13 Years At The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, Part 1: The Key

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The Met is my second home.

As I said, I’ve been over 1,200 times since August 1, 2002. I’ve got the buttons, and now the stickers to prove it. No I don’t work there and never have. No, I don’t know anyone personally who does. I’m simply passionate about exploring art history. I love art, and great Museums.

 

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Still, why go there so often? Don’t you get bored looking at the same stuff over and over?

Ha! First, I’ve NEVER been bored at The Met (i.e. TM). With over 2 million objects in their collection and so many shows going on at any given time, it’s impossible to run out of things to see. In fact, every time I turn a corner and see a part of the building looming in front of me, I still get a chill up my spine. Over 6 million people visited it in 2014, even subtracting me from the total. Still, when I speak to people who don’t go, the spoken or unspoken question is-

Do you realize what this place is?

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It’s very possibly the greatest repository of art and art professionals in the entire world. Yes, art AND art professionals. It wouldn’t be what it is without both. (Disclaimer- I’m not going to get into the politics or issues about how the collection was formed here. I’m simply speaking about The Met as it is and as I experience it.) Other Museums may have collections “stronger” in certain artists or periods (I hate comparative terms when it comes to the Arts), but no Museum covers the entire history of man’s creativity across all the world’s cultures in the depth that The Met does.

Old School Met Fountains, Circa 2011

Old School Met Fountains, Circa 2011

About that staff, here’s one example of what I mean…In February, 2012 I took an all night flight to London so I could see the last day of the what was called “one of the exhibitions of the century” by Roy Strong in the London Telegraph, “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan” at the National Gallery. The show “was the most complete display of Leonardo’s rare surviving paintings ever held,” according to the National Gallery’s site, and was a huge success by any measure. Being in the same room as both versions of the “Virgin of the Rocks”, being shown together for the first time(!!!)….What could I possibly say about it? It so happens that the month before my trip, Met Director Thomas Campbell, announced that the curator of that show, a gentleman named Luke Syson, was leaving the National Gallery, where he was the Curator of Italian Paintings before 1500 and Head of Research, to join The Met as the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Curator in Charge of the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, a department Mr. Campbell previously headed for 5 years. He had just mounted an “exhibition of the century,” yet leaves before it closes to work at The Met. Wow. To me, this is only one example of the extraordinary assemblage of talent working at, and for, 1000 Fifth Avenue. 1

Old School Met Fountains, Circa 2011

 

Most times I go to TM without a plan. I try and see the Special Exhibitions, including those that I know nothing about, before they close (close as in they end for good). Grabbing a copy of the “On View” list at the admission counter, the first thing I check- “What’s closing soonest?” I don’t think people know how many Special Exhibitions are going on at TM at any one time. I’ve counted 25 at times (what other Museum matches that?), and some of them are not even listed either on the web site, metmuseum.org, or on “On View.”  The only way you can know about them is to actually stumble upon them. As I speak there is, what I’m calling, a “Mini- Mozart Tribute” going on in an enclave in the Prints & Drawings gallery that’s not mentioned anywhere and would be a long remembered highlight for any Mozart fan. Where else have you ever seen a portrait done from life in 1763-4 of the 7 year old Wolfgang Amadeus? It dropped my jaw. The text under the image lists Wolfgang, who’s seated at the keyboard, AFTER his father, AND his sister…as a composer! Here is it- look at how far his feet are off the floor…

 

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Going to the shows, I’ve discovered artists I had never heard of who are now among my favorites. I’ve learned much much more about artists I already knew and loved, and discovered whole worlds of art from around the world and throughout human history.

Oh, and if you ever run out of Special Ex’s to see? There’s always the permanent collection, which as I said, now numbers over 2,000,000 items.

Getting an idea yet of why I’m never bored going there?

