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Museum Review: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

August 7, 2015

You may be asking yourself: “Is a review of the world-renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City’s Central Park necessary?  We all know it’s awesome.  Come on, guys.”  To which we say, “YES!”

The Met--but not the whole front.

The Met–but not the whole front.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Met Museum, or the MMA, is at 5th avenue and E. 81st Streets in Manhattan.  The whole building itself is about 4 blocks long.  It is located in Central Park, and its immediate backyard contains the New York Obelisk, also called Cleopatra’s Needle.

Cleopatra's Needle stands just behind the Met in the Park.

Cleopatra’s Needle stands just behind the Met in the Park.

You can get there any number of ways, subways are relatively close, busses drop off and pick up right in front of it, and, if you’re staying anywhere in Upper Manhattan, it’s a nice and relatively short walk.  Admission is technically free, but they do suggest donations of $25 for Adults.  Much like the Brooklyn Museum (see our earlier post), you don’t have to give $25, but you should give something.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded in 1866 by a group of Americans who wished to bring the arts of Europe to the American public.  The first building opened in 1870, and the collections began building from there.  By the 20th century, the Met held some of the most impressive collections of art.  But you can find all of this on their website, here, so I will not simply repeat what they have said.  You are reading this to see what is there, what I thought of it, and maybe sort of as a guide to your visit.  So here we go.

It may go without saying, but the Met is HUGE.  In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy tells his father that they need to find their friend, Marcus Brody, because “he got lost once in his own museum.”  If Brody had been the director of a place like the Met, I can see how that would be possible.  Not that I got lost or anything.  I swear.

When you come to the Met, plan to arrive around 9:45am to wait in line to get in at 10am.  You’ll want and need to stay the whole day if you want to see a fraction of the collections.  (There are 4-5 places to eat within the museum—a bit expensive, yes, but not much more so than the restaurants on the Upper East Side, and very worth it to fuel your whole day.)  As you walk in the giant foyer, you can go left to Greek and Roman art, Oceania, and European arts; straight ahead is the massive staircase, behind which is Medieval Europe and decorative arts; to the right is Egyptian art, the Costume Institute, and more.  Upstairs is more art, sculpture, photographs, Asian Art, Near Eastern art, contemporary arts, and the important American Wing.  I know I’ve missed some departments, but I won’t list them all here.  See here for a full list.  Finally the Met also contains the Costume Institute, whose exhibit this year is called “China: Through the Looking Glass.”  It is full of beautiful clothes, and is well done.  The Museum also has a large portion of their medieval collection housed at the Cloisters, which is in a separate part of New York City.

The Cloisters, Northern Manhattan.  Image courtesy Met Museum website.

The Cloisters, Northern Manhattan. Image courtesy Met Museum website.

The Egyptian art section tends to be the most crowded, but for good reason.  They have two rebuilt tombs—of Per Neb and Meketre—and the fully rebuilt Temple of Dendur.

Temple of Dendur.  Yes, it's inside the building.

Temple of Dendur. Yes, it’s inside the building.

You don’t have to go to Egypt to see all the graffiti, either.  The Temple has quite a bit of it, and I dare say it’s one of the most interesting parts of monuments in Egypt.  As a historian of Egyptology, that is.  Not that people should go writing their names on monuments.



It was given to the US by Egypt for helping to save antiquities from being destroyed during the building of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s.  It was awarded to the Met in the mid-60s and finally put on display in the mid-70s.  Don’t miss it.  Almost all of the 26,000+ objects of their Egyptian collections are on display.  It is the largest collection of Egyptian art outside of Cairo.  They also have the Treasure of Lahun, found in 1914 by Flinders Petrie and his crew, was given to the Met.  Much of it is on display as well.  It is away from the rebuilt tombs, and there are relatively few people who venture into that part of the collections.  There is also an entire room dedicated to mummies and unwrapping them, complete with a wall of mummy linens.  I didn’t get a picture of the mummy linens.  But there are also amazing mummy portraits.

Greco-Roman Egyptian Coffin painting

Greco-Roman Egyptian Coffin painting

Enough of Egyptian art, though, because there is so much more to see!  The Greek and Roman section has a number of famous sculptures, amphora, vases, coffins and more.  The art comes from all periods of the Roman Empire, and from throughout the far-flung reaches of the Empire.

Greek vase, with runners

Greek vase, with runners

They are particularly strong in Etruscan bronzes.  In Medieval Art their collections range from 300-1500 AD in all materials.  Their separate building, the Cloisters, holds even more of their beautiful works in metals, tapestries and more.  Interestingly, they also have a massive collection of arms and armor form Europe, Persia, and Turkey.  They claim to have the “finest collection of Japanese armor outside of Japan” and I believe it.

Gusoku armor, 18th century Japan. Image courtesy Met Museum website.

Gusoku armor, 18th century Japan. Image courtesy Met Museum website.

I worked in the archives of the Department of Egyptian Art for about 2 weeks in May and was able to wander the collections during my lunch breaks.  As most of us know, there are only so many letters you can read before you need a break!  I tried to get to all the sections of the collections I could, but usually stuck around the Egyptian part, as it was the most pertinent to my topic.  But, I did make it out and was always surprised to turn a corner and find myself in a room of Picassos or Monets.  I am also a sucker for museum shops, so much so that I usually hit the shop before I wander the collections.  The Met’s main shop is two stories and full of tchotchkes, postcards, posters, and large kids’ section, as well as beautiful reprints of artwork, china, coffee mugs (I didn’t buy any mugs in NYC, which is a big step for me), scarves, ties, books, and so much more.

Shall I go on?  No.  If you can’t make it to New York, you can see a lot of their collections online here—their European art collections are amazing, have a look.  As a significant collection, the Met cannot, I think, be rivaled in the US, if the world.  The British Museum complex (including the Natural History Museum, the V&A, and both Tates) could give it a run for its money, but you have to go to so many different places to get the variety you can get in one stop at the Met.  This is all not to mention the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff, some of whom I was fortunate to meet.  From the staff working the front desk for visitors, to the security staff, to the curatorial staff, everyone was friendly and helpful.  They all clearly really enjoyed their museum.  I hope you get to go enjoy it, too!

–Kate Sheppard

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