The Gems on Upper Museum Mile

The museums mentioned here are worth the extra blocks north on Museum Mile to check them out!

When it comes to this city, I've actually never been much of an Uptown Girl. I have always preferred the cozier, eclectic neighborhoods south of 14th Street like TriBeCa and the East Village, with their native hip street vibes, one-of-a-kind bistros and innovative boutiques. But when it comes to my art yearnings, there really is no other place in the city with so much concentrated culture than Museum Mile (Fifth Avenue, roughly from 82nd to 105th Street). For my fix of all things dinosaurs and more, it is the American Museum of Natural History on W. 79th St.; the Guggenheim on E. 89th Street for world-class art exhibits on its spiraling ramps; and the Met and its ancient arts contained in its Beaux Arts building. But, on a recent visit to Upper Fifth Avenue, I decided to concentrate on three museums north of E. 90th St.; they usuallly get less attention than the museums further down Fifth, but now that warm weather and lots of sun are upon us, it is more than worth the effort of continuing an Uptown walk to visit these splendid institutions:

Cooper Hewitt (2. E. 91st St., 212.849.8400). This recently renovated museum (part of the Smithsonian Institution), formerly the Georgian-style, Andrew Carnegie Mansion, has fired up its interiors with state-of-the-art technology to help visitors navigate its three floors of exhibition space. You can explore the digitized collection on large touchscreen tables, solve design problems in the Process Lab, find out how the Carnegie Mansion "worked” as a house (a screen on the second floor shows the history of the Carnegie Mansion before it became the Cooper Hewitt); and draw your own wallpaper designs in the Immersion Room (above). Its current exhibit, Tools: Extending Our Reach (thru May 25) explores the wide, historic range of tools that we use in everyday life. The exhibit includes a 1.85 million-year old stone core choppper, an artificial heart and a Braille typewriter. Come June, the Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden opens: the reimagined space now includes a rock garden, enlarged garden pathways and colorful plantings.

The Jewish Museum (1109 Fith Ave., 212.423.3200). Considered the leading Jewish museum in the country, the museum opened in 1947 in the former Felix M. Warburg House and holds some 26,000 objects and artifacts relating to Jewish culture. Right now, Masterpieces and Curiousities: Nicole Eisenman's Seder (thur Aug. 9), details the historic and cultural aspects of contemporary Judaism through a look at his painting Seder, along with a selection of portaits from the Museum's collection and depictions of families at Passover Seders, while Revolution of the Eye looks at how avant-garde art influenced both the visuals and the programming content of network television during its early years. On display are some very cool retro pieces such as Andy Warhol's “Get Smart Cover for TV Guide,” from March 5, 1966. (Image courtesy ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The Museum of the City of New York (1220 Fifth Ave., 212.534.1672). I've always loved the unadorned, simple interior of the Museum of the City of New York, which was founded in 1923 to celebrate all that is, and has been, New York through a variety of medium. Two current exhibits (both on view thru Sept. 13) are worth checking out: Hip-Hop Revolution explores the historic early days of hip-hop culture and music which were rooted in NYC, including photographers deeply rooted in the hip-hop culture from the beginning: Janette Beckman (whose "Queen Latifah,” 1990, is pictured above),  Joe Conzo and Martha Cooper. Simultaneously you can see Saving Place: 50 Years of New York City Landmarks, which looks at the influence of the landmark preservation movement in the city, catalyzed into action after the demolition of the original Pennsylvania Station in 1963, and explores other efforts that saved such iconic NYC structures as Grand Central Terminal (something that former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy was passionately involved with). 

One last word: The Jewish Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, the Cooper Hewitt, the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Museum of Arts and Design have collaborated on a month-long project called Mid-Century May NYC. Celebrating mid-century art and all the nostalgia it garners (think: the television show Mad Men, along with a recent resurgence in popularity of mid-century design), visitors can visit all these museums with one $30 pass throughout the month of May. For more information visit midcenturymay.nyc.

Lois Anzelowitz Levine
About the author

As a born-and-bred New Yorker, Lois has been a magazine journalist for more than 15 years and “a traveler as pa...