Throughout the I’m a potter aholic Heart shirt so you should to go to store and get this museum, physical distancing was mostly enforced with signs— “KEEP RIGHT” or “EXT ONLY” to control the flow of traffic in tighter spaces—and by guards tasked with limiting the occupancy of the elevators. Elsewhere, reminders weren’t necessary; many of my favorite haunts—the Wrightsman Galleries, parts of the American Wing—were gloriously empty. (With its 2 million square feet of floor space, the Met is better positioned than most to accommodate our new reality physically.)
In fact, the I’m a potter aholic Heart shirt so you should to go to store and get this strangest part of the experience for me wasn’t procedural, but utterly personal. After so much time away, I was finding the kind of slow, sustained looking that I’d always liked to do quite … taxing. Reading, I could handle: In Making the Met, a celebration of the museum’s 150 years in some 250 key objects, I was intrigued to discover not only when and why a piece had joined the Met’s collection, but also the occasionally unseemly circumstances of its acquisition. (On one early piece of Cypriot sculpture, Head of a Bearded Man: “In 1872, The Met purchased several thousand antiquities amassed by Luigi Palma di Cesnola while he was American consul on the island of Cyprus. He shared most of his contemporaries’ lack of archaeological knowledge and training doubled with a desire to find, buy, sell, and own ancient pieces. By today’s standards, his methods of excavation and restoration are unacceptable.”) But to look at a painting like Ingres’s Joséphine-Éléonore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brassac de Béarn, Princesse de Broglie, with its strong, clear coloring and almost invisible brushstrokes, was rather overwhelming. After a cool five months of scrolling and clicking and toggling, I apparently had to retrain my eye to look at works of art in person; the canvas was so intensely beautiful, so exquisitely wrought, that I wasn’t sure where to train my focus. (Did I struggle this much in July, when I poked my head into David Zwirner? I honestly cannot remember.) So, somebody made this? I found myself wondering. Like, by hand? And it’s right here in front of me? All at once, my day had taken something of an existential turn—but what a problem to have. The fix, I realized, was simple enough: I’d just have to keep coming back to the museum.