By Elizabeth Sobieski
When New Yorkers seek winter holiday glamour, joy and glorious exhibitions in a museum, their first thought is frequently of the Metropolitan Museum’s medieval sculpture hall, with its twenty foot spruce Christmas tree adorned with antique cherubs, towering above the baroque crèche, while classic live and recorded seasonal music wafts through the hall.
But there is a smaller museum, also on the Upper East Side, set within a Beaux Arts mansion on 86th and Fifth, which celebrates the season even more glowingly than the Met.
The Neue Galerie, with its focus on early twentieth century art and design from Vienna, Berlin, and other parts of mitteleuropa, creates an old world Christmas unique in New York. Even its most famous artwork, Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer”, one of the most revered paintings in the world, appears created for the holidays, with its rounded gold embellishments reminding one of traditional Christmas decorations.
The Neue is also one of the most unique places in the city to shop; the warm wood paneled bookstore and gift shop are laden with Central and Eastern European tree decorations and beautifully boxed glazed gingerbread ”liebkuchen”. Of course there are fantastic art books, but also stunning dishes and jewelry, often based on designs from before the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Even a Wiener Werkstaette (from the legendary artisanal Vienna Workshop which lasted from 1903-1932) book on flowers has a red and green cover that subtlety references the holiday. Handsome leaping stags appear on green hot chocolate mugs. Festive dog biscuits attract my attention, even though I am canine-less at present. Aerin Lauder‘s Nendez Cypress candle provides the perfect winter scent.
The excellent and brilliantly styled restaurants at the Neue Galerie are imprinted with the atmosphere of a Vienna winter with various goodies under glass and drinks served upon silver platters. The Café Sabarsky is named for the late art dealer Serge Sabarsky, who conceived of the museum along with the philanthropist and former United States ambassador to Austria, Ronald S. Lauder. I can’t keep my eyes or mouth from relishing the irresistible Sachertortes, apple strudel, linzertortes, viennoiserie, and apricot crepes. The Sabarsky is only open to museum members for lunch, but open to the public at dinner, while the lower level Café Fledermaus is open to all for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Both serve some of the best coffee drinks in the city, and in my mind I hear Julie Andrews singing about her favorite things. There is also excellent savory food, including such specialties as chicken paprikas and wiener schnitzel, and live cabaret performances on certain evenings.
I attended a recent function at the Neue celebrating the generous Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies, which donates contemporary art to US embassies and consulates, and was handed freshly opened chestnuts that had been roasted on an open fire. You see what I mean about the Neue being so of the season.
The exhibition on display through January 21 (The masterpieces by Klimt, Kandinsky, Klee, Kirchner, and other artists like George Grosz and Otto Dix, whose names don’t start with a ‘k’, are on permanent display), is of two extraordinary and under known German Expressionist artists, who often employed a Christmas hued palate, Franz Marc and Auguste Macke, both killed as young men during World War I, reminding us that our most important holiday wish should always be for peace.