Friday, October 30, 2009

Part I: Art and Life

Cold, rainy weather graced New York City the weekend before Halloween, and so NCT and I, our Bear Mountain hiking plans scrapped, spent a frenzied Saturday afternoon at The Met instead. The frenzy came from the hordes of wet visitors crowding into the damp and warm galleries; as a result, we decided to visit just the following two exhibits: Vermeer's "Milkmaid", and the sculptures of Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

Since I began reading Robert Hass's Time and Materials, I've looked forward to seeing "The Milkmaid" while it visits New York. Of course, in true NYC fashion our viewing involved an aggressive, over-eager crowd of Met patrons, all of whom wanted a nose-to-the-glass perspective of the painting. Coupled with their zealous and occasionally questionable museum behavior was a very loud and very cunning security guard, who seemed to take pleasure in frightening these visitors with frequent jump-inducing barks. New York at its finest.

In the brief, noisy moments that NCT and I had before the painting I thought of Hass's acolytes, who "peel time, with absolute care / From thin strips of paint on three hundred year old canvas", and of "the faithfulness of paint on paint on paint on paint", and of the oddly disconcerting repetition of "milk". And yet, it was too loud in the windowless gallery--too humid, too crowded, the painting too small. We walked into the light-filled atrium of Greek and Roman statues, and their white, marble bodies seemed both "turned away" from us and "so alive"; in fact, more alive than the Dutch servant tilting her milk pitcher behind us.

Was it too anti-climactic? NCT almost walked into a headless centurion, and I started thinking about the word "scarab". And so we walked north towards the American Wing...

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