If yesterday was all about books, today was all about art. A visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (my first!) turned into a museum double-header when I decided to walk 33 blocks south to visit MoMA, too.
Instead of methodically wringing the collections dry, I decided to try just floating through rooms aimlessly and pausing whenever a work caught my eye. I consciously meditated on abundance instead of scarcity; the point wasn’t to prove my diligence but to let images wash over me, cresting and combining, quick associations criss-crossing. What if museums are more like libraries than lectures?, I wondered. What if the whole exists so that everyone can have a shot at finding the one piece they need?
The Met was magnificent. Its size and scope and intricate arrangement boggle the mind. I read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler countless times as a kid, and made the connection that it was set at the Met while idly paging through Yelp reviews this morning. (An inevitable detour while looking up the museum’s hours, my number-one use case for Yelp.) So as I wandered the galleries, I felt a kind of twice-removed nostalgia; memories of the museum surfaced, etched on my memory by way of fiction. I remember that fountain!, I thought. I remember that bed.
The best thing about the Met: every room is different. Every room is different. Walls are different colors, different textures. Flags hang from some ceilings, beams span others. Staircases appear out of nowhere and end abruptly. No white boxes to be found; passing through doorways feels like time-traveling.
Still, though, I’m inexorably drawn to the present. (Sometimes, I forget the word inexorably for weeks at a time. Irrevocably? Irreversibly? I search for substitutes, near-misses. It’s always a relief when I find the word again, since I often need it.) Even at the Met—a great vessel brimming with centuries—recent American works held my attention the most readily.
The lock above was an exception. First, I was drawn to the shape; then, the description. (It’s a masterpiece, “a piece of work produced by an apprentice or journeyman aspiring to become a master craftsman in the old European guild system.”) I liked the story it told, and the shape. There was also a sinister blue hippo in the Egyptian exhibit that I liked quite a lot.
But, back to the inexorable present and recent past. The Museum of Modern Art holds those and only those, so arriving felt like a homecoming. I’d been enchanted by the Met, so this reaction caught me by surprise. What was so different? A few white boxes in, I opened up the Notes app on my phone and typed: “Stories vs. subconscious.”
Here’s what I think was going on (or part of it): walking through the Met felt like walking through a movie set. In fact, as I wandered I couldn’t help but wonder how many set designers had done the same, pillaging details to make the past come alive. Walking into MoMA felt like walking into a dream. All images, subliminal messages, color fields—all fueling something just beneath the surface.
I left the Met quite content. I left MoMA searching for “art supplies” frantically, as my phone battery began to die.