By Viviana Londono-Danailov
New York City is a bustling metropolis known for its colossal skyscrapers, posh Fifth Avenue shops, and the Stock exchange. As a cultural hub, this city is also home to some of the world’s most renowned institutions. The Brooklyn Museum stands as one of New York’s historical landmarks, with a long trajectory dating back to the early 19th century. Located in the heart of Brooklyn (a borough of NYC), it stands alongside the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Children Museum and Prospect Park. As one of the oldest art institutions in the country, the Brooklyn Museum has undergone a series of transformations over the past century. Today, it stands as a grand symbol of all that embodies art at its best. While it is true one may get enthralled in the striking architecture of the building itself (especially during the night time), it is the equally impressive collection inside that takes the spotlight.
The mission of the Brooklyn Museum is to act as a bridge between the rich artistic heritage of world cultures, as embodied in its collections, and the unique experience of each visitor. Indeed, the museum lives up to this mission through its strong commitment to delivering innovative, interactive and community inclusive programming. Unlike your average art museum, the BM incorporates a unique element to its traditional roots. Not only will you encounter precious treasures of our ancient past, but also chances are you will come across a local artist’s work of art.
Recent renovations have opened up previously closed staircases, enabling visitors to have easier access to all floors with less traffic. To begin, there are a total of five floors. The first floor holds the museum shop and café. One of the latest installations to this floor on the Grand Hall is the long-term Connecting Cultures exhibit. This interesting exhibition is based on a juxtaposition of world cultures through an assortment of objects. Visitors get to view highly unlikely objects assembled in such way that one gets to appreciate the similarities among cultures rather than the differences. The South Gallery on the same floor holds African Innovations, an exhibit exclusively holding African Art. Through this diverse collection of objects, visitors can get a glimpse of Africa’s rich history throughout the millennia.
The second floor is divided into several galleries: Asian, Islamic, and the Mezzanine. The Asian galleries are composed of an incredible array of artifacts from China, Japan, Korea, India, Southeast Asia and the Himalayas. While the Islamic galleries display beautifully crafted objects from Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Turkey as well as other Central Asian countries. The calligraphy on books, metalwork and architectural elements such as tiles, among others, all capture the abstract beauty of Islamic art. However, one rather unexpected pleasant surprise in this floor is the installation of GO. As a community-curated open studio project, it is a temporary exhibition running until February 24th. Its main goal is to showcase an eclectic assemblage of works from local artists coming from over the borough of Brooklyn. While at the same time, promoting an interchange of ideas through these expressive works of art.
The third floor (my personal favorite) holds the largest collection of Egyptian art ranging from predynastic times into Roman times. One of the recent additions to these galleries is the Mummy Chamber, which contains beautifully preserved sarcophagus, mummified animals, funerary objects, etc. The illustration of magical spells on papyrus sheets is yet another imaginative element that ties into the entire belief system of these ancient yet visionary peoples. If this is not enough, you will also find in the floor, the Near Eastern galleries with stunning Assyrian reliefs, Sumerian gold pieces and an outside grand corridor with engaging European paintings and American landscape paintings.
The fourth floor has a combination of Feminist, Contemporary and 19th- Century Decorative Art. One of the highlights is the long- term exhibition, The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago. It is a rather imposing ceremonial banquet piece, all very intricately arranged in a triangular table. One is lead into this room by a rotating wall of over 1000 women names as a tribute to their contributions throughout history.
Lastly, the fifth floor (another personal favorite) holds the American Art galleries with beautifully crafted decorative pieces such as furniture, ceramics and more, from colonial to modern times. The Visible Storage –Study Center is a real treat for the visitors who get a tiny glimpse of the BM’s extensive collection. Comprised of over 2,000 objects, this visible storage unit enables its curious audience to experience and explore works of art from a variety periods all at once.
The BM is definitely worth the trip into Brooklyn. It is one of those so-called hidden gems that should receive a lot more recognition. However, if you find yourself all tied up during the week, then mark your calendar for the first Saturday of each month for an entertaining evening of art, culture, and free programming. If this is not enticing enough, did I forget to mention the food and drinks? So next time you find yourself roaming through the streets of Brooklyn, do put the BM on the top of your MUST do list.
Viviana Londono-Danailov holds a BA in communications, studied archaeology as part of a Post Baccalaureate program and holds a MA in both museum management and registration. After spending a few years working in the fashion industry, she has moved into the non-profit sector to pursue her passion for the arts, culture and archaeology. She currently works at the American Numismatic Society, a research based museum in NYC.