When I went to NOMA pre-Katrina, I was not impressed. But then I had the opportunity to visit the New Orleans Museum of Art just a couple of days after Mardi Gras in 2015 and had a better experience. Either I had matured or it had moved up to a 4 Compass Museum. After 46 galleries Ruth wasn’t interested in more art, so I strolled the Besthoff Sculpture Garden on my own and then had to find and convince her that she needed to see it. We both agreed it was 5 Compass.
The New Orleans Museum of Art on the southeast corner of City Park has a fairly good core collection that didn’t surprise me. It was the unexpected in the core that did, like an unusual Gauguin 4-panel door called Rupe Tahiti that he painted on his first trip there. As I stared at it’s priceless images, I imagined some Tahitian merchant saying to the destitute artist, “Hey, Paul, want to paint my door for a couple of francs?” But in reality he did it to get some privacy. Gauguin also painted a 6-pane window that writer W. Somerset Maugham once owned. I like the paintings of American artist Robert Henri and was surprised by his seascape. Approaching it, I thought the rocks might be in France and the painting a Monet. However, it turned out to be Henri’s Rocky Promontory, Monhegan, Maine.
Also unusual and surprising was a Chinese snuff bottle collection. The Chinese once loved snuff and believed it cured lockjaw, stomach trouble, asthma, etc. Missionaries, especially Jesuits, used it also and gave it as a gift when the emperor summoned them. The New Orleans Museum of Art’s other Asian and Oceanic and African acquisitions, an entire floor of atypical treasures, were also worth examining.
Sydney and Walda Besthoff founded a sculpture garden adjacent to NOMA containing 60 works by artists not usually known for sculpture, like Rene Magritte, and others not known at all, at least to me, like Korean Do-Ho Suh. That’s his Karma above. Mr. Besthoff owned 184 drug stores that he sold to Rite Aid. Walda loved the performing arts. His money and her taste made the Besthoff Sculpture Garden happen. Visitors follow a circular path and cross footbridges to see well-placed sculptures, admire aquatic plants, chase children, spend some time among live oaks, camellias, etc.
City Park is a distance but not a great one from the legendary French Quarter, where tourists abound. Most of the people enjoying the Besthoff with Ruth & me were locals. It’s too bad that so many travelers journey to reborn New Orleans for its many attractions and party atmosphere but don’t see this fine combo of art and nature.