Looking for an Art Excursion in New York This Summer? Here Are Four Perfect Itineraries That Combine Nature and Culture

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This summer, nature is in full bloom at four major art institutions around New York City: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Met Cloisters, the New York Botanical Garden, and Storm King Art Center (north of the city). Just as important as the shows themselves are your activities before and after. Here’s our cheat sheet to navigating your way around them as you savor the dual experiences. Don’t forget your walking shoes!

Metropolitan Museum of Art
“Van Gogh’s Cypresses”

Visitors look at a painting during a preview of "Van Gogh's Cypresses" exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 15, 2023, in New York City. Photo: Wang Fan/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images.

Visitors look at a painting during a preview of “Van Gogh’s Cypresses” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 15, 2023, in New York City. Photo: Wang Fan/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images.

Planning a visit to the highly anticipated Vincent van Gogh “Cypresses” exhibition at the Met (through August 27)? You are, of course, going to need your strength. First, duck into Bluestone Lane (1085 Fifth Avenue at 90th Street)—an Upper East Side favorite—for bracingly strong coffee. Placing your order under the grand stone archway of the historic Church of the Heavenly Rest isn’t a shabby way to start your day.

Now that you’re rejuvenated, walk south along iconic Fifth Avenue toward the Met (1000 Fifth Avenue, between 82nd and 83rd Streets), where nearly 40 of the daring Post-Impressionist’s paintings await, including masterpieces like Wheat Field with Cypresses and The Starry Night. It’s Van Gogh’s first exhibition to focus on cypress trees, those enigmatic evergreens that figure prominently in his oeuvre.

Vincent van Gogh, <em>Cypresses</em> (1889). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Vincent van Gogh, (1889). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

After taking in his arboreal brushstrokes, step out the back of the museum for the real thing. Central Park is famed for its idyllic landscapes and sylvan strolls. The Ramble, a short walk west (between 73rd Street and 78th Street), offers 38 acres of winding paths, not to mention excellent birdwatching. The Great Lawn, meanwhile, provides grassy patches to rest your weary feet or roll out a picnic lunch. The lawn also holds any number of summer concerts this summer.

Should all that imbibing of nature inspire quaffing of another kind, trek back toward civilization, across Fifth Avenue, for the quintessential post-Met romp: the Carlyle Hotel. Inside, the historic and luxurious Bemelmans Bar—where whimsical murals by Ludwig Bemelmans, creator of the Madeline children’s books, adorn the walls—offers an array of refreshing beverages, from dirty martinis to Shirley Temples.

Met Cloisters
Garden Tours

View of Cuxa Cloister (ca. 1130–40), currently located in the Cloisters. Courtesy of the Cloisters.

View of Cuxa Cloister (ca. 1130–40), currently located in the Cloisters. Courtesy of the Cloisters.

Located at 99 Margaret Corbin Drive in Northern Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park, the Cloisters—governed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art—has been a must-see for locals and visitors since opening to the public in 1938. Open year round with free admission, it was founded by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., reassembled from fragments the oil heir acquired from American artist George Grey Barnard, who in in the early 1900s began collecting medieval art and architectural fragments from European monasteries and churches that were being demolished.

The richness of medieval Europe is on full display. Many of the works are world-famous, like the incredibly preserved late 15th-century Unicorn Tapestries, with their dense, vibrant millefleurs, and the 12th-century Cloisters Cross. Another gem of the collection is the Book of Flower Studies (ca. 1510–20), in which medieval illuminators in Tours, France, made watercolor illustrations of numerous flower species with remarkable attention to detail.

Page from the Book of Flower Studies (ca. 1510–1515), attributed to Master of Claude de France, showing St. Peter's Keys (Primula veris) with a butterfly.

Page from the Book of Flower Studies (ca. 1510–15), attributed to Master of Claude de France, showing St. Peter’s Keys () with a butterfly. Courtesy of the Cloisters.

Visitors are also advised to seek out some quality time with the namesake cloisters, meditative gardens located in various corners of the museum; their therapeutic value is the stuff of legend. A horticultural staff maintains the gardens and gives daily educational tours, too.

