The Heart of NYC is Art

A visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to me is the epitome of the perfect regional road trip. The travel to and from New York City is part of the adventure and worthy of its’ own consideration. Over the years I have made the excursion into New York City as a child with my NYC loving mother, as a teen with a YMCA group I co-lead on New Year’s Eve (that is a story for a later time on adventures you cannot tell your parents), a single young adult on business trips, and numerous times with my wife and children; usually with friends or extended family joining us. Living in Western Massachusetts to the Northeast just over three hours from downtown Manhattan there were three choices or a combination of them to get into New York City.

Large Kneeling Statue of Hatshepsut ca. 1479–1458 B.C., an Egyptian artifact exhibited in the collection of The Met.

If my group was small or I was traveling alone, I would often take Amtrak into Pennsylvania Station in Midtown Manhattan, close to Herald Square and the Empire State Building. If there was a group of us going into New York City, it would justify driving in and paying for the high cost of a downtown parking garage. Given the cost of Amtrak tickets, the value of a couple of train tickets would offset the cost of parking. Driving into the city or parking never seemed that big of a deal as long as you choose your day well. Weekdays and holidays are nightmares but weekends seemed more reasonable to get around. It is all relative as it is NYC after all and it is “the city that never sleeps”. So planning is important if you are like me and not a traffic or crowd fan. Fortunately for my excursions, there is also the option of a Peter Pan Bus, a regional bus company from Springfield, Massachusetts that has numerous buses going to and from New York City’s Port Authority terminal. It was always handy to let someone else drive and be able to take in the sites as you approach and enter NYC. Regardless of the transportation options that were at my disposal, it was always a three to three-and-a-half-hour trip into the city. Once in New York City, the task is to get to Manhattan’s Upper East Side as the Metropolitan Museum of Art is on the eastern edge of Central Park along NYC’s Museum Mile. As walking may be a long stretch of the legs for most people there are several options to get over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Statuette of a small hippopotamus popularly called “William” molded in Egyptian faience, a ceramic material made of ground quartz. William is famous as The Met’s unofficial mascot.

Although some of them may still involve a little walking to get to the museum entrance. You can take a New York City subway, taxi or arrange for an Uber or Lyft vehicle to take you right to the museum entrance. I enjoy walking from the subway station through Central Park West over to the east side where the Metropolitan Museum of Art is located. Central Park always surprises me how it is much wider it is than I expect To walk from west to east but it is a nice excursion that rambles through the park’s picturesque scenery, hills, and pathways designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and architect/landscape designer Calvert Vaux in the mid-1800s. If you’re coming into New York City with young children and you need a place to burn off some steam before going into the Metropolitan Museum of Art there are two wonderful Central Park playgrounds; one to the north side of the museum and another one to the south side of the museum. The playground to the north of the museum is called the Ancient Playground although it’s one of the Park’s most recently reconstructed playgrounds. It is suitable for preschool and school-age children and it has public bathrooms that are also wheelchair accessible. The playground to the south side is called the Ruth and Arthur Smadbeck-Heckscher East Playground and is Suitable for toddler and preschool children. All of this of course leading up to the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art, colloquially called “the Met”. The Met is the largest art museum in the United States with close to 7 million visitors each year to its three locations. The Met has three locations with the main building located on the eastern edge of Central Park, The Cloisters in Upper Manhattan Housing an extensive collection of medieval artifacts from Europe and, the Met Breuer museum on Madison Avenue in the Upper East Side that contains the Museum’s modern and contemporary art offerings.

Yagim Mask and Crooked Beak of Heaven Mask in the Art of Native North America gallery.

This article is focusing on the main building of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue at Central Park East. The main building of the Met has extensive collections in numerous categories so I recommend not trying to take it all in one visit as it could be overwhelming with the number art and artifacts to see. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City was named by National Geographic as one of the “Top 10 Museums and Galleries” in the world along with the Le Louvre in Paris the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and The British Museum in London. It is amazing to me that we have this world-class art museum here in the United States with such a pedigree of the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art which makes it truly a jewel for us to enjoy. The Met has extensive collections in the categories of American and Modern art, African, Asian, Oceanian, Byzantine, and Islamic art. There are also collections of antique weapons and armor from around the world. One of the most unique aspects of the Met is its ancient Egypt collection including the Temple of Dendur that was built by the Roman governor of Egypt, Petronius, around 15 BC. It has been exhibited at the Met since 1978 inside the massive Sackler Wing complete with reflecting pool in front of the temple and a sloping wall of glass on north wall with diffused light to mimic the lighting in the ancient region of Nubia. Who knew you could take a trip to see an ancient Egypt temple here in the United States?

Interior hall of the Temple of Dendur an Ancient Egyptian temple that was built around 15 BC.

Another area of the Met that I think is very unique is a series of room interiors that are depicting different periods of history from locations throughout the world. These rooms are located throughout the museum and relate to the art in the galleries they are located in. The rooms are decorated with furniture, art, and artifacts from the region and period the rooms depict. My favorite happens to be an actual room from a historic home that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It is the paneled living room from Francis W. Little house that once stood in Wayzata, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. There is so much to see at the Met that it’s hard to describe in this article the expanse of their collection and the various art objects and artifacts that would be interesting to just about any visitor young or old. My favorite time to visit the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art is during the holidays as it is a very special time in the city with everything is decorated for the holidays and a wonderful feeling of anticipation to celebrate. The Met also celebrates with its longstanding holiday tradition of the presentation of its’ Christmas tree and 18th-century Neapolitan creche also known as the “Angel Tree”. The twenty-foot blue spruce is gracefully adorned with cherubs and angels, while at the base an elaborate collection of Nativity scenes that were traditional to 18th-century Naples: adoring shepherds and their flocks, the procession of the three Magi, and spirited peasants and townspeople.

A view of the village around The Met’s Angel Tree. A long-standing holiday tradition of presenting its’ Christmas tree and 18th-century Neapolitan crèche.

I first experienced the Angel Tree when I was single on a business trip to New York City. I became bored at the conference I was attending and decided to explore the city on my own. I ended up at the Met, my very first time visiting the museum. While I was walking through the museum exploring the exhibits and galleries I happened upon the Medieval Sculpture Hall. The sounds of Gregorian chants softly echoed off the hall’s stonework and subdued lighting selectively lit the hall as darkness had already fallen on the windows since it was early evening in December. What loomed before me, was an enormous Blue Spruce tree adorned with angels and a detailed Neapolitan creche surrounding the circumference at the base of the tree. Just behind the tree as a genital backdrop to the spectacle before it was the Museum’s famed choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid. There are a few moments in my life that I’ve had scenes that have taken my breath away and have stayed with me as a special connection between me and my creator. Certainly, that moment of seeing the Angel Tree for the first time with the music and lighting that spoke to my sense of theatrical esthetics is one that I have cherished all these years and enjoy sharing with my family and you. I hope that a visit to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art will have an equally special moment for you as you explore all that the Met has to offer. The Met’s website is very helpful in planning your visit to the museum and its amenities such as coat-check, restaurants, audio guides, and their world-class museum shop.

Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York City, NY 10028

N 40º 46′ 45.997″ W 73º 57′ 48.11″

 

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