Saturday, February 12, 2011

Metropolitan Museum as a Job

Metropolitan Museum.
Photo Melissa Ruttanai
People go to museums to meander, to walk halls and view exhibits at their leisure.  And visitors can enjoy the slow pace that most museums emit.  At the Metropolitan Museum, I spent two days researching a podcast travel guide app for Visual Tourist Travel Tours.

After twenty minutes, I knew that I couldn't just wander like I usually did--from sculpture to sculpture and room to room.  With 5000 years and 2.5 million objects housed in the museum, I was supposed to represent it all in 75 pictures and a slim 3500 words.  How?  How, in all fairness?

Metropolitan Museum.  Indian Dancer.
Photo Melissa Ruttanai

The Met has two floors and a labyrinth of corridors, wings, and interlocking chambers.  The American Wing abuts European Sculptures.  Ancient Greek and Roman Art swings right into Africa Oceania.  Ancient Egypt splits at the Tomb of Perneb and crisscrosses at Horemhab.  And while it all makes sense to the visitor's eye, for me it was a calamity.

Director Phillipe de Montebello said that he had immense difficulty choosing the highlights of the museum for his 470-page guide to the Met's masterpieces.  He wrote about the arduous process of choosing three Vermeers while omitting 2 others.  He had to think more than twice when looking at 30 Monets, knowing he should only include four.  Then there's Arms & Armor, Musical Instruments, and five millenia of Asian art history.

Metropolitan Museum. Dante's Inferno.
Photo Melissa Ruttanai
I've been to the Met several times.  I thought I knew its exhibits and treasures.  Not so.  This trip was the first that I made it through the majority of the halls, spending the most time lost in 19th Century Paintings.  The rooms flow one into the other with a Van Gogh here, two Rembrandts there, and a smattering of Manets throughout.  I'm sure I passed the same guard three times before I asked him how I could find Renoir's Madame Geroges Charpentier and Her Children.  Without thinking twice, he pointed the way, giving precise directions.

Most people would think I was all set.  But now the task was to follow those directions without getting lost again, without passing the same guard watching me with masked amazement as I walked around in circles.

I pressed on, taking notes and angling my shots.  Compiling the pieces for my tour, I stuck close to Montebello's guide.  Home now, my shins still ache from the countless loops I made past the security guard.  But the biggest challenge awaits.  Now that I am about to finalize the images and manuscript for a guide to the Met, I wish I could include more.  I wish I could tell a more fair and complete story.  I feel but a fraction of what Montebello must have felt.  So, sorry.  I tried my best.

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