What a year 2020 has been! It has been a bewildering time, with such unending waves of news updates and swirls of strong emotions of uncertainty, fear, outrage, hope, anger, loss, gratitude, and determination.
Before the pandemic hit New York City, for the year of 2020, I’d decided to visit the Metropolitan Museum every day. As part of my work on my book about the body and the five senses, I decided that as one experiment, I would make a daily visit: go to the same place, every day, to let that experience unfold over time.
And what better place than the Met for a daily visit! I’m unbelievably fortunate to live within walking distance of the Met.
But because of the coronavirus, on March 12, 2020, I decided to suspend my experiment. Perhaps because I’m an Upholder, it was surprisingly difficult to skip my daily visit, but it just didn’t seem responsible. Then the very next day, the Met shut its doors—appropriately, on Friday the 13th.
But now it’s open again! With temperature checks, timed entries, no water fountains, small areas roped off, and other protections in place.
I was so happy to be back!
It was exciting just to walk up those monumental stairs flanked by fountains, with the giant new banners “DREAM” “TOGETHER” by Yoko Ono.
When a member of our family goes away overnight, our dog Barnaby is so excited to see that person return that he can’t stand still. He races from room to room, jumps over furniture, comes over to wag his tail a few times, then zooms away again. He just can’t stay in one place.
That’s how I felt during my first visit back to the Met. I couldn’t concentrate on any objects; I just walked from room to room to take in the atmosphere. Everything looked both familiar and new, in the most beautiful way.
I didn’t anticipate this consequence of the coronavirus protections, but it means the Met is far emptier. I very much miss being alone in crowds of people, but it’s also nice (if a little eerie) to be able to see all the objects so easily.
It was striking to be in large rooms by myself, and to see the Great Hall entrance with so few people—usually it’s packed.
I visited the new “Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle” exhibit and had no trouble getting close enough to read the plaques and to examine these fairly small artworks. Usually, this room would’ve been jammed with people.
I also visited the “Making the Met, 1870-2020” exhibit. So many staggering masterpieces in this exhibit! Many of them were familiar to me from my previous visits. And I could see them so easily, because of the careful control of the viewers.
Very appropriately, one of the masterpieces highlighted is Anthony van Dyck’s Saint Rosalie Interceding for the Plague-Stricken of Palermo. Yep, it’s pandemic-inspired art, painted by the artist while he was in quarantine.
One of my favorite titles of any created thing ever is the title of a painting by Charles Demuth: I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold.
I love monumental art, and I love El Anatsui’s Dusasa II. I also have a special interest in this work because Dusasa I hangs in my beloved hometown museum, the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City.
One of my favorite things in the museum, partly for its beautiful color (I’m obsessed with color) is Katsushika Hokusai’s Under the Wave off Kanagawa—also known as The Great Wave.
One thing struck me as funny. The exhibit included an easy chair by Caleb Gardner, and there was just something about this chair that made me want to reach out to touch it. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who felt this impulse. Why did this chair feel so unusually tempting?
I could go on and on…as I say, although there were so many treasures crowded together, I could hardly appreciate them, I felt so pumped up full of energy, at the delight of being back, I just raced around to revisit some of my favorite places.
This pandemic is terrible in its consequences—there’s so much tragedy, sorrow, grief, disruption, loss, uncertainty. But it has also reawakened appreciation of so many things.
I’ve always loved the Met, and now it almost breaks my heart to be there.