After an hour and a half bus ride to New York City, and another half hour in traffic with twenty cars driving block to block, I was finally able to exit the bus. Vendors lined the beginning of an overcrowded plaza where tourists snapped pictures in front of a slight gray gothic style building known as The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I had been to New York City before, but never Manhattan. Having a whole day to spend in that area of New York, I chose to educate myself at The Met and experience what they had to offer before seeing other parts of the city.
Having grown up in an Italian household, I learned to appreciate European architecture at a young age. Admittedly, the intricate and crisp design of the plaza leading to The Met drew me up several flights of stairs to their front entrance, and into the lobby.
At the museum people offer donations, within reason, instead of a set entry fee and roam the exhibits from Greek and Roman art to modern and contemporary art. Although I am not big on different types of art, I do enjoy hearing the stories associated with each piece and the history of that time period; so I stood facing a three level museum filled with real and replicas of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and musical instruments.
The Met is easy to navigate and set up in a way that visitors could walk through every exhibit. The first floor consisted of mainly sculptures and ceramics from different eras. There were jugs from the Archaic period, 800 BC-480 BC, used to carry water or wine depending on what was needed. Most artifacts from this era were made from terracotta with bold color schemes painted on like black backgrounds and gold gods fighting serpents.
Many of the Greek and Roman statues congregated between the columns in a large white hall, glistening from the sun’s rays peeking through a glass ceiling. Some warriors were anticipating battles with their swords drawn, prepared to strike; others bared wounded bodies and lifeless limbs with their rippling pleated uniforms partially draped over their shoulder signaling a honorable defeat.
I couldn’t resist touching the broken marble from some of the real statues in this museum. This is how the sculptors passed on their message to people today. Leading up to my third year in college I have seen and felt broken marble in my life before, but these statues were different. They had a story that history could only tell and time revealed.
The Egyptian exhibit really caught my attention as I strolled out of the American wing and into a large room containing The Temple of Dendur. The temple resembled the size of a small mobile home from the outside, but there was just enough room to fit a group of five people on the inside. Real hieroglyphics told stories about the offerings and prayers that went on when the pharaoh was present in the temple.
At some point in time, a pharaoh stood in that same temple and touched those walls and now I stood there, tracing over the carvings and inscribed stories on the walls with my finger. By every exhibit, there is a small information card telling the story behind each artifact. If the piece was a replica the card stated so at the top. I found it interesting that some of the real statues or artifacts weren’t enclosed in glass and people could touch them just as the other hands throughout history had.
On the left side of the temple laid a replica of the famous guardian sphinx. The room transformed into an Egyptian oasis, the only thing missing was sand below my straw sandals in the searing heat. A small stream of water built into the illusion created a home for the crocodiles searching Egypt for their prey. I saw copper specks illuminating the bottom of the river, so I pulled out a penny and wished I could witness these creations come to life between 1000 BC and 1 AD before tossing it in.
It was a great feeling, knowing the hundreds of people in this vast building all shared some kind of interest in either art, and/or history; the museum created an environment for everyone to feel welcome and find something that spoke to each person there. I could tell how strongly some people felt by the conversations they had within their groups.
“They have Roman art, Medieval art, African art, and armor exhibits.” One man tried encouraging a diverse group of teenage boys they would leave this place loving something about it as they sat on a bench in the American wing of the museum.
“Well I want to see the armor stuff,” One kid said to his group members.
The instructor shot up and said, “Well let’s go then. We can always look at some other exhibits on the way over. Never know what’ll catch your eye.”
Some parents restored my faith in humanity by enriching their children’s lives with knowledge. Although it wasn’t an exhibit, one of my favorite parts about The Met was how involved and excited the children were.
“What’s this place for?” One child asked his mother standing in the Tomb of Raemkai.
“The pharaohs were placed in these buildings called tombs when they died, like a grave. The workers built pathways through these tombs like a maze so bad people wouldn’t find the pharaoh and bother them when they rest. It’s like a castle for when they died.”
I glanced at the parents with an appreciative look, and then smiled at the little boy before moving on. Inside the tomb were real walls and hieroglyphics from when the tomb was built. There weren’t any translations, but the museum did include subject matter of the hieroglyphics.
I did not expect such an interactive museum, but going through the exhibits, I really felt as though I was a part of history. I watched the works of many artists and sculptors come alive in front of me. I felt the dedication and hard work these people put in with limited tools and resources to create timeless works of art. I spent two hours in the museum that day, but I could spend a lifetime understanding history through art.