Metropolitan Museum of Art: Metaphor for New York

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Metaphor for New York

I was recently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, viewing a show of Civil War Photography, which I found to be a very sobering experience. The photography really brought to light the drama of this, the first major war every recorded through the photograph. Young men (18 years old!) staring solemnly into the camera, in full military gear; injured men, with amputations and gun shot wounds, baring their scars of war for the photographic record; scenes of destruction throughout the North and the South; and so much more. But, then, as I began to wander around the museum itself, I transitioned from feeling somber to feeling awed. I was taken with how much of a metaphor for New York this museum is. For one thing, the size and scope of the Met never ceases to take my breath away. It is the largest art museum in the country, with over two million works of art and 17 curatorial departments. Collections from antiquity to modern art abound. European masters and exhibits on American artists are part of a museum that also has  holdings from Africa and Asia, along with Byzantine and Islamic Art. There is the Costume Institute, and then there is the building itself: the Beaux-Arts Fifth Avenue facade, the Great Hall, the Grand Stairway. So much diversity, so many riches, all in one place. Just like Manhattan, I pondered. Little Italy and Chinatown nestle against one another, two very different neighborhoods. New York is a town where you can enjoy Ethiopian food, Egyptian food, Indian, French and Scandanavian, all in one week. It's a town of  huge, towering buildings, charming, warm brownstones, gleaming modern architectural masterpieces. And throngs and throngs of people: dirt poor, dizzingly rich, every race, every culture, speaking in dozens of different languages. Suddenly, it made perfect sense that the Met would sit here, with all its splendid arrays in this city, so diverse and splendid itself.