When I worked in New York City for a hoity-toity magazine publishing company, one of the things that used to make me positively riotous was when one of my lower Manhattan–dwelling co-workers would make a comment about life in “Princeton” or “the place that might as well be the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the High Arctic (translation: the most remote place on Earth).” The little witticisms would run along the lines of, “So, what’s going on in Princeton this weekend? A night in front of the tube watching The Ghost Whisperer? Cow tipping? A meeting of the local knitting club?” Driven to the edge of decorum by all the smugness, I took to randomly mumbling things in meetings, in the hall, in the bathroom, like: “Just saw David Sedaris last night. In Princeton.” And, “Grabbed coffee with friends and sat next to Toni Morrison. You know, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author? In Princeton.” Or, “Bruce Springsteen was spotted at a bar having drinks this weekend. Yeah, you heard me: The Boss. Grammy winner, Oscar winner, rock legend. Where was he? In Princeton.”
Of course, you always have those moments when you wished you had remembered to say something particularly clever, like, “Isn’t it funny that I can spit from my front step and hit the building that houses one of the leading university art museums in the country?” And that wouldn’t be a lie: Princeton University houses a collection of 72,000 works unlike any other institution in the country, with artwork that the McSmugs of the world typically associate with “brand-name” museums in New York, London, and Paris. The Princeton University Art Museum offers an impressive range of art from ancient to modern times, including American and Western European painting and sculpture and a growing collection of 20th-century art. Seriously, right under our noses is a collection that includes everything from John Singer Sargent to Claude Monet (see “Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge” above) to Robert Rauschenberg. Impressive, indeed.
And the goings-on at the Museum are ideal for any schedule: Each week, “Gallery Talks” showcases works in the Museum’s collections, new acquisitions, and special exhibitions, led by curators, scholars, docents, faculty, and graduate students. Every Thursday, the Museum hosts “Late Thursdays” and stays open until 10 p.m. to allow visitors to explore the collection on their own time, and enjoy special events and performances. And, docent-led “Highlights Tours” are available every Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., just in case you don’t have the time to meander through the entire collection.
Now, while all that is swell for us adults, the little scooplets in our lives probably couldn’t give a guinea pig’s habit trail whether or not there’s a real, live van Gogh hanging on the wall. However, scavenger hunts and art projects may peak their interest: “Art for Families” meets nearly every Saturday morning and caters to wee ones and their respective grown-ups. Registration is not required, so it’s a breeze to drop in from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for self-guided tours, hands-on projects, and the aforementioned scavenger hunts. From February 20 through May 15, kids will get to experience art in a way that they can understand; sessions include “Tricks Artists Play,” “What Did They Eat?,” “I Spy a Masterpiece,” “Let’s Put on a Play,” and more. And mark your calendars for Family Day on May 22 when “East Meets West: Journeying the Silk Road.”
So, I stand proud and tall (despite my actual height) when I say: “Take that, McSmugs!” —JH
Princeton University Art Museum; off of Nassau Street, Princeton; 609.258.3788 or artmuseum.princeton.edu.