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New York’s Hispanic Society Museum After Five Years of Renovations

For over five-and-a-half years, the galleries at New York’s Hispanic Society Museum and Library have been closed for renovations, its treasures of Spanish art on tour to institutions across the U.S. and Europe during long-overdue repairs to its historic Beaux-Arts building.

Now, following $20 million in infrastructure improvements—phase one of a project overseen by design architects Selldorf Architects, executive architects Beyer Blinder Belle, and landscape architects Reed Hilderbrand—the Hispanic Society is ready to welcome back the public.

Memorial Day Weekend marked the reopening of the lower level of the museum’s dramatic Main Court and its famed Sorolla Room, built to house “Visions of Spain,” the monumental Joaquin Sorolla painting cycle installed in 1926. (Museum founder Archer Huntington commissioned it in 1911, after a blockbuster 1909 show of the artist’s work that drew 160,000 guests and forced the museum to stay open until 11 p.m.)

A little-known gem among New York City’s untold cultural riches, the Sorolla Room has sat empty for far too long, the vacant galleries only populated by the nearly 200 feet of paintings, each depicting vibrantly attired Spaniards carrying our various local traditions.

“The paintings are so crowded—we want to have as many people here as we can see on the canvases,” Guillaume Kientz, the museum’s CEO and director, told Artnet News.

Attendance figures have long lagged at the Washington Heights museum, which is part of the Audubon Terrace museum complex, a suite of eight Beaux Arts buildings, most of which were designed by Huntington’s architect cousin, Charles P. Huntington. By the time the museum closed in 2017, visitor numbers had fallen to just a few thousand a year—even though it boasts free admission.

But when “Visions of Spain” toured Spain from 2007 to 2010, the exhibition attracted 2 million visitors, the most of any museum show in the nation’s history. Looking ahead, the Hispanic Society hopes for 50,000 visitors a year for the first two years, and 100,000 to 150,000 within five years.

“We still receive and acquire contemporary art,” Kientz said, noting recent additions of work by Elena del Rivero following a public art installation on the museum terrace. “We definitely want to make living artists a more present part of our activity—as it was when the place opened in 1908 because Sorolla and many others in the collection were very much alive.”

The museum’s holdings are also broader than you might expect, encompassing not just Spain, but the wider Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world, including Portugal, Latin America, and the Philippines, with substantial holdings of both Islamic art and Judaica.

When asked, Kientz denied that people had misconceptions about the Hispanic Society and its mission. “If they have misconceptions, that means they know who we are—which is a good start!” he said.

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