A Day at the Races: The Met Museum

Actually, no. Not unless “the races” is a cheeky synonym for one of the  most crowded art museums in the universe. (It isn’t.)

Nevertheless, I spent a few hours yesterday at The Met. I hadn’t really been to a proper cultural institution since I moved back to NYC and I quit my job and everything so why not?

To be fiscally responsible I figured I would at least go to the one where I only have to pay, like, $2.00 if that’s all I wanted to pay. And guess what, guys? That’s….yeah.

So I marched myself in there and immediately became excited about two exhibits:

The American Woman: An exhibit about American female fashion trends since like, a long time ago.

AND

Picasso: The Met’s collection of his stuff.

Here’s the thing. Once upon a time I was Into Art. I went to Sarah Lawrence where every fucking body wanted to talk about art all day and far into the night. I even enrolled in a graduate program about museum studies and Art History and thought I wanted to be a curator. Then, with startling rapidity art went from being this thing that was interesting and engaging and that I liked to being this tremendous aggregator of stress, anxiety and disappointment.   I don’t want to get into the particulars, but I withdrew from graduate school and it was years before I went into a museum willingly again.

Anywhooze, all that’s behind me now, and I pretty much just look at what I like and don’t talk about it with other people very much.. There is, I undertsand from interacting with people who do not at all care for visual art, a tendency to take everything very seriously and to try to “get” it.

I, personally, advise against this.  Think about art like people. Some we like or we don’t like. Some we respect but don’t want to hang out with, some we love and want around us forever. Either way, you either like looking at something or you don’t, and if you don’t, stop looking regardless of what anyone alive or dead ever says or writes about it.

In this spirit, here’s how I “experienced” the Met on Wednesday.

Oh, I should add that I was bonkers hungover.

Like, for the third day in a row.

It’s probably significant.

So I sort of staggered around looking for the American Woman exhibit for a little while and found myself, unbidden, in an exhibit of contemporary photography. Usually, I feel pretty meh about that kinda thing, but this image caught my glassy eye.

Who’s it by? Dunno! But its a picture of a mosquito  trapped ‘neath a glass on the skin of a yu-man being and beneath it is text explaining that, basically, when a mosquito bites you, it’s taking blood from just beneath the surface of your skin and using the oxygen in it to rise into the sky and continue to fly around a lot. Or something? I dunno all the yinz and outs of science but it made me be like “Oh”, because I get mosquito bites more than anyone else alive. Like for every 1 mosquito bite my friends get, I get 4 million. Literally. I think it’s because I’m so pale and maybe they can see my blood? Whatever. So this photo Made Me Think about The Circle of Life and Candles in the WInd and Honky Cat, and all of Elton John’s most rad songs.

Next, I found myself in the European painting galleries and here was the first thing I saw:

I cringed immediately. Why? Because I used to think, when I was like fourteen, that this kind of shit, this particular painting, was everything that is amazing and romantic and pastoral and sexy. Now I think this dude was probably just the medieval period’s answer to Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light.

Sad.

But right next to it, was THIS bitch:

I have always, always had, as the French say, “The Ill Boner” for this painting. I know that the photo quality here sux but believe you me, it’s awesome. It’s called Joan of Arc or somesuch, and it’s by this French man.  It supposedly depicts Joan, at her family’s home in France at the moment that she first was visited by the spirit of God.  The way she’s leaning up against the tree is sort of like “Well, this is it, I guess I’ll resign myself to this provincial, backwater burgh.” And everything behind her is like “Well, here’s just a simple French country farmhouse.”  But, oh shit.  In the trees and the sky are the semi-transparent figures of Jesus and God and other religious folk so you know that her world is just getting rocked right now. But the best part of the painting for me, is her eyes. Again, you can’t see well ‘cause my iPhone camera is a joke about as funny as one of Jeff Foxworthy’s, but she has Crazy Eyes.  He painted her with eyes that just look fucking nuts.  So to me, that’s sort of saying that he thought she was batshit crazy, and maybe all religious people are just batshit crazy?

My assumption (religious pun!) used to be that Back Then anyone who painted anything religious was just deeply religious. But Art College taught me that,no, that is not the case. God and Jesus were the only game in town story-wise for a long time in a lot of places, and then as now, artists painted what people cared about. As a young person in high school, this painting made me feel like I understood the motives and feelings of some artist from forever ago and that was pretty influential. Because, despite being of religious content, this painting made me feel like maybe, just maybe, this artist saw Joan of Arc’s legacy and kinda thought, “Well, this chick you’re all so obsessed with? Who got burned at the stake and led an army? She was nuts out of her mind.”

This one just caught my eye. Why? I don’t know.  For some reason it feels really In-Your-Face for an older painting. I like how she’s staring at me and that outside the window, everything looks like the future.

This guy?  Total ‘mo.

Let the Dom DeLuise jokes rain down upon us like a frog plague!

