The Hispanic Society of America in New York, source of the objects in the Sackler show, isn't only the place to go for Islamic art from Spain. It's the place to go for anything to do with classical Hispanic culture, in the Old World or the New. The society has one of the most important collections of rare books and manuscripts in Spanish, as well as an extensive research library. It also runs one of the most charming museums on the continent, seemingly unchanged from its inauguration in 1908 by ardent hispanophile Archer Milton Huntington. He took his father's railroad fortune and parlayed it into cultural capital.
To find the society, you head far, far north on Manhattan's West Side, into the middle of Washington Heights, formerly a posh and pastoral suburb and now, appropriately, a focus of Latino immigration. In the middle of the neighborhood's bodegas, pupuserias and honking traffic, you hit Audubon Terrace, where an elegant beaux-arts complex houses the Hispanic Society as well as the American Numismatic Society and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, two other venerable Huntington-supported institutions.
The museum, on one side of a gracious marble courtyard, is a wonderful, old-fashioned storehouse for Huntington's motley collections. There are paintings by El Greco, Velasquez, Ribera, Murillo and Goya, some barely visible in the museum's charming jumble. There are also works by later painters from Spain -- Mariano Fortuny, Ramon Casas, Santiago Rusinol, Isidro Nonell, Ignacio Zuloaga and, especially, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida -- that are worth discovering. And all of these are set among a wild range of important decorative objects -- metalwork, ceramics, fine woodwork -- made over the centuries in Iberia and her possessions.
If the Sackler show feeds longings for a trip to Spain, a trip to 155th Street in Manhattan may go some way toward satisfying them.
The Hispanic Society of America is on Broadway between 155th and 156th streets. Call 212-926-2234 or visit www.hispanicsociety.org. -- Blake Gopnik