Stella, Steve and I went to the Met last week to see the new antiquities wing and whatever else we could see in the big museum. Cate joined us. The Greek and Roman galleries, redone with skylights in vaulted ceilings are glorious spaces to be in–the kind of space that elevates you and makes you feel grand, elegant and like you’re worthy of a dignified stroll among the ruins.
Here’s where cellphones, youTube, email falls away before something more tangible — something really important, civilized and beautiful.
We didn’t spend too much time with the Greeks but we dallied for a long while with the Romans who tweaked a good thing and if not made it better then made it their own, with decor being the major fashion of that day. Hair decor on the statues is magnificent. Such heads of hair never existed as appear on those statues. In fact it’s not hair really it’s body decor, grand, stately and bigger than life.
The Romans loved glass and were amazing at it. Some of the vessels looked so contemporary that Stella kept saying I want this, I want that, like she was shopping. There was one piece, a bowl with a fluted edge, that reminded me that as good as he is, Dale Chihuly did not invent those glass forms he is decorating the world with. (see post).
The Romans never made it to Ireland or Scotland but it’s amazing how far their empire reached. The map shows how they encircled the Meditteranean Sea by conquering everything around it.
One of the wall cards said that many of the carved heads belonged to full body statues that didn’t survive. Give the scale of the heads the statues must have towered high over the citizenry.
Another wonder in the Roman rooms is the wall paintings recovered from the ruins of villas near Pompeii that were buried by Mt. Vesuvius’s lava and ashes. We all are pretty familiar with the delicate seemingly flat decorations that the Romans painted on their walls. (Their urge to decorate was unstoppable. It reminds me of the French of Louis XIV era where nothing existed without curlicues and decorative flourishes.) One room fragment included walls that depicted what looks like an entire city–perspectivally rendered! The Middle Ages lost those lessons on perspective for sure. (the Roman villa room fragments were unearthed in the early 1900s, and in fact many of the objects in the Met’s collection seem to date from the early 1900s. Also, many were donated by Nelson Rockefeller, former governor of New York and former Vice President (under Lyndon Johnson).)
On the Roof
We enjoyed our leisurely immersion in the Roman and Greek world and then went to the roof top. There are some Frank Stella sculptures up there and we walked past them quickly in order to get to what we really wanted, a nice view of the city.
We got into a discussion with a nattily dressed older gentleman who saw my Philadelphia Flyers hat and gave me a thumbs up. The gent used to live in Philadelphia but that was many years ago he said. Now he lives in New York and Philadelphia seems so far away he’s not been back in ages. Proving once again the genius of Saul Steinberg who understood that life beyond the Hudson River is just not exciting enough to get a New Yorker off the island once they’re ensconsed.
It was hot on the roof and quickly Stella and Steve peeled off for a dose of something else — iced coffee and a bagel somewhere in the neighborhood. Cate and I wandered over to the Modern and Contemporary wing to see the Neo Rauch paintings and the photo show Hidden in Plain Sight. More on that in another post. See a bunch of pictures at flickr.