Museum Challenge: Arms & Armor of the Islamic World at the Met

On the same day that I saw the Year of the Rooster exhibit at the Met, I also decided to take a look at the Arms & Armor of the Islamic World exhibit. Most of my undergrad studies focused on Middle Eastern history so it’s an area I’m generally interested in. Plus, I grew up reading sword and sorcery fantasy novels like the Dragonlance series of books, the Lord of the Rings, and Song of Ice and Fire, among others. The Wheel of Time series is also pretty good. Anyway, seeing arms and armor in person isn’t as dramatic as those stories, or watching Game of Thrones, but it’s pretty cool anyway. The Arms & Armor hall in the Met is one of my favorite exhibits. I was hoping the Arms & Armor of the Islamic World exhibit would be just as impressive.

Books on my "fantasy-epic" read shelf on Goodreads

Books on my “fantasy-epic” read shelf on Goodreads

It really wasn’t though.

Metropolitan Museum of Art - Hercules Segers, Arms & Armor
The exhibit consisted of a few items packed into one small room, along with a sign saying, “Oh by the way, there’s some other stuff scattered around the rest of the museum that generally falls into this category but we couldn’t be assed to actually put it all together into a coherent display for you, but wanted to get more people into the museum and get more money so we pretended to set up a full exhibit and put it on our website and brochures.” Or something along those lines.

Disappointment in the size and scattered nature of the special exhibit aside, I took great pleasure in examining what was actually there and in looking at the regular items on display.

Next time I head to the Met, I think I’ll go take another look at the Islamic Lands wing. I haven’t been there since shortly after I opened, in 2012 I think it was.

An Excellent Day at The New American Wing of the Met and JKO Reservoir

Last Saturday wound up being one of those days that just turned out right.  We got a late start because we both slept in, but once we got out the door we were rolling.  We started our day off with a visit to Udon West, a great Japanese noodle shop on St. Mark’s Place (8th St) by Astor Place.  If you haven’t been there, it’s worth the trip.  Seriously.

Gallery 700 - The Charles Engelhard Court - New American Wing

Gallery 700 – The Charles Engelhard Court – The New American Wing

Just before leaving the house, I’d decided on a whim that we should drop by the Met.  We hadn’t been in months and we’d kept talking about going back to see more of the galleries.  I kept it a secret from my wife.  I just told her we were going out to have a little fun.  She didn’t realize where we were going until we turned the corner at 86th street and the museum was in front of us.

Portraits from The American Wing

Portraits from The American Wing

She was a little hesitant to go in because she wanted to enjoy the sun, but once we were through the door she said she wanted to see “The New American Wing” of the museum.  At first I was thinking, “meh…”, because really, how many Americans do you know that want to spend a few hours looking at American art?  I tend to get excited about seeing art from other parts of the world, but for her, America is another part of the world and I was a little curious, so off we went.

George Washington crossing the Delaware River

George Washington crossing the Delaware River.

Panorama of a panorama painting of Versaille Palace

I took a panorama of this panorama so you can pan around the panorama. Seriously, it’s a panorama painting of Versaille. The room it’s in is pretty big.

We detoured a bit through some European galleries because the American galleries are in the back right corner, but once we got there, I was pleasantly surprised.  Some of the paintings looked oddly disproportionate considering the relative skill of European painters at the time, but a couple of the paintings and sculptures really caught my attention.

Man sketching a sculpture

Man sketching a sculpture.

Woman contemplating a cross

Woman contemplating a cross. My wife said the cross could just as easily be a cell phone. Once she said that, I couldn’t un-see it.

The Ameya, by Robert Blum (1893)

The Ameya, by Robert Blum (1893)

A Tiffany Studios work desk from the early 1900s

A Tiffany Studios work desk from the early 1900s

Not sure, but incredibly disturbing

Not sure, but incredibly disturbing.

Roof structure transplanted into the museum

This entire roof structure was transplanted from its original location to the museum. Many rooms or portions of houses and buildings have been relocated to the museum.

We wore ourselves out walking around in the museum but before heading back downtown I wanted to take my wife up to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park, just north of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The view was great and we resolved to make trips there to jog in the near future.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park

When we got back to the East Village, we capped our night off with dinner at Thai Terminal, which also has great food.

We meant to spend the day shopping and doing chores, but I’m glad we decided to kick that all to the curb and just have a good time for a change.

Full photo set from our trip to The New American Wing

More photos of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Trip 1

Man Sketching

Man sketching a statue in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, New York City, New York.

