The goat you see in the picture is Pablo Picasso's She-Goat (1950), a bronze sculpture the artist crafted out of discarded objects, and its grazing area is the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden at The Museum of Modern Art. On most days when the weather cooperates, this modernist oasis becomes one of the city's most popular retreats. I've written before about similar escapes in midtown, mostly small plazas and walkways, but MoMA's garden could be considered the penultimate modernist refuge in a busy city.
The design of the garden insures that visitors may choose among a variety of activities such a taking a lunch break, talking in groups, walking around, or sitting and thinking quietly. The museum can offer several challenging art experiences, so the garden makes a good place to process one exhibit before moving on to another.
The sculpture garden can also serve pleasantly as its own destination, a favored place to sit and look at art. After seeing one of the museum’s special exhibitions, I stopped in the garden for my regular mid-afternoon teatime. Finding a place near the cafe on the north end terrace, I had a good view of the Art Nouveau-inspired Entrance Gate to Paris Subway (Métropolitain) Station (c. 1900) as well as a view through a cut-out frame in the wall of the top floors of pretty buildings across the street. The view of old and new suited me fine. I love the city's ornate 19th-century architecture, but I will always have a soft spot in my heart for cool, hard modernism.
Staying long enough in the garden to want to change seats, I moved to a table next to one of the "canals," as the original designer Philip Johnson called the pools, and just to the side of Aristide Maillol's The River (1938-1943). In the background I could see Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk (1963-1969).
While sketching the works, I imagined a highly gendered dialogue between them, concluding that the precariously placed woman could handle most anything. Falling in the shallow pool certainly wouldn't hurt her. Does she, too, have a place in her heart for cool, hard modernism? I don't think so, but she has some powerful arms.
The presence of water, cool Georgia marble, soft green trees, the varying heights and shapes of the walkways, and the presence of movable chairs are just some of the reasons that make the museum's sculpture garden amenable to human needs. I highly recommend stepping out of the dizzying pace of midtown and into this cool spot of art and reflection. It's possible to regain a sense of balance there. Just don't step on the ivy.
MoMA The Museum of Modern Art is located at 11 W. 53rd Street. New York, NY. Website here.
• Shhh, Don't Tell: The Quiet Modernist Escapes of Midtown
• The Walking Arcades of Midtown
• After Walking, A Place to Sit: Greenacre Park, E. 51st St
Images from July 20, 2009 by Walking Off the Big Apple.