The Brooklyn Museum of Art: Treasures Galore
by Maureen Littlejohn
Brooklyn's grand dame of cult-cha hasn't been getting the same amount of press as the recently rehabbed MOMA, but the Brooklyn Museum of Art has just as much to be proud of.
It's less crowded, less expensive ($8 for adults versus the MOMA's $20), and provides an easier and generally more pleasurable art-viewing experience.
With a new $63 million glass and steel entrance (think of a see-through USS Enterprise starship sliced in half vertically), the 560,000-square-foot Beaux Arts is now firmly in the 21st century. The modern appendage was designed by the architecture firm of James Polshek, known for its transitional additions, including the Rose Center planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History.
Wonderfully, the two welcoming statues (once gracing the Manhattan Bridge, they were moved to the museum in 1964) are still firmly in place, flanking the original entrance's imposing Greek columns. One represents Manhattan, a woman, peacock vain, sitting with her feet on a cash box, the other represents Brooklyn (once known as the "city of churches and houses") as a good mother, with a child reading by her feet.
Even though it's the second largest art museum in New York, it was designed in 1893 to be six times larger. McKim, Mead & White's grandiose master plan was cut short by the 1898 merger between the cities of Brooklyn and New York, which funneled funds to the other side of the East River. (Although just a borough now, in the late 1800s Brooklyn was the third largest city in the United States.)
There are plenty of reasons to visit. In addition to the stunning and often thought-provoking temporary exhibits, permanent displays include the world-class Egyptology collection, an extraordinary sampling of Auguste Rodin sculptures, a floor of American painting and sculpture (with works by Georgia O'Keeffe, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Thomas Eakins, George Bellows, and Milton Avery) and 28 delightful period rooms (1675 to 1928), including the opulent, Moorish Smoking Room, salvaged intact from John D. Rockefeller's since demolished 54th St. brownstone.
Outside, the Frieda Schiff Warburg Memorial Sculpture Garden is planted with architectural objects rescued from the wrecking ball and the newly refurbished Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn Museum transit stop continues the theme with decorative sculptures plucked from long-departed buildings.
Only a 30-minute subway ride from Manhattan, the Brooklyn Museum of Art is an accessible and exceptional house of treasures that shouldn't be missed.
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