Thought of the Day: Fun With Sponsorships

I spotted this plaque beneath a flower arrangement in the lobby of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Someone appears to have set up a fund to continually provide fresh flowers for the lobby area, which is really nice.

Though I cannot help but wonder just how generous I would have to be with my floral fund in order to convince them to post a plaque beneath my flower arrangement that reads:

THESE FRESH FLOWERS ARE THE CONTINUING GIFT OF SATAN

Empty Met, Empty Promise

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I recently went on the EmptyMet tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and it was a real disappointment. The tour was a Christmas gift from my nephew, a college student who could hardly afford to part with the $125 the museum charges for this experience.

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the Met, live within walking distance of the museum, and visit it frequently. In fact, over the past two years, I’ve literally seen everything they’ve put on display. Plus, being a freelancer, I am often able to visit the museum during off-peak hours, when the galleries are less crowded.

mtmet2The EmptyMet tour gives you access to the Metropolitan Museum before it opens to the public. The draw is the opportunity to wander through empty galleries and view the art as if it were in someone’s private collection. The reality, however, is far from that ideal scenario.

We had 25 people on my “private” tour, along with three staff members. Having taken numerous tours of the museum over the past two years, I know that they are more suited to informing and educating attendees rather than providing a chance to truly appreciate each artwork showcased along the way. Being in a large group like that, you have to wait your turn to get a close-up view and then are quickly shuffled off to the next gallery, so you don’t get much of a chance to examine and enjoy the artwork that was just discussed.

What drew me to the unique experience of an EmptyMet tour (beyond it being a very generous gift) was the opportunity to photograph the museum’s picturesque galleries without the crowds of people that frequent them. I love taking photographs, and the chance to snap some pictures of the interior of such a grand space was one I could not pass up.

As with most great museums, the Met is a fascinating structure. It’s actually a collection of different buildings cobbled together over the years. Plus, it’s filled with treasures. And while I can see those art treasures any time I choose, I cannot photograph most of them, and certainly not an entire gallery, without also likely capturing some slovenly oaf in a Green Bay Packers jersey and backwards baseball cap standing around looking bored shitless because he came all the way to New York to see the rectal spectacle of Times Square and then was dragged off to this giant old museum that doesn’t even have a painting of dogs playing cards.

mtmetquoteThe problem with the EmptyMet tour is that, while the museum is indeed empty, whatever gallery you happen to be in is crowded. Wherever we went, whatever artwork we looked at, I had 25 other people vying to see it – and to photograph it. That’s about as many people as you’ll have in a gallery during regular hours. And when I visit the Met at off-peak hours, rarely will I see that many people in a gallery – let alone huddled around a specific piece of art at any given time.

I tried to make the best of it, trailing behind the crowd in hopes of snatching a photo of an empty gallery when the crowd moved on to the next. It wasn’t easy, though, as our guide had a tendency to ramble, so we were always in a rush (frankly, I’ve been on shorter tours that showed more of the museum).

Fortunately, our “crowd” didn’t have a slovenly oaf in a Green Bay Packers jersey and backwards baseball cap standing around looking bored shitless because he came all the way to New York to see the rectal spectacle of Times Square and then was dragged off to this giant old museum that doesn’t even have a painting of dogs playing cards. But we did have this German guy who kept wandering off, causing much concern among our handlers. And, much to my frustration, he had a tendency to wander off into whatever gallery I was trying to photograph.

So what I’m trying to say is don’t waste your time and money on the EmptyMet tour. You can see more of the museum, and with less crowds, simply by wandering the museum during regular hours (ideally during the week). And if you do want to snap some photos of empty – or nearly empty – galleries, then arrive early, before the museum opens. The Great Hall is open before the museum itself, so you can check your coat and purchase your ticket. That way you can head straight into the galleries the moment they’re open, though it certainly helps to already know your way around and have a plan of which galleries you want to photograph before they fill up. In fact, that is how I took the photos accompanying this piece, by rushing around after my EmptyMet tour, before the galleries became filled with the day’s regular visitors.

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The Marvelous, Monstrous Met

As I wandered through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I stumbled upon masterpieces like Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware.

