THE IBM Gallery of Science and Art is fast becoming one of the most popular art-viewing places in Manhattan. And for good reason. Its high-caliber exhibitions run the gamut from the startlingly innovative (``Computers and Art'') and broadly thematic (``The Expressionist Landscape'') to the strictly regional (``Frontier America'') and the biographical (``John Sloan'' and ``Joaquin Sorolla''). And its premises, in the basement of the IBM Building at the corner of Madison Avenue and East 57th Street, are not only spacious and handsomely appointed, but serve as an oasis of calm in the midst of one of New York's busiest shopping areas. It's quite refreshing to step off hectic Madison Avenue, walk down a few thickly carpeted stairs, and enter a quiet world of beauty and order. Never has this been more true than during the current exhibition, which matches or goes beyond anything the gallery has achieved before.
Much of this, however, is due to the taste of two late collectors, Louis and Charlotte Hyde. Highlights from the Hyde Collection hang at the IBM Gallery at present. This collection normally occupies one of America's dozen or so mansion-museums, where fine and decorative arts can be viewed in the setting of their collectors' homes. It became available when the building that houses it in Glens Falls, N.Y., was closed temporarily to facilitate the construction of a new wing.
Sixty-three of the collection's finest pieces, including its world-famous Rembrandt painting of Christ Jesus, its well-known works by Rubens, Botticelli, El Greco, Ingres, Van Dyck, and Eakins, and its numerous studies by everyone from Rembrandt and Fragonard to C'ezanne and Picasso, made the trip to Manhattan. With them came two small 14th-century stained-glass windows; two large French tapestries executed roughly two centuries later; Della Robbia's exquisite glazed terra-cotta ``Madonna with the Lilies''; a 16th-century Italian chest; and superb drawings and watercolors by Tiepolo, Degas, Van Gogh, Homer, Matisse, and several other masters.
The Hydes would be pleased by the way their treasures look in this show. The IBM Gallery, with its subtle balancing of the formal and informal and its carefully modulated lighting, is ideal for works intended for modest spaces. Arranged in roughly chronological order, beginning with the 14th-century stained glass and a tiny altarpiece, then moving toward the works of the early 20th century, this sensitively presented collection speaks well for the Hydes' devotion to things artistic.
They met in the 1880s in Boston, then America's cultural capital, and after a lengthy courtship married and took up residence there. Both enjoyed travel, especially to Europe, and the company of artists. They may well have befriended Childe Hassam, the American Impressionist, at this time, although his lovely 1888 oil, ``Geraniums,'' didn't enter their collection until 1930.
Their life in Boston ended when Mr. Hyde accepted an invitation to join his father-in-law's pulp and paper-manufacturing company in Glens Falls. By 1910, the Hydes were deeply involved in planning the Renaissance-style house around a two-story courtyard that was to be the future home of their collection.
It was during this period that they began to buy art. One of their earliest purchases was Degas' 1887 ``Dancer Tying Her Scarf,'' a delicate crayon drawing that stands in sharp contrast to that artist's more powerfully rendered pastel of a ``Dancer with Red Stockings,'' acquired some years later.
Their most dramatic and widely publicized acquisition was Rembrandt's 1655-57 ``Portrait of Christ,'' which had belonged to a Russian aristocrat before the Bolshevik Revolution. Early in the 1930s the Soviet government, needing capital, discreetly began to sell some of the art it had confiscated. In April 1933, the Hydes were advised that the Soviets were prepared to sell the Rembrandt.
``Portrait of Christ'' is the Hyde Collection's most famous, though not its sole, masterpiece. In fact, if given a choice, I'd probably take Botticelli's tiny ``Annunciation'' (c. 1492), which the Hydes bought around 1923 with the help of Bernard Berenson. Although somewhat ``unfinished'' in appearance, it conveys such style and grace and is so perfectly realized that one cannot help but marvel at the sensibility that created it.
Also outstanding are Rubens's powerful oil study ``Head of a Negro,'' Bartel Beham's ``Portrait of Phillip von der Pfalz,'' Ingres' somewhat sentimental but effective ``Paolo and Francesca,'' and the ``Portrait of Young Man,'' attributed to Raphael. On the other hand, I found the two Renoir paintings weak and the early Picasso oil of only minor interest.
At the IBM Gallery of Science and Art through Aug. 26.