Over-the-shoulder of man sketching.

An over-the-shoulder picture of a man, his sketch, and his inspiration.

Last Saturday, my wife and I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had been putting it off because we’d been busy with going out to different places every day and we were wearing ourselves out and sleeping in.  It’s Winter holiday from school, and she’s not working yet, so we’re trying to do a lot and take it easy at the same time.  I’m not sure how well that’s going to work out for us.

Anyway, Saturday seemed like a great opportunity to both catch up on sleep and still spend a good chunk of time at the museum, since it is open until 9 PM on both Friday and Saturday.  We got there around 2 PM, after having a good brunch with my mom over at IHOP.  The place was packed, as usual, but not as busy as the last time I was there.  From what I’m seeing over the last few days of touring my wife around, the city’s tourist spots are a lot emptier during the winter.  For people who don’t like competing with crowds, that might be something to keep in mind.  It generally doesn’t snow here until after Christmas.  It’s just cold.  If I didn’t live here, I could deal with the cold to avoid the crowds that are usually packing every place of interest in the city.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Map Floor 1

The areas we were able to visit (highlighted by red boxes) in 5 hours. The Met is massive! Click here for an interactive map on the Met’s home page.

Anyhow, the Met is just as awesome as I remember it!  We didn’t get the chance to see everything in the museum, because it’s just too huge a building and their collection is just too massive.  Not that that’s a bad thing!  I’m looking forward to going back again.  Where that can become problematic, though, is with the entry fee.  The entry fee last Spring, when I went to the museum for some class projects was 20 dollars for an adult and 10 dollars for a student.  Now it’s 25 dollars for an adult.  Shocking, right?  The good thing about the pricing is that they’re “recommended,” meaning the prices can’t be enforced.  If you can swallow your pride you can give them 10 bucks per person and walk in.  You could give them a quarter per person and still get the clip-on Met pin that guarantees your safe passage past the guards.  I gave 20 for myself and my wife, total.  I think it was fair, seeing as how we got there halfway through the day and would be making repeat trips throughout the year.

I have a feeling that high pricing is targeted at tourists who usually only go to the museum once on one day and then never see it again.  I certainly don’t think it’s meant for people like the gentleman in the photos above, who come into the museum to practice sketching.  I saw a lot of people doing that, young and old, and I think it’s awesome, because they’re in there, developing their talent in a productive way, instead of running the streets getting into trouble, or causing it.

Lucius Verus

Marble portrait bust of the co-emperor Lucius Verus, Roman, Antonine Period,
A.D. 161 – 169, on loan from the Louvre.

Like I said, we didn’t get to see everything.  The Met is really a two or three day affair and even then you could go back again and notice plenty that you missed.  We saw some of the Roman stuff, the Greek gallery, Oceanic gallery, Native American (South/Central/North) gallery, African gallery, and Egyptian gallery.  I’d spent quite a bit of time in the Greek gallery already and Egyptian art is covered in so many movies, documentaries and TV specials that I just couldn’t get into it, except for the Temple of Dendur.  That was really neat.  The part I liked best about it was the 19th century graffiti on its walls though:

Temple of Dendur 1

Temple of Dendur 2

Temple of Dendur 3

Temple of Dendur 4

Temple of Dendur 5

Temple of Dendur 6

The galleries I enjoyed most were the ones that seemed to be the least populated by visitors, the African and Native American galleries. I imagine its because I’ve been exposed those types of art the least, but there’s something powerful about the imagery as well.

African Art

African Art

African Art

African Art

African Art

African Art

Native American Art

Native American Art

Native American Art

Native American Art

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to go back and see the rest of the Met, probably later this week, if we can squeeze it in.  I’m particularly interested in seeing the Medieval Art gallery and the Islamic Art gallery, which just opened recently.  Before leaving we quickly passed through the Met gift store and they’ve added Islamic art items to their selection.  It seems nice.

Click here for more photos (Google+ public photo gallery).

“The Three-Headed Male Figure”—African Art (Kuyu)

You may remember last week I posted about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s bizarre laptop policy.  This post is about the reason I was there.  I had to write an essay for my 100 level Art History class on either a Greek, Indian, Egyptian or Sub-Saharan African sculpture from the museum.  You’ll notice in the instructions below that it says we could write about paintings or architecture, but the professor told us to stick with sculptures in class.  It’s not a traditional essay, since there’s no real opening or closing paragraph, but these are the instructions we were given:

The paper (1 – 2 pages) should consist of four paragraphs.  It should be as follows:

Paragraph 1:  Identify the work briefly but adequately.  Start by stating that “the paper will be discussing the formal aspects and the museum presentation of the following piece”, then give the title of the work, name of artist if known –if unknown write anonymous—medium, country of origin and date.  Mention where it is located in the museum.