I mastered the Met. And that’s no easy task. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is the largest art museum in the United States.

Had I realized what a massive undertaking it was, I would have tracked my time – like counting the licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. But when I started exploring the museum with my new membership in January, I hadn’t a clue. I had visited the Met a couple of times over the years but never fully comprehended its vastness nor the richness of the treasures within. And its setting in Central Park, away from other blocks and buildings that could provide perspective, makes it hard to gauge its scale – 2 million square feet – from the outside.

Velazquez’s Juan de Pareja is one of those paintings I instantly recognized but knew nothing about.

My best guess is that I spent roughly (very roughly) 50 hours exploring the museum’s galleries. That’s based on the assumption that I did, in fact, visit the place once a week – with a few exceptions – and spent an average of about 2.5 hours per visit. In reality, though, I probably spent even more time there, as some weeks I think I went twice, and occasionally I’d last 3-4 hours before my feet began to ache.

The one thing I am certain of, however, is that I still haven’t visited every gallery in the museum. Of the 440 galleries, 57 of them were closed during my visits. Of course, I visited some of them twice, as certain galleries feature temporary exhibits that rotate. And I returned to some simply to marvel at the treasures, and others because of fantastic events like Jazz & Colors at the Met.

I also can’t claim to have seen every object in every gallery. I have come close, though, as I meticulously worked my way through each, giving everything a look. But occasionally I’d come across am empty space marked with a note explaining that the item had been temporarily removed for one reason or another – cleaning, restoration, on loan elsewhere, etc.

The Met features art from all around the world, including Katsushika Hokusai’s Under the Wave off Kanagawa.

And the Met has a lot of stuff. A whole lot of stuff. It’s overwhelming. For example, the ancient artifacts are amazing, but shelves lined with chards of pottery can become mind-numbing while offering little insight beyond the realization that we pocketed everything from these archeological sites.

On a side note, that’s one of the disturbing aspects of the ancient treasures at the Met. What gave us the right to collect all this stuff, other than the fact that we had the foresight and finances? If you live in Cyprus, you’ll probably need to come to New York to learn about your past – and that doesn’t sit well with me.

The other art ad nauseam experience at the Met can be found in the European galleries, where you will be subjected to an infinite number of horribly similar paintings of religious subjects. If I see another portrait of the Madonna and Child I’ll crucify someone.

But there are treasures. Many, many wonderful treasures. Art and artifacts in every medium imaginable from every era and every corner of the world. You’ve got treasures from the ancient world – Egypt, Greece, Rome, and then some – including sculptures, sphinxes, sarcophaguses, and even a real, transplanted temple from 15 BC. There are tons of classic paintings along with a good collection of modern and contemporary art. And some unexpected finds, like an entire wing devoted to Africa and Oceania.

Among the many masterpieces you’ll find at the Met is Pablo Picasso’s At the Lapin Agile.

It may sound cliché, but there really is something for everyone at the Met – even folks who aren’t too crazy about art. You’ve got suits of armor and all sorts of guns and swords. Giant sculptures and carvings. Costumes, textiles, musical instruments, and even furniture.

Since few will have the time to tour the entire museum as I have, visitors need to decide what they want to see – what era, region, or art form they are most interested in. Or they can pick a wing and explore every nook and cranny of that.

I find that two hours is a good amount of time to spend in any museum. Visitors might want to linger a little longer in the Met, given its sheer volume. You can always take a break, as there are many benches and a couple of cafes. And while most of the food and drink options are as overpriced and underwhelming as one would imagine, the roof garden is worth a visit just for the views of Central Park.

Be sure to check out the Met’s Web site before you visit the actual museum because it is an exceptional resource. It offers an interactive map with overviews of each individual gallery, visitor tips and policies, and even some suggested itineraries. A little research and planning will go a long way, ensuring you get the most out of your visit to the marvelous, monstrous Met.

One of my favorite pieces at the Met is Winslow Homer’s The Gulf Stream.

Jazz & Colors at the Met

Marika Hughes and Friends played in front of Washington Crossing the Delaware during Jazz & Colors at the Met.

