Neue Galerie

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 101 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Café Sabarsky comes as close as possible to a trip to Vienna while remaining in New York City.  If the whole café seems too broad for a “best thing,” I will call out the cake display specifically.

Cafe Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie, New York

Should I recommend a museum just because I love its café?  Sure, why not.

Cafe Sabarsky, Neue Galerie, New York
Sacher Torte and Wiener Mélange

And Café Sabarsky is wonderful, unique, and an important part of the overall experience of a museum whose mission is to transport visitors to a specific time and place, in this case Austria-Hungary at the dawn of the 20th century.

The café (appropriately the mansion’s dining room) is wonderful, full of beautiful wood-panelled details, views of Fifth Avenue and Central Park, comfy banquettes, beautiful period-appropriate fixtures, and tables just a smidge closer together than I’d like, but which feel all the more Viennese for it.

The food isn’t necessarily the most creative in the universe. And the names can be hazardous for non-German-speakers — try the Palatschinken mit Räucherforelle & Oberskren!  But the combination of the food and atmosphere makes this one of my favorite cafés in the city, and my favorite museum restaurant.  The service feels particularly European too…a little brusque but very efficient.  You can get a Grosser Brauner (a double espresso with milk on the side) and sit with a newspaper all afternoon if you want to.

The only downside is that Sabarsky doesn’t take reservations (unless you’re a high-level museum member) and there’s very often a line.  Also, it’s a little spendy for a cake and a coffee. Then again, it’s a bargain relative to airfares to Vienna, Budapest, or Prague.

And it’s not the only thing I love about Neue Galerie.

The Miller House

Let’s move on to the building.  The Neue Galerie rounds out the list of Museum Mile museums in Gilded Age mansions.  And it occupies one of the best. The Miller House was designed in 1914 by architects Carrère and Hastings, who also designed the New York Public Library and several monuments at Woodlawn Cemetery, among many other notable buildings.  

Neue Galerie, New York

Its supremely civilized facade evokes the houses around the Place des Vosges in Paris.  It survived the ups and down of changes in ownership, and for a time was home to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which is now part of the Center for Jewish History.  With the Neue Galerie conversion came a fantastic renovation of the interiors, making the ground and second floors about as Gilded as anyone could desire.  The third floor and basement, also open to the public, are significantly less ostentatious, but also well designed.

They ask visitors not to take pictures above the first floor, so I won’t show the upstairs rooms here.  Except for a too-narrow hallway on the second floor, it works really well, with three gallery spaces on the second floor and four on the third.

The Miller House/Neue Galerie also boasts another of New York’s most beautiful museum staircases.

Neue Galerie, New York

The Collection

500+ words and I haven’t even gotten to what’s on display.  The Neue Galerie houses Ronald Lauder’s collection of German and Austrian art, which he amassed during a long and fruitful collaboration with art dealer Serge Sabarsky (a-ha!).

The word that keeps coming back to me when I think about the Neue Galerie is “civilized.”  Which is a little odd, since the collection encompasses the sick, sad denizens of Egon Schiele’s hyper-expressionist world.  As well as any number of other “degenerate” artists of various stripes.  

The museum combines paintings, drawings, posters, decorative arts, and sculpture, in a wonderfully evocative way. Add to that Sabarsky’s food and drink too.  It creates an enveloping, total experience of a time and a place — kind of like the Cloisters.  

Neue Galerie, New York
Vienna Secession posters (in the basement)

And the era, up until World War I anyway, does indeed feel supremely civilized, cosmopolitan, and interested in innovation and novelty.

Wiener Werkstätte

The main exhibition when I visited examined Wiener Werkstätte, which almost single-handedly defined Central European decorative arts in the early 1900s.  The group started out as an Austro-Hungarian answer to the Arts & Crafts movement, and one definitely can see some family resemblance in the early work.  Much of the gallery space is taken up with a chronological exploration of the company’s history, output, and evolution.  

So many beautiful things, all tied together with a strong, almost moralistic philosophy. But, as it turned out, extremely crappy business management skills.

I downloaded the Neue Galerie app in advance, but visitors can also pick up an audioguide when they go. I recommend doing one of those.  This exhibition went very short on wall texts (instead, each room had laminated sheets with basic info).  And while I am all for not cluttering things with too many words, I needed the context and explanation.

Adele, but not the Singer

The Neue Galerie’s most famous painting is Gustav Klimt’s 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.  This painting, looted by the Nazis, had a whole movie made about it (Woman in Gold), with Helen Mirrin and Ryan Reynolds, no less.

Although you can’t photograph Adele in situ, the museum has reproduced her in its basement. Visitors can take selfies with her on the way to or from the restrooms.

Adele Bloch-Bauer at Neue Galerie, New York
Rumour Has It…this was a very expensive painting

Who Should Visit the Neue Galerie?

The Neue doesn’t rise to the very top of my list of must-visit art museums in New York. But it’s extremely high up there.  Few places do such a great job combining connoisseurship with a deep focus on a particular art historical moment.

Stairway, Neue Galerie, New York

If you like art, if you like a civilized museum experience that lets you avoid the sometimes too-crowded spaces of the Met or MoMA, and especially if you like old-world-style cafés and the cakes that come with them, I strongly urge a visit to the Neue Galerie.

For Reference:

Address 1048 Fifth Avenue (Entrance on East 86th Street), Manhattan
Website neuegalerie.org
Cost  General Admission:  $20
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