Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Museum of the Week: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I have a guilty conscience. I always feel like I should be in love with the American Museum of Natural History, but it's hard. I adore the evolution section, think the special exhibitions are grand- but over all, the place leaves me cold. The House that Roosevelt, Boas and Mead Built has problems, the least of which is the astronomical fee demanded to get in. I also find it too theme-parky for me- most of the gift shop items are geared towards kids, or adults who have a relatively limited understanding or interest in science (the astronomy section is pretty nifty, though). Where are the museum quality replicas of Neandertal skulls? The coffee table books on cave paintings? The CSI-branded forensics kits?

But, lest you think I'm shallow and only about the shopping, my discomfort goes deeper than that. the North American Indian section looks just like Papa Franz might walk through the doorway at any moment- and not in a good way. Many of the dance costumes in the African Section are not sufficiently labeled as to provenance. The Middle East Section has a fanciful case showing how many Westerners think everyone there flies around on magic carpets- its silly. And to top it all off, in typical chicken/egg fashion, the museum is so full of children that it's hard to really look at the exhibits, which very often lack the perspective adults would want it the first place. Much of the signage presumes that the viewer is ignorant about natural history, and even afraid of it. I can understand that- most people in the US don't get sufficiently exposed to the sciences. But except for the evolution section, much of the museum talks down to people, which is a turn-off. I love the special exhibitions (I'm still raving, years later, about both the viking and Voudou shows from several years back) and the IMAX shows, but otherwise there's just not enough to truly hold my interest for hours at a time.

If the Natural History is the lunk-headed but sweet husband I'm supposed to love even though I find him to be more than a bit of a bore, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the sexy, extravagant lover with whom I have trysts as often as possible. The Met doesn't talk down to patrons. I presumes they already have some desire to see art, and want to learn about it. The Met isn't afraid to challenge the viewer by juxtaposing objects in special exhibits. It sells you all kinds of dust-catchers, but most of them are for adults. Even the ones for children presume a certain level of sophistication. While the Natural History does offer a dinner dance/jazz musicale once a month, The Met offers a classical ensemble every Saturday and Sunday on the balcony while serving sophisticated snacks and cocktails at a cash bar. But most importantly, the Met takes me all over the world with its excellent shows that have featured everything from specific historical sea-changes in art history, to photographers, to particular styles and mediums of art (the just recently closed tapestry exhibit was an eye-opener.) On top of all that, when I'm feeling poor and needy, the Met tells me not to worry, because even if I only have a quarter to donate, it will let me in even as it Hoovers money out of the purses and pockets of the rich and the touristy. Going to the Met is like meeting up with my fabulously wealthy and well-traveled sugar daddy on a Viagra binge and a bonus from Goldman Sachs, and allowing myself to unwind and enjoy the pleasure of his company.

And that is why the Metropolitan Museum of Art is my hands-down winner in the mega-museum sweepstakes- because I don't live next door to the Louvre or the Victoria and Albert, thie Smithsonian has a lot of populist crap that doesn't interest me, and the Vatican is a little too top-heavy on paintings with tortured saints as the primary subject.


kaet said...

If I somehow show up wandering around exploring New York anytime in the next year or so it will be at least in part down to the temptations you place in front of me.

And I agree on loving the museum that's local enough and free so that one can pop in for ten minutes or three hours, depending.

That's why I have favourites in more than one city, depending on where I've lived.

Kristin said...

I recently moved to D.C. so am currently (as time permits) rediscovering the Smithsonian. I still can't get over that there are giant pandas living just a few minutes away, and I can go see them for FREE!

The Natural History museum here was a madhouse when we went and it didn't enthrall me. The American Art Museum was fantastic, though I ended up running out of energy & desire before getting to the 3rd floor... but since it's free, I had no qualms about leaving the remainder for another visit.

Carpenoctem said...

There's something wonderful about having museums that are free or nearly so. The Met has a Suggested Donation of $20, I think... as if. I do have to renew my membership- for $$60, I get to make it possible for others to pay .25. To me that's a better deal that the Natural History, which costs about as much, doesn't have new exhibits that much, and charges you extra for the new exhibit anyway. All so one can be knee deep in schoolkids and parents who are completely clueless about science, and who say really dumb things.

I'm happy that people visit the Natural History, and I'm not a snob. I just feel the museum doesn't do a great job of educating its patrons, or of giving people who love science a good enough reason to come on a regular basis. I know as an art patron, I've sometimes learned about the art by listening to others, and have shared my love that way also. I don't really get much out of the Natural History, as almost everything is pretty static and dry, or just plain juvenile. Having headsets with recorded info that would compare and contrast cultures or animals would make the Natural History more exciting. The Met's headsets allow one to do that, and it makes for a much more fun trip.

natalie said...

We came to NY a few weeks after 9/11, flying from Scotland, quite nervewracking.
My (now) husband had major problems with security in the UK airports with lots of bag-checking going on.
Two days later he took me to the FLW rooms (I'm a fan) at MMoA and went down on one knee in front of me and produced the ring he had sneaked though customs without me knowing.
The Japanese tourists who followed us into the room were almost as delighted as I was!