March 12, 2012

At the Met: Things I Noticed on the Way from Here to There

 Standing Man, Iran, 2nd century AD; gray stone.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has such extensive collections that it's easy to discover something new each time I visit. As I march quickly through galleries on my way to an exhibition, a glance at an object can stop me in my tracks and draw me in for a closer look. I always enter the museum from the lower level, not the main entrance, so when I go up to the second floor, I walk through the galleries of Ancient Near Eastern Art. How is it possible that I keep seeing new things there? On my last visit to the museum, I discovered the charming fellow above, wonderfully simple in form and pattern, and with one of the jolliest expressions I've seen on an ancient sculpture.

 Head of a King, Iran, 4th century AD; gilded silver.

In the same gallery is a later piece, a head with similar stylization of hair and beard, eyes and eyebrows. The rounded headdress is a shapely repeat of the form of head and hair under it. This king is facing the world full of curling wit.

 Hunting Dog, European, 15th-16th century; iron.

This small, fluidly running dog is not a new find, but a favorite of mine that I visit each time I walk through the medieval galleries on my way to the American wing. The elegant curve from muzzle to tail pleases me enormously.

 University City Pottery, Vase, 1913; porcelain.

Coming out of the painting galleries in the new American wing, you pass through a rich collection of American art pottery. The glaze on this piece is amazing, like gathered crystalline shards, sparkling and complex; it is almost like a new life form spreading, branching, flowering.

Dankmar Adler and Louis H. Sullivan,  Exterior Ornament from the James W. Scoville Factory, 1885; terracotta. 

 Louis H. Sullivan for Dankmar Adler, Panel from the frieze of the Rothschild Building, 1880-81; painted cast iron.

I don't know how I've missed seeing these gorgeous decorative panels; they are just under the staircase to the second floor, on the way to the American wing cafe. To me this is a clear illustration of Thoreau's saying that "we find only the world we look for". These beautiful objects, inventively designed with fanciful plant forms, must not have been within my "intellectual ray" until now. They are both from buildings that were demolished in the 1970s; luckily we have these remnants to admire, standing face to face with them in their dramatic grandeur rather than seeing them atop a several storied structure.

Vase, Qing Dynasty, 18th century; porcelain painted in famille noire enamels on the biscuit.

And finally, to celebrate spring, this detail of a beautiful Chinese vase. The cases surrounding the Great Staircase at the Met are full of porcelain treasures; each time I pass them I stop to admire a few, to notice a design, a color I haven't seen before. There isn't a single hallway, room, or corner in this museum that doesn't offer some sort of visual delight if we are just open to it. 

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