Fort Tryon Park itself is worth the trip. The space is rich in history, serving as a battleground in the Revolutionary War, and boasts eight miles of pathways, as well as plenty of lawn space for picnics. Heather Garden, Manhattan’s biggest, contains over 500 varieties of plants, while Linden Terrace offers unobstructed and spectacular views of the Hudson River.

 

New York Botanical Garden
Ebony G. Patterson

Ebony G. Patterson. Photoo: Frank Ishman. Courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Ebony G. Patterson. Photo: Frank Ishman. Courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Before heading inside the New York Botanical Garden at 2900 Southern Boulevard in the Bronx, it would be wise to make a pitstop at La Masa, a modern Colombian bakery at 726 Lydig Avenue on the garden’s east side. Here you can power up on gourmet empanadas and, of course, perfectly roasted coffee.

Now for the main event, where the contemporary artist Ebony G. Patterson has transformed the gardenone of the largest of its kind in the world, boasting over a million living plants—into a stunning medley of art and nature. Flowers, fabric, glass, and other materials combine to create lush, otherworldly environments.

The sprawling site-specific exhibition (through October 2) is the result of the Jamaican-born artist’s yearlong residency at the garden, making her the first visual artist to embed within the institution. Be sure to check out the Herbarium, where Patterson has installed the centerpiece of the exhibition, a monumental glass and stone peacock.

After a day of soaking in all that art and nature, you don’t even need to leave the garden to revive. Make your way to the northwestern corner to the scenic Hudson Garden Grill, which is conveniently nestled among the 40 acres of the Ross Conifer Arboretum. The menu emphasizes locally sourced recipes and ethically produced ingredients straight from Hudson Valley farms.

Storm King Art Center
Ugo Rondinone, RA Walden, Beatriz Cortez

Visitors gather around Menashe Kadishman's artwork </em>Suspended</em> at Storm King Art Center in New York on May 21, 2023. (Photo by Li Rui/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Visitors gather around Menashe Kadishman’s artwork at Storm King Art Center in New York on May 21, 2023. Photo: Li Rui/Xinhua via Getty Images.

Storm King has just opened for the summer season, and not a moment too soon. The 500-acre open-air museum contains perhaps the largest collection of contemporary outdoor sculptures in the U.S.—and it’s located only an hour’s drive north of Manhattan in the Hudson Valley, at 1 Museum Road in New Windsor. Although it was originally devoted to Hudson River School painting, Storm King soon began placing large-scale sculptures directly into its landscape, turning it into a world-class sculpture park. 

This summer, Storm King has added three contemporary sculptors to its roster (through November 13). New York-based Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone has installed the sun (2018) and the moon (2021), two large circular sculptures fashioned out of cast-bronze tree branches. RA Walden, meanwhile, has reimagined the electron configuration of the six most common elements—carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur—as crop circles on a hillside. And Beatriz Cortez has sculpted, by hand, volcano-like forms with undulating surfaces that echo the surrounding landscape. 

the sun (2018) and the moon (2021), Ugo Rondinone. Courtesy of Storm King.

Ugo Rondinone, the (2018) and (2021). Courtesy of Storm King Art Center.

As long as you’re near the art center of Beacon (just across the Hudson River), why not take a small detour to Dia Beacon? Housed in a former Nabisco box-printing factory at 3 Beekman Street, the museum’s collection includes major works by artists—particularly land artists—such as Richard Serra, Nancy Holt, and Robert Smithson. 

Should you need to stay a night or two before heading back to the city, Beacon is the place to do it. Look no further than the Roundhouse Hotel, at 2 East Main Street. The property was originally a textile manufacturer and one of the first factories in Beacon. Its restaurant, too, is a must, inspired by the agricultural richness of the Hudson Valley, highlighting local farms, wineries, and distilleries. Plus, all the tables have waterfall and creek views through floor-to-ceiling windows. 

Check back for additional Artnet Summer Itineraries for Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.—coming this month.

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