If we’re talking art museums in the United States–which we are–it makes sense to begin with the biggest, grandest, overblown-est art museum we have in this country: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I have a love/hate relationship with the Met. During grad school (my school was a 45-minute train ride from the city) we were regularly required to go to the museum for workshops, lectures, exhibitions, and interminable tours with professors. And while it was an incredible learning opportunity, those visits were always looooong and true facts: I get tired of any art museum after an hour-and-a-half. Sacrilege for an art historian to say such a thing, I know, but it’s true. I’ve been to the Met more times than I can count and here are the top five things that I think are important to know when planning a visit to this most venerable of heaps:
1. The admissions price of $20 is suggested, not required. It says this in very tiny print on the info boards, but they count on most visitors not noticing. I usually pay less than $2 when I go. I like to pay a little, but I think all art museums should be free, and $20 is extortion.
2. It makes for an exhausting day to try to see a lot of the galleries–and it would probably be impossible to see them all without a pack mule to carry snacks and a blanket for naps–so pick a few wings or exhibitions first thing and plan to come back in the future. The Egyptian wing with the Temple of Dendur is especially nice, as are the recently renovated Islamic, American and Greek/Roman wings. The less said about the dreary European painting floor (though also recently renovated), the better. Bonus if you head towards the Egyptian wing: there’s a bathroom over there!
3. The food is expensive and not great, but there are a ton of decent, not crazy spendy places right nearby. There’s a Dean & Deluca at 85th and Madison about two blocks away where you can pick up prepared foods and eat in the Park, or there’s a Shake Shack on 86th and I’ve never had to wait long in the line there and have always been able to get a seat, which is not the case for most Shake Shacks (the one behind the Natural History Museum–though convenient–invariably has a 45-minute line. Those hamburgers are good, but not 45-minute wait good).
4. Sitting on the grand staircase out front is almost as interesting as going in the museum because you will see ALL of humanity. School field trips, Japanese tourists, Upper East Side ladies who lunch, harried art historians, the poor unfortunates on the never-ending M4 bus, and everybody else in between.
5. The Met is one of the best representations of NYC: a ton of people of all different backgrounds, a ton of money, and a ton of culture. While I would argue that if you have more than a few days in the city the Met should be on the itinerary, it’s such a behemoth it’s a bit much for a quick visit. If you’re only in NYC for a day or two and want to hit a museum, the Met is not the answer. It’s too big, too much, and one of the smaller, more intimate museums (a number of which I’ll discuss during Museum Month) is potentially a better use of your time. Because even if you’re planning to just run in for a bit and see one thing (which I have tried to do when researching), that never happens. The crowds are too heavy, you get distracted by the new photography exhibit, or god-knows what else. The Met requires time, patience, and snacks hidden in your bag to snarf in the bathroom.
Bonus #6: The Rooftop Bar/Cafe (which is only open sometimes and the weather can easily shut it down) is an AWESOME place to take a break for awhile. Whether with a fancy drink or some tea there’s a lovely view over the park and to the surrounding buildings. You feel on top of the world and at the center of it all at the same time.