Tag Archives: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pergamum Exhibit at the Met

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A bronze shield from Pontos, 185-160 BC

Though it closed at the beginning of July, I was able to see the Pergamum exhibit over the Independence Day weekend. I went on a Friday night, rightly assuming that the crowds which make the Met so hard to explore would be out of town. Most of those in the museum were the clueless tourists, most of whom got in the way, talked loudly, and flew through the exhibit probably because they had no idea what they were looking at. Fine by me.

An "old friend" from Athens

An “old friend” from Athens

The Met gathered antiquities from across the world to create the exhibition, Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World. I was surprised and pleased to see some “old friends” from the Antikytheria Shipwreck exhibit (and redux) that the National Archaeological Museum in Athens had held in 2013. I took a few pictures, but I already have photos of the pieces.

I took 184 photographs, some of which I later deleted (bad photos, duplicate photos, etc.). I just managed to get through the exhibit right before the museum closed at 9. I bought the exhibition catalog–hardback. I usually buy the paperback copy because it is cheaper (and sometimes I wait for a few months and hope that the catalog is put on clearance, which sometimes happens if any are left over), but I was told that too many people complained that the paperback copies fall apart. Now the Met only prints its catalogs in hardback.

Overall, it was a wonderful exhibit.

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The Met’s American Wing

(2015-08-07 002)Last Friday, I started my vacation by going to the Metropolitan Museum with my friend Caroline. If you are a regular reader, you already know that my favorite museum is the Met and that I’ve taken hundreds of photos there. My favorite galleries are, of course, the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Egyptian. This time, neither of us wanted to go to the same ones again, so Caroline suggested the American Wing, and we were not disappointed.

The place was literally a madhouse. For New Yorkers to find a place crowded means that it was packed; we could hardly get around the gaggles of tourista. We sat and had a beverage in the American Wing Cafe, which has a wonderful view of Central Park. It was a lovely, sunny, low humidity day, so we enjoyed the view as we chatted shop, i.e. libraries. From there we began our exploration of the wing which, Caroline insisted, would not be crowded. She was right.

(2015-08-07 049)Unlike the Egyptian hallways, which were packed, the American Wing had few people in it, so we wandered around and took lots of photographs. What we concentrated on were the rooms from early American history. These were fascinating, and some of them tied directly into the early Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam–and the Hudson Valley. I can’t say that I found the furniture on display without being in a room setting fascinating, but there were some interesting pieces. The furniture in room settings were captivating, and we spent quite a few photographs trying to capture the essence of the exhibits, which amounted to taking a photo one way, then another way, and not being able to get the entire room in one photograph.

Afterwards, we walked over to a restaurant participating in “Restaurant Week” (which lasts a month), a price fixe at really expensive restaurants that I would not normally patronize. We had lunch at Ristorante Morini, and were not disappointed. The food was spectacular! The fish was delicious, the cold soup had a wonderful bite to it (I’d love to know how to make it), the chocolate dessert was excellent, and the price ($25) was right. Morini is within walking distance of the Met, at 1167 Madison, between 85th and 86th Streets.

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American Museum of Natural History

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The American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), with an entrance from the B subway line at 81st Street, is the counterpart of, and complementary to, the Metropolitan Museum. By counterpart I mean that it is the history of nature, not culture. By complementary, I mean that my last sentence is not quite true, at least by our modern standards. More on that in a minute.

On Friday, I met my friend and colleague Caroline at the main entrance to the museum. Like the Met, there was already a long line, so we walked across the street and sat in the shade of the trees in Central Park. Central Park separates the Met and the AMNH, which are almost directly across from each other. After our visit, we walked across the park, passed the Met, and went to lunch on the East Side.

The Met and the AMNH are linked whether or not they want to admit it or not. You see, the AMNH contains the not only natural history but also materials from the cultures of the Native Americans, the Africans and the Asians–basically anyone who did not descend from Europeans. There are glass cases where the “costumes” of these different groups are put on manikins made up to look like the races they represent. Caroline has always had an affinity for anything Native American, so I jokingly asked her if she wanted to walk through the cultural galleries. She was horrified and told me no. I had no interest in it, either, so we skipped them.

A digression. Thursday night, I had drinks and dinner with Jerry, my friend and colleague from New York University. I was talking to him about the AMNH’s galleries on the cultural histories of Asia, Africa and the Native Americans and he pointed out that ethnology, the study of races, came out of natural history. Ethnology  is a branch of anthropology, and this is a division in the AMNH.

From my perspective, anthropology is a social science, not a natural science. However, I’m sure that there are people who would debate this. (I also consider history a social science.) From  my–and Caroline’s–way of thinking, these artifacts are cultural rather than natural, so they belong in the Met, which deals with cultural history. Besides, the Met has “curatorial departments” that deal with anthropological/ethnological materials as well, of which a good deal of their collection is made-up.

