The Metropolitan Museum of Art
It’s no secret New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the U.S. (home to over 2 million works of art!), but did you know it’s also the second most visited art museum in the world? Second only to the Louvre in Paris.
The Met’s iconic doors opened in March of 1880 on Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street. It has since taken over 2 million square feet of real estate, with tens of thousands of objects spanning 5 thousand years of history on display!
- The first object the Met acquired was a Roman sarcophagus. (They hide it in a corner because it’s ugly)
- The Met was the first public institution in the world to buy a work of art by Henri Matisse.
- The beloved ancient Egyptian hippopotamus, better known as William, got his name from a short story in which he starred. The story was published in the British magazine Punch and claimed William had oracular powers!
I know what you are thinking, that’s A LOT of art! Don’t worry, whether you are an NYC native, Met enthusiast, or touring New York for the weekend, Museum Hack’s renegade tours has your back!
We’ve included lots of information about the Met further down on this page in the FAQ section, including details on the plethora of dining options available throughout the museum, hours, and holiday closings. For a quick virtual tour of the museum, check out the section below entitled “5 Things to See at the Metropolitan Museum of Art”.
5 Things to See at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Standing Bodhisattva Maitreya (Buddha of the Future)
This handsome guy with a rakish mustache makes our highlight list because, hello rakish mustache, and because it’s one of the first depictions of a Buddhist deity in human form in the history of the world.
We think the story behind how this came to be is pretty rockin!
When Alexander the Great opened the Silk Road trade route, people from all over the place wanted to show up with cool gifts to celebrate. This sculpture was most likely made by a Roman artist in Gandhara (modern-day Pakistan) who, hawking his wares, offered to sculpt a god for the local religion. But since the Gandharans were Buddhists and didn’t use humans in their religious sculptures, the artist had to improvise. He used a familiar human deity form from Roman culture, added a local’s face and called it good.
Take a closer look and you’ll see the clues.
- He’s wearing a toga, like a Roman senator
- His hair is done up in the Grecian style
- His face and fabulous mustache are definitely not Roman
This odd mix of cultures confounds our expectations of what a Buddhist statue is supposed to look like and proves that globalization isn’t something Mark Zuckerberg made up –– people have been traveling and cross-pollinating since forevs.
The Lehman Wing
Tucked away in an underappreciated part of this enormous museum, is an amazing survey of paintings with a really interesting history. Robert Lehman assembled one of the most extraordinary private art collections in the entire United States, numbering nearly 3,000 works of art. He enjoyed admiring it so much he had a private mansion built to house his collection. That’s right, he didn’t live there; it was a separate mansion just for his art! When he died in 1969, he wanted to make sure that this fantastic collection would be displayed just as it had been in his art mansion. So the Met did their best to recreate it, and it’s really cool to see!
Hack: If you only have an hour to spend in the Met and want to see the widest possible variety of paintings in one single place, it’s the Lehman Wing that you need to visit!
The Met’s back galleries replicate Lehman’s sitting room. There’s a Rembrandt, a Goya, an El Greco –– all in one tiny room with a sofa to chill on! (BTW, that sofa is also a highlight of the museum. It’s one of the only areas in the Met where you can sit comfortably and relax.)
If don’t have an hour to peruse everything, and you need one single highlight to visit there, check out the Ingres. The Met is hella proud of it, and we guarantee it is worth your time!
Soon after Ingres finished this work, the woman in the blue dress, Pauline de Broglie, died of tuberculosis. She left behind five sons and a grieving husband. Her husband was so distraught that he hung the portrait in a dark room behind a velvet curtain where it remained until shortly before Lehman acquired it. Because of this tragedy, Princesse de Broglie is just as stunning and vibrant today as the day Ingres painted it in 1853.
Hatshepsut Gallery in Ancient Egypt
This whole gallery is filled with statues dedicated to the pharaoh Hatshepsut, who came to power in 1478 BC. This was a very important time for Egypt, with the opening of important trade routes, an economic boom, building the Valley of the Kings, the first zoo, etc… All of these great successes are attributed to Hatshepsut – did we mention Hatshepsut was a Badass B*tch!
Hatshepsut was one of the few female rulers in Ancient Egyptian history –– careful not to call her a queen! Ancient Egyptians didn’t have queens. As the Pharaoh, Hatshepsut was considered the King of Egypt.
As you walk around the gallery, you’ll notice an interesting transition in the art. The early statues depict her with very fem and delicate features. Later, as her co-regent and nephew grew up, she started to look more butch in her depictions, i.e. sporting a strap-on lady beard (but no mustache).
But here’s where the story takes a crazy turn – 20 years after her death there was a major erasure campaign led by her successor to pretend that she never ruled. The next pharaoh didn’t want to give Hatshepsut the cred for her many killer accomplishments, so he had all of her statuary thrown into a big ditch and covered up. Ironically, this conspiracy is the reason so many statues of Hatshepsut are extremely well preserved and we are able to celebrate her as one of history’s Badass B*tches!
Asmat Bis Poles
These funerary totem poles are from the Asmat people of Papua New Guinea. They were brought to the US in the late 1950s by Nelson Rockefeller (governor of NY at the time) and his son, Michael. These beautiful artifacts were originally housed in their own museum, called the “primitive art museum” (not a great name!), when that closed, the Met acquired them.
Some of the poles were brought back under questionable terms. At the time Western visitors were a relatively new thing for Papua New Guinea, so the Rockefellers would “trade” these sacred, ceremonial items for things like fishing line, shiny mirrors and the like. On one of his art collecting expeditions to Papua New Guinea, Michael, the heir to the Rockefeller fortune, vanished without a trace. The official story states that he drowned, but there is some strong evidence to suggest that he may have instead been murdered and eaten by the Asmat people in order to ritualistically restore balance to their disrupted culture.
If art gossip isn’t your thing, then simply go see them for their unique aesthetic. Carved from a single tree, the bis poles show the relationship between the recently deceased and the ancestors whose shoulders they stand on. The big phallic shape at the top is carved from the largest root of the tree and depicts the liberated soul passing into the afterlife.
French Period Rooms
We love these rooms simply because they’re AWESOME!
The Met was one of the first major institutions in the world to see the merit of interior design as an art form in its own right. They rescued entire rooms from Parisian hotels and salons before they were torn down. Every detail is recreated here, right down to the original walls and Marie Antoinette’s dog bed! In some galleries, you even get to walk on 18th-century floors (if that’s what you’re into).
As you pretend to be on your way to the royal ball, don’t forget to look up. These rooms are LIT! The chandeliers are filled with twinkle lights, mimicking the candles that would have illuminated these magical Parisian rooms back in the day.