Radio stations may claim that “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” but it’s been looking that way ever since the Halloween decorations came down in October. Over the past few weeks, store shelves have filled with holiday goods, Christmas trees have filled with tinsel, and stomachs have filled with eggnog. Further adding to this festive fulfillment are some of the country’s top art museums, which have decked their own halls with seasonal exhibits and decorative displays. Check out the list of favorites below while Santa is busy making his own list of naughty and nice.
Present-day Pittsburgh is an unlikely place to find an 18th-century Italian village, but the Carnegie Museum of Art is the location of such a cultural crossroads with the museum’s Neapolitan presepio. Better known as the Nativity, the presepio juxtaposes the birth of Jesus (typically set in a manger in Bethlehem) within the bustling city of Naples, recreating the scene with lifelike figurines that were handcrafted between 1700 and 1830. Located in the museum’s Hall of Architecture, the presepio is surrounded by monumental Colorado spruce trees decorated with ornaments made by members of Carnegie Museum of Art Women’s Committee and other collaborating organizations. From now until January 9, 2017, the museum offers 60-minute guided group tours of these holiday traditions along with two new exhibitions: “Building Optimism: Public Space in South America” and “Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium.”
Some of the best Christmas gifts come in the smallest packages, such as the “Holiday Thorne Roads” at the Art Institute of Chicago. The Thorne Miniature Rooms collection comprises 68 miniscule rooms and uses a scale of one inch to one foot to represent European and American interiors from the 13th century to the 1930s. During the holidays, several of these tiny rooms are decorated with seasonal trimmings, such as the Virginia Entrance Hall which is adorned with mistletoe and garland or the California Hallway which is ready for Hanukkah with a mid-century menorah and a dreidel. Outside these mini walls, the museum also hosts a mini tour of its own gifts to the city of Chicago by presenting some of the works that were added to its collection throughout 2016.
Cincinnati Art Museum
New Year’s resolutions may be hard to keep, but New Year’s wishes are easy to make with “Tree of Life” at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Started in 2013 and created by Cincinnati artist Matt Kotlarczyk, this crabapple tree has been transformed into sculptural art in which the branches are adorned by glass vials, each containing wishes for 2017 written down by museum visitors. The museum further celebrates this tree theme, not with a traditional Christmas tree but instead with its current exhibit “Van Gogh: Into the Undergrowth.” This collection of Vincent van Gogh’s landscape paintings focuses on the artist’s love for forests and woodlands, centered around the museum’s own piece “Undergrowth with Two Figures.” Inspired by this exhibition, the gift shop is currently selling exclusive Van Gogh-themed items such as ornaments and mugs, any of which would make a great last-minute gift.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree isn’t the only evergreen to dazzle New York City residents and tourists. Further uptown in Manhattan, the Metropolitan Museum of Art presents its own 20-foot blue spruce which is set up in the Medieval Sculpture Hall, directly in front of an 18th-century Spanish choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid. The tree is decorated with 19 cherubs and 59 angels while its base is surrounded by 18th-century Neapolitan crèche figures representing the Nativity scene. Recorded Christmas music adds cheer to the display along with tree-lighting ceremonies that take place at 4:30pm each day. And for those not celebrating Christmas, followers of all faiths are invited to check out the Met’s exhibit “Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven” which focuses on how the Holy City has shaped not only religion but art and culture as a whole.