Some people do pub crawls. I do museums.
I did one in Washington D.C., which is like crack to a museum junkie–three miles of world-class museums along the Washington Mall, AND ALL OF THEM ARE FREE! My children were hanging on my arms, pulling at my shirt, pleading, “Please, Momma, please, let’s leave. We’re hungry. We’re tired.”
But I couldn’t help myself. I dragged them from the Air and Space Museum to the Hirshhorn to the Freer. I was powerless.
Fortunately, my children were grown by the time I visited the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. The palace of the Tsars. The Louvre on the River Nevski. I nearly self-destructed in that museum. It was a labyrinth of rooms, hundreds of them, laden with priceless and completely exposed masterpieces by Michelangelo, da Vinci, el Greco–all the masters whose works I had only seen in art history books. Often, I was alone in these baroque little rooms but for the fierce little babushkas who guard the priceless treasures.
I spent two eight-hour days at the Hermitage without eating, drinking, or peeing, and I barely scratched the surface.
Now, with winter breathing down the streets of New York, I decided to tackle the famous Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was prepared; this would be a hard-core crawl. I hiked through Central Park on the 86th Street transverse–no meandering on the pathway, no lingering at the reservoir.
I reached the museum before noon, which is when the riffraff floods in, still groggy from late slumber and a hearty brunch.
Map in hand, I plotted my strategy–yes, I’d peruse the collection of European sculpture and decorative arts, then meet for a guided tour of art from Africa, Oceana, and the Americas.
The fly in the ointment, however, is that I have no internal compass or even ordinary sense of direction when it comes to wayfinding, which is ridiculous when you consider that I now spend half my life trying to find my way.
Also, I like to figure things out for myself. So, despite helpful staff standing around telling people not to use their flash, I turned my maps every which way trying to figure out which doorway went where and whether I was in western Europe or ancient Greece.
This slowed me down considerably, and I wasted a lot of time wandering through reproductions of 19th century dining rooms until it was time for my tour. I did see some great sculpture, however, and a breathtaking Tiffany window.
Since the art of Africa, Oceana, and the Americas embraces such a ludicrous sweep of time, geography, and cultures, I was hoping the tour would give me a toehold–some insight or perspective. That didn’t really happen, but the Oceana exhibit was some of the craziest indigenous stuff I’ve seen. Some were ceremonial masks:
Some were memorials to dead relatives:
I had at this point burned through all my stored calories from a less-than-hearty brunch, and it was now almost 4pm. I groped my way through the labyrinth to the ground-floor cafeteria. (Good food, reasonably priced.) But by now, I was on the downhill slope and simply tried to make some progress during the remaining few hours I was there. Here are a couple works that caught my eye:
I left the museum just before closing time. It was dark. I walked back to the subway in the quiet cold. But I am not done with the Met. Not by a long shot.