NOMA Better, Besthoff Best

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 looked at its priceless images, I imagined some Tahitian merchant saying to a destitute artist, “Hey, Paul, want to paint my door for a couple of francs?” 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 the seascape below. Approaching it, I thought it might be a Monet. However it turned out to be an Henri called 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 like the gorgeous Japanese screen below called The Tale of Genji, were also worth examining.


Sydney and Walda Besthoff founded a sculpture garden adjacent to NOMA. It contains 60 works by artists not usually known for sculpture, like Rene Magritte, and others not known at all, at least to me, like Kroean Do-Ho Suh.  Mr. Besthoff owned 184 drug stores that he sold to Rite Aid.  Walda loved the performing arts.  His money and her taste resulted in an excellent sculpture garden.  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 sculpture garden with Ruth & me were locals. It’s too bad that so many travelers journey to reborn New Orleans’ for its awesome attractions and party atmosphere but don’t see this fine combination of nature and art.


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