Thursday, May 1, 2014


Who else makes plans they fail to follow through on? On every trip to New York I try to tell myself I'll squeeze in one cultural event. It rarely happens but on my last trip I found a Monday afternoon with no obligations. So I said, "screw it"! I laced up my walkin' shoes and headed across the park to the Met. I keep forgetting how close everything is in Manhattan. In twenty minutes I'd made it from the Westside to the Eastside and the Met at Fifth Avenue and 83rd Street. I stopped at the veteran's memorial food truck parked in front of the Met, bought a bottled water and some chili nachos, and proceeded to sit on the stone steps enjoying the sun and the knowledge that I was going to make good on a plan I usually failed to complete. I  was going to play tourist.
Going to a museum in New York is a pricey adventure, although you can enter the museum for as little as a nickel, the suggested "donation" is twenty-five dollars for a single adult. I'm no cheapskate. I paid the recommended fee.
They used to give out little metal buttons once you paid your fee. You'd attach it somewhere on your body than you'd have to flash it to a security guard to attain entry into the inner sanctum of the museum. This trip they had replaced my little metal button with a peel-off sticker. This peel-off sticker is just another sign of the times, a cheapening of life in general. It's like air travel. People used to dress before they got on a plane. Now you're likely to have the person sitting next to you dressed in a tank top with a meaty hairy arm hogging the armrest, I miss the now defunct pretty colored buttons with the museum's "M" printed in white. That little button could dress up any tourist outfit
Once in I decided on a plan: to get myself into areas of the museum I wouldn't usually explore I was off and running. There are several ways you can enter the museum. In the middle of the museum there's the grand staircase leading up to the second floor and the painting area. I nixed this one. This trip I was devoting to the three dimensional treasures of the Met. If you decide to enter left or right you're going to be in either the Egyptian section or the Greek and Roman exhibits. Either way the major impact is going to be three-dimensional, sculptures or sarcophagi, just what I wanted. I decided writing about full bodies and photographing them was more than I could handle so I decided to focus on their faces and follow a path of marble and wooden twisted, contorted, surprised and sensual expressions.
The coin flip lead me to the right into the Egyptian wing. Beheaded faces showing the acne of time encased in protective plexi-glass cases.
Even with half her face stripped away you can feel the sadness in the streaked glaze that runs like tears from just below her eye.
The only time we ever went to Egypt my sister was teaching at the American school in Cairo. We went to visit her only to find out she had met a handsome Egyptian man and they were going to get married. It gave us the opportunity to slip under the surface of what most tourists visiting Egypt would see. What struck me was they're own self-image. They referred to themselves as Asians, not as Africans.
I found it odd at first but now as I walk the halls of the Egyptian wing I can see the Asian features in the faces of my sister's ex-husband's ancestry.
When immortalization is produced in the form of a sculptural remembrance there is usually a dignity and a solemnity apparent in the figure. That's why I had to look twice at the smile on this pharaoh's face on his sarcophagus. If there is a final image of myself left for posterity I want to look like this guy, happy in life - happy in death.
There isn't any chronological way of walking through the museum. So as I passed through the Temple of Dendur into the next room and found myself in what is the courtyard of the American wing.
The polished stone figures in the courtyard were more like angels then homages to the dead. Angels flew in the courtyard protecting and guiding anyone who passed by.
Marble was transformed into diaphanous silk and linen shrouding the faces only seen in heaven.
As opposed to the wide eyed Egyptians the faces of the American wing seemed more inclined to rest with their eyes half closed. They appeared as if dreaming and floating away like Shakespeare's Ophelia.
There was such sadness in their faces.
Even the children seemed as if their smiles had been stolen and were in a constant state of morning.
For no particular reason the next turn I made led me to the medieval section. The gauntlet of knights in armor left little reason or ability to focus on their faces since they were covered in metal but just like the human face no two metal protectors were the same.
Pain was a major theme throughout the medieval section whether you were on the receiving end or doling it out.
In both cases there was a sense of witchcraft and the belief in the darker side of spirituality.
But there were exceptions and this girl was one of them. There was such sweetness and nonchalance within her Mona Lisa smile.
The European sculpture garden exists in an area between a new addition to the museum and an older brick exterior.
Many of the sculptors chose figures from ancient mythology as their subjects. Perseus holding the slain head of Medusa anchors the room. Here's where heads literally rolled
The gods of Mount Olympus paraded their virility and arrogance throughout the hall primping for us photographers.
Women were chained to rocks as swans had their way with them.
Others coyly smiled as if they had been caught just stepping out the baths by a gentleman intruder.
There's a ton of emotion going on in this serene setting. But despite the serenity there's a lot of angst
and then some just scream.
Others raise a quieting finger to quell the raucous crowd
And others just seemed to sleep through the whole thing.
Geographically it was back across the Mediterranean and into Africa. The hard polished perfection of stone used by the Europeans was replaces by softer materials.
These wooden totems had the haunting disproportion of mystic gods with their saucer eyes and flared noses obscuring their mouths leaving them in silence, but you were still aware of their extreme power.
It was the same for this woodenhead. Tattooed in a chain motif running around his face. The top of his head crowned with a cut that looks like a Mohawk popularized in the nineteen fifties and brought back periodically from the eighties on.
Beadwork designed out of shells and dyed quills made an appearance in the African section. The intent may have been to ward off evil spirits but the result is almost comical with an expression of surprise rather than ferocity.
Clay was another material abundant on the African plains. This guy was one of several whose nose had morphed into a trunk presumably giving him the power of the elephants that shared their territory.
The Greek and Roman gallery stretches along the southeast side of the museum. Severed heads and busts shared space with battered full figure sculptures. The bruising do to the ravages of marauders give this battle weary gladiator his tortured look. His pouty swollen lips, his broken nose along with the upward-dazed cast of his eyes make you feel his defeat.
Age is equivalent to wisdom in this mythological king's furrowed brow. His downcast face exudes benevolence as he watches his flock perched high above on a heavenly cloud.
The Greeks and Romans had a love of beauty both masculine and feminine whether it was through the curls surrounding this youths face or the simplicity of line
and form in this woman's profile.
The realism of the work done during this period is obvious in this man's face. This face transcends time. It's the face of antiquity but could easily be the face of a twenty-first century action film hero.
I've never had an affinity towards Asian art but I felt I couldn't leave the museum without walking through that section.  The pursed mouth on this ceramic face coupled with the ornate headpiece and the pencil thin facial hair makes for a very pompous figure.
This Indian princess covered in jewels is seriously vamping for her audience.
This Asian queen exemplifies the image of power through ample girth, a cultural legacy exported to Hawaii and its royalty who show their station in life through their size.

It was nice to see that in Asia a smile had not lost its appeal.
Faces are the gateway to our souls. The serenity on this mountain of faces had to spread peace to everyone who bowed in front of it. I had to check around to make sure no one was watching me. I pressed my hands together and slightly lowered my head letting the calm of these faces wash over me before I left the museum knowing there's a reason why we cherish the arts.

Odalesque II, 1943
Horst P. Horst, photographer
Represented by Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta

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