The Metropolitan Museum of Art is, aside from its special fashion exhibits, not very cool or trendy or terribly edgy. It’s traditional and pretty corporate, in fact, and is basically the polar opposite of DIY art shows like Hanksy’s “Best of the Worst.” But the Met is still my favorite art museum in New York, for nerd reasons.
The Met is incredibly comprehensive. The sheer amount you can learn in one day is awesome and you STILL would have to come back to see it all because the place is huge. My husband and I have visited the Met approximately a million times and today, for the first time, my husband and I saw the courtyard and fountain at the back of the 1st floor’s west side. Bunch of Renoirs and other paintings there. We only found it because we were looking for “Fashion and Virtue: Textile Patterns and the Print Revolution, 1520–1620” (January 10 is the last day!).
The variety of art is fantastic, too. Right now, you can see exhibits on things like carved jades, European timepieces, the personal style of Countess Jacqueline de Ribes, small-scale models of buildings from ancient American civilizations that were placed in important ancient Americans’ tombs, Fabergé eggs, Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #370, a baseball card collection with cards dating from 1887 to 1959, and wooden masks used in Hindu temple dramas.
Look at all the everyday objects you take for granted on your desk or in your office. Stuff like pens, trash cans, pushpins, mouse pads, desk toys, business cards. There’s tons of equivalent stuff from ancient cultures at the Met. Just ordinary junk that people who used them every single day immediately abandoned without a second thought when the invaders from the north moseyed into town or whatever. Some of these items aren’t terribly eye-catching in an “art museum,” their ordinariness plainly obvious, their fiscal worth lying in their rarity and historical significance. But they are beautiful and meaningful because they show us what people made and used in order to live. Which reminds me that since our tiniest, cheapest possessions have usefulness to us, they are beautiful and meaningful, too. I appreciate these historical ties across time and space to people of the past—who were actual human beings who breathed and walked and fought and died—and this focus on history makes the Met one of my favorite places in the city.
I really love Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s Ugolino and His Sons. I always want to visit Ugolino whenever I go.
Ugolino della Gherardesca was an Italian nobleman who was imprisoned in a tower in Pisa with his sons and grandsons as punishment for treason. The keys were thrown in the river and they starved to death. In his Inferno, Dante imagined Ugolino’s offspring begging him to eat them since he was the one who gave them life in the first place: basically, they acknowledged that he brought them into this world and he can take them out of it. Or so Dante said. Anyway, it’s one of my favorites mostly because of its context: there are plenty of appropriate places for this sculpture in such a ginormous museum, but Ugolino and his brood are situated steps away from the Petrie Court Café. It’s a morbid and kinda fucked up choice, and also a little subversive. I truly appreciate whoever at the Met thought to do it.