Hey Uncle Sam! The Hispanic Society Could Use Some Help

hsa top Hey Uncle Sam! The Hispanic Society Could Use Some HelpArt Info posted this item this morning:

WASHINGTON, D.C.-Two museums have made it onto a list drawn up by the U.S. Conference of Mayors of "ready to go" infrastructure projects for president-elect Barack Obama’s proposed economic recovery program, Artnet reports. The mayors’ list, which suggests ventures ranging from new sewers to new schools and parks, includes more than 11,000 projects in more than 427 cities, costing more than $73 billion and creating more than 847,000 jobs.

Great news. Except neither of those two are New York City museums and a couple of ours are plainly ailing. The most obvious candidate (off the top of this writer’s head) for federal refurbishment and structural reinforcement is the Hispanic Society of America.

Heard of it? Maybe?

The overlooked Hispanic Society has one of the largest collections of Spanish and Latin American art outside of Spain, including a dozen or so flat-out masterpieces (Goya’s "Duchess of Alba"; a first edition Don Quixote) and spiky examples of Gothic tomb art and Islamic pottery. If we take seriously this idea of America and New York as multicultural, we had better invest in in places like the Hispanic Society. There aren’t many museums with such fullbooded collections dedicated to collecting and exhibiting the art of another country. (The Yale Center for British Art is probably the best.)

But the Hispanic Society has been poorly managed in the past and is in pretty bad physical shape. It doesn’t help that the society, which is free to visit, is housed in the Audubon Terrace complex on West 155th Street, a sepulchral monument to turn-of-the-century-taste.

When this writer last visited the Hispanic Society, he was startled to see a curator climbing a stepladder to inspect a Velázquez which had been hung above another painting, eight or so feet off the ground.

Two or three assistants were holding the ladder up. It began to bend alarmingly at the center. The curator kept calling out orders: ‘Hold her steady!’ and ‘Careful now!’ Pretty dispiriting.

A Francis Alÿs show organized in conjecture with the Dia Art Foundation last January showed that the Hispanic Society still has a pulse. Now all it needs is an indoor climate control system. And an elevator. That’s where Uncle Sam comes in.