Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Metropolitan Museum

Visiting museums and attending theatre in New York City always brings home to me what a small, provincial burg San Francisco is in comparison.

A case in point is the Metropolitan Museum, situated on Fifth Avenue on the mideast side of Central Park, which doesn't intrude into the park and doesn't have a stupid parking garage. (If you need to be driven there, that's what cabs and chauffeurs are for.)

There is a "suggested donation" of $20 for entry but you can just about give them any amount you want and gain entrance.

The permanent collection consists of one famous piece of art after another...

...and best of all they are not obsessively protected by a phalanx of annoying security guards as is usually the case in San Francisco museums.

Plus, you can take flash-free photos anywhere and everywhere, except in the special, temporary exhibitions.

As in any huge museum, there's also plenty of junk, depending on your taste...

...including some colorful Jeff Koons monstrosities on the surprisingly small roof sculpture garden.

There were two special exhibits that were well worth seeing: "Art of the Royal Court: Treasures in Pietre Dure from the Palaces of Europe" and "Framing a Century: Master Photographs, 1840-1940." The former was room after room of astonishing Rennaissance Italian tabletops made of various gems and hard stones that looked like proto Arts and Crafts Movement furniture, except they were over 500 years old.

The photography show consisted of about a dozen images each by thirteen iconic photographers from Gustave le Gray to Walker Evans to Man Ray, all from the museum's permanent collection. It was a perfectly manageable show, not too large and not too little. Cumulatively, it was mindblowing.

There was also a fashion exhibit of designers influenced by comic book superheroes, but it wasn't half as fun as it should have been.

The weirdest disappointment was the huge J.M.W. Turner show. I've always loved the artist's paintings in reproduction, but in person, they looked sort of awful, and I found myself agreeing with the fine "New Yorker" art critic Peter Schjeldahl who closes his essay on the show with "Turner was the Damien Hirst of his time." (Click here for more.)


Anonymous said...

Two good Bargemusic programs coming this weekend, including an 85th birthday tribute to Ned Rorem--grab a New Yorker or a Voice for the details, catch the Water Taxi or the Flatbush train and check it out. Honest, you won't be disappointed, it's the best chamber music venue I've ever been in.

sfmike said...

Dear rootlesscosmo: Thank you so much for the recommendation but I'm already back in San Francisco. The final New York post is going up tomorrow but it's a remembrance of things past rather than au courant. In fact, I'm just coming home from the San Francisco Symphony opening night.

Matty Boy said...

Wonderful stuff, mike. Thanks for sharing it with us.

namastenancy said...

I had planned to visit NY earlier this year but my plans fell through. Now you make me so envious that I definitely am going early next year. Ain't the Met fabulous? SF really is provincial - pretty but most museums are 2nd rate.

Sam said...

I have a soft spot for Koon's sculptures because when I see them in real life they attract my attention like nothing else and I find myself in awe of them I suppose despite my cerebellum telling me not to be so impressed with such silly trifles

namastenancy said...

BTW - a lot of Turner's pictures haven't held up well because he used pigments that faded or turned "dirty" as they aged. His work was done right on the cusp between artist's grinding their own pigments and manufactured paints. Plus, he really didn't give a rats ass if his work lasted or not or even if it sold which is the opposite of Hirst. The selling part, not the lasting part. I have no reason to think that Hirst wants or hopes his work to last but he certainly wants to sell it and is not adverse to manipulating the market to do so.

Lisa Hirsch said...

> what a small, provincial burg San
> Francisco is in comparison.

Yep. This was one of the hardest things for me about moving to the Bay Area after growing up in greater NY. "You call THIS a museum??" was about my reaction on my first few visits to the De Young and Legion of Honor.

You are wrong about the Met not intruding on Central Park. There have been multiple battles over the last 40 years over the museum's westward expansion. I suggest a look at the Met on Google Maps, bearing in mind that you could fit three or four De Youngs inside it.

As far as Turner goes, we part company completely. I love his work and saw that show in DC; I found it magnificent and overwhelming. I wonder if it was hung or lit less well than in DC.

sfmike said...

Dear Lisa: I really expected to love the Turner exhibit so was surprised by my reaction. Maybe it was just the way it was set up. As for the westward expansion, at least the entrance faces Fifth Avenue instead of being completely inside the park like the deYoung.

Dear Sam: I sort of have a soft spot for Koons' sculptures too, ever since I saw the godawful sculptures of him having sex with his Italian porn star wife.