NEW YORK – We recently visited this unique metropolis to savor some museum
highlights as well as a few musical events. Here is a summary of some of the
current attractions which will catch a traveler’s fancy.
Of all the museum exhibits, pride of place went to the Metropolitan
Museum, with its incomparable showstopper: The Renaissance Portrait: from
Donatello to Bellini, which was co-organized with the Berlin State
Almost 60 institutions and private collectors contributed works
of art to this encyclopaedic survey comprising 160 masterpieces which stresses
the Italian contribution to this genre. Besides paintings, there was also an
outstanding collection of manuscripts, sculptures, coins and
Most of the major Italian artists were represented, including
Masaccio, one of the fathers of perspective. The exhibit focused on portraits of
prominent citizens of the Italian city states, with special emphasis on Florence
and Venice until the beginning of the 16th century, thus excluding Titian, the
greatest portraitist of them all.
It was a real revelation to see how
successfully these great artists succeeded in portraying the likenesses,
emotions and personalities of their sitters. By so doing, these artists
jettisoned the established norm of portraying idealized human
For me, the highlights were the two spectacular portraits by
Sandro Botticelli of the famed Florentine beauty Simonetto Vespucci, as well as
those of Giuliano de Medici. Giuliano’s brother, Lorenzo the Magnificent, was
represented by his death mask as well as a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci and some
medallions. Two magnificent female portraits by the Florentine brothers
Antonio and Piero del Pollaiuolo also deserve special mention.
of famous families and personalities from other city states were also on view,
including the d’Este family of Ferrara, the Sforzas of Milan, the Gonzagas of
Mantua and the Montefeltros of Urbino.
Although the most famous portrait
of Federigo, Duke of Montefeltro, by Piero della Francesco from the Uffizi was
absent, the duke was represented in a full-length portrait by Pietro di Spagna
together with his son and heir, Guidobaldo. The final section of the exhibit was
devoted to Venice, with dazzling paintings by the Bellini family, Mantegna,
Carpaccio, Vivarini and Antonella de Messina. On view till 18
March.Museum of Modern Art
Another exciting exhibit, Diego Rivera:
Murals for The Museum of Modern Art, attempted to replicate the exhibit
originally created specifically by Rivera for his one-man show at MOMA in 1931.
Because they were immoveable, none of Rivera’s Mexican murals could be
transported to the 1931 exhibit. So the innovative artist devised a portable
platform to display his frescoes as freestanding works. Working over a period of
six weeks in a room specifically set aside for him at MOMA, Rivera completed the
cycle of portable murals.
The current MOMA exhibit celebrated the 80th
anniversary of the original show and featured five of the eight original
portable murals. Pride of place went to the Mexican agrarian leader
Zapata with a white horse, from MOMA’s own holdings. The remaining murals
had been dispersed, and are housed in public and private collections in Mexico
and the USA. MOMA managed to bring four of the remaining murals to this
Conspicuously absent were two belonging to the
Philadelphia Museum of Art, which declined to loan them for the current exhibit.
The whereabouts of the final mural is unknown. Although this certainly left a
void, MOMA made up for it by exhibiting three working drawings, a prototype of
the portable mural as well as several watercolors, drawings and prints from
Rivera brilliantly conveyed the social injustices of the
time as well as the exploitation of the Mexican peasants. These murals are as
relevant today as they were when originally executed. On view until 14 May. (A
review of MOMA’s exhibition of Gertrude Stein’s collection appears on Page 24)
The Neue Galerie celebrated its tenth anniversary by displaying 345
items from the private collection of its co-founder, Ronald Lauder, which is
devoted in large measure to Viennese fin de siècle paintings and drawings by
Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka, Gerstl and Kubin as well as decorative arts by
Hoffmann and Moser.
Of interest was a transfer drawing on black chalk and
paper of Klimt’s Jurisprudence, one of the paintings commissioned by the
University of Vienna but never displayed because the university authorities
deemed it too pornographic. The painting itself was destroyed in the Second
Also included were a sizable collection of more modern works
from German artists including Kirchner, Heckel, Klee, Beckman, Marc, Grosz, Dix,
Schwitters, Polk, Beuys, Baselitz, Richter and Kiefer, among
Equally or perhaps even more impressive was Lauder’s large
collection of paintings and drawings by Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, Manet, Klee,
Kandinsky, Seurat, Cezanne, Degas and van Gogh, and sculptures by Brancusi and
Picasso, as well as four of Matisse’s “woman’s back” series.
also included examples of medieval art and arms as well as some Old Master
paintings by Albrecht Aldorfer and Quentin Massys, among others. Lauder himself
narrated the audio tour, which detailed how he made some of his extraordinary
acquisitions. One did however miss a more scholarly interpretation of this great
art. Few if any modern private collections can rival this in for depth and
breadth. On view till 2 April.Onassis Cultural Center
exhibition was on show at the Onassis Cultural Center. This gem of a museum is
situated in the heart of midtown Manhattan. Entrance is free, and over
the years it has mounted some spectacular shows related to ancient Greek
Currently on view was Transition to Christianity: Art of
Late Antiquity, 3rd-7th Century CE. On show were over 170 objects from Greek,
Cypriot and US Museums which highlighted the extraordinary flourishing of the
arts in the Greek world during his period.
