New York 2010

Our hotel lay a mere twenty seconds' walk from the bright lights of buzzing Times Square and thus we were thrust into a world of skyscrapers, street sounds and New Yorkers. With its grid-like pattern of streets and avenues, named only by numbers, this was, indeed, an exhilarating environment.

Riding the city's rhythm and vitality, we soon found ourselves in Fifth Avenue before the famous Rockerfeller Plaza and Saint Patrick's Cathedral.

Our first American breakfast comprised of a mammoth feast of pancakes, maple syrup and bacon: it was time for a walk! Under new Spring leaves in Central Park, we made our way past the John Lennon Imagine Memorial and so to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Here, Mrs Charsi Harrington, a freelance fresco restorer, spoke to us about the restoration of two Roman frescoes that had been buried nearly two thousand years ago under the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

These ancient artifacts are being painstakingly reinstated by the use of water alone and paintwork originally applied using the 'buon fresco' method (by which pigment and water were dried into a surface of wet plaster) gradually finds its form. The Met's collection of Roman frescoes is considered to be the finest outside of Italy.

The Met also houses an impressive twentieth century art collection, featuring works by Hodgkin, Close, Hockney and Guston alongside lesser known nineteenth century paintings by Bonnard, Van Gogh and Vlaminck. An exhibition of experimental photography also proved invaluable for our research. A temporary drawing exhibition by the sixteenth century Florentine artist, Agnolo Bronzino, highlighted a delicate skill in the rendering of drapery and the human form.

Fifth Avenue is home to the spiraling structure of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum with its coiled, white rotunda; here, we visited the intriguing 'Contemplating the Void' exhibition. In contrast, the Frick Museum, former home of the steel magnate, Henry Frick, provided a quiet, intimate atmosphere where we stood transfixed by a collection of antiquities and paintings, in particular works by Vermeer, Holbein, Corot, Reynolds, Gainsborough and Turner.

That evening, we enjoyed a meal at BB King's Jazz Bar and listened to live music from New York singer/songwriter Chris Phillips and his band. We couldn't resist joining in, singing into the microphone and dancing alongside lively New Yorkers. Our first subway experience, the next morning, took us to the vibrant, contemporary art scene of downtown Chelsea. Outside, we sketched experimental drawings under the warming sun; inside, we were inspired by the commercial galleries and drew sketches from distinctive shows by Joseph Beuys, South Korean sculptor, Jaehyo Lee, and Canadian landscape artist, Kate Emlin.

We shopped on 34th Street, admired the Empire State building, and visited the Whitney Museum of American Art where a temporary exhibition, the '2010 Biennial', uncovered a contrasting spectrum of contemporary paintings, drawings, sculpture and film. In the evening, we looked down on Manhattan's vivid cityscape from the Rockerfeller Observation Deck. Andy Warhol predicted, "In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes," and thus some of us were photographed inside a clothing store to have our images instantly displayed on huge advertising boards in Times Square!

Our final visit was to MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art where we admired a large number of key twentieth century art works and heard talks on four outstanding paintings by Picasso, DeKooning, Pollock and Matisse. Not to be missed was a large scale retrospective exhibition spanning nearly three decades of works from South African artist, William Kentridge: charcoal drawings rubbed shoulders with prints and animated films. Kentyridge's present interest in design for opera was represented by some small scale stage sets for Shostakovich's 'The Nose'.

Equally impressive was an in-depth collection from film director, Tim Burton. Countless drawings were clearly a vital starting point for his creative inspiration, leading on to 3d models, animation and visionary, live action films. We were also fortunate to catch a contemplative, live performance art piece by contemporary Yugoslavian artist, Marina Abramovic.

Exhausted, yet exhilarated and with sketchbooks, photographs, luggage and memorabilia all packed, we boarded the plane for our journey back to London. New York is undoubtedly a city to remember and one to which we hope to return again and again.


Account by Mr J H Parnham, Eliza Craston and Hermione Brown