Paragraph 2:  Describe the work by writing a complete formal analysis.  In looking at the form you will consider the various aspects of form that are discussed in class, such as:  materials, size, texture, kind of shapes and lines, colors, light…etc.  A person who is not familiar with the pieces should get a clear idea of how they look through your description.

Paragraph 3:  Consider how the piece is exhibited (displayed).  That would include, the approximate size of the gallery (room), kind of light used in the gallery, the case where the piece is exhibited; if a painting, the way it is hung.  Mention the other objects in the room and their effect on your chosen piece.   In case you are working on an architectural piece such as a room, it will be within a larger gallery, consider its relation with its surroundings and what is displayed within it.  Do you think the display effects [sic] the piece and the visitor’s experience negatively or positively?  Explain.  If you were the curator, would you change the exhibit (display)? Yes, no, why?

Paragraph 4:  Suppose you’d like to do research on the piece.  What questions would you like to answer?  Write down any question for which an answer can’t be found by just looking at the piece.

So, those are the guidelines I was given to write this paper, and this is what I came up with:

 

Three-Headed Male Figure: Formal Aspects and Museum Presentation

The paper will be discussing the formal aspects and the museum presentation of the following piece: “Three-Headed Male Figure”. The work is a 19th century wood and pigment statue by an anonymous artist from the Kuyu peoples in the Congo Basin area of what is now the Republic of the Congo. The work is located on the ground floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, New York, in room 352 of the “Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas” section.

The “Three-Headed Male Figure” is a free-standing, carved wood statue of a partially nude male figure. The statue is cylindrical and appears to be carved from one solid piece of wood. The figure is standing upright, in an erect, rigid posture. The statue’s feet are large and rounded, extending backward from the rear of the leg as far as they do forward. The legs are cylindrical and smooth and are disproportionately short compared to the rest of the body. The lower portions of the legs are covered by sets of raised carved wood lines that resemble simple torques. The arms are narrow and are carved flat against the torso, which is highly cylindrical and lacking in natural definition. The front and back of the torso are covered with an assortment of geometric patterns, as are the upper portions of the legs. A toggle shaped pattern covering the upper legs circles the whole form, but leaves the genitalia exposed in the front. The geometric patterns across the abdomen are mostly rounded, with shapes that include circles, curved lines similar to hills, and beaded areas which are also clustered in circles. The rear of the torso is covered in one pattern of lines with points that extend downward on each side of the spine. The patterns are carved from the same wood as the rest of the statue and are raised from the surface, in relief. They are carved deep enough to provide areas of shadow in the pattern, depending on how it is positioned in relation to a light source. The head of the statue is oblong and taller than natural. The cheeks and foreheads are covered with carved decorations. The features of the faces are carved deeply, with hard, strong lines. The faces are arranged so that one is pointed forward and the other two are angled backwards just behind each shoulder, with no gap between each face. Large portions of the statue were originally covered in white and red pigments. Some of those pigments still remain on the tops of the geometric designs on the upper legs and torso, as well as on portions of the faces.

The statue is positioned in a medium sized gallery room, which is filled with other African art pieces. The pieces are all contained in glass display cases which, in most cases, allow for viewing from all four sides. There are no external windows in the gallery and all of the lighting is artificial. Compared to the Greek and Roman gallery, the lighting is dim, with most of the light being focused on the individual pieces. The lower lighting in the room and the focus of the light sources on the pieces invites the viewer to more seriously consider the artwork on display. The positioning of the lighting also allows for the geometric patterns on the pieces to have areas of shadow, which adds to the viewing experience and gives the pieces more depth, emphasizing the three dimensional aspect of the sculptures. The “Three-Headed Male Figure” is positioned in the center of the rear portion of the room, in its own glass case, with multiple light sources illuminating the statue’s three faces. In addition to focusing the viewer’s attention on the pieces, the artificial lighting in the room protects the wood of the art pieces from sun damage and reduces the damage that could be done to the remaining pigments. The gallery the “Three-Headed Male Figure” is positioned in gives it context. The room is quiet, and the spotlight-style lighting greatly adds to the enjoyment of the viewing experience. The smaller pieces, which are grouped together in large display cases, are well positioned, but to improve the overall experience of viewing the sculptures and other large items in the room, benches could be added, so viewers could sit and reflect.

