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JOEL Joel's Blog

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Reopens


Fireplace and Paneling from a house in Norfolk. C. 1600
Fireplace and Paneling from a house in Norfolk. C. 1600

While I was stuck at home for months because of COVID-19 I didn't have the urge to head for the hills like so many other city dwellers. What I missed was eating out and visiting museums and galleries. About two months ago, the city started allowing restaurants to seize part of the streets for outdoor dining. The restaurants have really risen to the occasion with beautiful lights and planters that I've really enjoyed. And museum re-openings started this past week and I raced to get back in the swing.

As a member of the Metropolitan Museum, all I needed to do to take advantage of the reopening was make a reservation (that they didn't check) and line up outside the building. After waiting on a fast moving line and getting a quick temperature check, we were in for a membership card check and then it was off to the galleries. The museum wasn't neither crowded nor empty. Many of the galleries were closed and my usual spidey sense of how to get from one place to another (a function of having grown up blocks from the Museum and going there every Saturday during my childhood) was totally screwed up. Wandering around with a mask isn't as carefree as not wearing a mask: I fully understand why Darth Vader never goes sight seeing. My glasses kept fogging up and the mask kept the glasses from sitting right on my face, so stuff was out of focus. We kind of shied away from the new exhibits, mostly because of lines, but we did walk through a retrospective of 20th century photographs. (Bottom line: it wasn't all good.) While I have to applaud the museum for not just exhibiting their most famous stuff, I was underwhelmed. There is a certain self-consciousness in a lot of modern art that doesn't do it proud. En route to that exhibit, we passed a display from the print collection that included some 19th century silhouettes, which I always find interesting. The thought that - pre-photography! - you could capture a really compelling view of someone via a cut-out silhouette is really wild to me. Next to the 19th century work there was a modern silhouette by Kara Walker, who is one of my favorite contemporary artists.

Most of our visit was just wandering, but on the way out I saw a glimpse of a redone section of British decorative art, and stopped in. It was totally wonderful and worth the trip. The Met has always has a section on English decorative arts, but it never stood out. This time, properly mounted, wonderfully lit, the exhibit brought together in context a lot of major pieces that have been scattered all over the museum for years.

Some of these objects are old friends that have appeared previously in blog posts, but the new exhibit brings them together, mounts them wonderfully and with more expressive lighting.

I am just including wood-related material here, but the exhibit also has a lot of ceramics including a wall of teapots. The museum never really drew attention to their pre-Raphaelite works, but their little collection of them has finally found a home and feels genuinely in the right place with all the other pieces.

The staircase below is one of my favorites and if you click on the image you will go to the Met website which has a lot more, better, pictures. Sadly they won't let me climb the stairs and get my own.

Since I was a kid this awesome staircase has been one of my favorite pieces of work in the entire museum. Now it's better lit
Since I was a kid this awesome staircase has been one of my favorite pieces of work in the entire museum. Now it's better lit, and properly takes center stage. Hertfordshire ca. 1677–80 Attributed to Edward Pearce,

Casket made in India for the European trade. Ebony
Casket made in India for the European trade. Ebony, Ivory, & etc. Ca. 1760-65

A great selection of different styles of panels.
A great selection of different styles of panels.

Pre-Raphaelite decorative arts designed by Edward Burne-Jones
Pre-Raphaelite decorative arts designed by Edward Burne-Jones, late 19th century

Join the conversation
09/09/2020 Paul Bouchard
Nice to hear some good news and to know the British decorative arts is finally open again. It's been under renovation for about 4 or 5 years, right? I've come from Toronto 3 times while it's been shut, thinking "they must be done by now!" The top floor of the American wing building was roped off the last couple times as well. One of the guards said they were spraying for bugs but I'm sure she was just messing with me and it was a staffing shortage. Hoping to get my fix of William and Mary when this COVID thing is over. The place it truly a temple to hand work. Stay safe.
09/10/2020 Alan Bishop
Thanks for the story.
Love the small chairs in the last photo - can you tell us more about them?
09/10/2020 Andrew Forste
I remember the first time I saw Kara Walker’s work at the Guggenheim, it blew me away. My wife got me silhouettes of my children when they were younger and I love them, the silhouettes(and my children), unfortunately they do not look anything like them. I have great memories of the Met like seeing the “water Lilies” exhibit and of course the armor. I always head straight to European Expressionists to get my fill of Degas and Monet. I once went with an ex-girlfriend and tried to go into the American furniture exhibit but she wouldn’t let me because she said the mustiness affected her allergies, it’s funny because I’m drawn to the mustiness, I can’t get enough. It’s like a great antique store, like Horseman’s before it went Mid-Century Modern. I’m glad to hear the city is re-opening, now I just need the theaters to reopen so I can get back to work and make some money to feed my hand tool addiction.
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The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.