2019 was the last time I stepped foot in a museum as a visitor. If we want to get technical, I bounced around to several historic sites and Smithsonians in Washington D.C. this past winter. If I could sum up my past experiences as a museum-goer, I would say that they all involved some level of spontaneity. Unfortunately, that level of luxury is not available to those wishing to visit a recently reopened museum in the wake of COVID-19.
In August, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that museums and cultural institutions in New York City could open on the 24th with limited capacity and timed entries. All guests would be required to wear face coverings and expected to follow the directions of gallery attendants and guards.
As someone suffering from a severe case of art withdrawal, I anxiously awaited the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s announcement regarding their phased reopening. Several hours after the Governor’s order – I got my wish. The Met issued a statement, saying that they were excited to welcome back visitors in the upcoming weeks and noted the reopening would follow guidelines from the CDC, New York State, and New York City.
My yearly pilgrimage to the Met became like no other. I reserved a timed ticket entry weeks in advance for Thursday, September 10th at 12:00 PM. On the day-of, I happened to be a little late to my showing, but I did not encounter any issues.
Before every visit to The Met’s galleries, I like to strut up the famed steps. However, as I made my way over, I noticed socially distant, red duct tape on the ground – a waiting queue. As I began to process all of this, I encountered a friendly staff member outside, who helped me navigate my way into the museum. As soon as you enter, masked up, you get your temperature and bag checked. After which point, you can use some hand sanitizer and either purchase a ticket or check-in with Member services. Once I put my membership sticker on, I whipped around and marveled at how empty and eerily quiet the Great Hall seemed. As I #Museum(ed)FromHome these past few months, I saw how cultural institutions in Europe, namely the Van Gogh Museum, used the reopening regulations as a way to entice visitors to have a seemingly private experience and encounter with their collections. As I ascended up the grand staircase, I looked back and saw I had no one behind me expect the two security guards at the base of the steps. This is the moment that I realized I could enjoy this world-renowned institution and its 5,000 years of art seemingly all to myself.
The Met has multiple “one way” signs posted around, to ensure guests maintain social distancing as well as gallery floor plans, because physical maps are temporarily unavailable. Visitors can utilize the free and improved WiFi to access digital maps, audio guides, and other literature relating to the institution.
As I made my way towards the new exhibition “Making The Met,” I couldn’t help but peer into a window overlooking an assemblage of the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts. Usually, this area is congested, but thanks to the limited capacity, I could make out almost all the works with a single glance. I usually walk down this hallway every visit, and I have included a personal snapshot below to illustrate the hall’s traditional capacity.
I got sidetracked by these unusual spacious spectacles that I deviated once again from my destination and found myself in the 19th and 20th Century European Paintings and Sculpture galleries. During quarantine, I watched The Great Courses lecture series, “How To Look And Understand Great Art” taught by my alma mater’s former President, Dr. Sharon Hirsh. In these videos, Dr. Hirsh encouraged students to utilize the skills and methods conveyed in the lessons, and put them to use in a gallery setting. Since the Met had closed its doors on March 13th, this was my first opportunity to put my newfound tools and knowledge to use in front of real artworks, not reproductions. Unintentionally, this visit enabled me to have an intimate look at several of my favorite paintings that I normally have to tiptoe around crowds to view. I spent over ten uninterrupted minutes in front of the traditionally-crowded Wheat Field with Cypresses (1889) by Vincent van Gogh – an opportunity that left quite an impression on me. The limited capacity enabled me to see Van Gogh’s use of impasto, up close. You can discern his thick slabs of paint in a reproduction, but viewing Wheat Field in person, gave me the chance to study the artist’s style. Most notably, I remember getting lost in the texture and whimsical color of the clouds. The best part of all is that I did not have to feel guilty about conducting this lengthy close analysis, because I practically had Gallery 822 all to myself.
Overall, I am glad I ventured to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the weeks after they reopened. I felt safe, and the galleries were not overcrowded. The Met has over 800 signs and stickers to help maintain social distancing and guide visitors around the galleries. All my fellow art lovers should continue to #MuseumFromHome but I would strongly encourage you to visit a cultural institution if you feel comfortable enough to do so. Limited capacity presents a unique opportunity for guests to spend an unusual amount of time analyzing and studying works of art. In an ever-changing world, I found comfort in seeing my old pals Degas, Cassatt, and Van Gogh. I hope I never have to endure a five month museum closure ever again!
“Visitor Guidelines.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2020.
Weintraub, Karen. “Behind the Scenes at The Metropolitan Museum of Art: What Does It Take to Reopen a National Landmark?” USA Today. Aug. 27, 2020.
**All photographs were taken by the author**