Nick and I have been on holiday in the USA for a couple of weeks, in Chicago and New York City, as he has described in more detail.
In Chicago there was a sense of pride in the city, people were friendly and we felt welcome. I had been at a conference before Nick arrived, and after three days in windowless, air-conditioned rooms, I was ready to start exploring. Millennium Park contained some fantastic designs including the Anish Kapoor sculpture Cloud Gate (pictured). The nearby Art Institute had a brilliant collection, despite some rooms being closed for renovation: I particularly liked the Ellsworth Kelly commission in the Sculpture Court.
We also took an excellent boat tour organised by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. If you are in Chicago do take this opportunity to learn about the development of the city centre and the different architectural styles used. Buy tickets in advance, as they sell out, and in the summer try to get the 9.30am tour to avoid the worst of the heat. Finally I would recommend the Chicago History Museum.
We’d last visited New York City twelve years ago and thought it was fabulous, but couldn’t say the same this time. We did interesting things, but somehow they didn’t cohere and we left with a sense of a tired and fragmented city, existing from day to day but not really aspiring to much more. And the people are incredibly rude and unhelpful, more so than last time, we thought.
Of course we went to the incomparable Museum of Modern Art, Rothko and Pollock being my favourites while Nick enjoyed the special Dali exhibition. But we found the new acquisitions disappointing, and the same applied at the Whitney Museum. The more established collections may be playing it safe, but we discovered the New Museum of Contemporary Art where there was a higher standard, in a great new building in the Lower East Side. It is near the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which has expanded since we last visited and now has a wider educational mission: ‘to promote tolerance and historical perspective through the presentation and interpretation of the variety of immigrant and migrant experiences on Manhattan's Lower East Side, a gateway to America.’ Unmissable.
Two other historical sites we visited were the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, and Ground Zero. Ellis Island was fascinating, but it took us two hours to get there from the time we bought our ticket in Battery Park, including about an hour queuing for the ferry - on a very hot day. The visitor centre at Ground Zero was hard to find, but I’m glad we didn’t give up because the displays tell the story of 9/11 in a dignified and moving way.
So we came away thinking that New York consisted of a series of disjointed experiences which we wouldn’t have missed, but I suspect we won’t visit again. Chicago, on the other hand, is now on the list of favourite cities and we’ll definitely be back.