Saturday, April 25, 2015

Why I Love the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Last week, I mentioned that I wanted to make this a regular thing - a sort of column about travel and my favorite places. The majority of those will be museums, and generally art museums at that, and I figured where better to start than one of my favorite museums in the world? And since this all came about with talk of New York City, it's only fitting to start with the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art). In this post, I'm only talking about the main museum, not the Cloisters as well. I will cover them in a later post.

If you're easily overwhelmed, the Met is not a good place to go without a plan. It would take ages to see everything. It's the largest art museum in the US and in the top for size around the world, at around two million square feet. The facade actually doesn't do the intimidating size justice; it merely makes it look big. However, once you accept that one day is simply not enough time to see everything and select what you do want to see, it's a bit more manageable. This is easily a museum where you could arrive when it opened, leave when it closed, and still feel like you needed several more visits to explore in depth.

For me personally, it's all about paintings and Western art - especially art from the late 18th century through early 20th century. This is one of the areas where the Met destroys the Louvre for me as an art museum, since most of the work from that period in Paris is inside the Musee d'Orsay. I will say that I spent an entire afternoon just in the section for European paintings, an evening in modern and contemporary art, and then a whole different day in American art.

What is always interesting about art museums is how much variety they have and yet how everyone tends to have a different focus. I have always found the Met to be fairly quiet, once you get past the lobby or cafeteria. There's just too much to see for entire crowds to be in the same room.

Perhaps it's odd, but I love the way the Met is curated. The plaques are very unassuming near the works and the layout of paintings and sculpture in the European and American wings is fantastic. It's one of the museums where I am fully aware of the efforts of the building designers and curator. Lighting, wall colors, even room temperature all vary based on the works and themes in each room. When walking into a room with a number of pieces by Monet, the room itself feels like spring; this is incredible and it's why I think the Met is up there for one of my favorite museums. It's a truly immersive experience that engages all your senses. And the plaque placement is unique for museums, allowing your eye to remain focused on the painting itself, rather than being distracted by the information to the side.

Several people have actually asked me at various points in my life why I love art museums so much, and it's really hard to put into words. There's something refreshing about them, something peaceful about the organization, the quiet, and the smell of paint and finish that permeates the rooms. In my conversations, it's come up multiple times that some people didn't realize the paintings in museums were originals, which always surprised me. Maybe it's Monet's fault, since if you've stumbled across a gallery or museum at any point in your life, you've likely seen a waterlilies or haystacks painting. It's hard to realize that almost every major museum has one just because he was prolific, not because they are copies. But that's another thing I love. To be so close to something that is a work of passion and brilliance defies explanation. A portrait of George Washington, which he posed for. One of Degas' dancers. A landscape of America, of a place you know well, from a century ago. It's a frozen moment, like a photograph, but it wasn't instant. To see the strokes - the telltale swirls - in a work by Van Gogh, and to understand that he did all that believing it was futile, is something that people either get or don't. I can't do it justice, but it's inspiring.

The Met is located on Fifth Avenue with the entrance by 82nd Street, abutting Central Park. They're open daily except major holidays from 10 am until 5:30 pm, with late night hours until 9 pm on Friday and Saturday. Admission is actually a suggested donation of $25 for adults with discounted rates for seniors and students, as well as free admission for children under 12. However, to be completely honest, the $25 is well worth it. You will get more than that from the experience. It also includes admission to The Cloisters within the same week and $25 for two incredible museums is beyond reasonable for full-priced admission. 

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