NYC art

David Whitley learns a few important lessons on New York’s art museum trail.

As a general rule, art galleries are not really my thing. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the odd painting or sculpture – I just don’t havethe level of knowledge and interest to make studying numerous works aparticularly enjoyable experience. I know I’m not alone in this. In fact, you can probably go into any art museum in the world and see a fair few people trudging around, tryingreally hard to enjoy it but ultimately failing. Still, when there’s an art museum that is generally regarded as world class, I’ll usually feel obligated to go and have a look while I’m in town. And, in New York, that meant the Solomon R Guggenheim museum.



In this case, you could argue that the building is as (if not more) impressive than the collection itself. Frank Lloyd Wright has come up with a masterpiece – with the interior spiral providing a setting that is far detached from the usual series of grand, square rooms. But going round it did confirm a few things about how those who are more art bluffs than art buffs can get more enjoyment from the whole gallery-going experience. And this is pretty much it...

Go for short bursts

Trying to get your money’s worth by seeing everything is usually going to lead to tired eyes and overkill. It’s the equivalent of trying toappreciate food by ordering absolutely everything on the menu and making yourself sick. Pick a couple of sections that will probably be of most interest, see them at an easy pace, then get the hell out before it starts to become a chore rather than a novelty. 

Don’t worry about not getting it

I have seen lots of pictures by Van Gogh and Monet – almost universally regarded as two of the greatest artists of all time – and I’m yet to see one that I find even vaguely interesting. I’m sure there’s a world of complexity in the brushstrokes that I’m not getting, but I’ve stopped worrying about it. If I’m a Philistine for not liking Van Gogh, then I’m a happy Philistine. I don’t like olives, sauvignon blanc wines, films about the Mafia and the music of David Bowie either. I know I probably should, but I just don’t. It’s OK to admit something is just not to your taste – even if most others seem to think it’s wonderful.

Learn what is to your tastes

Monet might leave me non-plussed, but experience tells me that I really like Dali. And once you find a couple of artists you do like, then a trip to the gallery often has a treat at the end. Most of the work is the maincourse – a lot of spinach and broccoli, but the odd nice roast potato and some occasionally succulent meat. If there’s a Dali or two in there, then I’ve got pudding which I’m pretty much guaranteed to enjoy.  Over time, as well, you learn to understand what the terms such as expressionist, Bauhaus, rococo and cubist mean. Once you start fitting the artists you like into a rough category, you’ve got a far better idea of what sections to head for the next time you head to a museum. Think of it as being a bit like wine – you might not know too much about it, but you eventually workout that you’re more likely to enjoy a shiraz than a merlot.

Treat it as a mission of discovery

You know that joy that comes from listening to a compilation album and coming across something that you’ve never heard before but instantly like? Well an art gallery can be a bit like that too. The Guggenheim in New York, for example, has plenty by Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse and, yes, Van Gogh and Monet. They elicit little more than a yawn from me.

However, there are plenty of pieces by artists I’d never heard of before going in. Marcel Gromaire’s La Guerre, for example, is immediately striking and likeable. The chunky, almost The Thing from X-Men-esque characters in the trenches offer a very different take on the traditional battle scene. I also found myself really liking pieces by Barthel Gilles and Fernand Leger. Don’t ask me why, or who they are. I just liked them.

And, that, surely is the point. It’s not about the price tag or reputation or not, but how it makes you feel. Frankly, if a child-like scrawlmakes you smile or moves you in some way, then that counts for far more than seeing any number of supposed masterpieces. 


Disclosure: David was a guest of, and had a New York  City Pass( He stayed at the Hilton Gardens Staten Island ( and the Affinia Dumont ( in Manhattan.