NEW YORK, New York. We're in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and have just finished reading an information panel that says abstract artist Ad Reinhardt produced only black—totally black—paintings from 1961 until his death in 1967.
"I bet he died of boredom," says my teenage son Spence, staring at a Reinhardt canvas.
An honest appraisal of what we see is one of the chief strategies Spence, his older brother Shane and I employ to connect with the smorgasbord of art and artifacts we find in New York.
Travel with teenagers is not for the faint of heart, and taking attitude-filled young'uns to multiple museums is not for the unprepared. But what over-worked parent has time to do the research needed to map out a detailed game plan?
Over years of travel with my family I've perfected what I call my "surrender to the experts" strategy. On this NYC trip that means I stride up to the information desk at each of the four museums we visit and ask, "Two teenage boys, two hours, what do you recommend?"
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art the middle-aged information clerk smiles a "Honey, I've been there" smile and pulls out a museum floor plan. Thanks to her suggestions we head straight for the Egyptian galleries and the Temple of Dendur, then up to the Arms and Armor galleries.
We finish our two hours with a wander through paintings by the European masters. "This place is massive," says Shane. "Thanks for not making us see everything."
My sons do want to see everything at the American Museum of Natural History. Not because this is one of the world's greatest museums, but because this is where the movie Night at the Museum was set.
With a movie-related information sheet and map provided by the desk clerk our visit becomes a grand treasure hunt to find the real displays recreated in the film. Highlights include the Barosaurus skeleton in the rotunda, the 29-metre-long blue whale in the Hall of Ocean Life and stampeding elephants, now standing still, in the Hall of African Mammals.
"Overwhelming is an understatement," says Spence. After two hours we fuel up on hot dogs and colas, then spend 90 minutes in the museum's Rose Center for Earth and Space. Final verdict? "Awesome place."
We don't fair as well at the Museum of Modern Art. The information clerk seems unimpressed with my question—"I don't know, maybe the permanent galleries on the fourth and fifth floors?"—and the crowds exhaust us.
Back at the more manageable Guggenheim, we leave Reinhardt's black canvas and walk up the museum's spiral ramp. We're delighted by a temporary installation that sends a little trolley with wings scooting down an elevated track that follows the curves of the ramp from the sixth level to the main floor.