Friday, November 19, 2010

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York City Travel Tips, Part Nine

Luis on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum visiting Roxy Paine's sculpture, Maelstrom (photo by Simone Cannon) 

After spending the morning exploring the Cloisters, we dashed back downtown to grab lunch and visit the main branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 82nd and 5th, my favorite museum in the world. I love the Met, not only for its extensive and varied art collection, but also for the way in which its curators display the permanent collection and exhibitions. The museum uses authentic backdrops and galleries whenever possible, recreating dark, old Spanish churches, light-filled atrium gardens complete with fountains or American Colonial-style multi-story homes to display the various periods of art. I have visited hundreds of times, but I still find something new and interesting that I hadn't noticed before. When taking visitors, I generally stick to a tried-and-true "highlights" tour, because as wonderful as the museum is, it is gigantic and someone unaccustomed to its size could become quickly overwhelmed.


The Arms and Armor Room at the Metropolitan Museum (photo by Luis Bastardo)

It was sunny and warm, so I took Luis first to the Roof Garden, which is always a good idea, because the garden can close at any minute due to inclement weather and it's best not to miss the window of opportunity. The exhibitions change every few months and when we were there, the artist Roxy Paine was displaying a huge, 130 foot x 45 foot stainless steel sculpture titled Maelstrom (storm). According to the Met website, this work "is based on systems such as vascular networks, tree roots, industrial piping, and fungal mycelia." After the roof garden, we visited the lovely, sunny New American Wing with its collection of Tiffany glass and fireplaces, and one of its galleries, Arms and Armor, a hugely popular display of over 14,000 pieces, including weapons, shields, helmets, armor, swords guns from Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The collection is in excellent condition, as many of the pieces were created for decorative or ceremonial uses and were never put into action. The Samurai armor and swords are especially impressive, well-crafted and colorful.

The Temple of Dendur, The Sackler Wing, The Metropolitan (photo courtesy of http://www.metmuseum.org/)

Our next stop was The Temple of Dendur, a reconstructed Egyptian temple built in about 15 BC to honor the goddess, Isis, and moved piece by piece to the museum in 1978. Next to the Sackler Wing that houses the temple are adjoining galleries with fascinating Egyptian mummies, gigantic sarcophagi, vases, masks and other artifacts dating back to 3900 BC. The museum houses incredible pieces from every era and every corner of the earth, from American Colonial furniture and clocks to ancient fertility amulets to intricately woven Tibetan rugs to European paintings and sculpture. Among the most impressive displays are the recreated Period Rooms filled with original furnishings, floors, windows and moldings from a particular era: The Baltimore Dining Room, 1810-11; The Frank Lloyd Wright Room, 1912-1914; The Bedroom from the Sagredo Palace, Venice, 1718; the gilded Versailles-style sitting rooms and bedrooms of The Wrightsman Galleries for French Decorative Arts. In other areas, parts of the original churches or gardens are used as a backdrop to display the art, such as the recreated Spanish medieval church style room that houses the gigantic choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladoid or the peaceful, skylit Chinese Garden Court that showcases Scholar's Rocks and a moon gate.

The Great Hall (main entrance) of the Metropolitan (photo by Luis Bastardo)

The Met, founded in 1870, is approximately 1/4 mile long and is about 2 million square feet in area, displays hundreds of thousands of pieces of art, and hosts about 5 million visitors a year, so try to plan on visiting the museum early or late or over several shorter visits to avoid fatigue. The admission prices are suggestions, so you may pay what you can afford. Also, the museum offers memberships for locals and tourists, so there are many options available to save money and to help support one of the most incredible museums in the world. Whatever option you choose, make at least one visit to see the highlights; you won't be sorry. And wear comfortable shoes.  



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