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.