Monday, November 23, 2009

Meet Me at the Met

We took the kids to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Saturday, a last-minute (well, the night before) decision to so something extra special for the weekend. There were several exhibitions that I had wanted to see with the number of free weekends to do so dwindling rapidly. And so we went first thing in the morning to be sure to catch the children's program before we saw everything else.

We arrived early enough to catch Vermeer's The Milkmaid before the program started, knowing the show would be packed later. And it was already crowded, but only at The Milkmaid. Because savvy New Yorkers and museum-goers knew that all the other paintings were from the Met's permanent collection and usually on view. Even after all these years, I'm just amazed how reproductions, as advanced as they are, fail to capture, to borrow a phrase, the aura of a work of art. The colors are just wrong everywhere I've seen this painting reproduced. And it is glorious in person--the blue of her skirt, the dotted brushstrokes creating the bread and the basket, the clever single nail on the wall referencing the scene as a work of art. Sis liked the milk jug but insisted she was pouring gravy on bread, not milk. We even got to see a 17th-century jug in the Met's collection. Bud was more worried about missing the program and so we headed back to the education center.

The children's programs, Start with Art, usually includes a story, discussion of one or more works of art, and a sketching project--a fairly standard structure for children's programs. We had been before and liked the experience, so much so that Sis remembered Georgia O'Keeffe by name, but this particular session was not even mediocre. Basically, the two objects chosen were great but the connections the educator was trying to make--you can count things in these pieces!!--was forced, contrived, and, well, really lame, even for preschoolers. But the kids liked looking at Brueghel's (choose your favorite spelling of his name--the Met has 2 on one page!) Harvesters and finding some of the details, including the birds (count them!) and the moon. Then the were asked to sketch their favorite parts (which is a pretty advanced and daunting task). Bud drew the "teepees" (can you see them?) and Sis focused on the reclining man under the tree; both included the moon. Can you find it? (hint: no it's not dirt on your computer, it's that tiny blue dot in the upper left corner)

Next, as a family, we headed to see American Stories, which examines genre and other paintings about America and Americans. The first room alone was worth the exhibition, full of iconic water images, from Copley's Watson and the Shark to Homer's Gulf Stream plus Eakins and Bingham. Bud was entranced by the sharks, standing in front of the Copley repeatedly asking about the painting for more than 10 minutes. "Why is he in the water? Is the shark going to eat him? Will the people save him?" Good news: the man comes out of it alive, though loses a leg (it's based on a true story). Which I told Bud over and over but something about the painting wouldn't let him go. He even bought the postcard, which now sits in his special treasure box. And Sis's favorite painting in this show? A scene of a bear and hunter in mortal combat. And Mama preferred a Civil War-era image of a husband and wife saying goodbye. Such cheerful images my family likes.

After lunch and a much needed break, we saw the following:

Paintings by Watteau, which for me lost some of their power when grouped altogether;

Chinese musical instruments, including a video of people playing a variety of the unique instruments which enthralled the kids;

and last but not least, an exhibition of the armor of the Samurai, including several
suits of armor, fantastic helmets (though Sis's favorite, of a crouching rabbit, was in the permanent collection display), and those majestic swords. Oddly, they liked watching the video of how the blades are forged and sat through it mesmerized 3 different times. Maybe because they were finally sitting!

But if you asked them what their all-time favorites were, they'd say the two statues at the beginning of this blog: Canova's Perseus and Guidi's Andromeda in Chains. We stood in front of these statues for what seemed like ages. And then went back again later! They were at first fascinated with Andromeda--was she a mermaid? what is that sea creature doing? why is she in chains? And so I told the story, using the nearby Perseus nearby as an illustration. And so we went over there--why is he naked? what's he doing with that head? why does that lady have snake hair? hey, why is he naked? did we talk about why is he naked?

Yep, "privates." Love those private parts in works of art. I gave my little speech again about how artists like to show the human body, how it's something we all have in common, how is often considered the most beautiful thing to depict. And they get that, in their way. But still, it's fascinating to see a bigger-than-life-size penis and some breasts on high. Sis, our budding feminist, though, objected to the different treatment of men and women, wondering when she was ever going to see a woman's vagina just like hers--why did they always cover it up? I'm going to have to make sure that all the privates get equal time on our next visit. I can just see it, "Mommy's 'Private' Tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art!" Ah, the dangers of being a mommy museum educator.

There were other highlights: peering in the scansions to see them setting up the creche and the Christmas tree; wandering around the roof garden with its huge metal sculpture Maelstrom; seeing the mother-in-law of a friend and colleague of mine as she gave a tour at the museum; marveling, again, at the "building inside a building" Temple of Dendur; the arms and armor display. Eating lunch in the cafeteria and also shopping for souvenirs also always rank high. There were only two downsides--a very rude mom in the cafeteria who ran over Bud and then blamed him for almost spilling her lunch (we actually "knew" her from the tour and also our last trip to the museum; she's a piece of work) and then the awful mess they've made of the American Sculpture Court, which now looks like a big train station terminal with art and a huge cafeteria--they must need the space for rental and concessions revenue, otherwise why mess it up? But, in the end, those didn't tarnish our wonderful, full, exhausting, exhilarating day. I'm sure we'll be going again soon--want to come?

1 comment:

  1. Just why do they hide adult vaginas and enlarge the breasts? Some sort of perferse sexism. When one looks at it critically a penis is a clever piece of work but no one could call it elegant but a vagina, now there is beauty at its finest