So, what’s come from those 1,200 visits? The main lesson I’ve learned through all of this is that Great Art is Great Art. Great painting exists in Ancient Egypt as it did in the Renaissance, the 16,17,18,1900’s, right up to today. I’ve also come to feel, personally, that no artist is “greater” than another. No work of art is “greater” than another- comparing artists, or art works, to each other is pointless. (Much more on this in an upcoming post). This is one reason great artists have always looked to, and been influenced by, what has come before. It’s the same in music, literature, film…all the arts.

Artists have been “standing on the shoulders of giants” for a long time.

I don’t compare Rembrandt to Michelangelo- you wouldn’t have one without the other. Well, Rembrandt would have existed, but he probably would have created work that was a bit different than he did. How different? that would depend on his influences and their influences. You wouldn’t have Van Gogh without Rembrandt. And so on and so on…Even Michelangelo, “El Divino,” possibly the most sublimely talented artist who ever lived, studied the Ancient Greeks and Romans, as did others in his time, hence the term “Renaissance,” the rebirth of what had been known in Ancient times, and forgotten.

That is “The Key.”

For me, that is The Met’s ultimate lesson- Art is Art (IF it’s good enough to get in the front door!). There is no distinction to be made for period, style, medium, culture, or anything else.

You walk in the door and you are face to face with some of the greatest achievement of human kind. You can go in any direction you want- right, to Ancient Egypt, Left to Ancient Greek and Roman, straight ahead up the great staircase to European Paintings, and so on…all 4 City blocks worth of it. Lesson #2- Wear comfortable shoes. Better yet? Go back often.

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This will be an ongoing series and in it I will try and share some of what I’ve seen at TM, now and in the past. I’m blessed to live where I do. Blessed to live in the heart of Manhattan- NYC, NY. A big part of the reason I feel so blessed is because of the culture at hand. Exploring all of it is impossible for any one person. Even seeing EVERYTHING at TM is impossible.

That’s why I say- Bury me at The Met. Face up.

 

Soundtrack for this post- J.S. Bach “Goldberg Variations” performed by Glenn Gould, 1981 (aka. “The Second Goulbergs”), CBS Records, [amazon text=Amazon&asin=B0000025PM], one of THE most sublime documents of recorded music ever, as far as I know.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

  1. To read about some of the others, I recommend “Museum: Behind the Scenes At The Metropolitan Museum of Art” by Danny Danziger.

Welcome to the Night

“I’ll rise when the sun goes down
Cover every game in town
A world of my own
I’ll make it my home sweet home” *

That’s not all that far off from describing my life as those few who actually know me can attest. “Call me if you’re up during normal hours,” one said to me recently. He’s still waiting for that call. Another calls me by a pet name based on the sound Owls, my Official Bird of the Night, make in Russia. Everyone knows not to make appointments for me in the morning (i.e.“the middle of the night”), or first thing in the afternoon..

How did this happen?

I’ve been this way as far back as I can remember. My folks made me work in the family business weekends and summers when I was a kid, so the only way I could get time to myself was by staying up late. I was one of those kids who used to read leaning over the bed on the side away from the door after light’s out with a flashlight and a book or magazine on the floor. And, I had a radio under my pillow which led me one especially lonely night to discover the late, GREAT Jean Shepherd, but more on him later. On that radio I also heard RFK’s assassination, live. I had seen Lee Harvey Oswald get shot, live too, years earlier, the first murder ever broadcast live.

After High School, and some classes at the Manhattan School of Music, I went on the road with a band for 5 years. Not exactly conducive to a change of schedule. Let’s suffice it to say I gave into peer pressure and my virginity, sobriety and innocence ended soon thereafter while my late lifestyle was perfect for this occupation- our typical gig started around 10pm and ended at 4am, sometimes 5 or 6 nights a week.