To better appreciate the “Three-Headed Male Figure”, it would be helpful to have a more thorough understanding of the piece’s background and use. African art is functional, so without understanding what it was used for, you can’t truly understand the significance of the art. To further that understanding, research into the traditions and culture of the Kuyu peoples, and other native peoples in the area, could lend insight into what the sculpture was used for. It would also be interesting to know who in the society made the piece: a professional, a priest, a family member, or the person (or persons) for whom the piece was intended to be used. Besides knowing how it was made and what it was used for, it would also be helpful to know how it was originally displayed in the community and whether or not the people that used it interacted with it, or if it was only viewed. Lastly, it would be worthwhile to find out if similar statues are still used by the native peoples of the region, or if the practice has died out completely.

 

The paper wound up being 2.5 pages, double spaced and in a 12 point font, which was also required.  The paper hasn’t been graded yet, but when it has, I’ll add that to the new “Essays (Graded)” page I added to this blog, which can be accessed from the tab bar under the header.

And now, the moment you’ve possibly been waiting for.  What does this “Three-Headed Male Figure” actually look like?  (Click on the images to see larger versions).

There’s a lot of fascinating stuff to look at in the Met, and I’m very much looking forward to my next trip there, where I can simply look and enjoy, without having to consider how to write a paper about the sculptures, though I think I will be able to appreciate them more, now that I have a better understanding of how these items are made and what they were used for.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Bizarre Laptop Policy

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Sunday afternoon I went to the Met as part of an assignment from my Art History class.  I was supposed to go there, find a sculpture, either Greek, African, Indian, or Egyptian, and then write a 3 page paper detailing its form and presentation.  I had this wonderful plan in my head.  I would show up, find a sculpture, pull out my laptop, and write the paper on the spot, while looking at the piece.  I thought that would best enable me to write a good paper on the form, while looking at the form of the sculpture, there in person.  After writing the paper, or at least the first draft, I would pack my laptop back into my bag and look at the exhibits until it was time for the museum to close.  Unfortunately, things didn’t work out quite the way I’d hoped.

When I arrived at the Met, the place was packed, but that’s to be expected.  As soon as I went through the front doors, there was a security check point, also not unexpected.  When I opened my backpack for inspection and the guard started yelling “Laptop!  Laptop!  Laptop!” I was taken aback.  I half expected to be bum rushed by guards and moved to a secure inspection area.  I was shuffled off to the side, but under my own power.  I had to go to the security desk to get a yellow security exception form.  For a laptop.  I also had to open the laptop and turn it on, probably to prove that it’s a working laptop and not a shell packed with explosives.  I was fine with all this.  The Met houses an incredible amount of art of priceless value.  What bothered me, though, were the instructions I received afterward.

I was told that I had to carry my backpack in my hand.  Putting my backpack on my back was not permitted.  I can understand having my laptop checked to make sure it’s really a laptop.  I can tolerate having to carry an exception form and I can deal with having to present it on request to any security guard that asks to see it.  However, what possible purpose can it serve to require me to hold the backpack in my hand, as opposed to having it on my back?  Whether it’s in my hand or on my back, it’s still the same backpack.  Call me weak, but carrying a backpack in one hand that’s loaded down with books, notebooks, and a laptop gets heavy after a while, and switching it back and forth is a poor solution to just carrying it on my back.  It also keeps one of my hands full, which meant that I couldn’t properly hold my camera to take photos of anything.

Luckily, before I lost patience and just left, I found myself in the African art section looking at a wooden sculpture with three faces that I knew would be the perfect piece to write my paper on, which I’ll post later this week or next.  There were no benches to sit on, and after my treatment at the security desk I was worried that if I pulled out my laptop and actually turned it on and started using it, a flock of security guards would descend on me and demand I leave the museum, so I put my backpack down, took a dozen photos of the sculpture and then left the museum.

I wonder why they even bother to offer free wifi in the museum when they so obviously want to discourage anyone from bringing laptops?  I saw the available open network message pop up in my phone’s notification area when I was checking an email.  I can’t help but wonder if this nonsense of requiring people to carry bags that way was implemented to drive off students who were taking up space in the museum, writing papers, to make way for more tourists?

10 dollars (the recommended student donation for entry) pissed away for 45 minutes in the museum. Next time they’ll be lucky if I give them a dollar and a smile. Ya, I’ll be going back. How could you not? There’s a lot to see in there and the last time I went I was a little kid. I won’t be bringing my laptop with me though. That’s for sure.