Metropolitan Museum of Art
Good for: Art Enthusiasts, Art affectionados, relaxation, art and history lovers, Historians
Not good for: kids, kids who bore easily, very young children, foreign patriots, travelers with limited time
Lonely Planet review for Metropolitan Museum of Art
With more than five million visitors per year, the Met is New York’s most popular single-site tourist attraction, with one of the richest coffers in the arts world. The Met is a self-contained cultural city-state, with two million individual objects in its collection and an annual budget of over $120 million. Since completing a multimillion-dollar remodeling project that brought works out of storage, renovated the halls of 19th- and early 20th-century paintings and sculptures, expanded the Ancient Hellenistic and Roman areas and sparklingly remade the American Wing, the place is looking more divine than ever – despite operating in the midst of a financial crisis that has led to major payroll cuts, a shrinking endowment and a donations slump. Charged with seeing this behemoth through the hard times is new director Thomas Campbell, a British tapestries expert who was appointed to the position following the much-publicized retirement of the larger-than-life Philippe de Montebello, who reigned over the institution for three decades.
Despite the big changes, though, the Met’s ability to thrill, confound, inspire and exhaust has not been altered, as its massive list of curatorial departments includes something for just about everyone – from American Decorative Arts and Ancient Near Eastern Art to Greek and Roman Art, Medieval Art, Modern Art, Photography, Musical Instruments and the Costume Institute. To get organized once you arrive inside the Great Hall, pick up a floor plan and head to the ticket booths, where you’ll find a list of any exhibitions closed that day, along with a lineup of special museum talks. The Met presents more than 30 special exhibitions and installations each year and it’s best to target exactly what you want to see on the floor plan and head there first, before museum fatigue sets in. Then you can put the plan away and get lost trying to get back to the main entrance. It’s a virtual certainty that you’ll stumble across something interesting along the way.
To the right of the Great Hall, an information desk offers guidance in several languages (which change depending on the volunteers) and audio tours ($6) of the special exhibitions. The Met also offers free Guided Tours of museum highlights and specific galleries. (Check the calendar, given away at the information desk, for specific schedules.) Families will want to grab the children-specific brochure and events calendar (both free at the information booth).
If you can’t make it to Cooperstown, New York, home of America’s Baseball Hall of Fame, then exit the gallery through the door behind the Egyptian wing’s Temple of Dendur to behold the Met’s special collection of baseball cards, which includes the rarest and most expensive card in the world – a 1909 Honus Wagner that’s worth a whopping $200,000. Continue on to the left and you’ll enter that newly renovated American Wing of furniture and architecture, with a quiet, enclosed garden space that’s a perennial favorite as a respite from the visiting hordes. Several stained-glass works by Louis Comfort Tiffany frame the garden, as does an entire two-story facade of the Branch Bank of the US, preserved when the downtown building was demolished in the early 20th century.
Past the popular American Wing, you’ll find the pyramid-like addition that houses the Robert Lehman Collection of impressionist and modern art, featuring several works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (including Young Girl Bathing), Georges Seurat and Pablo Picasso (including Portrait of Gertrude Stein). An unexpected bonus in this gallery is the rear terra-cotta facade of the original 1880 museum building, now completely encased by later additions and standing mutely on view as its own architectural artifact.
The Rockefeller Collection contains arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, then leads to the Greek and Roman art section. The museum has recently restored much of its Greek and Roman work, including the 2nd-floor Cypriot Gallery, which contains some of the finest pieces outside Cyprus.
Elsewhere on the 2nd floor, you’ll see the Met’s famous collection of European paintings, located in some of the museum’s oldest galleries, found beyond colonnaded entryways. The exhibition features works by every artist of note, including self- portraits by Rembrandt and Van Gogh and Portrait of Juan de Pareja by Velázquez. An entire suite of rooms focuses on impressionist and post impressionist art. The new collection of modern masters is housed on this level, as well as the photographs recently purchased by the Met, and the museum’s exquisite musical-instrument holdings. Also of interest up here are the treasures from Japan, China and Southeast Asia.
If you can’t stand crowds, avoid coming here on rainy Sunday afternoons. But during stormy winter weather, you might try viewing the 17-acre museum, deserted, from the outside at night – a real NYC image. On flawless, balmy days, the roof garden – with constantly rotating installations and gorgeous views of the city below – is a true gem, especially in the summer, when it adds a wine bar on weekends.