Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Through Multiple Kids’ Eyes Part 1

There is something amazing about being surrounded by human creative achievement from all over the world throughout history that has increased our visits and my desire to relate them.

There is also something about combining children with Five Thousand years of artistic output that always becomes a source of comedy gold.

Family trips became a Good Friday tradition when I was a kid when we’d stop at the Bronx Zoo and then visit my aunt and uncle in Queens at night.  We sought to recreate that this year.  However, the threat of thunderstorms meant my sister’s family (Kim and Dave and three kids Aurora-12, Veronica-10 and Morgan-6) my daughter Anabelle (15) and me plus Grandma hit the art museum instead.  Rosa had a foot injury that prevented her from the marathon like walking session required to really “do” the MET.

Anabelle took up her practiced navigator position in the passenger seat, after rewriting my nearly illegible directions.  The low holiday traffic (and Siri for once ignoring her Lincoln Tunnel fetish) meant we could tandem in easily.  A couple of extra kids came with the two of us, leading to a focus on A Bronx Tale (Aurora) Captain Underpants (Morgan) Strong Bad (Anabelle) and Brak (Me) music.

The first “ride” was Morgan’s greatest experience of the day.

Well, technically it was a revolving door, but his unending grin as he circled in it like a caffeinated shark meant we probably could have left him there all day and picked him up on the way out.  While we settled in downstairs, showed our membership card and Kim got her family’s I explained what we’d learned being more frequent visitors.

“It is extremely easy to get caught up in the Greek and Roman section and spend far too long a time there, cutting into percentages available for the rest of the magnificent exhibits.  Therefore pacing and control is key.”

Then, like every other time we’ve gone, we got caught up in the Greek and Roman section and spent far too long a time there, cutting into percentages available for the rest of the magnificent exhibits.  This is why I try to schedule the trips to this location for Friday and Saturday when the place doesn’t close until Nine PM.

My sister, having been attending these kinds of places with me for decades, asked, “What’s a Grecian urn?” as soon as we got up the stairs to get it out of the way.  We’re a fun family.

Morgan quickly identified a headless statue in the Roman Sculpture Court where the statue head of Alexander in the Hellenistic entry hall must have come from.

Then the two little ones immediately started with the most common question- Why is everyone naked?

As experienced museum parents, we were ready to handle this quickly, calmly and directly. This is why, when Veronica pointed to a third century Roman sarcophagus covered with the relief of forty mostly nude figures and said, “That one has marble balls,” Kim responded quickly, calmly and directly-

“Um…yes… A lot of them.”

Well before realizing her child meant the stone spheres holding up the sarcophagus.

Grandma naturally gravitated to the bust of Caligula. She stated what always amazed her was how someone so evil could look so beautiful.  I deftly shattered that bubble by postulating:
“Suppose you’re a sculptor, and the insane god-emperor commissions you to create his portrait…
Are YOU going to make him look ugly?”

Luckily some of the side rooms were closed, snapping us out of the required Classic Western Civilization Hypnosis.  We waved briefly to Constantine’s giant head, and worked our way into the rest of the museum along the three parallel Greco/Roman hallways.

Fortunately we chose the left path instead of the more impressive center aisle.  While viewing coins, artifacts and, yes, urns, we suddenly heard “Johnny B. Goode” coming out of a side door.

For those playing at home, while my daughter does lump everything from my childhood years into “the caveman times” Chuck Berry was not popular at the height of the Hellenistic Empire.

I had misread the e-mail advertisements thinking that the ones referencing a Rock and Roll exhibit and the ones referencing the completion of the second half of the instrument section refurbishment were the same thing.

They were not, and there was a huge history of Rock and Roll instruments special exhibit that was completely awesome and insane.

For any musicians or music lovers, even if you’d normally need to be bound and gagged before being dragged kicking and screaming into an art museum, you should see this thing before it leaves in October.

Chuck Berry’s guitar he recorded “Johnny B. Goode” on, Jerry Lee Lewis’s baby grand piano, and whole band set ups for The Who, The Beatles, Metallica, and Zeppelin were just a few of the highlights. There were early prototype Moog, Fender and Les Paul instruments and a whole mess of guitars (Clapton, Vai, Jett, Garcia, Hendrix, Stanley, Van Halen, etc.) from performers from the Fifties to the Nineties and some from today. This included a bit left from the one Hendrix sacrificed at Monterey Pop and a puzzle of a Townsend one that got shellacked back together. There were some other instruments too (Clarence Clemons’s sax, a flute used by Jethro Tull etc.).  It was quite mind-blowing and cool.

