Friday, August 20, 2010

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Image: Hundreds of visitors spill out onto the front steps of the Met at closing time
I haven’t done a lot of gallery or museum visits during this New York stay. In fact, after six weeks I have only managed to visit the Museum of the City of New York, and the Museum of Modern Art (both for about an hour each), and put in extended visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters (an off-shoot of the Met). It’s not that I have no interested in art or artifacts, I do, but I have been into other things this time around. However, I may yet squeeze in one or two more museums before I depart this great city.

So anyway, I did get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the ‘Met’ for short), where I spent four fruitful hours getting lost amongst several thousand years worth of sculptures, paintings and jewellery; iconography from all the major religions; Egyptian burial items, hieroglyphics and massive sarcophaguses (see image); medieval tapestries and great suits of armour; modern and contemporary art, as well as folk art from every continent; photographic exhibitions; and musical instruments – ancient and modern – including Ringo Starr’s gold plated snare drum!

Image: Massive sarcophagus. Better hope you are well and truly dead when that lid goes on!

I also headed up to the roof to take a look at the Doug and Mike Starn installation, Big Bambu, a massive structure built entirely of bamboo on which only a fortunate few get to explore via bamboo ramps that weave and climb over the whole edifice. Unfortunately, timed tickets for the guided climbs are in high demand and therefore hard to get. As interesting as Big Bambu looked, it was a bit of an anticlimax to only be able to walk under the installation rather than over it.

I couldn’t help thinking, as I wandered through room after room of priceless object d’art: at what point did ordinary objects begin to assume greater value and importance than their makers or original owners gave them? Presumably it is because certain objects have survived hundreds and in some cases, thousands of years that they acquire their worth.

For example, a modern $500 wedding ring, as sentimental as it might be to its owner in 2010, is still ‘just’ a reasonably priced wedding ring. However, if the ring was to survive 500 years – instead of say, 50 – it’s value skyrockets way beyond its initial price. Now it is not ‘just’ a wedding ring, it has been transformed into a rare and precious thing – an artifact from the 21st century, no less. But after 500 years, isn’t it really just an old worn and battered gold ring? Does it automatically become priceless, simply because it has survived 500 years?

Image: The Sphinx of Hapshetsut (circa 1473 – 1458 B.C.)

And another thing. It seems to me that every major museum in the world contains massive collections of Egyptian artifacts. Some are tiny ornaments, others are massive slabs of marble and granite that must have taken great effort to excavate, pack, and transport around the world. I couldn’t help thinking as I examined room after room of the Metropolitan’s Egyptian collection that there can’t be much left in Egypt itself for visitors to look at.

I mean, apart from the pyramids, are there any artifacts left in Egypt worth making the trip for? And what about the locals? What do Egyptians think of the massive plunder that took place during the 1800s especially? They can’t be too happy about the loss of antiquity they have suffered.

Ok. I’m rambling, I know, but these things played on my mind as I wandered through the Met. Besides, someone has to ask the questions.

Anyway, I feel much better now that I’ve shared them with you.


Image: “We are the knights that say, Ni!”

P.S. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is well worth a visit, and the admission price of $20. Just make sure you allow plenty of time to explore its extensive treasures. Even after four hours I still missed out on vast areas of its collections.

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