October 23, 2010

My Met & Me


There is a sort of ownership that comes with love. And I love the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

When I was eight I was nearer hating the museum than liking it.  Every time we went- the Egyptian exhibit had something to do with our studies. We were  always studying Egypt. I was sick of Egypt. (You must forgive me. I was eight. And I suspect our fascination with Egypt had something to do with it being more family-friendly than the Greek gallery- with all its pearly white nudes.)

Perhaps that is why the Met and I are now so close. Love requires a certain knowing of both the good and the bad to be merited. As Oscar Wilde writes, "Women only [call each other sisters] when they have called each other a lot of other things first."

As we grew older we branched out throughout the museum- the boys to see this- the girls to see that- pairing up and meeting up. We would rest in the European wing in the room full of statues- and beautiful stain-glass murals and water-fountains. (My favorites  are the dieing Indian and the Cleopatra with the buff arm.)

My grandparents would often take my siblings and me to see special exhibits. In particular I remember the Greek-inspired fashion exhibit. The costumes were outrageous- with their low-cut backs and enormous white feathers- my sister and I were positive we could never wear them. But gawking was fun.

I have seen roof-top exhibits- massive modern concoctions. I have sat in on a lecture on Frau Angelico and gone through galleries deciphering symbols and making note of my favorite pieces.  I have spent hours in the armory (a favorite of our family's, along with the Medieval wing) - pacifying the more active imaginations of my brothers. Once I ate at the balcony restaurant. I don't remember what I ate- but I ate there.

Today I was at the Met again- along with over a hundred other students from my college. I naturally volunteered as a sort of guide- as the others were unfamiliar with the museum. They wanted to know how many times I had been there. I didn't know. Once or twice a year? That didn't sound like much to me- but they thought so. Over the course of ten years- it does add up.

Let me describe to you sound and space. Walking into the Met is like walking into both Yankee Stadium and Grand Central Station.  (It never gets old...) On the one hand there is the hubbub of the masses- from Russia, China, India, France- and on the other there is the vaulting grandeur of the front lobby- and the front staircase.

I love that staircase. The steps are wide and go up forever. It is a staircase that begs for young women in long white dresses to go flying down it into their love's waiting arms. (Too bad about all the people on it.) I am also of the opinion it needs a central banister- for wild young boys and girls to go sliding down on.

I led my group to the Asian section where we were to study. The last time I had been in the Asian gallery it had struck me as dark and foreign- with its dimly lit rooms- long shadows- eerie silences- and stone-faced gods.  But we are on better terms now. With weeks of study behind me- the rooms housed artifacts which I knew and understood- even recognized- and I geeked over Bo-bells and Bis and Li Tri-pods and Gandhaharan Bodhisattvas.

Later I led two classmates to the Cafeteria for lunch. In glee I pointed out a Renoir painting in passing. They could not relate. (But this is my fault. Perhaps if I had told them I had had it on on my wall for years growing up- and that I had referenced that same work in a children's story I had written- they would have understood.) I showed them the great room in the Medieval section- and told them about the grand Christmas tree they put up every year and how for years I have imagined singing and dancing in that grand, spacious, echoing hall. (They told me I should be an Art major.)

Then I was by myself. I walked solo through the halls... halls which I have walked so many times. It was so strange to feel familiar- (I fought urges to wrap my arms around the pillars)- and yet to still get turned around by the unexpected in the Met's rambling endless rooms (like a friend whom you know so well yet are ever learning more of).

I exchanged words with the guards (whoever said museum guards aren't friendly?).

I sat on the bare cold floor in front of  a ten-foot Chinese scroll and marveled at its delicate intricacy. I sketched and took notes, amidst people meandered around me- speaking in other tongues- marveling in other tongues- smiling down at the student with her notebook.

In my few extra minutes I had before I needed to go- I made a dash for my favorite gallery: the 19th Century Paintings & Sculptures.

I don't know what I was looking for- when I looked  amongst the rooms for my favorite paintings. I had no time to study them- and even if I had I have little desire to study them.  Then why? Perhaps this gets to the heart of my love for that museum- with all its cultures and all its history and all its treasured past: I know when what I see is beautiful. The Met has some of the most beautiful paintings in the world.

I wanted to see them again- to know they were there- still beautiful- in my Met.

Time was up. I had to get back to the bus. I dropped into the gift-shop (they still have the pair of earrings I've wanted for so many years- which I do not buy because they're frivolous and expensive). I am pleased to note that I never once set foot in the Egyptian wing. (I like to spite it. I scarcely look its direction.)

We pulled away.... away from the curb and the pigeons... away from the fountains and men selling their sketches and knickknacks... away from the front stairs... away from the pillars and the great doors and away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I didn't look back. I wasn't sad. It's only a matter of time before I'll be back.

*Photos by John Glines. Used by permission. 
*Graziella by Jules-Joseph Lefebvre


  1. I want to go. I want to climb those stairs and slip into the 19th Century Painting and Sculptures. I want to linger at the Renoir and maybe even skip lunch to see more.

    The biggest art museum I've been to is the Art Institute of Chicago.

    Maybe someday I'll get to the Met.

    In the meantime, will you go on my behalf? If you write about it each time with the same love and detail as you did in this post, I'll feel like I peeked around your shoulder and got a good look inside.

  2. This post is lovely.

    I remember seeing Graziella last time I was at the Met, and loving it. Also, it makes me smile to have affection for buildings.

  3. Hey, Ann! Thank you! :-) I would LOVE to go to the Met on your behalf--- and I hope I shall be able to do so again soon- and then I will most definitely write about it. :-)

    Yeah, Rebecca, isn't Graziella gorgeous? She's so pretty-- and I love the red running through the painting.

  4. Hi Linda,
    Another great post--I marvel at all your multi-media and even Indian music.

    I'm thrilled you are so at home at "our" NYC marvel, our very own world-class encyclopedic art museum (is the collection 5,000 art works? or even more? will we ever see them all???). I also feel very at home, all the more so after my summer '87 job there, a grad assistant or some such title, with attendant access to behind-the-scenes experiences, including a meeting with all the other grad assts in Philippe de Montebello's office! He had a large grisaille painting on the wall, very unusual, of a 19th c. French painting, I think an Ingres odalisque. His presence was elegant and commanding, his French-accented impeccable English straight out of Central Casting.

    I also remember well our summer '09 visit to the rooftop sculpture garden to see Roxy Paine on the Roof: Maelstrom and the great photos we took of each other amidst the silvery trees and the delightful visit we had with Sarah to the magical Fra Angelico exhibition, my Dictionary of Signs and Symbols in hand should we wish to decipher something. It was your and Sarah's second visit--you'd already been once with Gam and Poppy and I think the rest of your family--and you said it was great to see a special exhibition twice (and now your re-visiting favorites in the permanent collections is a theme of your post). I think that visit was when we later sipped drinks and tasted appetizers on the balcony of the Great Hall, listening to the piano + strings trio. I filmed us with my still-new digital camera, having been surprised to find it also recorded sound.

    I hope you'll have abundant opportunities not only for more visits but also to be a great hostess in "your" museum for less-frequent or new visitors.