The list of reasons to visit New York City is arguably as long (if not longer) than the lines outside Katz’s Deli or Magnolia Bakery. Among its roll call of attributes though, the exceptional standard of NYC’s museums has to rank close to the top. From the American Museum of Natural History to the Jewish Museum and The Frick Collection; a spell in New York City could easily be spent doing nothing else but hopping between exhibits and displays.
For those that want to maximise their time in the Big Apple however, knowing what to see inside each museum can be a great help. So, no matter if you’re an art critic or an art novice; whether you’ve always dreamed of one day sitting on its famed steps or whether you’ve perhaps found yourself wondering, “Where IS the MET Museum?” – this is the ultimate, no-nonsense guide on what to see at the Metropolitan Museum of Art NYC – one of the most acclaimed and popular of New York’s museums.
We’ve covered ancient sculptures, celebrated paintings and costume extravaganzas to ensure that no matter how interested (or not) you are in the art world, there’s something on this list that will take your fancy.
The Temple of Dendur
For many art buffs, the number one attraction in the MET museum collection is the centuries-old Temple of Dendur. Its incredible backstory is almost too crazy to believe: at risk from annual flooding, the Egyptian government gifted the Temple of Dendur to the United States. It was painstakingly removed from its original location on the banks of the Nile and transported in pieces to the MET, where it was reassembled in its entirety in the Sackler Wing. It has been on display to the public since 1978, and visitors are allowed to walk through the doors of this ancient masterpiece and marvel at its construction. Completed in 10BC at the bequest of Caesar Augustus of Rome, it’s one of only four Egyptian temples located outside of Egypt. If that’s not enough to get you to visit the MET Art Museum NYC, we don’t know what is!
Greek and Roman Galleries
Of all the Metropolitan Museum of Art NYC current exhibits, there’s one that continue to blow the mind of visitors: the Greek and Roman galleries. A redesign and re-installation of the collection unveiled what is essentially a museum-within-a-museum, one that includes more than thirty thousand works of art spread across 30,000-square feet of prime MET property. The magnificent centrepiece is the Leon Levy and Shelby White Court, a light-filled two-level atrium that houses Roman, Hellenistic, south Italian and Etruscan sculptures, vases and busts. The sheer size of the exhibition can be overwhelming, but there’s no way visitors can leave without seeing the museum’s very first acquisition – a Roman sarcophagus from Tarsus, donated in 1870.
Asian Art Collection
Criminally underrated compared to the far more flashier Egyptian and Roman displays, you might be surprised to discover the MET’s Asian Art collection is one of the largest in the western world. More than 35,000 objects, artefacts, prints, ceramics and paintings form the exhibition, with works dating back as far as the third millennium BC. Prepare to be wowed by Japanese narrative paintings known as emaki, early Hindu and Buddhist bronze sculptures, and metalwork from Korea. And don’t forget to pay a visit to the Astor Chinese Court Garden, complete with koi pond. This is an exact replica of the Ming Dynasty garden from Suzhou, and it took 26 Chinese experts six months to build, using nothing but traditional tools and techniques.
The Costume Institute
If the words ‘the first Monday in May’ don’t mean anything to you, you might want to skip the Costume Institute. For those who know exactly what we’re talking about (the MET Gala, that is) this should be your first port of call when you arrive at the museum. Held in the Anna Wintour Costume Centre – named after the Vogue editor-in-chief herself – the Costume Institute is a fashion wonderland brimming with thousands of outfits and accessories, plus textiles, sketches and paintings. The list of designers whose works have graced the collection read like a who’s who of couture royalty: Chanel, Dior, Balenciaga to McQueen, Ghesquière and Alaïa. The current exhibition, and theme of the 2019 Met Gala, is Camp: Notes on Fashion, an outrageous, theatrical and humorous look at the camp aesthetic. It’s a far cry from the Roman sculpture court, but there’s no denying it’s one of the most visually stunning MET Museum NYC exhibits.
Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, Vincent Van Gogh
If a gallery is lucky enough to be in possession of a Van Gogh, you can almost guarantee it’s one of the most popular pieces of art in the entire collection. Well, the MET just happens to have 16 works by Vincent Van Gogh – so if you’re wondering what to see at the MET Museum, there’s no better place to start than with the Dutch maestro himself. For all 16 works to be on display at once is extremely rare though, as some are often on loan to museums across the world. There is one certainty in Self-Portrait With a Straw Hat (1887), which hasn’t gone on tour since 1967 when it was first purchased. This incredible masterpiece, one of Van Gogh’s earliest self-portraits, is a wonderful example of his now iconic impasto technique, which involves using short, sharp brushstrokes to create a thick build-up of paint.
Water Lilies and Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies, Claude Monet
Another artistic genius in the same league as Van Gogh is Claude Monet, who also has multiple pieces housed in the MET. Best known as a leading figure within the Impressionist movement, Monet painted en plein air (outside) and his works are near-perfect examples of how to capture the effects of light and the sun. Two unmissable paintings at the MET are Water Lilies (1919) and Bridge Over A Pond Of Water Lilies (1899) – both of which form part of Monet’s 250-strong Water Lilies collection. Both pieces were created during Monet’s tenure at his property in Giverny, where he became obsessed with painting the beautiful garden and pond in all its floral, sun-drenched glory. These works are now synonymous with Monet, and form the main focus of his artistic career.
Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), Jackson Pollock
For every ancient Greek plate and early 19th-century painting, there’s a more confronting piece of art at the MET that’s just as fascinating and groundbreaking. And they don’t come much more revered – or controversial – than the work of American artist Jackson Pollock. A dynamic force behind the Abstract Expressionism movement that emerged in the 1940s and 50s, Pollock’s anxious and unorthodox technique of flicking, splattering and dripping paint over a canvas was unlike anything the art world had seen before. His enormous Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) (1950) is perhaps the best example of the frenzied work he was creating, and located in the Modern and Contemporary Art wing of the MET, it’s truly an impressive sight to behold. If you like your art wild and untamed, Pollock’s work is hard to beat.
Cantor Roof Garden
Although not technically considered inside the New York gallery, the MET’s spectacular rooftop garden should absolutely be on your must-see list. Every summer a contemporary artist is commissioned to produce an installation that will remain on display from mid-April to October (depending on the weather), and this year’s work comes from Alicja Kwade, who has produced a celestial-inspired piece titled Parapivot. The only thing to rival the art in terms of your attention are the sweeping panoramic views across Central Park, the Upper East Side and Midtown – it’s a truly breathtaking sight. Perfectly manicured flora and foliage provide the ideal backdrop to enjoy a cocktail from the bar (a Manhattan, of course) and soak up the scenery.
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