Marika Hughes and Friends performed in front of Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware during Jazz & Colors at the Met.

Jazz & Colors is the kind of thing that makes New York City worth it. And it’s also the kind of thing that makes absolutely no sense to someone who doesn’t love New York City.

Jazz & Colors is an event that places multiple jazz bands in various locations and has them play the same set. Sounds simple, right? Or perhaps confusing? The best way to explain it is in the execution.

Saxophonist JD Allen and his band performed among the Met's modern art collection.

Saxophonist JD Allen and his band performed among the Met’s Modern Art collection.

It originated in Central Park, to showcase the fall foliage (the “colors”). A dozen of the park’s most scenic spots were selected. An assortment of jazz bands were recruited, each being assigned a particular spot. And they were handed a set list, the same set list, and a timetable. In effect, they were all performing the same concert but in different locations. So people could experience the same songs performed by different bands in different settings, surrounded by the mix of colors of the fall foliage.

And that’s really what jazz is all about, isn’t it? Individuality and collaboration, novelty and familiarity. A jazz musician works in concert with others to offer his own interpretation. And no jazz band, let alone jazz musician, plays the same song the same way. As such, the audience becomes part of the experience – a one-off that they share with the musicians performing. And the natural beauty of autumn in Central Park makes it all the more special.

Despite the success of the first two Jazz & Colors events in Central Park, the third one never materialized. I’m not sure who is to blame – the organizers (it was never well promoted) or the Parks Department (or Central Park Conservancy), which seems to have an affinity for more mainstream (as in corporate-sponsored) events. But it was a shame. Criminal.

Jazz & Colors: The Full Spectrum Edition
Then this happened. Jazz & Colors failed to materialize this past fall, but suddenly it was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this spring. And instead of fall foliage as the backdrop, the jazz would have world-class artworks – including a few masterpieces – as the “colors.” Brilliant.

The Jovan Alexandre Trio dazzled visitors in the Met's Arms & Armor collection.

The Jovan Alexandre Trio dazzled visitors in the Met’s Arms & Armor collection.

And it was. There was still the logistical challenge of getting from one spot to the next, from one band to the other, without missing that much of a song. The gallery locations were a lot closer than the locations in the park were. However, you could hear the music between the spots in the park, while the galleries made that more difficult. It’s also a little easier to sit down on the grass than the floor of a museum as stuffy as the Met (though many did plop themselves down without a care).

As always, some of the acts were better than others. But many of them – like JD Allen, Kimberly Thompson, and the Jovan Alexandre Trio – were quite good. In fact, my friend said she’d be interested in seeing a few of them play in a club, which I imagine is part of the attraction for the bands.

Drummer Kimberly Thompson and her band performed in front of Indonesian ancestral carvings in the Met's Melanesia gallery.

Drummer Kimberly Thompson and her band performed in front of Indonesian ancestral carvings in the Met’s Melanesia gallery.

Hopefully there was enough of an attraction for the Met as well. I have been undertaking a disturbingly well-planned tour of the museum since becoming a member at the end of last year. It’s taken me months, but I’ve seen nearly every gallery (at around 2 million square feet, it’s the largest museum in the United States). So I had no problem zipping past masterpieces to catch the next number. But I imagine others, newcomers to the museum, were a little more attentive to the artwork and hopefully opted to at least come back for another visit or even become a member.

If so, then we might see more of Jazz & Colors at the Met. Perhaps it will even become a regular occurrence. Though I’d still love to see it back in Central Park for the fall. And if that fails, what about the High Line? Prospect Park? Or even Randall’s Island?

Jazz & Colors is such a beautiful concept that I can’t imagine it going away. But that’s the nature of jazz, isn’t it? Sure, there are recordings – delightful ones, at that. But you really have to be there. It’s in the moment. And Jazz & Colors is one of those quintessential New York moments.

JD Allen and his band best captured the spirit of Jazz & Colors with their performance in the Met's Modern Art mezzanine.

JD Allen and his band best captured the spirit of Jazz & Colors with their performance in the Met’s Modern Art mezzanine.

Additional images of Jazz & Colors at the Met can be seen here.