The AMNH would never give up the cultural artifacts that they have in their collection. One reason is because the AMNH and the Met are two entirely separate institutions. (Would the Met even have the room to store and display these artifacts? I doubt it.) Another reason is that a substantial part of the AMNH’s gift shop for adults is given over to cultural objects from the peoples represented in the collection. Actually, the AMNH gift shop is much nicer than the Met’s, probably because at least half the Met’s gift shop is given over to books; it’s more an art book/gift shop. The AMNH gift shop has a warm feeling to it that the Met’s doesn’t. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take a pic of the gift shop.

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My favorite dinosaur, Triceratops

The collection of dinosaurs is what I really wanted to see, but we walked around some, starting with the mammals and moving into the dinosaurs.

The AMNH is quite a big museum. The dinosaurs are on the top floor, and the place was a zoo. There were a lot of kids from the different summer camps. Caroline thinks that coming to this museum late in the afternoon, like around 3, would be best because all the children would have left to go back to their camps.

As I said, we walked across town and ate at Beyoglu, a Turkish restaurant on Third Avenue. Follow the link to the reviews. The one stand-out criticism is the service, and the reviewers are right. The food is wonderful, but the service leaves something to be desired. We only drank water and for the longest time we had nothing to drink; our waiter never came back to ask us if everything was okay. Caroline, who had a view of the floor, told me to look around at the water glasses on every table; they were empty. The waiter was good-looking; I wondered if he was another unemployed actor (most are). And when we finally got water, the waiter would bring over new glasses instead of bringing over the pitcher, so there were six glasses on the table by the time we left.

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The Mysterious Marble Slabs on the Met’s Façade

(2014-06-20 005I thought it strange that there’s slabs of stone on top of the decorative Corinthian columns on the façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve probably seen them before, but it struck me as odd that these slabs would be there. Below them is the heavily decorated stone; this stone has no carvings, just plain and drab, resembling mini-Egyptian pyramids. I thought that, since construction was going on in the front of the building, that maybe some of the stone was being stored up there, but that made no sense. (2014-06-20 006Was this done to link the present with ancient Egypt?

In the gift shop, I checked a postcard of the building and, sure enough, the stone was up there. Now I was really curious. Was this deliberate?

It turns out that the façade of the Met is unfinished; those pyramids of stone were supposed to be sculpted into statues. According to an entry on The Gothamist, architect Richard Morris Hunt had intended for 31 (2014-06-20 007statues to be carved above the columns, but he died before he specified exactly what figures he planned. His son suggested four large figures, but nothing was ever done with the stone so it is now accepted as part of the museum’s front.

It just looks odd.

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Visit to the Met

(2014-06-20 005Last Friday, I met my friend and colleague Caroline in the lobby of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We do this about once a year to either revisit what we’ve seen before or see what’s new and of interest.

The Met used to open earlier than 10, at 9 and then 9:30. The changes has allowed the Met to open on Mondays as well as staying open late on Friday and Saturday nights (until 9 pm). We always go early and leave early before it gets too crowded and you really can’t move around or see what you want.

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The only photo in Lost Kingdoms I took; it’s part of a pedestal that held the Wheel of the Law

There were two exhibitions, Lost Kingdoms, dealing with those kingdoms that sprang up in Southeast Asia between India and China, and one on Chinese calligraphy. I took a picture in Lost Kingdoms and was promptly told that there was no photography in visiting exhibitions. I didn’t even try in the calligraphy exhibit, although there were others taking photographs. Go figure.

One place that we had gone before, but I had forgotten, was the Ming Scholar’s Retreat, which consists of a garden and reception hall. It’s one of the most marvelous parts of the Met and one of the quietest. When we first got there, a few people were milling around, so it gave us ample opportunity to take photos.

I’ve always loved Chinese gardens. They are so serene and beautiful. There’s a Chinese garden complex on Staten Island which I visited a few years ago that’s wonderful. The Met’s version is much smaller but special in its own way. You can’t sit on the furniture in the reception hall, but you can sit outside it and enjoy the sun. (There’s a skylight that allows sunlight to illuminate the atrium.)

Another one of my favorite sections is the Fayum portraits. These painted images replaced the funeral masks that Egyptian mummies had placed on them at the time of burial. By Roman times, the mummies would be placed in a wooden coffin with the lid painted to look like the person. What’s so haunting about them is that these truly are portraits; they are windows back in time. When looking at these images, you can’t help wondering who these people were, what they did.

Using modern technology, many of the mummies below some of the portraits were analyzed and the faces reconstructed, which revealed some interesting finds. Some of these paintings were more youthful than the mummy, some had more pronounced Egyptian rather than Greco-Roman features depicted in the paintings, suggesting that race played a role in this society. In one case, the face looked nothing like the mummy–probably the wrong lid on the wrong coffin.

There’s a balcony running on two sides of a courtyard in the museum that had Spanish religious objects on it. The ceiling of the balcony was beautifully decorated. Across on the far wall was what I assumed were windows, with decorations all around the frames. The statue of Saint John the Baptist was way too good-looking and far too clean to be anything like the real John. There’s a small balcony against another wall that’s roped off, but it was colorfully painted.

There’s always something to see at the Met. We always stop in the gift shop before we leave to see what’s on sale. I ended up buying–what else?–a book on ancient Greece.

 

 

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