Scratch and Sniff Museum

The allure  of the Metropolitan Museum of Art rests mainly  in the rivalries, the machinations, the sexual intrigues of many of the men of fortune, and power and bloodline. It’s in the intestinal workings of an autocratic circle of trustees who have long guided the institution and are generally revealed to enjoy a complete disconnect with reality and coupled with a disdain for the viewing public.

The Met is a repository of more than two million art objects created over the course of 5,000 years; more than 2 million square feet of space occupying 13 acres of New York’s Central Park and encompassing power and fire stations, an infirmary and an armory with a forge .It is the largest museum in the Western Hemisphere and attracts 4.5 million visitors a year.

Through the charitable corporation under which the museum is founded does not own the treasures, it manages them “in trust. In practice, the board deems itself the owner. Indeed arrogance and competition has prevailed among both trustees and the administration. Such men as J. Pierpont Morgan, C. Douglas Biddle, Robert Lehman, and various Whitneys, Houghtons, Rockefellers and other powerful men ruled the board. Money talks, especially old crisp money with a blue blooded hue. In more recent years, freshly minted rich, social climbers and a crowd of fashion-minded hangers-on have begun appropriating parts of the administration. this new breed is no more aesthetically minded than their forbears though there is a tendency towards more frivolous exhibitions.A seat on the board begins with a $10 million donation.met2

The museum’s first director was Luigi Palma da Cesnola, self-described aristocrat, U. S. Civil War veteran and expatriate Italian. A confirmed tomb robber on the island of Crete, he demolished tombs, ruining priceless objects to build a collection which he sold to the Met. Much of it was deaccessioned in the modern era, a practice dear to museums, since it allows them to sell-off art without any publicity.

 “Next year we’re going to let people grab any masterpiece they like and just take a shit on it.” said Thomas Campbell, the director of the Met. The potty and tactile era has begun for the Met. In an initiative to garner cheap publicity and increase traffic, the Met has begun a policy of  allowing patrons to touch, scratch and manipulate its arts collection valued between $400-500 million.

Harry Burton, Metropolitan, 1925

Harry Burton, Metropolitan, 1925



“At first it just looked like a picture of a bunch of lily pads, but then I started scraping at it with my pocket knife and the whole painting just sort of spoke to me,” Schmidt ,a visitor said regarding Monet’s Water Lillies.”This is good to know about, though” said  Karen Cooper,a first time visitor, before applying another coating of moisturizing lotion to her hands and returning to palm more Vermeers. “Whenever I need some alone time, I can bring the kids here and send them off to go play with the Picassos for a while.”

The new policy has been so popular that on Monday the Met began extending tactile privileges beyond its paintings. Patrons are now invited to climb inside ancient Egyptian sarcophagi, whether to take a souvenir photo or just carve a message into a 2,500-year-old sacred coffin. Museum-goers are also encouraged to try on the medieval suits of armor and participate in mock battles.( The Onion, Oct 5, 2009 )

”Behind almost every painting is a fortune and behind that a sin or a crime”. Thus begins Michael Gross’s book Rogues Gallery: the Secret History of the Moguls & The Money That made The metropolitan Museum. effectively, the opening is inspired by Honore de Balzac’s ”Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oubliee, parce qu’ill a ete proprement fait. ( The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found out, because it was properly executed. ) With regard to the Met and money, another Balzac citation may be even more appropriate: ” Equality may be a right but no power on earth can convert it into fact.”

”The Metropolitan is a huge alchemical experiment, turning the worst of man’s attributes—extravagance, lust, gluttony, acquisitiveness, envy, avarice, greed, egotism, and pride—into the very best, transmuting deadly sins into priceless treasure.” ( Gross, Rogue’s Gallery ) the Met is a viwed as a creation of upper caste society, however the cast of characters, in their incoherence and irrationality more closely resembles Damon Runyan’s Guy and Dolls than the illusion of genteel, wealthy benefactors acting in the public good.

”With a supporting cast that includes artists, forgers, and looters, financial geniuses and scoundrels, museum officers (like its chairman Arthur Amory Houghton, head of Corning Glass, who once ripped apart a priceless and ancient Islamic book in order to sell it off piecemeal), trustees (like Jayne Wrightsman, the Hollywood party girl turned society grand dame), curators (like the aging Dietrich von Bothmer, a refugee from Nazi Germany with a Bronze Star for heroism whose greatest acquisitions turned out to be looted), and donors…”

 the lifecycle of the Met is unquestionably on a downward slide. Most of today’s active collectors including Steven A. Cohen, Ronald Lauder and Bill Gates have shown little interest in getting involved with the Met, according to Forbes magazine. Others have favored their regional museums or contemporary art collections. Meanwhile, its core function — offering visitors a collection of the ‘best of the best’ — is challenged by what former director Philippe de Montebello has referred to dispargingly as ultra-nationalists bent on destroying the universal cultural mission of the great museums. in other words, the countries where these works were looted from, want their art back.

The concept of allowing visitors to lay hands on valuable art work is however, not sustainable, not warranted, and damaging to the reputation of the museum as well as the exposed pieces. ”  These works of art, ranging from ancient Rome and Egypt to last week Thursday, are just that–works of art. They can’t be touched, they can’t be help, poked, prodded, worn, scraped at or in any way defiled. They require great care to remain as pure as possible to preserve them for as long as possible, to allow others to observe, appreciate, learn from and document as an important part of our human heritage and natural expressions. Sounds reasonable, right? But suddenly, you lose a huge audience segment in the process.”

Metropolitan, Great Hall

Metropolitan, Great Hall

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4 Responses to Scratch and Sniff Museum

  1. C says:

    You do realize that the Onion article you cited and quoted from above is fake and that the Onion itself is not a real newspaper, right?

    • Dave says:

      yes I know. But it was such great copy; it was too tempting and difficult to pass up. However, it from some of what I gathered concerning the Michael Gross book,Rogue’s gallery, that some people who have been involved with the MMA share that relationship with art and are actually quite antagonistic towards it. Thank-you for reading

  2. Kathryn says:

    nice article. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did anyone know that some Iranian hacker had hacked twitter yesterday.

    • Dave says:

      Am not a big tweeter at this point. Am using it to announce new blog posts, not more than 3-4 posts per day. Its possible about the hacker; but twitter has a lot of issues to deal with anyway, but its terrific.

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