1.08.2008

Museums As Gyms, Part One: The Met

For the first of my Museums as Gyms series, I must say that the Met, as a fitness center, sets a high bar. This Fifth Avenue art palace features miles of walkable areas, a challenge for even the most athletic of cultural tourists. Walking is stimulating all by itself, and here at the Met, there's also too much to see.

When I was visiting the other day, I overheard several discussions in the Met's cafeteria about whether it was wise to see "just one more exhibit" or move on. I was taking a break myself, scooping out a cup of yogurt and wondering if my strategy of trying to walk through all the Met was completely stupid. "Yes," I told myself, "Art history cannot be compressed in an hour and a half. You are a superficial person. This is idiotic." But I pressed on for another 30 minutes.

According to my pedometer, I clocked 5,500 steps inside the Met, a little over 2.5 miles. In the process I scanned some of the most iconic images of creative human history - Roman statues, medieval altars, Central African reliquaries, Rembrandt's self-portraits, Jackson Pollocks, American Civil War photographs, Federalist furniture, and on and on. All these went by in the blink of an eye. I felt like I had flipped rapidly through most of the pages of an art history textbook, cramming for a final exam.

Artwork in several of the Met galleries stopped me in my tracks, quite literally. I visited the Met in the first place to see the new 19th and early 20th century galleries, and when I arrived in these extraordinary rooms, it was as if the entire 19th century opened like an unfolding accordion. I also stopped and marveled at Tara Donovan's installation - a shimmery patterned display of metallic loops. They looked like snowflakes on a windowpane, echoing designs of an earlier era I had seen elsewhere in the museum.

I can now rationalize that my Met workout was worth it. In walking from one end of the Met to another, I encountered many rooms I had never visited - musical instruments, the pre-Columbian room of gold, the swords and other firearms, and peaceful rooms of Asian art. I especially enjoyed seeing an opulent Venetian bedroom from a palace off the Grand Canal, even if I don't know how to find it easily again. I was so exhausted by that point that I wanted to hurl myself over the barrier and onto the ducal bed.

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