With a permanent collection of more than two million works, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the jewel in the crown of New York’s Museum Mile.
Visiting a museum or art gallery is the kind of thing most people do only when they travel. Even then, it’s often a chore that few people seem to enjoy.
But New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, or The Met as it’s affectionately known, is no ordinary museum, and no one with an open mind could possibly call it boring.
People actually travel the world to marvel at this iconic Fifth Avenue landmark with its neo-classical architecture, ostentatious water fountains, magisterial front stairs – and a treasure trove collection that span 5,000 years of art history.
By sheer size and visitor numbers, the 148-year-old Met is arguably the most significant art museum in the United States, if not the western world.
It takes up the equivalent of four city blocks (two million square feet) on the fringe of Central Park, and last season it welcomed a record 7.35 million visitors.
In frantic New York City, this colossal building is a welcome respite, a sanctum for quiet reflection and a place to admire beloved works of art. It’s a feast for the mind, as well as the soul.
The Met takes up the equivalent of four city blocks.
But with a labyrinth of galleries and vast stately rooms spread over five levels, The Met is so prodigious that it’s easy for first-time visitors to be overwhelmed.
Its mammoth collection includes 2,500 European Old Master, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, and one of the greatest collections of Egyptian art and artefacts outside Cairo – including the full-scale Temple of Dendur.
A good tip is to start at the Egyptian Wing, to your right as you enter the Museum on the first floor, and work your way around past the Temple of Dendur.
Fans of Impressionism should make a beeline for the European Paintings galleries upstairs where there are works by Cézanne, Courbet, Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir and post-Impressionists like Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec.
When it’s time to recharge the batteries, you can grab a bite in one of the many cafes surrounded by epic sculptures and priceless works of art. There are also restaurants and even a stunning rooftop bar during the summer months.
What It Costs
The cash-strapped Met, which has an annual $8.5 million debt to service, no longer offers “pay-what-you-wish” admission to visitors from outside New York.
Even though it’s a publicly-funded museum, too many people have been visiting in recent years and choosing not to pay, which has hurt The Met’s revenues.
As a result, international visitors and those from out-of-state must now pay just to enter the main doors. It’s $25 for adults, $17 for seniors and $12 for students, but if you buy the New York City Pass admission to The Met is included.
The Met Breuer will close for good in 2020.
Be aware though that the Met Breuer will close for good in 2020, with the Frick Collection taking over the lease while its 1914 mansion is renovated and expanded.
If you’re in the City in early June, you can actually visit for free during the Museum Mile Festival. A string of museums, including The Met, throw their doors open for free, traditionally on the second Tuesday of the month.
What’s On At The Met
The Met’s 17 permanent galleries hold all kinds of treasures, from Japanese samurai armour to a custom-built African mural.
Here’s just some of the things you should try to see during a day at The Met this summer.
Leonardo da Vinci: To mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), The Met is bringing one of da Vinci’s masterpieces to New York. The monumental and unfinished St. Jerome Praying in the Wilderness (begun ca. 1483) is on special loan from the Vatican Museums and will be on display from July 8 to October 6.
“Apollo’s Muse: The Moon in the Age of Photography”: It’s 50 years since man first stepped onto the moon so it’s fitting that this great achievement is the centrepiece of a major exhibition at The Met from July 2 to September 22. It will include photographs of taken by astronauts during their lunar excursions, as well as the Hasselblad medium-format camera used to take the shots.
“Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll”: The Met toasts one of the greatest genres of music and some of the greatest bands with this exhibition. There’ll be more than 100 instruments on display – including guitars, bass, drum kits, keys and horns – played by the likes of Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen and many others. It runs until October 1.
The Charles Engelhard Court in The American Wing, Ground Floor. In 1980 the Met connected the freestanding American Wing building with an enclosed courtyard. The imposing facade you now see in the courtyard is the original Wall Street Branch Bank of the United States, demolished in the 1920s. The light-filled courtyard also features large-scale American sculptures and stained-glass windows Adjacent to the courtyard is the Met Store and a cafe. See our video above for a glimpse of the courtyard.
Gallery 115, The Egyptian Wing: The Met collection of ancient Egyptian art includes around 26,000 objects dating from the Palaeolithic to the Roman period. Enter the Egyptian Wing from the Great Hall, on the first floor, and head to the back. You’ll pass wall reliefs, mummies and the fragmentary head of a New Kingdom queen. Gallery 115 is devoted entirely to images of one person, the female pharaoh Hatshepsut.
Gallery 162, The Greek and Roman Sculpture Court: This two-story hall is the main showroom for the museum’s deep collection of Greek and Roman art, which fills surrounding rooms as well. It’s packed with objects and relics from the farthest reaches of civilisation.
Gallery 131, The Temple of Dendur: Built more than 2000 years ago on the banks of the Nile, The Temple of Dendur was disassembled and given to the United States when the original site was flooded by a dam project. The soaring gallery in the Sackler Wing was built specifically to accommodate the temple. With its slanted floor-to-ceiling glass windows, it’s one of the most popular rooms in the museum.
Gallery 630, The Vermeer Collection: Only 34 paintings by Dutchman Johannes Vermeer are known to survive, and The Met has five of them. Vermeer is renowned for his depictions of contemporary Delft, a city in Holland where he was born, lived, and died. He is also known for his his depictions of domestic interiors and portraits of women, like the figure featured in Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Gallery 684: The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments: Here you’ll find the world’s oldest piano, dating back to 1720. Italian music maker Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the instrument in 1700, and this is the earliest surviving example. You can hear it being played on the audio guide.
Galleries 822-826: Among The Met’s greatest collections are the works presented in its galleries of 19th and early 20th century European paintings and sculpture. The Met has 16 of Van Gogh’s works and one of the world’s largest collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, including Picasso, Monet, Cézanne and more. However, because they’re in such demand, it’s rare that the Van Gogh’s are ever at the Met at the same time. They’re often lent to other galleries and museums around the world.
Gallery 901-915, Modern and Contemporary Art: Here you will find masterpieces of the present, including Jackson Pollock’s enormous “Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)” in Gallery 901. Wander back toward the staircase to get to the impressive mezzanine. Here in Gallery 915, take a seat on one of the benches and take time to reflect on the collection around you.
Cantor Rooftop: The Met boasts a bar and a major annual exhibit during the summer on its seasonal rooftop, which has some of the most spectacular views in the city. The rooftop is open from May to October. Take the elevator from the first floor near the Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries to the fourth floor, and a separate elevator to the top. There are numerous dining venues within the museum, including a cafe in the American Wing, the Great Hall Balcony Bar and Cafe and the member’s dining room on the fourth floor.
HOW TO GET THERE Where: 1000 5th Avenue, on the Upper East Side. The Met is open seven days a week, Monday–Thursday and Sunday 10am–5:30pm; Friday and Saturday 10am–9pm. The closest subways are the 4,5,6 trains to 86th Street or the 6 train to 77th Street. From there, walk west from Lexington Avenue to Fifth Avenue and north or south to 82nd Street.
© 2019 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved.
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