365 Places: Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Day 62: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY, United States of America

Today I build on my earlier posts about iconic NYC sites, Times Square and the Guggenheim Museum, by exploring another famous New York attraction – the Metropolitan Museum of Art, known affectionately as the Met.

When I travelled to NYC in 1997, I spent two days wandering around the Met  – as one day was not enough to see all the vast collections and galleries of this museum.

The museum’s permanent collection is massive, with artefacts from a range of significant periods in human history and a broad spectrum of cultures. There are many objects from Egyptian, Greek and Roman eras, as well as precious objects from Medieval times and paintings from the Baroque, Renaissance and Rococo periods of European art. Most of the cultures of the world are also represented with galleries focusing on Asian, Islamic and Melanesian art and artefacts.

The collection which I found most awesome in terms of size and scale was the Egyptian collection, which has case after case of precious objects. The website says:

The Museum’s collection of ancient Egyptian art consists of approximately twenty-six thousand objects of artistic, historical, and cultural importance, dating from the Paleolithic to the Roman period (ca. 300,000 B.C.–A.D. 4th century). More than half of the collection is derived from the Museum’s thirty-five years of archaeological work in Egypt, initiated in 1906 in response to increasing Western interest in the culture of ancient Egypt.

Here is an image of part of a pyramid that has been constructed inside the museum. This object for me was quite confronting as it represented so clearly that this culture and history had been removed from the original source of meaning. Of course, this could be said about so much of the collection at the Met, which leads one to consider whether the collections were founded by ethical means. Perhaps, for me there was a heightened awareness of the ethical dimension of the collection, given the context of the First People of Australia; as so many precious cultural objects and even human remains were taken without permission to be housed in collections around the world.

In the contemporary 21st century, indeed the role of collections like this are important as educational tools, but it is also necessary to consider how the collections were built in the first place. Ethical questioning aside, a trip to the Met is a very worthwhile day out, if only to be stunned by the sheer scale of this museum and its objects.