On Friday I went to the MET, and took a tour of their “highlights” with a curator, stopping at a few particularly interesting pieces in their collection. Here are some of them, and what makes them particularly interesting:

  • In the Greek/Roman hall, the sculpture of fabric: while the greek sculptors portrayed the idealized human figure (even turning it into a mathematical formula) and the romans followed that tradition, fabric was the only part that was sculpted as it was, from thick to almost transparent, with embroidery, motifs, etc.
  • In the African pavilion, a seated couple wood and metal figure: on the other hand, in Africa figures were never idealized; they served a purpose, wether it be funeral, deities, power, decoration… that’s why early 20th century european painters were so fond of African art.
  • In gallery 528, Jean-Henri Riesener’s desk and cabinet: while the whole baroque room is interesting (the museum even hired a theatrical light expert to design a system that would show how the room would look in Paris according to the hour and season, considering is was lit by candles), those two pieces of furniture were exceptional (the desk for its mechanisms, and the cabinet for the original Japanese lacquer layer).
  • Van Gogh’s La Berceuse: the only painting Van Gogh did sell in his lifetime. He was too ahead of his time to be accepted by the public, but positive reviews were being written soon before his death. One interesting thing he wrote to his brother in one of his many letters: “painting will become more music and less sculpture. The painting of the future will be all color”. He foresaw Rothko. Amazing.
  • Rembrandt’s selft portrait: hearing his terrible life story (filled with death, sorrow, and the largest art collection by an artist, which he lost when he went bankrupt) while he stares at you into your eyes is moving. Particularly interesting: how he did not like symmetry at all, which (along with a powerful use of light) made his painting so strong and life-like.
  •  The staircase from the Chicago Stock Exchange: the only exhibited piece at the MET that can be used… and stepped on!
  • Tiffany’s Autum Landscape window in gallery 700: as the son of the famous jeweler, he traveled the “exotic world” (Morocco, India, etc) and brought color back with him to NY, working with glass in a way nobody has been able to reproduce today (he took his secret to the grave with him).
  • The Temple of Dendur: a bright political move by Julius Caesar. It was a gift he made build for the Nubian king in his empire expansion. He even had himself depicted as a pharaoh offering gifts to deities, you can find him as the first figure facing the side entrance of the left of the Temple. The Temple, by the way, was discovered by some Americans in Egypt, being underwater. They decided to lift it above the water level to preserve it, and as a gratitude, the Egyptian government gave it to them as a gift.

But all of that was eclipsed by what was an awesome discovery for me:

In gallery 121, the fragment of A Queen’s Face (or as I call it: stone lips) is beautiful by itself. If you consider that is made out of yellow jasper, which can not be sculpted by metal tools (which means it had to be sculpted by stone tools) then it becomes remarkable. But the true significance of the piece (beyond the question of if it is Nefertiti, her mother-in-law, or whatever) lies in the period when it was created.

Akhenaten was a pharaoh that decided to reclaim power from the growing number of priests and gods, by declaring there was only one god (the Sun), and moving the capital. But he is also known for supporting the arts (which was obviously a propaganda and adoctrination method) and for asking the artist to depict things as they were, not as idealized figures (which is what had been done before). Sadly, after his death, Nefertiti (and later his son Tutankhamon) were not able to keep what Akhenaten had stablished, and the priests, gods, and classical idealized representation returned, leaving Akhenaten era’s art as a refreshing, unique, and advanced time in art history.

PS: On my way back to the subway, I used Instagram for the first (and probably last, since it nows belongs to Facebook) time, in order correct the very poor light sensitivity of my Andoid Phone’s camera, to capture a little Budha statue and flowers at the entrance of a nice building.