Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum: Claude Monet, John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase
It has often been pointed out that the borough of Brooklyn, if it were not part of New York City, would stand on its own as one of the largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., perhaps 4th or 5th largest.

Like most American cities of that size, Brooklyn has a world class art museum. Unlike most of those museums, however, the Brooklyn Museum has a unique problem in terms of its identity and public perception, in that it exists in the very large and imposing shadow of the more famous museums of nearby Manhattan. This leaves it unfairly relegated to a public perception of second class status, when in fact, The Brooklyn Museum is terrific and should be prominent on the list of major American art museums.

There was an article on the New York Times site a few days ago, Sketching a Future for the Brooklyn Museum, in which several members of the arts community give their take on the museum’s rather unique position and public relations dilemma.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Brooklyn Museum for the first time last summer, drawn by an exhibition of the works of French Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte (more here), and was surprised and delighted with how much I enjoyed the museum and the works then on display from the permanent collection.

I say “then on display” because, like every major museum, only a small portion of the museum’s holdings can be on display at any one time, and works are rotated into view periodically.

The Brooklyn Museum has a wonderful feature to make even more of its collection available, in that some of its extensive archives are open to the public in the “Visible Storage” center on the museum’s 5th floor (image above, bottom). Here you can get a behind the scenes glimpse of how museums catalog and store their collections, with great class cases on rolling tracks that are frequently rotated to display more of the works in the collections.

The collections are housed in the museum’s impressive Beaux-Arts building, one that would stand out as a prominent cultural center in any city — except New York. Like many major museums, non-flash personal photography is permitted in the permanent collections.

For those who can take the ride out to Brooklyn, the museum is right next to the beautiful Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. The combination is just right for a day’s outing.

For those who can’t get to the museum physically, the Brooklyn Museum website is arranged to encourage browsing through the collections, though it helps to have a starting point. I was personally impressed with the museum’s holdings of Claude Monet (image above, top) and other proponents of Impressionism, as well as American Impressionists, including one of my favorite paintings by William Merritt Chase, his Studio Interior (image above, third down and detail below; also see my post on William Merritt Chase.)

You can spin off of your search by clicking on tags for related topics, like Landscape or Venice, museum sections like the Beaux-Arts Court, or search for artists like John Singer Sargent (image above, second down). Note that the search box in the right column of the collections pages returns different results than the general search box at the top of the pages.

Unfortunately, the website’s pop-up code for the enlargements is a bit awkward, but the images are large enough to enjoy and the interesting mix of the collections can lead you off in search of fascinating artists and subjects.

As you browse through the collections, you’ll cross paths with a number major works that will whet your appetite for a visit, putting the Brooklyn Museum on your map the next time you’re in New York City.

7 thoughts on “The Brooklyn Museum

  1. Daniel van Benthuysen

    ‘Visible Storage’ was the idea of an artist and fascinating director of the museum, Thomas Beuchner, who just passed away in June.

    When Beuchner became director at Brooklyn Museum at the astoundingly young age of 33 in 1960 he was shocked to discover how many works the museum had to keep in storage. “Visible Storage” was his innovative attempt to get more of the collection seen by visitors.

    Interestingly, Beuchner was what we might call an Artist-in Waiting. As he neared retirement he ramped up studies in his first love, painting, and in his later years he became a formidable artist and portraitist as well as an author of a well-regarded book on painting. More on Beuchner at
    http://www.tombuechner.com/

  2. Sally Williams

    The Visible Storage facility which he is referencing was created in 2005 , many decades after Tom Buechner’s retirement, and was developed by an American Art curatorial team at the current Brooklyn Museum, under the leadership of director Arnold Lehman, and designed by Matthew Yokobosky, the Museum’s chief designer. The facility was funded by the Luce Foundation, and followed in the footsteps of several other Luce-funded Visible Storage facilities. However, Brooklyn’s facility is the only one directly accessible from the galleries.

    Sally Williams
    Public Information Officer, Brooklyn Museum

  3. David Apatoff

    Charley, there is one other important fact about the Brooklyn Museum: the winner of the reality TV show contest, “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” will get their own show at the Brooklyn Museum. It will be interesting to see how the reputation of such a fine institution survives lending its name to an enterprise like that.

  4. Charley Parker Post author

    Yes. Thanks for pointing that out, David.

    I see this as in extension of the museums efforts at increasing popular and community appeal, with exhibitions of rock and roll photographs, Murikami, and others; attempting to create mass appeal and get out from under the shadow of the Manhattan museums.

    We’ll see how it goes, but if it gets people into the museum who would not have ordinarily visited, I think it’s basically a positive thing.

  5. Alvin Richard

    Another great entry. I’ve been aware for some time that this art institution as been in the shadows of the Manhattan fare, yet one of the largest in the USA. I’m going to NYC in the fall and this one is on my list of must sees. Thanks for the write up. It’s a great concept to have access to those vaults.

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