Museum Note:
Distress
20 March 2019

I’ve just got back from my first visit to the Museum in about a year, and I’m almost wishing I hadn’t gone at all. On balance, the outing was a success: I was on my feet, either walking or shuffling in front of paintings, for nearly an hour. And then I came home. All well and good. But the Museum had suffered two changes that were more than a little shocking, making me wonder if I haven’t outlived the world I know. The first, and less serious, alteration was the elimination of the nice restaurant in the Petrie Court. Now, it’s just a “self-service cafeteria.” The Petrie Court was almost a destination luncheon spot, with its agreeable urban hum and a view, through that wall of windows, of the Park at its most forested. Now the space has the dismal air of a proletarian downgrade.

Much worse was the state of the Old Master galleries (as I call them) on the second floor. The Dutch paintings, it seems, have been remounted in a special show, somewhere else in the building, but that can’t account for the terrifying shrinkage of the collection, which now occupies about a third of the galleries. The unused galleries have been boarded up; perhaps they’re being renovated, but it’s hard to see what could have improved them. Those pictures that remain have been crowded together in what used to be the special exhibition suite at the south end of the space. The overall effect is one of unsettling improvisation, with a dash of disregard for the art of the ancien rĂ©gime. Although still centrally placed in the Museum’s layout, the Old Masters are not, at least for the moment, the beating heart of the collection, the vital demonstration of why the past must be saved and care for.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is, at the moment, more of a barn than ever.

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