A pyramid, a gargantuan limestone sarcophagus, canopic jars used by the Ancient Egyptians to store the internal organs that were removed from the body during mummification… It’s like being in Egypt but without the desert and camels! The Metropolitan Museum of Art which opened in a Gothic Revival-style building in 1870 has grown into more than two-million-square-feet along New York City’s Central Park, on Fifth Avenue.
The MET as it is popularly called is today one the world’s premier cultural institutions with an operating budget of more than $250 million a year and houses a collection encompassing everything from ancient classics to modern masters. A day at the Met is what even locals love to do- You could easily spend a week exploring the treasures of the Met to see everything spread across the approximately two million square feet of gallery space.
In a whistle-stop tour, the trick is to focus on the most iconic and the most indicative pieces or exhibits of their era. From the Egyptian Temple of Dendur and the majestic Arms and Armory Hall to revered paintings such Vincent van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses,you are in for a visual feast.The Met has 17 curatorial departments, including Ancient and Near Eastern Art, Greek and Roman Art, Medieval Art, European Paintings, Islamic Art and more. It would be nearly impossible to see everything in one day, so study the museum’s map, and make a game plan.
Start off with the Egyptian section where one can see ancient Mummies and intricate designs on the painted and gilded coffin boxes with sliding doors. The showstopper here is the sandstone Temple of Dendur, located in a gigantic room with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a stunning view of Central Park. This beautifully intricate and ornate temple with exquisite relief carvings incorporating motifs such as lotus blossoms and papyrus, built during the reign of Augustus Caesar was gifted by the Egyptian government to the United States government, which helped save many Nubian monuments from drowning during the Aswan Dam project.
If you are an art aficionado, head to the European Arts gallery, for a viewing of some of the most famous paintings of Monet — his famous series on ‘Water Lilies’. There are some 15 canvases of Van Gogh, packed with raw energy and brilliant images. Don’t miss multi-faceted Degas’ bronze sculpture The fourteen-year-old dancer-fluid and almost alive. The Gallery of the Arts of South and southeast Asia opened in 1994. These galleries present an encyclopaedic display of the visual traditions of India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Cambodia. One of the most unique features of the Asian galleries is the tranquil Astor Court, with its rockeries and koi pond, modelled on a Ming scholar’s courtyard in Suzhou, a city near Shanghai famous for its garden architecture. Peek into the adjoining hall for the Museum’s collection of Chinese hardwood furniture.
The Greek and Roman art section is fascinating, with painted Greek vases, Greek grave reliefs, sculpture, marble and bronze Roman portrait busts. An absolute wonder here are the colourful frescoes from a villa that was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. One should also look out for the hidden treasures of the MET like the recreation of a living room that iconic Frank Lloyd Wright designed for the Little family in Wayzata, Minnesota and the grand neoclassical façade in the Engelhard Court which was rescued from a bank on Wall Street before it was torn down in the 1920s. The European Sculpture gallery is filled with extraordinary art, but Perseus with the Head of Medusa is hard to miss-a replica of Canova’s Perseus, which resides in the Vatican. Want to see the most expensive item in the whole museum? It is a tiny little thing, with a powerful presence Duccio’s “Madonna and Child”— tempera and gold on wood, for which the museum reportedly paid $45 million!
And best of all, the MET has a rooftop garden that isn’t entirely a work of art, but it offers some of the best panoramic views of Manhattan’s skyline with Central Park’s foliage in the foreground and often has on display unique contemporary art installations on rotation. Have a drink there and end your art fest the right way!