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Eight days: nine museums

Nine museums in eight days, and an average of 25,000 steps a day? You must be talking about a trip with the Leiden Art History Association! In July, 20 students and a lecturer travelled to New York to take in all the art, architecture and other high points the city has to offer. We spoke to Joëlle Daems, a postgraduate student of Arts and Culture, about the experience:

Staying in New York

"We stayed in a hostel with a home-like feel on Broadway in the Upper West Side, and we started every day with a bagel topped with a layer of cream cheese that was thicker than the bagel itself. That gave us the energy for a day of admiring art. The programme, put together by two students and Dr Helen Westgeest, was interesting and varied – there was something for everyone. To Helen Westgeest, New York is a ‘paradise’ for art historians with an interest in modern art. Tourist guides don’t give Art History students a good idea of the best places for them to go, so Helen likes to take students to interesting locations she has come to know on her earlier trips to New York. During the trip, she likes to see the students’ enthusiasm about what NY can offer them. On our very first evening, surrounded by fireflies, we began with a long walk through the Upper West Side, to visit Chagall’s murals in the Metropolitan Opera House."

Bringing the textbook to life

“The Museum of Modern Art reminded us of the book we used in the first year of Art History – we recognised almost every picture, which is great for the self-confidence of an Art History student! We admired Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture in the Guggenheim, where each student took her or his time to descend through the snail shell.”

Surprising New York

“The hot city of New York was more attractive, calmer and above all cleaner than many students had expected. And there were a lot of dogs – not just any dogs: authentic elegant New York dogs, trotting confidently through Central Park wearing their little shoes.

“We even got to experience the Middle Ages on this trip, during a visit to a convent, because everything is possible in America: partly thanks to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., visitors have the opportunity to admire a collection from the Middle Ages in The Cloisters. The most surprising museum, and the one that made the most students smile, was probably the Dia:Beacon. It’s located a little way outside the city in an old cookie factory, with enormous spaces for large installations by artists such as Richard Serra.”

Culture is more than just museums

“We didn’t just visit museums, of course; we also did a gallery walk in combination with the High Line garden designed by Piet Oudolf, and we combined a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge with a street art-themed walk through Brooklyn. And it goes without saying that we studied American food culture, too, during a shared meal of fries, (veggie) burgers and milkshakes at an authentic American diner. In the evenings we made time to go shopping, drink IPA beer and iced tea or go to a rooftop party, but true art historians as we are, we got up each morning full of energy and ready for a new day filled with art.”

Statue of Liberty at sunset

"Out of all the skyscrapers, the elegant Chrysler Building was the general favourite. Its lights happened to come on during our boat trip to see the city skyline. Later, we admired Statue of Liberty against the background of a bright pink sunset. At the end of our trip we returned to the Netherlands, sated with bagels and with all the art and architecture, and in love with the city of New York. We already feel homesick for the city, but thankfully the Leiden Art History Association (Leidse Kunsthistorische Vereniging, LKV) organises overseas trips every year. In our teacher Helen’s view, the study trips offer real added value. She enjoys showing students what her favourite cities and art festivals have to offer art historians. A lecture series only involves PowerPoint presentations and just 12 x 2 contact hours with the students. An extended excursion offers the opportunity to see a lot of original artworks, and the teacher gets many more contact hours to expand students’ understanding of modern art. We’re already looking forward to the LKV’s next trip – where will they take us next?"

Text: Joëlle Daems, student MA Arts and Culture (research)

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