The exhibit showed how
Christian iconography evolved from pagan origins. Roman temples became quarries
for building of churches, and artists reworked statues from antiquity to reflect
the new religion. During this period, statues of Christ’s apostles assumed the
same veneration as did those of the pagan Greek philosophers, and eventually
supplanted them. As the power of the Church increased, their bishops became the
leading patrons of art.
The exhibition creates the impression that the
period following the fall of the Roman Empire, classically referred to as the
Dark Ages, wasn’t so dark after all. On view till 14 May.
exhibitions mentioned above are accompanied by lavish, informative and scholarly
catalogues.Discovery Times Square
The building formally occupied by The
New York Times has been converted into an exhibition center known as Discovery
Times Square. Currently on show is the Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith
in Biblical Times.
The exhibition was created by Israel’s Antiquities
Authority and will also travel to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. On
display were 10 fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the exhibit also
presented a showcase of more than 500 artefacts from every epoch of the Jewish
presence in the Holy Land.
The exhibit is displayed so as to garner
popular appeal, and includes pottery, coins, jewellery, textiles, seals,
menoras, ossuaries and other archeological findings. Also on view was a large
Herodian stone from the outer wall of the Temple compound.
the exhibit does not offer anything new, but it offers an unprecedented
opportunity to those not fully acquainted with Israeli history to view these
priceless cultural assets. On view till 15 April.9/11 Memorial at Ground
We made the pilgrimage to the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, the site of the
World Trade Center destroyed by al-Qaida. In place of the towers, Israeli-born
architect Michael Arad has designed two giant reflecting pools, each with a
waterfall. The names of every person who perished in the 2001 and 1993 attacks
are inscribed on bronze panels edging the memorial pools.
poignant were the names of pregnant women listed with their unborn children.
This hallowed place certainly conveys a spirit of hope and renewal. At this
stage, the site remains very much a work in progress. Ultimately the area will
include a museum, cultural center, transportation hub and several office
buildings.New York Philharmonic Orchestra
The New York Philharmonic
Orchestra is currently in its third season with its new director, Alan Gilbert.
In the two concerts I attended, the programming was very
eclectic. Gilbert coaxed the maximum out of this most proficient ensemble
in both the classical as well as more adventurous repertoire.
first concert, the orchestra’s composer-in-residence Magnus Linderg’s Feria was
given its New York premier. The virtuoso Chinese pianist Lang Lang was the
soloist in Bartok’s second piano concerto. On this occasion Lang Lang seemed
less showy and more reserved, but gave a brilliant, enthralling and fiery
account of the work. For this concerto, Gilbert positioned woodwinds and brass
to his left with the strings to his right.
The conductor was equally at
home in the Russian repertoire and rendered an impassioned performance of
Prokofiev’s fifth symphony. The pizzicato of the strings in the second
movement was most noteworthy. Gilbert held the orchestra under tight
control in the fourth movement before unleashing them for the dramatic
A second concert featured Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three
Movements. Gilbert brought out all the pulsating rhythms and varying
tempi, displaying the full virtuosity of the orchestra.
Philharmonic’s current artistin- residence, Frank Peter Zimmermann, gave an
ardent classical rendering of Beethoven’s violin concerto with perfect
intonation, blending in beautifully with the orchestra. Zimmerman played
the classical Kreisler cadenzas.
The performance of Ravel’s ballet suite
Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 was invigorating and exciting and brought out all
the inventiveness of the work. Gilbert certainly captured the subtleties of the
score and the orchestra responded magnificently.
Initially there was some
unhappiness among certain New Yorkers that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
managed to lure away Riccardo Muti, but from what I heard, under the stewardship
of Alan Gilbert the New York Philharmonic is flourishing. Porgy and Bess
Broadway’s new production of Porgy and Bess bears little resemblance to George
Gershwin’s original conception. Conceived as an opera, it had to wait over 40
years, until 1976, to receive its first full operatic production. Since then
numerous productions have been mounted, and it is now certainly part of the
In the current Broadway version, director Diane
Paulus, aided by Suzan-Lori Parks and Diedre Murray, have truncated and
compressed Gershwin’s masterpiece. Gone was Gershwin’s lush orchestration, many
of the original choral numbers, part of the dialog and even Porgy’s goat
On its own terms this Broadway adaptation was highly
entertaining. The magnetic Audra McDonald gave an unforgettable
performance as Bess, and Norm Lewis, with his sonorous baritone and likeable
stage presence, was her Porgy. On occasion, in softer passages, voices and
orchestra were distorted because of the amplification.Metropolitan Opera
And finally, the memory of New York I will always retain and cherish was the
concluding scene of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena with the incomparable soprano Anna
Netrebko at the Metropolitan Opera. The absolute high point of the performance
was her searing, passionate aria prior to her execution, at the opera’s end.
With her tender and expressive voice, Netrebko recalled her past triumphs and
contemplated her impending execution. By so doing, she touched the hearts of
all. This was artistic excellence at its very peak.Irving Spitz, an
emeritus professor of medicine, writes, reviews and lectures on medical topics,
music, art, history and travel (www.irvingspitz.com). He blogs at
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