Sunday, September 04, 2005

An out-of-the-way house of treasures

Visiting the Hispanic Society of America today, a somewhat forgotten museum and library devoted to Spanish art and artifacts in Upper Manhattan, was a rather strange experience. The art was definitely worth the trip – several notable works by Goya, Velazquez and El Greco, to name just a few – and the price was right (free, with a no-pressure donation box). But the place has a deserted feeling to it. The imposing neo-Classical facades at Audubon Terrace seem a little worn around the edges, although they still stand out from the neighborhood. Inside the doorway a lone attendant sits reading at a table. His job isn’t really to greet visitors so much as to be an official presence for the airy exhibition space. There appeared to be only one or two other “official” people on hand. There’s a small collection of things for sale in one corner. But other than that, you’re really on your own to enjoy the collection of sculptures big and small, artifacts pre-historic and more recent, and paintings of all varieties. Most of the works are labeled – some better than others – but there isn’t really uniformity to the labeling the way you’d see at most other admission-charging art museums. It all has the feel of a rich family’s collection, now left for your enjoyment. Of course, the Frick Collection might also fit that description, but even there, one will find more uniform aid to the viewer. Still, it’s worth a visit to the place, even if you’d never think to visit Broadway and 155th St. While there today, I probably saw a total of about a dozen other people in the galleries, so crowds don’t seem to be a typical concern, either.

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