We were lucky enough to be in New York recently, a place where some of its world-class cultural institutions stayed open with clever and safe social-distancing measures to protect visitors and staff. Keen to support New York culture, we visited some of them; and it was harrowing to see the significant drop in numbers of visitors. But we’re confident that a cultural renaissance is just waiting in the wings. It’s hard to find anywhere else in the world that can rival the concentration of culture that you’ll find in NYC and its surrounds, even in challenging times.
There’s no denying that we’re culturalists here at OutThere. While travel is naturally what we live and breathe, you could argue that it’s just the medium, as what we’re truly accessing through travelling is culture – through interacting with people of different backgrounds, a destination’s history and stories, or its food and drink.
But alot of culture is about the Arts; and for some 79% OutThere travellers (as our recent reader survey tells us), accessing it is one of the main reasons why we travel. In fact, one of the biggest gripes we hear about the pandemic stems from our inability to access and interact with culture. Let’s face it, while virtual cultural experiences have become a mainstay, the depth and quality that they offer is nothing as compared to that of real-life interaction.
In New York, culture is part and parcel of the experience of being there, we’d go as far as to say that it’s in its ‘blood.’ In need of a distraction from lockdown life, we put on our masks to see what was on offer.
The latest notable contribution to New York culture is an offshoot of the famous Stockholm institution – Fotografiska – a gallery that is dedicated solely to photography. We will admit that we were at first slightly hesitant to visit a big multi-national brand, considering NYC is full of home-grown spaces, independent galleries and iconic cultural edifices. But this was no Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. The compact, but brilliantly-designed space in the heart of Manhattan packs a serious photographic punch, with touring exhibits ensuring that there’s always a reason to come back. We were immediately won over. Each of the exhibits we saw was entirely different from the other but equally interesting, culturally sensitive and relevant. In fact, it felt like we were visiting a series of different galleries at Fotografiska New York, so it offers bang for our buck. Fotografiska New York clearly has a mission to inform and challenge; and at the time of our visit, the selection of exhibitions achieved both. As suchm we’ve put it at the top of this list, to persuade others that may think as we did, that is definitely worth a visit. Top tip, the stupendous ground-floor photographic bookshop alone is enough to satiate photography fans.
This New York culture mecca to indie print media has expanded its remit with the addition of a new space within the Swiss Institute building in St. Marks, creating a small-hold away from its gay foundations in Chelsea and putting it in the proximity of what has become Manhattan’s decidedly ‘queerer’ neighbourhood and spiritual home to contemporary art and culture, the East Village. We loved this effortlessly browsable outpost of the non-profit bookstore brand (first founded in Chelsea 1976 by artists, for artists) that aims to foster and grow its community beyond the East Village, into Chinatown and the Lower East Side and celebrate the history of avant-garde art and countercultural publications in Lower Manhattan. The entrance to the building is where you’ll find the abridged bookshop that is Printed Matter (which opened during the pandemic by appointment) but most of the building, including the roof terrace is given over to gallery space courtesy of the Swiss Institute, itself an independent art institution dedicated to promoting forward-thinking and experimental art. But for the full periodicals and coffee-table book fix (you’ll find OutThere magazine lurking on its fabulous shelves too), make sure you make a visit to the original store on 11th Ave in Chelsea.
Even before Covid, Beacon has become one of the main hotspots for rich-escapee New Yorkers looking for a more chilled, rural getaway space within easy reach of the city. They have taken with them all the trappings of their sophisticate lifestyles: their 4x4s, organic bakeries and sky-high property prices. But they have also exported their taste for cool, statement, contemporary art. The Dia: Beacon is possibly the largest indoor art space we have ever seen. A former box printing factory, the vast (15,000 m2) gallery spaces now house art from the 1960s to the present, including some large-scale installations from some of the world’s most prominent artists. Well worth the train journey from Grand Central, as it travels through some spectacular scenery, which is inspiring for any creative soul.
This outdoor sculpture park in Cornwall, NY didn’t have to close as visitors can physically distance on a normal day. But just 50 miles north of NYC, this is a perfect day out … if by any chance you could have enough of the city. This area of the Hudson Valley has been the getaway for New Yorkers since the late 1800s, so it’s a place rich in history matched with the spellbinding nature of its surroundings. Since the swinging Sixties when the Storm King Art Centre was first founded, it has grown into a 500-acre outdoor art space, a natural ‘canvas’ for ambitious artists who create large-scale sculpture and site-specific commissions under the open sky. It’s one of those quirky, must-see-to-believe, “why is this here?” type projects. We like how a clear bond between people, nature and art has been nurtured here and it’s nice to see that New York culture has a long heritage not just on Manhattan. Storm King is just 30 minutes from Beacon, so you can do both the ginormous, out-of-the-city spaces in one trip (although you’d need a vehicle to really appreciate Storm King), but for the foreseeable future, the park is only open at the weekends and advance tickets are required.
The self-billing of ARTECHOUSE as “the crossroads of art, science and technology”, might be a bit of a stretch for what is essentially a pretty light show. This space aims to dedicate its exhibitions to 21st-century artists who create interactive and immersive art exhibitions in new visions and new forms. Perhaps, you could say that the work here goes some way towards democratising what visiting an art gallery means, and we can imagine that it’ll resonate particularly with an audience that likes more ‘ooh and ahhs’ than cerebral stimulation. But, at the end of the day, art is how the viewer interprets it. But if you’re all “challenged out” from Manhattan’s other art institutions and looking for a fun distraction, rather that an a thought-provoking, intellectually challenging art show (at least at the time we visited), this provides a fun moment, plus the bonus of a like-bait Instagram post or two.