Fun Times in Washington Heights – Part I

Entrance to the Hispanic Society of America

Entrance to the Hispanic Society of America

This afternoon I visited the Hispanic Society of America, which I consider to be the greatest “hidden gem” in NYC.  I visited the society for the first time several years ago, but I decided to go again today after reading that the Dia Center had opened an exhibit there (Dia is an art foundation that supports contemporary artists).  Entrance to the Hispanic Society is free, and they also have a reference library for the study of the arts and culture of Spain, Portugal, and Latin America.  The Hispanic Society is located on Broadway, between 155th and 156th street, AKA Audubon Terrace (property previously owned by the renowned ornithologist/painter).

You might recognize the facade from Law and Order, which was filming outside during my first visit

You might recognize the facade from Law and Order, which was filming outside during my first visit

Dia and the Hispanic Society began a four-year partnership in 2007 for the Hispanic Society to exhibit works that Dia commissions.  The current Dia exhibit Derrotero is by the New York-based artist Zoe Leonard and has two parts.  The first section Analogue is comprised of 400 photographs that the artist took between 1998 and 2007.  The artist originally intended to document the gentrification of the Lower East Side, but she also incorporates photographs of related imagery from her trips to Uganda, Cuba, and Poland (ex. coca cola signs found on facades of buildings abroad and on the LES).

The photographs are organized thematically (i.e. bodega storefronts, rags, etc…).  I thought the photos were interesting, but I grew up downtown/have seen the gentrification of the LES firsthand and therefore didn’t find the exhibit so revelatory or groundbreaking.



The second part of Leonard’s exhibit consisted of antique maps from the Hispanic Society’s collection, which were housed in the main building (Analogue was in another building next door).  I thought the maps were a bit dull, so I didn’t photograph them.  However, the main building also houses the society’s IMPRESSIVE collection of Spanish decorative arts, paintings, sculptures, textiles, and archaeology.  The objects and paintings are installed around a beautiful carved wooden balcony.

NOTE – the Hispanic Society does not allow the use of flash and the interior is dark, so some of the photos are out of focus.


Goya's "Dutchess of Alba?

Goya, Dutchess of Alba, 1797

This effigy looks so serene

This effigy looks so serene

Sadly, my favorite part of the collection, the Sorolla Room is closed for renovation until 2010.  The Sorolla room is a ballroom with SPECTACULAR murals by the artist Joaquin Sorolla, but the murals are in Spain until the renovation is complete.


The sculptures in the courtyard are by Anna Hyatt Huntington, the second wife of the Hispanic Society’s founder, Archer Milton Huntington.

19th and 20th century painting wing with Don Quixote relief

19th and 20th century painting wing with Don Quixote relief

Across from the main building is a recently renovated wing, which houses the Society’s gorgeous collection of 19th and 20th century paintings.  Below are some of the highlights (I am sorry I didn’t note the painters or titles).



I HIGHLY recommend visiting the Hispanic Society of America, even if you are not a fan of Spanish art or culture (although you might want to wait until the Sorolla murals come back in 2010).

p.s. I just read on the Hispanic Society’s website that they offers free tours led by the curators at 2PM on Saturdays.  Also, both times I was there I was the only visitor (not including my mother the first time).  While I hope they attract more people, this makes for a more pleasant and intimate experience than you might have at the MoMA or the Met, although it doesn’t have the people watching appeal.

p.p.s. Across the street from the Hispanic Society is the Church of the Intercession, which has a Tiffany alter and one of the cemeteries of the downtown Trinity Church, where many prominent New Yorkers are buried.




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3 responses to “Fun Times in Washington Heights – Part I

  1. Wow, I can’t wait to go. I can only hope that it remains a hidden gem! I also really want to check out the dia beacon. I hear the space is amazing!

  2. roseofbohemia

    Hi Melissa!

    Dia Beacon is AWESOME. The spaces and sculptures are so HUGE that it is interesting even if you don’t like modern art. Beacon is kind of cute too ( it was a factory town, but it’s having a revival)…it’s a great day trip from NYC.

    Oh, and I’m glad I have interested someone in visiting the Hispanic Society 🙂

  3. liz

    these pictures make me so jealous of you for living in new york city–with the world at your fingertips!! i mean, i really am enjoying california, and stanford, of course, is a dream come true, but so many times–like when i read entries like these from you–i question if it is all worth it. i mean, i know i am getting a top rate education and that that will surely mean something at some time, but is it worth missing out this other life in new york. i feel like the east and west coasts are at two different paces, at two worlds apart. how i wish i could just peruse through the Hispanic Society of America on a free saturday. shane, you are soo lucky!! thanks again for sharing these photos with me. miss you!

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