When it first opened in the early 1900s, the Hispanic Society Museum & Library hosted a show of paintings by Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla. The exhibit was so popular, it drew 168,000 visitors over a four-week span, requiring the museum to stay open until 11pm to accommodate the crowds.
Now more than a century later, as the museum's main building reopens following a six-year, $10 million renovation, it's only fitting that it's launching with a show on Sorolla, in addition to several other exhibits. The museum, located in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood, is now open Thursday-Sunday—and it's completely free to visit. Here's what to expect at the renovated building and what's coming next.
The building may not look vastly different, but it's changed for the better with updated lighting, air-conditioning, accessibility features, roofing, facade work, a gift shop and a new paint hue to complement the architecture.
"It's a landmark building, so you want to respect it, but you want it to be (ADA) compliant," the museum's Director and CEO Guillaume Kientz, tells Time Out New York. "Renovating a place like that is like restoring a painting, so the less it shows, the better it's done."
With 750,000 objects, the society houses the most extensive collection of Hispanic art and literature outside of Spain and Latin America. The museum was founded in 1904 by Archer Huntington, the son of an American railroad magnate, who was fascinated with museums and Hispanic cultures.
Renovating a place like that is like restoring a painting, so the less it shows, the better it's done.
Inside the architecturally stunning building, the museum’s celebrating Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida’s and Jesús Rafael Soto’s Centennial. The year 2023 marks 100 years since Sorolla’s death and 100 years since Soto’s birth. Their works, presented together, showcase the scope of the museum’s mission from Spain to Latin America and from figurative to abstract art.
Back in 1911, Sorolla returned to the U.S. to create a series of 14 wall paintings for the Hispanic Society called “Vision of Spain.” Each massive panel reflects a different region of Spain in vivid colors, highlighting tuna fishing, bullfighting and an Easter parade, along with objects including oranges and flowers. The canvases are arranged around the room for a truly immersive experience.
As a complement to the Sorolla Gallery, the museum is showcasing "Jewels in a Gem: Luz Camino." It's the first U.S. display of jewelry by the Spanish jeweler. Many of the exquisite, glittering pieces draw on quintessentially Spanish elements including flowers, fruits, castanets and flamenco—imagery also found in Sorolla's canvases.
Another gallery houses a show called "In Search of Juan de Pareja: From Arturo Schomburg to Jas Knight." The show focuses on Spanish painter Juan de Pareja featuring works by the artist or attributed to him.
"(We) always try to bridge the past and the present, the local and the global," Kientz says. “Because this is really what we are about, not only because it’s our mission, but because it’s the nature of our collection.”
Looking ahead, the museum will host several outdoor installations on its restored Audubon Terrace, as well as an exhibition on Picasso this fall, which will explore the Spanish painter's relationship with Spanish literature.
As for renovations, the work completed is the first phase of a multi-year plan, which will now focus on the museum's East Building. The East Building will eventually serve as the museum's main entrance and will house special exhibition galleries, a community center and a state-of-the-art conservation studio.
The Hispanic Society Museum has long been a hidden gem, and now museum officials want to make it more visible.
"We really want to become a destination. We provide an amazing experience because this architecture (is something) you don't see very often in New York. The outdoor space is quite unique. The collection that we have, there is nothing comparable in this city. So the idea is really to become a weekend destination or afternoon destination for people here," Kientz says. "The idea is to put the entire neighborhood on the map."