Two Museums in Manhattan

All Cheapo Snobs must come to learn that “free” is not necessarily something that we enjoy. The Snob side of us should have remembered going to the Louvre once many years ago on its free day, the first Sunday of the month, along with a few thousand others and all of the problems that ensued. But our memory proved faulty one summer day when we decided to visit Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (on 53rd between 5th and 6th) during its free admission period on Friday between 4:00 and 8:00 p.m. Like us, a myriad of visitors thought it would be a great idea to arrive there right before the free hours began, hence, a line that (no kidding!) wrapped half-way around the immense city block. If free is what you’re after, at least show up at 5:00 or later. Anyway, the sight of all of those people goaded us to spend at least a half-hour tasting a beer at a local Irish pub before having the strength to join the long entry line. Once inside, though, the situation was not much improved. Highlights of the permanent collection—Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World, and especially Van Gogh’s La Nuit étoilée—were swarming with people making it difficult to approach, never mind actually appreciate, the works of art. On a side note, The Modern, MOMA’s full-service restaurant on the ground floor, is an award-winner with a tempting menu, though the time we were there was a bit early for dinner even for us.

A better Cheapo Snob idea is the following: entrance fees to museums in the city are seemingly “suggested donations.” Upon arrival at The Metropolitan Museum at 1000 5th Avenue, we were asked if the $40 charge for both of us was acceptable; our proposed $30 payment was received without anyone batting an eyelash. Then Cheapos can take pleasure in the museum's free offerings, such as our chosen “encyclopedic tour” of the collection. Even though the walking was substantial, it was great to get an introduction to what “the Met” has to offer by one of the summer interns, a young man named Jason. First off was a pre-Columbian funerary mask from Peru. Apparently, from the slanted shape of the eyes, art historians can tell that this beautiful gold object dates from the Sican culture of the 9th to the 11th century. It is thought that the dangles on it represent the movement of the body in life and that the mask once had feathers decorating it.

Next on the agenda was an ivory pendant mask from the kingdom of Benin in the 15th or 16th century. This realistic figure is believed to have been of the artist’s mother and to have been used in purification rites. Decorated on the outer edges with mudfish, a symbol of divinity, the object has noble scarification marks of the Edo culture and was once worn on the neck as an amulet.

The third item on the tour was a 1500-year-old Greek marble statue of a Kouros (youth) dating from 5 to 6 centuries BCE. The abstract face, stiff arms and legs, and the irregular proportions mark the work as the creation of an early artist. Its importance lies in the fact that it is the first known naturalistic conception of the body in Western culture. It is also amazing that this vibrant statue was created without the need for a support pillar.

Then there was a 900-year-old realistic "mummy portrait" (never knew there was such a thing!) on limewood which, well-preserved by the sand in Egypt, had no need of restoration. It depicts a 12- or 13-year-old boy, possibly an Egyptian in Roman clothing. Finally, in the South Asian galleries we saw an early example of Shiva, lord of the dance, (no, not Michael Flatley!) of the southern Indian Chola dynasty. This creator, preserver, and destroyer god, seen as the center of the universe, wears the headdress of divinity as it tramples the lies of “the dwarf of illusion.”

So there you have our latest suggestions for visiting museums in New York City. Enjoy!


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