"We should only ever choose one or two. The take our time with them. Savor them. Allow them to digest like a fine meal." That's one of the lessons offered to me by old mentor Will Barnet.
"If you treat it like a buffet. Have a little of this and a little of that, all the flavors get mixed and it's hard to truly enjoy all of it." Just some of the thoughts Will would share as we navigated museums almost a decade ago.
Yesterday I was in Manhattan and ended up with a two hour opening, after one appointment and before dinner. I almost never have "open time" and certainly never in the city. What to do?
As I stood there smiling over my sudden gift of time and opportunity my good friend said, "Go to the Met! Get on the subway right now and go to the Met!" I did.
I used to go to the Met almost every week. There was one fall that I signed up for a painting class at the Art Students League but the room made me sick. That fall I went to the Met almost everyday. I would go with Will. I would go with Frank O'Cain. I would often go with myself to study the same pieces over and over or occasionally take a different turn than usual and meet a new one.
Two years ago I went after realizing it had been far too long since my last visit(at least 5 years...). It felt like visiting old friends. Ease and familiarity as I navigated the galleries and connection to paintings as I stopped and visited them. It was such a powerful experience I decided to drag my husband and kids back the next day. That visit was like taking your children to visit old friends who you love but for some reason unbeknownst to you, bring out the worst behavior your children have to offer. I remember the first ever on the floor kicking tantrum from my 5 year old daughter ever as we stood in the Temple of Dendur. It led to a quick exit. Let's just say the family membership I bought on the way in that day went unused and I was heartbroken.
So, another two years passed until yesterday. I hopped on the subway, exited 77th street and practically ran to the entrance with two hours to complete my visit and return to midtown. I walked in, paid admission and walked straight in to Egypt, starving, perhaps for the lunch I had forgotten to eat but more than likely to be surrounded by beautiful objects and the museum collection that I miss in my everyday life now.
I stopped in the first room of Egypt and stood still. I got to know Sekhmet, an Egyptian Goddess. I stared and sketched the falcons that seemed to be everywhere. I savored. I felt good and happy and full. I continued to move slowly as I made my way through knowing I had already enough to digest but I was starving. I took in the sarcophagi and the Temple(you know, the one that my then 5 year old threw her lay down kicking tantrum in).
I made my way in the American Wing. I walked through the Thomas Hart Benton show and looked at the America Today mural. I felt connected to my years at ASL and the many teachers who on different occasion compared some of my work at the time to the Ashcan School. I was feeling fuller but I walked on, it had been a long time since visiting and I wanted to squeeze in every bite possible.
I walked past the furniture which has never really been my thing and meandered through the painting galleries. This is where I saw my old friends Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove, noticing a Virgin of Guadalupe painting by Hartley that I never knew existed. O'keefe was there and I bid a quick hello, always a favorite artist but none of her paintings I really love on display in the Met's permanent collection. Modigliani still made me want to cry with his beautiful portraits and languid figures. Picasso and DeKooning made me smile in recognition and appreciation. Chagall seemed different this time to me, sensitive and beautiful, causing me a full on stop to attempt a second savoring which as much as I loved had no real room to process.
Time was passing so I made a quick visit to one of my favorites in the museum, Leger, Woman with Cat(it's behind me in the photo above). Standing there I could almost feel the handles of Will's wheelchair in my hands and his words in my head about the composition from a visit we made so many years ago.
Out through Oceania I took a few little bites of "dessert" looking left and right as I walked through the gallery knowing I was already at capacity.
I left the museum feeling fat and happy that I was able to cover the ground that I did. That I had surrounded myself by inspiration so essential to myself as a creative being. Grateful that I had stopped in the first room and taken the time to savor and not even minding that I had over eaten in the others.