The Met is one of the largest most complex museum complexes in the world. How to enjoy it as few others do? How to master it? How to make it yours?
WHEN to go. Your first most important decision. Answer? weekdays – at opening time: 10am. You’ll have 1/2-1 hour of the most exquisite quite – a world class museum all to yourself.
ENTRANCE. Forget the main entrance. If the lines at the front don’t get you the ones for the cloakroom will. The start of a miserable experience. INSTEAD: use the ground floor side entrance opposite 81st Street, the one labelled for school groups, education. Result? no wait for bag inspection, checking your coat, getting a ticket.
HANDICAPPED? Take advantage of the pioneering work we did: get a simple, light folding stool. Go to the ground floor info desk opposite the ticket desk, and ask for one. They’ll fill out a slip with your name – and staple it to the leg of the stool. Quite silly, but it gives volunteers something officious to do – and gives you a stool which is about to become your salvation about mile 3. Needing to rest during your 10 mile hike through the galleries is a real need.
MAKING CHANGES. When we started our campaign for getting stools for those exhausted by hiking the galleries and standing up all the time, the education department owned all stools. You had to be handicapped – and carted around like a bag of potatoes in a wheelchair. Ugh. We kept at it – you can too. Ask for supervisors. Find the department that governs the decision. Work the info desks – and volunteers which staff them: they have to report visitor requests. The Met actually acts on input – and rather fast at that. That’s part of being one of the top museums in the world with an infinite budget for the highest qualified people – in all areas, not just art.
PLAN AHEAD. The NY Times weekend section on Friday and the Arts and Metropolitan sections on Sunday plus the Arts sections during the week are invaluable inputs. The New Yorker has very convenient sections in the front detailing out what art shows, events, concerts etc are in town. There are good art blogs but they tend to cover art galleries. You can’t go wrong by going into the http://www.nytimes.com/ website, choosing the arts section in the header. Also go to http://www.nytimes.com/events/index.html for the Arts and Entertainment calendar.
But of course the main source is the Met Museum website, http://www.metmuseum.org/. There you can download the Met app for smartphones. The exhibitions are readily available at http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/current-exhibitions.
Consider doing a virtual visit of the collections before going – not after when it’s usually done. This will repay you handsomely – and highlight pieces you really don’t want to miss.
Consider: programming a visit is like writing a short story, with a lead-in line, cast of characters, plot, flow and ending.
PAY WHAT YOU CAN AFFORD – and don’t sweat it. If you’re retired and live nearby as we do: pay something knowing the amount really doesn’t matter. his enables you to go daily – during that golden first hour – have a coffee at the American Wing Courtyard cafe – and leave before the thundering herds hit the doors.
Membership is expensive at the Met. The operating figures are horrendous. But admissions cover only 16% of the budget according to one NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/08/arts/design/seeking-clarity-on-fees-at-the-metropolitan-museum.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 Other articles report admissions cover only 11% of the budget, due to the Met’s $2.5 billion investment portfolio: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/03/dont-pay-the-metropolitan-museum-of-arts-recommended-25-fee/274328/ Another major magazine quotes the Met as saying each visitor costs them $40 each http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/the-case-for-free-admission
Figures apart, there is a lawsuit pending in NY courts based on the original agreement the Met struck with the city that assured the city that all visits would be free. If the plaintiffs triumph there’ll be a loss but we won’t have to suffer all the impenetrable language above the ticket booths now which has the net effect of confusing most visitors: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/08/arts/design/seeking-clarity-on-fees-at-the-metropolitan-museum.html?pagewanted=all All gobbleygook about fairness, looking good, doing your part – means nothing. Pay what you wish. The average visitor it turns out pays $11.
SCHEDULE REALISTICALLY. This means you can eat the Met in small bites, spread over many visits. We generally choose 1-2 shows to visit – and a backup in case one fizzles out.
Schedule those shows in the same wing if you can. It helps too for understanding and Aha! experiences if they’re related thematically.
Under no circumstances will walking in the door unplanned & unscheduled. For you are in fact visiting about 10-30 museums – depending on how you slice & dice the collection.
JOIN THE LIBRARY. On your first visit, go straight to the library. Join it – a simple, free process anyone can do. You’ll get a card which enables you to request materials – which often come quickly to you in the reading room. The librarians too are incredibly outgoing and skilled. Bring your scheduled 1-3 exhibitions – and they will make you aware of background and followup materials.
The same is true for visiting the Frick. The art library is at least equal to the collection – and the elegance of the reading rooms unparalleled: looking out onto Central Park. Here too the librarians are deeply respectful of inquiries – and the books speed their way to you. (They really should come on velvet pillows: that’s all that’s lacking.)
LET GUARDS BE YOUR GUIDES. No one knows this. The Met only hires guards with the equivalent of a BA in art. It helps pay for their “Art Guards” to pursue a Masters degree in art. Art Guards have their own association, have a show every 1-2 years, and have their own publication. They’re the Met’s “Art Mafia”.
We discovered this accidentally. We’re the kind of guys who talk to the person next to us in line at the supermarket. Why not? this is an opportunity for new input, to get our ideas tested – or jolted. And these guys really read the labels and background information. If they’re artists they have opinions, stories. Through them we’ve found that in the big shows many pieces are switched in and out through the show, every few weeks or so. We simply start by asking the guard about the collections we’re seeing. One thing may lead to another. Then we ask if they’re artists. We ask their name – and mention that when we speak to the next Art Guard.
Several have become close friends – and we always text them when we’re on our way to the Met to see what room they’ll be in while we’re there. We’ve had them over to the apartment – and visit with them if they come to Ct. Further proof that friendships are all around us: all we need do is open our doors and windows – and let things happen, or not happen.