I have dreamed of going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The MET) for so long. Like a holy pilgrimage of sorts. Next to the Louvre in Paris, France or The Uffizi In Florence, Italy, the MET is the epicenter of beauty and history-a commingling of ideas,inspirations, and thoughts created as far back as can be catalogued and displayed.
As I approach the stairs of this 22 Million square foot building, I am surprised by the food vendors parked outside along the sidewalk. It feels similar to the hawkers of wares that Jesus took a whip to at the Jewish Temple in the New Testament. I don’t want to take a whip to them, but the bright yellow and neon red signs plastered with advertisements of food and voices of men in varied accents give me pause. They sully the ideal of the Met, like trash on the street outside of a well-maintained and manicured Park Avenue Brownstone. It goes against the grain of sensibilities.
When I walk into the large greeting hall-The Great Hall-I leave behind all the busyness of New York City, of the people around me bustling about-taking care of children, talking in groups, or simply sitting on the long dark wooden benches, that immediately remind me of church pews. I grab a map of the three-storied structure and give the woman behind the desk ten dollars for entry (it says a recommended amount, and knowing I am going to be here for only an hour, I thought it appropriate).
I head for the Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art & Design on the first floor of the West Wing. Knowing I have only a little over an hour in the museum, I have pre-planned what areas I want to hit first, saving the other millions of square footage for another visit.
On my way to the Pre-Raphaelites, I walk through the Medieval Art section, specifically the Byzantine Period displaying intricately carved and ornate gold jewelry and objects d’art. A good art museum is the muse for my fictional novels. I see a large gold woven necklace fashioned in 520 B.C. and picture the woman wearing it while the story line knits itself in my imagination.
Lining the walls of the West Wing outside the special Pre-Raphaelite section are paintings of the Impressionists Period. These twenty or so paintings are like appetizers, giving the viewer a taste of the immense collection found on the second floor of the West Wing-the 19th and early 20th century European Paintings & Sculptures section (which is where I will be headed directly after the Pre-Raphs).
I take each of these paintings in slowly and deliberately. I stand in front of each one and feel with my senses-my eyes in this case-the painting. But viewing a painting is not the same as experiencing a painting. Sensing a painting involves full participation. I quietly breathe in and out, taking in the entire painting with my eyes. I stare at the vigorous strokes of a Manet painting-A boat in the storm. I sense the blue-black darkness of the of indigo and cobalt blue waves knocking the keel about. Sensing the paint strokes of blushing peaches in a still-life of a Paul Cezanne, or a Alfred Sisley countryside scene dotted so well in the pointillism technique (and so similar but uniquely different from a Georges Seret which happens to be pinned to the wall next to Sisley) seems to give me new appreciation for the play of colors on canvas. If I get out of my head (reading about the painting) and get into my body, I can feel the heaviness of the color or mood. I can feel the lightness of the white in Van Gough’s Purple Iris’s. I can feel the creation of the painting.
Now at this point, you may be rolling your eyes and pointing your index finger in the direction of the head. You may think my head is full of fluff. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it’s just my active imagination. But isn’t Art supposed to connect us? To bring us to a place inside ourselves, as well as outside our own perspective? Art invigorates the mind, makes a statement, inspires us or even angers and disturbs us.
And if we sit with it long enough, it seeps into our souls, painting our minds and hearts with feelings and thoughts that connect us to the creator’s experience. My oldest daughter is a schooled painter, meaning she attended college for a fine art degree. She tells me that painting is the experience of creating something without performing. It is a private experience that when finished, you hope becomes a public viewing and experience for others- a post-facto performance.
Words are the canvas on which I perform. I go from room to room and read about people such as Eugene Murer, a patron of Auguste Renoir. The painting by Renoir is of Murer gazing off, past the viewer, in what looks like a contemplative mood. His deep Prussian blue silk neck-tie matches the irises of his eyes. It’s a recognizable painting-one if you saw, you would immediately say to yourself, “Ah! Yes, I’ve seen this numerous times in the art books.” I read about Murer. He too was an artist,a celebrated pastry cook, restaurateur, novelist, poet, and avid collector of Impressionists paintings. The placard alongside this painting also mentions that Van Gough may have used Murer’s gaze and pose for one of his works.
This is more fodder for my imagination, for in this short description, whirlwinds of characters are created for an Impressionist-centric novel. Imagine delving into Murer’s life and how as vivid and interesting his life was as any of the artists painting him?
In the next room, is the original room setting and woodwork of The Wisteria room, created with hand-carved, polished walnut panels fashioned after the Wisteria tree. The Wisteria tree is a symbol of welcome and friendship. The decorative arts of the Art Nouveau period is represented well with wood carved to look like weeping wisteria. Spaces of wall exposed among the carved panels of wood are painted in verdigris green, carmine pink, and teal as wisteria blooms. The room is exquisite and original-complete with furnishings, lights and glass blown vases.
A little background on it: The Wisteria was created in a room at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower in Paris during the early 1900’s as an example of the Art Nouveau style, the Wisteria dining room (66.244.1–.2a–e,.9ab,.10ab) comes from a house in Paris at 10 bis Avenue Élysée-Reclus (at the foot of the Eiffel Tower) designed by the architect Lucien Hesse and built for Auguste Rateau (1863–1930), an engineer who manufactured turbo and internal combustion engines and was a member of the Académie des Sciences as well as an art connoisseur with a particular interest in the Art Nouveau movement (Jared Goss Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art).
In my mind’s eye the idea pops. A scene-Auguste Rateau and his family welcoming a stranger to Paris and to their salon. Or perhaps, an art salon and discussions among artists? Perhaps, the making of a mystery?
My time is almost up. I walk through the large, arched hall of European Sculptures. Life-size and bigger than life-size sculptures-mostly from marble- adorn this immense hall. I really wish I could stroke the curves of the cool marble. Sculptures can be sensed through the eyes, but touching them is much better. I just give them a lustful stare as I turn and walk towards the exit.
My intention was to spend hours and hours here. I have a matinée play to attend on Broadway- Of Mice and Men performed by two of my favorite Actors James Franco and Chris O’Dowd. I promise myself I will come back to NYC and to the MET soon. I have unfinished writer’s business here. But there was enough today, for in this short period of time I was blessedly filled with magic and inspiration.
I walk outside- the bright sunshine highlighting the metal vendor trucks on the sidewalk. Yep, I’m back in the 21st century.
“Taxi!” I step out past the vendors and hail a cab.