Gilded With Glitter and Gold: Manhattan’s Upper East Side

By Christina Soriano

As someone who has ‘read more classic novels’ on their New Year’s resolution list, I’m always drawn to literature that is set during the Upper East Side’s time of luxurious aristocracy during the late nineteenth-century. There was, and still exists a decadence about this neighborhood, especially as you reach Park Avenue and walk toward Central Park. It is immediately a bit more serene and you can’t help but appreciate the architecture that has been maintained. Decades later, on the same streets where ladies once wore puffed sleeves and opera gowns, we have three prominent art institutions whose artwork spans from that long gone era to contemporary, provocative work that reminds us that New York City is and always will be at the forefront of trend and change.

Presenting early twentieth-century German and Austrian art and design, Neue Galerie is located in a building completed in 1914 by the same architects credited with the New York Public Library. Granted status as a historical landmark it was once lived in by Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III. Inside you feel as if you should be wearing a day suit with matching gloves and brimmed hat! Walk up the spiral staircase and enter the 2nd floor where their permanent collection includes work by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. Adorning the walls are elaborately carved wooden mirror frames by Dagobert Peche. One of the major highlights of the museum, you will most likely be drawn to a piece literally painted with silver and gold: Gustav Klimt’s portrait Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907).

Through early February, the intimate third floor is devoted to showcasing fifteen years of work by Vasily Kandinsky. On view are small-scale prints and paintings, contrasting with larger pieces such as Fugue (1914) in the second gallery. As you peruse the show you’ll hear composer Arnold Schonberg softly playing in the background; a reference to Kandinsky’s affinity for connecting sound, line and color in his work.

Traveling south on Fifth Avenue you will encounter one of the few remaining Gilded Age Neo-Classical mansions. Open to the public since 1935, The Frick Collection shows work ranging from the Renaissance to the late nineteenth-century. The former residence of industrialist Henry Clay Frick, you will marvel at each room’s lavish décor with chandeliers and candelabras throughout. Stop and take a moment to reflect in the Garden Court or admire the views of Central Park from the Fragonard Room. As you stand in the South Hall you will be surrounded by works by El Greco and Renoir, as well as a one-hundred-year old custom made pipe organ in the middle of a sprawling staircase.

In the midst of these two art establishments is half gallery, a space that recently moved into the neighborhood. Formally located in the Lower East Side – surrounded by downtown’s constant and evolving art, music, and fashion scenes – it was intriguing to hear that they were moving to a brownstone on East 78th Street and Madison Ave. Showing a breadth of contemporary work from photography, painting and prints it is a stark contrast from the quintessential pieces of the Old Masters just a few blocks away. It is also refreshing from a viewer’s perspective and curatorial eye. At a recent opening, half gallery’s director Erin Goldberger commented on the shift stating, “Moving to the Upper East Side has given half gallery the ability to truly incorporate the architecture of the building with the art we exhibit. Instead of a white cube, we now get to operate out of a town house with infinite possibilities, rich with history.”

The Frick Collection
1 East 70th Street
New York, NY 10021

Neue Galerie
1048 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10028

half gallery
43 East 78th Street
New York, NY 10075

Photo credit information:

The Frick Collection Exterior: Fifth Avenue Garden and Façade
The Frick Collection, New York
Photo by: Galen Lee

The Frick Collection Exterior: Public Entrance
The Frick Collection, New York
Photo by: Richard di Liberto

The Fragonard Room
The Frick Collection, New York
Photo by: Michael Bodycomb

Neue Galerie Exterior
Photo by: Hulya Kolabas

Neue Galerie Austrian Fine Arts Gallery
Photo by: Hulya Kolabas

Neue Galerie Interior Staircase
Photo by: Hulya Kolabas

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