Agnes Krup, a literary agent, is embarking upon a holiday travel adventure in New York City, where she lives. Read all of Agnes’ Notes from New York.

Two years ago, during the week after Christmas, I spent some time in Rome feeling so miserable about myself that I couldn’t allow myself to do what I enjoy so much: view favorite pieces of art. Today, looking back, I cannot but shake my head, but at the time I could not open my heart to it.

Now is the moment to make up for that. There is one exhibition in New York right now that I love so much that I went to see it a second time: Spanish paintings from the last 400 years at the Guggenheim Museum. I first saw it a few weeks ago, and I knew I needed to come back without the time pressures of a work week. The quality of the art brought together is extraordinary, but the exhibition’s real strength is its subjective hanging: It brings together paintings by genre, not by chronology, and in that way it interprets rather than just shows.

There are landscapes, portraits of women and men, religious themes and many, many glorious still lifes. Always, Zurbarán hangs next to Goya or Picasso, Velázquez next to Miró. And it all makes perfect sense. More than that, it is exciting. Need I say that the show is curated by a woman, the Guggenheim’s Julia Giménez?

There are some small paintings so beautiful you want to touch them — Antonio de Pereda’s walnuts you want to crack immediately; Zurbarán’s lamb you want to cuddle. With the dwarf-sized Don Sebastián de Morra, as Velázquez presents him, you want to engage in conversation the moment you look into his eyes. There is such intimacy in these masterpieces, many of them only a couple of square feet in size. After seeing so many post-war McCanvasses over the last few days, here I relax.

Perhaps this exhibition also brings out a bit of homesickness for the Old World in me. And perhaps all those scenes of bodegones, kitchen pantries really, are making me hungry, and the place to go is just two blocks away, in another museum: Café Sabarsky at Neue Galerie.

The museum I skip. It is a very focused collection of German and Austrian early 20th century art and crafts, and I have been there a few times over the past year. But Café Sabarsky is every bit as much a draw, and every bit as much an exhibit — its interior an authentic Viennese fin de siècle café. What’s more, the food is every bit as authentic, and I have always had a very weak spot for Austrian cuisine.

I love to sit here, eat a leek soup followed by some Apfelstrudel, as only the Austrians can make it, the dough stretched so thin you can almost see through it. I leaf through a newspaper readily available on one of those long wooden files. And then, of course, Austrian coffee …

Vacation, after all, is possible in my own city.

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  • Dr. Pat Allen January 2, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    We are all emboldened by your example to visit and linger in front of works of art remembered and loved and to become acquainted with the new — and for sharing your journey with Women’s Voices for Change.
    Museums, galleries, architecture and the culture of our wonderful city are not just for those from other places. We must all take the time to enrich our lives with too much beauty, to be astonished by the unexpected and to pay homage to the artists, to their work and to the curators and endowments that allow these wonderful works to be in the public domain.
    Agnes, we hope that you have time to be alone again soon. We want to know what you see and why we should follow in your footsteps. We need to hear from you because you are a woman who is full of passion and wisdom.