Sadly, all my pictures came out crappy.  This was due to a mix of darkness and crowds, but mostly because it was early in the day and we hadn’t settled on man to man or zone defense for the children yet. Based on what instruments they played and who they knew, the kids were excitedly bouncing around the displays in a Pinball Wizard style fashion.

Filled with rock, and more importantly filled with being in the one really crowded part of the building, we moved back to more conventional museum fare.  While not a rock instrument, Anabelle pointed out a Greek hunting horn as we left calling it, “The Horn of Gondor.” That’s my girl.

Since it wasn’t only Anabelle and I, we followed my family’s path from my childhood straight into the vast Egyptian section.  It has decent representation across thousands of years of history spread over multiple kingdoms, and mythologies... 

Or a lot of sand colored sculpting and ancient emojis to the younger members of our clan.

The overtime with the other statues and with the Rock and Roll extension pushed the kids much closer to hungry than curious.   Plus, did I mention it's a vast collection?  It’s easy to forget that Cleopatra is chronologically closer to us than she is to the pyramids.  I'm a total Egypt geek, and I was starting to focus more on lunch.

We did get a rare short line to peek at the interior of the Temple of Dendur. Sadly, there was no sign of Prince Sahu or Big Bird. It always cracks me up how there’s carved graffiti on the thing from the 1800’s.  People are always people.

Entering the American Wing, moods were not heightened by the closure of the round Versailles painted room, awesome on its own, and also the access method to the room beyond with “Anabelle’s chair.”  Of course she claims ownership of museum displays, she’s a McGinley.

Next up, again following the childhood route, was the armor hall.  This was a good pick me up for the kids, and adults as well.  This time Anabelle christened a powder vessel, “The Horn of Gondor.”

However it was past lunch, and due to the insane size of the place, we’d already clocked many steps.

Kim asked how to get to the cafeteria, and I provided accurate if semi-heretical directions:

“Exit the armor hall that way, pass the big fancy table and when things get all Jesusy, turn right.”

We did that, bringing us directly to the Robert Lehman collection.  The Dutch masters were living there temporarily while their skylights got fixed. We saved Grandpa’s favorites for later, but made a quick stop at Anabelle’s favorite, “...Princesse de Broglie...”

Since it’s on the cover of the coffee table book, “The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings” I suppose Anabelle is not alone in that choice.  I’ve always been partial to “Gandalf in Pink” by El Greco in the next room.

Due to its vast scale and certain exhibits that always draw mobs, it’s usually hard to guess how crowded the MET is on any given day. Finding a table for eight of us almost immediately in the cafeteria was a pretty strong tell that we picked a good day.  We chowed down on meatless salad, tuna sandwiches and macaroni to refuel before continuing on into the massive structure.

Anabelle was thrilled to find Vermeer when we came out.  I can’t say she inherited any class from me, but at least I’ve given her opportunities in places like this to grow some.

From forever, my family’s favorite paintings almost all have lived in the 19th and early 20th European section.  This is also known as the “advanced techniques before things got silly” section.  
Therefore, we finished up with Rembrandt and friends before we ascended all the way up the upper diamond to the second floor. 

Over half of the Europe from 1250-1800 was closed but the section we came out in was impressive.  The first room had “The Death of Socrates” by Jacques-Louis David, most of the adults quoted Real Genius, (“I drank what?”) and I threw in some Steve Martin. (“I know big things, what is truth, what is meaning, not what is poisonous.”) The kids were far more respectful.

Keeping with that tradition, Anabelle took a photo of a Velasquez to impress her Spanish teacher following a project on the subject while I just quoted Buddy Hacket.  (“Abscondi Obeseri Illegitemo”)

I was continuing working out to be the Where Will We Go Next Guy, plotting us through the exhibit on the map.  I pointed the route to my sister to tell her we were going to the family favorite painting section by saying we’d head out, go down the drawing corridor and reach the good art.

She responded, “Oh, the good art?  Yes, don't look at this crap, let’s get out of here, the good paintings are all in the other section.  *gestures to centuries of classical masterpieces all around us* This…this is all s**t!”

We did look at, and be impressed by the rest of the rooms of s**t, before walking down the drawings and photographs corridor.  This corridor had both a gift shop and bathrooms in it. Anyone who knows my family obviously realizes we spent a while in there.

The long gallery between where we were and the 19th-20th century paintings was filled with sculptures.  Morgan really liked The Thinker, and decided all the other Rodin pieces, including those from the unfinished “Gates of Hell” were thinking. This prompted the three girls to begin copying the exaggerated poses of every other statue in the place and say, “I think like this all the time.”

Click here for part 2

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