Last week while J and I were in New York, we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We’d been to the Museum of Natural History in the morning, grabbing a quick lunch from a Central Park vendor on our walk from one museum to the other. Had I but world enough and time, I could spend days rambling in either the Museum of Natural History or the Met, but last week J and I had only a few short hours to devote to each. We didn’t, in other words, have time to ramble: instead, we made a short list of things we absolutely wanted to see, then we made a beeline to those things, leaving leisurely exploration for our next visit.
What’s interesting about a museum like the Met, however, is how difficult it is to avoid rambling. J had two specific eras he wanted to explore—Modern and 19th century—and these were housed in sprawling galleries on different floors. It took a fair bit of wandering, in other words, to arrive to the specific sites we were making a beeline for, and once we were there, we engaged in more wandering, roaming from one gallery to another without a clearly delineated path or plan.
Appreciating art at the Metropolitan Museum is like looking for a good place to eat in Boston’s North End: you can’t make a bad choice because everything around you is excellent. By the time J and I succumbed to museum fatigue and decided to head back to our hotel, a detour to find a restroom on our way to the Museum’s main entrance led us straight into the mazy corridors of a place I swear I’ve never been before: the Museum’s visible storage area, where seemingly endless artifacts and decorative objects are meticulously arranged in glass cabinets, like a closed closet or catalogue turned inside-out.
Had I but world enough and time—had my feet not been aching from an entire day of Museum-rambles—I could have easily spent hours looking at this stunning array of objects—an embarrassment of riches—with only curiosity rather than curatorial captions to guide me. Without the narrative storyline of an curated exhibit to tell viewers what they “should” get out of these objects, museum goers are left to sift through the troves on their own, picking and choosing their own masterpieces from the aisles.
How could I have missed on previous visits these cabinets of wonder, their shiny surfaces like a natural historian’s curio cabinet stocked with specimens: an infinite world of riches contained in glass?