The crown jewel of City Park, and of New Orleans art, NOMA houses a 40,000-piece collection of 16th- through 20th-century European paintings, drawings, sculptures, and prints; early American art; Asian art; pre-Columbian and Native American ethnographic art; a gallery entirely devoted to Fabergé; and one of the largest decorative glass collections in the country. Not everything is on display, of course, and this very manageable museum does not need to take hours to visit. Curation here has been impressive of late, with unfailingly interesting exhibits. From the front, the original 1911 neoclassical building is an imposing sight among the greenery of City Park. The contemporary rear portion is all angles and curves, steel and glass; and the handsome interior galleries are well lit and organized. It all works to the visitor’s advantage. (Well, Lichtenstein’s Five Brushstrokes sculpture, prominently installed at the front entrance in late 2013, met with comparisons to streaky bacon. But what’s art without controversy?)
Next door is the superb Besthoff Sculpture Garden, which spotlights 60 modern sculptures amid 5 serene, landscaped acres winding around reflecting lagoons (11 acres by the time you read this). Artists’ works by George Segal, Henry Moore, Elisabeth Frink, Gaston Lachaise, and a version of Robert Indiana’s famous pop-art LOVE sculpture are here. It’s a cultural highlight, and admission to the Sculpture Garden is free. We like to grab a Parkway Bakery po’ boy on the way there and picnic amid the artwork. Alternately, Ralph Brennan’s Cafe NOMA inside the museum has light lunch fare and wine during museum hours; and Morning Call is just a short walk away.