A lot of the reasons I like some religious art have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the colors they use.  Like, look:

Amazing. No?  Well then, how about:

This is the portrait of some guy who was of significance, religious-wise, but all I can see is how fantastic those stripes look against that beautiful blue background. If I had a nice apartment, I would want nothing more than for this picture to hang in a spot where I pass every day.  Like maybe above that half-circle table against the wall where people with nice apartments put their mail and their keys and stuff? I want to put my mail beneath this painting, everyday. It’s that beautiful.

You’ll notice I’ve said nothing about The American Woman exhibit or Picasso.

Well,  the American Woman exhibit was disappointing to say the least. It started out strong and compelling and just fizzled the fuck out. It was like somebody was like “Hey! Let’s do this idea!” and everyone else was like “Yeah!” and executed the first part of the initial idea and then just assumed it would work itself out and it didn’t.  It fell flat and at the end everyone was just standing uncomfortably in this one room with projected photos of American fashion magazines on the walls, while Lenny Kravitz’s cover of “American Woman” played over and over (seriously, that’s what happened).  So in a way, it was kinda like walking through an appallingly expensive Saturday Night Live sketch. ZIng! Sorry.

As far as Picasso goes, though, things were a little different.

In this case I actually did want to look at everything, but I couldn’t really because it was so fucking crowded that I wanted to kill everyone within five inches of me, which, most of the time, was at least ten people.  The only room that I even barely could breathe in was The Blue Period room. And that was where I saw this little beauty:

Right off the bat you can see the blues, so that’s good. Makes ya feel smart.  It’s called Blind Man’s Meal. It’s basically a guy whose sightless eyes stare, well, blindly, as he sort of moves his hands around where his bread and everything else is. The point of the art (I think), is that being blind = lame.  Amen.

I’ll stop after this next one, I swear to God.

For those of you who don’t know, I have a bit of a “thing” about images of Salome, with the severed head of John the Baptist. I don’t even know the whole story about why his head got severed and how she ended up with it but it must be something because Rita Hayworth played Salome in a movie called Salome and Rita Hayworth is, as they say, nothing to sneeze at.

I think my interest dates back to the mid-90s. The place? Paris, France.  Really!

When I was in Paris, we went to Notre Dame and it was boring as fuck. Sorry, but it was. Granted I was a retarded teenager at the time, but I doubt I’d be any more engaged if I went there tomorrow afternoon. It’s just not for me. Like I get it, but I don’t personally care. There we were, going along allllllll of the stained-glass windows and listening to the guy tell us all what Biblical story each one depicted.  Boring, right?

Wrong!

Because in one, someone is depicted holding John the Baptist’s severed head up to a well so he can drink water!!!! Like, what. guys? Huh? Okay, I know it doesn’t sound that funny all typed out like that.  Maybe you had to be there? Just trust me on this: in the most famous cathedral, in stained glass from a billion years ago someone created the most delightful bit of visual comedy that a pre-Depardieuian Europe has ever known.

Holy shit, I laughed for so long. Alone, I might add, as I was traveling with a rather unironic group.   And that’s why I love John the Baptist’s severed head and Salome’s ever-smug expression. Every one of these people in these paintings, dead fucking serious about God and strife and Christendom yet someone in the scene has this guy’s severed head on a platter, and everyone’s just standing around like life is normal.  So, yeah, now I have a fondness for the imagery of this particular Biblical story and have collected various depictions by different artists and never let it be said that European travel doesn’t broaden the mind of even the dullest American.

I finished up the Met, like I always do, with a looooong sit down at the Temple of Dendur.

Nice, no?  According to a lovely mirrored plaque at the entrance, JFK, America’s Favorite lad, was integral in getting this little beauty from Egypt to the U.S. (read: millions in taxpayer dollars). I’m glad he did it though. Like, what with whole Bay of Pigs, biz, we’re lucky he even bothered.

And I’m glad YOU even bothered. Reading this whole thing. Which I bet you didn’t.

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About the author

Ashley Friedman - Cornerstore Correspondent

Like most kids, Ashley grew up in New Jersey. Unlike most kids the Friedman's televison set acted as a third parent, imbuing young Ashley with the stern moral values of Claire Huxtable, the dramatic tendencies of Brenda Walsh and the earnest hopefulness of the blond kid on Silver Spoons. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence Ashley made her way to the Park Slope area of Brooklyn where she can currently be found reading foreign fashion magazines, scouring ebay for vintage heels, eating out in restaurants and otherwise stretching her meager income as far as it will go in NYC.
  • http://monsvelvetsea.blogspot.com monica

    Im am art educator and I feel the same way about art and museums. Just go in and enjoy, dont talk to anyone about it or ask for an opinion because it will probably suck and/or skew with yours. You dont have to like everything, I tell that to my students all the time.
    Oh and Temple of Dendur is great place to end you visit, good move!

  • LJ

    “Once upon a time I was Into Art. I went to Sarah Lawrence where every fucking body wanted to talk about art all day and far into the night. I even enrolled in a graduate program about museum studies and Art History and thought I wanted to be a curator. Then, with startling rapidity art went from being this thing that was interesting and engaging and that I liked to being this tremendous aggregator of stress, anxiety and disappointment.”

    Amen.