When I first went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“the Met”) in 1988, two things struck me. The first was how well the collection was curated: everything from the selection to the colour of the galleries was well coordinated. The second was Jackson Pollack. I’d never heard of him at the time but I found his works mesmerising.
I was happy to see that the Met had lost none of its appeal. Despite being the largest art museum in the US, it’s still a great place to spend several days. The standard ticket lets you visit the Met on two days. However, you’ll need more than two days if you want to see even half of it. The collection is huge: Asian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, African, European, the list goes on. There are three, dispersed, buildings too. I spent two days at the Met but only in the main Fifth Avenue building.
The museum has something for everyone. It still continues to be thoughtfully curated. With its Zen-like wooden simplicity, the Japanese section is evocative of Japan. Lamassu, the human-headed winged bull, protected and supported important doorways in Assyrian palaces. And although it’s over a thousand years old, it didn’t look out of place at the Met incorporated into one of the arches to a gallery. The same could be said of the Greek and Islamic sections.
At the time I went, there were several special exhibitions. I went to two of them: Camp and Play it Loud.
The Camp exhibition spanned from the seventeenth century to the present. It was full of colourful costumes, exaggeration, theatricality, and thoughtful pieces on people like Oscar Wilde, whose (ultimately tragic) life I was obsessed with in my twenties. Richard Ellmann’s biography of him is a good read and is still on my bookshelf.
Play it Loud was altogether different. It paraded the “Instruments of Rock & Roll”. The art of rock & roll is given the credit it deserves in this exhibition. The Met, separately exhibits over 5000 musical instruments from around the world. However, it was inspirational to bring together the instruments of guitar gods, keyboard wizards and legendary drummers. There were guitars Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, The Edge, Keith Richard, and Chuck Berry; Lady Gaga’s piano was there, as was Keith Emerson’s rig with its Moog Modular Synthesizer. Even Jimmy Page’s dragon-embroidered costume, which apparently took a year to complete, was there to enjoy. My favourite exhibit was not present. The window display reserved for it simply said, “This object is out on tour with the Rolling Stones.”
The photos below are of the building itself followed by some of my favourite pieces of art.