After too many years of living in Manhattan, one’s view of the world can get distorted, places overlooked. As a lifelong visitor to all of the major art museums in the city, I repeatedly find myself judging other smaller institutions by a New York standard. Recently, I journeyed to Huntington, Long Island and The Heckscher Museum of Art to experience the joys of walking through quiet galleries, where friendly guards smile at me and knowledgeable docents pleasantly volunteer to tell me about the more interesting aspects of certain works of art.
There are only a few museums in the world that can be talked about in the same breath as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Yet, visiting a museum like the Heckscher or the dozens of other intimate museums in the greater New York area provides us with something special: no crowds, modest entry fees, and local employees who are visibly proud of their hometown museum. These are worthwhile moments assuming there is art worth looking at . . . and fortunately for even the most demanding critic, the Heckscher doesn’t disappoint.
Founded in 1920, the institution and its 185 works of art were a gift from capitalist (and philanthropist) August Heckscher (1848-1941). Housed in a non-descript stone building, The Heckscher Museum of Art now has more than 2,100 pieces by European and American artists, including many marvelous world-class landscapes. Most striking is George Grosz’s (1893—1959) painting, Eclipse of the Sun, which, if displayed at the MET, would surely have a central position in the collection. Completed in 1926, this painting captures the insidious and corrupt elements governing Germany during the post-World War I period. There are more than a dozen other paintings here by Grosz, who lived in Huntington during the last twelve years of his life.
Another gem on display is Ralph Albert Blakelock’s (1847 – 1919) The Poetry of Moonlight. If you are a fan of Caspar David Friedrich, then you will note the similarities in style and subject matter that draw viewers into their magical scenes. The museum has a stand-worthy mix of quality paintings, including seventeenth-century Dutch and Italian works and English portraiture, American modernism, and abstract art. Photography also plays an important and growing role in the collection with quality works by Berenice Abbott, Larry Fink, Eadweard Muybridge and Man Ray.
A small but pleasurable aspect of the museum is its setting in Heckscher Park, right next to a large pond filled with swans, geese, and ducks. You will also see an unusual sculptural monument to the 43 Huntington residents who died on September 11, 2001. Just a few blocks away is a busy commercial area with lots of shops and restaurants, and less than a half mile walk from the museum is Huntington Harbor, which opens into Long Island Sound.
How to get there: The Museum is a five-minute taxi ride from the Long Island Railroad at Huntington Station—or if it’s a warm day, go for a stroll. Hours: Tuesday through Friday (10 am—5 pm) Saturday and Sunday (1—5 pm). First Friday of each month, open until 8:30 pm. Holiday Mondays (10 am—5 pm). Admission: Adults—$8.00, Seniors (62+)—$6.00, Student (10+)—$5.00, Children under 10 are free.
(The Heckscher Museum of Art, 2 Prime Ave., Huntington, New York, 631.351.3250, heckscher.org)
Photo: Jim Sibley