Our quick visit to New York mid-April was triggered by and centered on the Tribeca Film Festival’s world premiere of Haveababy, a Serin-produced documentary on in vitro fertilization that is reviewed elsewhere, very favorably I might add, on this website. In the lulls before and between screenings, I checked out and checked off a few of the major uptown art shows. Undoubtedly the best was “Kamakura” at the Asia Society, a display of Buddhist gods and trappings from roughly 13th century Japan. Each piece was masterful in its way, and the largest lender was the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (hereinafter “Mia”), so I was seeing some familiar pieces showcased in an even more important setting. The objects had come to Mia from the Burke and Clark Collections, and the loans from the Met were from its portion of the Burke gift. John Weber, whose apartment we had visited, was the other large lender; so I felt very in the know about the sources of Japanese art in America.

The small size of “Kamakura” was a welcome contrast to the new Met blockbuster, “Pergamon,” which I felt consisted of maybe 13 essential items plus 250 pieces one would normally pass by in a museum without a second look – lots of fragments and broken-nosed statues, that sort of thing. I didn’t spend a lot of time reading labels or approaching the material academically, and I contrasted it with the recent Met show on the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, where piece after piece was either fascinating or gorgeous or both. Outside of one photo on the introductory wall, the exhibition also gave no sense of Pergamon itself, a site we visited in Turkey two years ago. If I revisit I might spend more time with an Audioguide and see if my opinion changes.

The Munch show at the Neue Galerie was also manageable in size, albeit crowded with people. While short on masterworks, it gave a sense of Munch’s style and career. Other than “The Scream,” I didn’t see a straight line. Raucous colors and swirling lines were his language, and angst, or the Norwegian equivalent thereof, was his subject. The large final room where Munch was placed in context with Beckmann, Nolde, Kirchner, Schiele, et al., was the instructional highlight and the raison-d’etre of the show. Munch is too often seen as this Scandinavian outsider, or outlier, when in fact he is an inspiration to and fellow traveler of the German Expressionists.

The other floor of the Asia Society showed highlights from the permanent collection, gifts from the Rockefeller, alongside contemporary, allusive works by young Chinese and Japanese artists. A couple were engaging – a pair of guardian lions who, in video, moved their heads and said ‘welcome’ – but on the whole you realized that they would survive maybe a decade, if lucky, whereas the traditional works were still powerful centuries later.

The best gallery show we saw as we toured Chelsea was an installation by Mark Dion: an aviary with a dozen live, chirping, free-flying exotic finches with a faux tree in the middle that supported old, worn-out bird books, telescopes, birding paraphernalia and other objects. Only four people at a time were allowed in the aviary; you felt that if you were alone and had no place to go, you could profitably spend an hour there, examining the contents in detail and watching the birds fly around you. You could almost have your moment of stillness, as Pico Iyer would call it.

Our sole outing to Broadway took us to “The Humans,” called the best play of the year by the New York Times. There were a lot of funny lines, but the set-up – a family getting together for Thanksgiving – was maybe overly familiar. The ultimate problem was that you didn’t particularly like anyone in the family. They were all, as Donald Trump would say, “losers,” and after a while you just didn’t want to spend more time with them. It was clear from the start that nothing good would come of the get-together, so we just sat and waited for each person’s own problem, if not tragedy, to be spelled out. Calling the play “The Humans” was one more bit of dispiritedness.