s on offer, let alone fully appreciate it. It takes days, even weeks,  to work your way around The Met, for instance.

The trick is to choose just one museum and explore three or four galleries in that three hour window.

It’s also worth checking out museum and gallery websites regularly because many have discount days every week when you can pay as little, or as much, as you like.

Museum Mile

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Museum Mile – a tree-lined strip that stretches north for 23 blocks along Fifth Avenue – is anchored at the southern end by The Met, one of the largest and most impressive museums in the world.

Despite its hefty admission fee for out-of-towners, a visit to The Met is worth every cent. It might even make people appreciate the experience a little bit more.

Three blocks north at 86th Street is the Neue Galerie, dedicated to German and Austrian art from the early 20th Century.  This is home to Gustav Klimt’s iconic portrait, “Adele Bloch-Bauer: The Woman in Gold” the inspiration for the film starring Helen Mirren.

Be sure to make a pitstop at Café Sabarsky, the elegant wood-panelled Viennese café within the Neue. It’s famous for its strong Viennese coffee, German strudels and chocolate cakes.

Keep strolling north along Fifth Avenue and you’ll come to the Guggenheim, followed by Cooper Hewitt, the Jewish Museum and the Museum of the City of New York. At the very northern tip of Central Park is the Africa Center.

Dr Bunsen HoneydewOf course, there are actually more than 1,500 museums and galleries to explore in the Big Apple. It’s just that they’re not all found on Fifth Avenue.

There’s the Museum of the Dog, for instance, as well as the Museum of the Moving Image with its Jim Henson Exhibition of 47 puppets – including Kermit the Frog and Dr Bunsen Honeydew (pictured).

It’s also worth checking out the world-class collections at these top-end galleries:

  • The Frick Collection, housed in a Gilded Age mansion south of the Met, includes masterpieces by Vermeer, El Greco and Rembrandt. The mansion is actually being renovated and expanded next year with its prized collection moving to the building now occupied by the Met Breuer.
  • The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)not far from Rockefeller in midtown Manhattan, is home to Picasso’s and Van Gogh’s. However, it will be closed for a $400m renovation from June 16 before reopening on October 21 with 40,000 square feet of additional space.
  • The Whitney Museum of American Art, below the High Line in the trendy Meatpacking District, has more than 21,000 works by more than 3,000 contemporary American artists. Designed by Renzo Piano (the Italian architect who designed the The Shard in London), the Whitney is renowned for its controversial resistance art. However, this year’s Biennial exhibition seems to be playing it safe.
  • There’s also the new kid on the block – the $475 million arts and cultural space known as The Shed, part of Hudson Yards development. It’s worth visiting just to admire its structure.

What To See On The ‘Mile’

The Africa Center, 1280 5th Ave at 110th St. Formerly known as the Museum forPictafure1 African Art, the center showcases contemporary and historical African art. The center has had various homes over the years – including two Upper East Side town houses and a building in SoHo. It moved to new digs at the northern end of Central Park in 2016 –  the first new addition to Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile since the Guggenheim opened in 1959. Take note of the trapezoid-shaped windows, covered in a bright orange and purple design, and meant to evoke an African basket weave.

El Museo del Barrio, 1230 5th Ave at 104th StEl Museo del Barrio is New York City’s Puerto Rican, Caribbean, and Latin American art museum Unknmownand it turns 50 later this year. It was founded in 1969, when Latino artists were largely overlooked by mainstream museums. The exhibition Culture and the People: El Museo del Barrio, 1969-2019 (until 29 September), is the museum’s 50th anniversary show.

Museum of the City of New York, 1220 5th Ave at 103rd St. As the name suggests, the museum celebrates all things New York: its people, neighbourhoods, icons and cultures. A centrepiece of the experience is Timescapes, a 22-minute multimedia history of New York City narrated by actor Stanley Tucci, of Prizzi’s Honor and imagesThe Devil Wears Prada fame. This year, in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, the museum presents Pride = Power! A series of exhibitions and events throughout the summer will explore and celebrate LGBTQ history and culture in NYC.

The Jewish Museum, 1109 5th Ave at 92nd St. Founded in 1904, the museum was the first institution of its kind in the United States and is one of the oldest Jewish museums in the world. It includes a collection of nearly 30,000 works of art, ceremonial objects and media reflecting the global Jewish experienceJM-with-new-banner-retouched over more
than 4,000 years. Its newest exhibit, Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything (until September 8) is a tribute to legendary singer/song writer Leonard Cohen. The exhibit includes commissioned works by international artists who have been inspired by Cohen’s life and work.

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2 East 91st St between 5th and Madison Aves. Housed in the landmark Andrew Carnegie Mansion, Cooper Hewitt is devotedCooperGarden102-Re-e1488822514806 exclusively to historical and contemporary design and features more than 210,000 design objects spanning 30 centuries. Take time to enjoy the beautiful outdoor terrace and garden. You can even play table tennis when the weather is fine.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Ave at 89th St. The Guggenheim has one of the great collections of Modern art.Guggenheim Approximately 600 artworks were gifted to the museum by Solomon Guggenheim himself, including works by Kandinsky, Chagall, Picasso and many more. The museum building, a designated landmark, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; it is of architectural importance.

Neue Galerie New York, 1048 5th Ave at 86th St. The Neue Galerie New York museum features 20th century German and Austrian art and design. Its centrepiece is Gustav Klimt’s shimmering masterpiece, Portrait Of Adele Bloch-BauerNeue GalerieBetter known as the Woman In Gold, it was the subject of a movie. Starring Helen Mirren, the film culminates in the sale of the painting for a staggering $135 million to cosmetics magnate Ronald Lauder.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 5th Ave at 82nd St. This landmark art gallery has more than 5,000 years of art from across the world in its location on Fifth Avenue. The Met Expect to find anything from ancient Greek art to 19th century European art pieces by greats like Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Claude Monet. Opened in 1880, The Met isn’t technically New York’s oldest museum (that distinction belongs to The New-York Historical Society, founded in 1804) but it is the largest. It takes up 11.5 acres – almost half a kilometre – at Central Park.

© 2019 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved

Museum Mile Festival


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