A Year In New York

A Daily Bite of the Big Apple

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Day 13: Loving “The Met” to Death

July 9th · 2 Comments

I crept into the Metropolitan Museum with Ariel and Seth to escape the afternoon heat. Outside, a crowd milled about, blinking in the painfully bright reflection off the museum steps and the marble columns of Fifth Avenue. Inside, at the entrance to the lofty Great Hall, it was cool and dark and even peaceful for a moment, until my eyes adjusted.

Then I realized that a multitude of people, tourists in their T-shirts clutching cameras and the less hurried New Yorkers in their tweeds, were traveling every which way across the hall, but tiptoeing along at a museum hush.

We took on the Modern Art wing, whose 60,000 square feet are so giant that at the end our knees were weak. I have included photos of some works I saw that really knocked my socks off (in order, Cat by Alberto Giacometti, Lucas by Chuck Close, with Ariel in the foreground, and Man with Lollipop by Pablo Picasso). But what I noticed most had less to do with the art than the building itself.

We paced from room to room until I no longer had any idea where I was. For a long time I stared into the velvety recesses of a Georgia O’Keefe. Then I looked around and for the first time noticed the carpet. It is an unremarkable tan, a quality weave designed for serious foot traffic, but you could see the paths that millions of feet had worn and the spots where some minor catastrophe, a spill or a sick child, had left its stain on the floor. I saw a few handprints on the whitewashed walls. I looked over at the guard, standing an inch from the wall and trying to stay alert, near the end-of-shift at 3:30 on a lazy July afternoon.

The Met contains some of the world’s most irreplaceable art, protected by neither rope nor glass, just a guard like this one standing in the corner. Thereafter, when I saw a smudge on a painting, I wondered if it was due to a moment of inattention from the master, or if it had been some bozo from Des Moines who’s always wanted to get his hands on a Matisse.

The Met’s collection of two million pieces is so embarrassingly deep and wide that every wall space, even the hallway by the bathroom, is appointed with ancient friezes from Egypt. Bored men waited for their wives to emerge from the ladies’ room, and above them stood hieroglyphs and gods that once graced a tomb. I wondered what the artisans of millennia ago would think if they knew their handiwork would one day be enshrined under glass in the museum of a great nation – right by the john.

Tags: Museums & Art · Personalities · Sights & Scenes

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dan // Jul 11, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    Glad you’ve found the MET. Go there on the free evenings and you will never be disappointed. Just when you’ve seen it all, you’ll find you haven’t and happen on some amazing wing you didn’t know existed. It’s like some 10 dimensional space. There’s more in there than seems possible despite its’ formidable presence on the edge of the park.. Stumbling into the Temple of Dendur for the very fist time was a powerful moment for me that I’ll never forget.
    Oh, and don’t forget to hit the Museum of Natural History across the park!

  • 2 Kimberly Winston // Jul 11, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    “I stared into the velvety recesses of a Georgia O’Keefe” I am not sure, but I think that’s dirty. I think that’s smut-writing. Naughty. Bad boy. And you were in the Met!

    Seriously, is this your first time at the Met? When I lived in NYC, the Met was my refuge. It is, hands down, one of my top 5 favorite places in the entire world. David, be sure and go to the Impressionist section (there are two, see the one on the second floor, down the wing to the left) and see the Van Gogh self portrait. If that doesn’t put thoughts of Georgia O’Keefe’s velevtyness right smack out of your head, nothing will. And then you’ve got real problems.

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