“I take one last drag
As I approach the stand
I cried when I wrote this song
Sue me if I play too long
This brother is free
I’ll be what I want to be” *

During my time as a musician, I was lucky enough to play all kinds of music from garage rock to acoustic jazz to classical (with an orchestra) and as a result, I developed an ear for an insanely wide range of music. I also worked with some great musicians including Billy Hart, T. Lavitz, jazz great Thomas Chapin, Twisted Sister, Steppenwolf, Spirit, Mark Ledford, Lonnie Plaxico and met many others including Jaco Pastorius,. Joe Zawinul, Vladimir Horowitz, Alfred Schnittke, Carlos Alomar, Tony Levin, Dave Fields, the guys in Letterman’s  & The SNL Band and much of the Steely Dan touring band among many others. Recording my band led to doing concert sound for an RCA Records band, then to an actual job as production manager for what Musician Mag called “one of the biggest music production houses in the country,” then to being an independent record producer, an artist manager, and 4 years as a writer for Jazziz Magazine. After I got fed up with the state of the record business in 1998, I decided to see if I could trust my eye as much as I had been trusting my ear and rededicate myself to my first passion, Art History, which I had been into before discovering music. Along the way, I did more than my share of patronizing every bar, club, dive and den, Museum, gallery and show within crawling distance.

“Sharing the things we know and love
With those of my kind
Libations…
Sensations…
That stagger the mind.” *

As a result, I think I’ve heard more music and seen more art than most people encounter in two lifetimes. That’s not bragging- that’s only a comment on my feeling that some people need to listen to more, and more wide ranging music, and see more, and more kinds of art. My library currently consists of 20,000 cd’s and 5,000 Lps. I’ve also made 1,200 visits to The Metropolitan Museum of Art since August 1, 2002. And yes, along the way, I’ve developed some ideas and opinions that, buckle your seatbelt, I’m going to share here.

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I’ve long identified with Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks at the Diner,” which I’ve seen in person both at it’s home at the Art Institute of Chicago and here in NYC at the “old” Whitney Museum during the “Hopper’s Drawings” show. I’ve always identified with the guy in the front who’s sitting by himself. The guy no one ever mentions in discussing this work which is now seminal to our culture and to the art, film, music and literature that has come after. It’s hard to believe it was painted in 1942. It feels so now. But, I digress, again.

I am that guy.KennPBp
That guy, with his back to us, sitting by himself, is someone I’ve spent much (too much?) of my life being. He’s sort of the observer- not blatantly looking at what’s going on, but aware of it, and doing his own thing, there for his own reasons. Like everywhere he goes. He sort of fits in, and sorta doesn’t. He’s a Denizen…a Nighthawk.

“That shape is my shade
There, where I used to stand
It seems like only yesterday
I gazed through the glass
At ramblers
Wild gamblers
That’s all in the past.” *

When I go out, it’s almost always solo. The good side of that is that no one gets to veto my choice of venue. No one has a say. I go where I want, when I want. While I have gone elsewhere (anywhere outside of NYC is elsewhere to me), I haven’t gone there often (One time I was invited to go somewhere, I was called a “Fresh Air Kid.” Remember them? It fit.). After all, it was always my life’s dream to live in Manhattan. And it took a long time for that to finally happen. Living here, there have been times when I’ve decided to go out somewhere at 1230am, even at 2am. How many places can you do that?

For the last 23 years, it’s been my world, my “home sweet home,” * as Steely Dan said in Deacon Blues*, the soundtrack of this post. I’ve lived most of that time in my world at night.

Now? I’m inviting YOU to come along with me. Pull up that open barstool, since there’s now plenty of them to choose from as  you can see from this blog’s banner (adopted from you know what, with my apologies. and undying admiration), and let’s see what the night brings.

As a great man once said, “The future is unwritten.” That leaves the present and the past to write about. One thing I’ve learned along the way- the journey is usually the destination.

“You call me a fool
You say it’s a crazy scheme
This one’s for real
I already bought the dream
So useless to ask me why
Throw a kiss and say goodbye
I’ll make it this time
I’m ready to cross that fine line.” *

*- from “Deacon Blues” Words & Music by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. Published by Universal Music Publishing Group. From the classic Lp “Aja,” by Steely Dan.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com