An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Sep 12, 2013
01:41 PM
The Connecticut Table

Art of Wine & Food at New Britain Museum of American Art: Great Event, Amazing Museum

Art of Wine & Food at New Britain Museum of American Art: Great Event, Amazing Museum

Photos courtesy of the New Britain Museum of American Art

An image from last year. The time to get tickets for this year's event, being held Sept. 17, is now.

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Time is running out to get tickets for the New Britain Museum of American Art’s 10th anniversary presentation of The Art of Wine & Food. Beginning at 5:30 p.m. next Tuesday (Sept. 17), the event will offer guests terrific wines and palate-delighting dishes from top Connecticut restaurants, and its honorary chair is the sister of actress Sandra Bullock—celebrity chef and cookbook author Gesine Bullock-Prado.

But before delving into the details of the “multimedia” satisfaction you’ll experience when you go—including luxe travel and dining packages in auctions and raffles—a few words are in order about the why in the equation of wanting to go; about how perfectly sculpted the museum is as a Connecticut cultural treasure.

The state is positioned at the aesthetic core of an art-rich region, one with world-class museums easily within reach in two major cultural metropolises, New York and Boston. But do you find yourself sometimes suffering from major museum malaise and blockbuster show fatigue?

If the Museum of Modern Art show “American Modern: Hopper to O’Keeffe” feels too much like another loving look at artists whose styles and iconography sometimes seem too familiar—especially with Hopper drawings at the Whitney, which is seguing into “American Legends: From Calder to O’Keeffe" in December—Connecticut has the antidote.

Make that more than one antidote in the world-class art museum genre, given the residency of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, and the college-based museums at Yale, UConn and beyond.

Among those gems, one of the very best is the New Britain Museum of American Art (NBMAA), which was a bijoux-sized treasure before its expansion and now has enough elbow room to show off more of its collection of masterpieces of American art, while mounting exhibits on a modest scale that venture into territory where major museums rarely dare to go—because they can’t afford to sacrifice appeal-to-the-masses ticket sales and the revenue that comes from the blockbuster shows.

Consider the NBMAA’s current show centered on Louis Comfort Tiffany, a name every connoisseur knows, which is a must-see before it closes at the end of this month. Instead of trotting out Tiffany’s inarguably brilliant lamps and vases, this exhibit enlightens and visually delights by recalling Tiffany’s foundation as a painter. “The Brilliance of Louis Comfort Tiffany: Painter and Craftsman is a major exploration of the paintings of Louis C. Tiffany (1848–1933) within the wider context of his creative genius,” the museum’s website explains. “A celebrated glass and jewelry designer, Tiffany was first and always a painter, studying under George Inness and Samuel Colman at the start of his career. While Tiffany’s paintings are not widely known, they reveal a profound sensitivity to light and color.”

Another NBMAA exhibit features “the studiously crafted portraits, landscapes, and still lifes in oil and graphite by Jacob Collins, a leading figure in the revival of classical style of academic painting.” Try mounting a show of contemporary academic painting in one of the big bastions devoted (paradoxically it sometimes seems) to the greatest of the art world’s greatest hits and anything that pushes outward at the boundaries of abstraction and the non-narrative; the board members might revolt.

Not in New Britain—but that’s only part of the story and not technically what this story is about.

One of the best things about the expanded and energized NBMAA is summed up by a branding logo that is the first thing your eyes are drawn to on the website home page. “Where art meets life,” it declares, and indeed, the museum has evolved to a point where it can offer both cultural and sybaritic satisfaction.

Its Café on the Park, overlooking the landmark Walnut Hill Park, is a lovely place to eat, linger, ponder contemporary art in the room and sip respectable coffee—but that’s the tip of the lifestyle iceberg. The Tiffany exhibit, for example, had an opening reception dinner that included an appetizer of “prosciutto-and-melon carpaccio, basil mascarpone cream, basil aioli,” and an entrée of “pecan-crusted Atlantic salmon, mandarin orange-and-pomegranate glaze, haricot vert with mint and lemon, basmati rice with caramelized onions and lentils.”

For anyone who wants to connect with this uniquely Connecticut artistic, cultural, lifestyle and dining richness in a somewhat ornate manifestation, the perfect opportunity is The Art of Wine & Food.

Art of Wine & Food at New Britain Museum of American Art: Great Event, Amazing Museum

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