Tag Archives: museums

Arts and Culture in the Metropolis

Tower of London
Tower of London

The Mayor’s Priorities for Culture 2009-12.  See the document here for his vision on maintaining London’s position as a world centre of cultural excellence.

For an another viewpoint let’s turn to Gotham Girl’s analysis of transatlantic museum visiting.

The British Museum wallops the Met in ancient civilizations

The Elgin Marbles – that is a proper test of wills

The Tate Modern is notably NOT just a storage space 

I love museums. I live only a short walk from Museum Mile here in Manhattan so museums figure prominently in my leisure schedule at home as well as abroad.

Few places in New York offer better “people watching” than the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met for short). Few places in New York offer more beautiful views than the roof of the Met.

I don’t think the front of the British Museum offers quite the same experience.

great_hall Met
Metroplitan Museum of Art

At the Met, I can curl up with a book in Engelhard Court. I frequently head to the Temple of Dendur to visit with friends. We can – and do – even enjoy lunch or drinks now that they’ve reclaimed the first floor for the Greek and Roman galleries and the eateries have had to move downstairs. This move hasn’t done much for the Greek and Roman collections but it has improved the “grab a bite of lunch” experience at the Met tenfold.

Still, museums are, on many levels, the sum of the collections and much as I love the Met as a whole, certain galleries don’t fare very well when compared to their British Museum counterparts. The British Museum wallops the Met in ancient civilizations. The Greek and Roman collection of the Met is a bit “meh” – well, a lot “meh.” The Temple of Dendur, aside, their Egyptian collection isn’t much better and is displayed abysmally. As for controversial artifacts – the Met pales in comparison. Sure, Turkey went after the Metropolitan about the Lydian Horde but the Met returned it so – in a mere six or so years – that was that. The Elgin Marbles – that is a proper test of wills. Impressive.  Oh and here’s a handy tip – don’t make remarks on how “liberated” the marbles look within earshot of guards. Goodness, how that man glared. Still, it wasn’t as bad as the time at Westminster Abbey when I stomped on Thomas Hardy’s name in Poet’s Corner. Still, that’s another story for another time (and in my defense I think MOST people would like to stomp on Thomas Hardy).

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The Aztec Empire of Central America

When Moctezuma ate, four beautiful women would appear to wash his hands before passing him a bowl of foaming chocolate

Visit the Aztec Exhibition at The British Museum [free entry when you join as a member]

MoctezumaOf course, it was a tragedy. Never in history has there been such a clash of civilisations. Never has there been a conflict as unfair as the fight between the Aztecs and the Spanish conquistadors, and it is hard not to see Moctezuma as the victim. What hope did he have against the Castilian aggressors, with their greed, their trickery and their superior military technology?

He stands for every glorious and primitive monarch who has ever been overwhelmed by the white man. He is like Boudicca, crushed by the legions; or Cetewayo, his impis mown down by the Maxim gun; or Sitting Bull, his braves slaughtered by the US cavalry – except Moctezuma was far more glorious and more tragic than them all.

When Moctezuma ate, four beautiful women would appear to wash his hands before passing him a bowl of foaming chocolate. When Moctezuma received visitors, they were obliged to enter barefoot and dressed in sacking, and to avert their eyes so religiously that no one was even sure what he looked like. When the king wanted to hunt, birds were discreetly ushered past his palace window, so that he could have a pop at them with his blowpipe. When Moctezuma pricked his ears with a needle, his people seriously believed that the trickle of blood would help the crops to grow.

Adorned with gold and the feathers of tropical birds, he ruled the most powerful and opulent civilisation of the Americas. He was the elected and unchallenged master of a city of 200,000, a place of ancient temples and fantastic statuary, set dreamlike on an island in a vast lake fringed by snow-capped volcanoes. So when, in 1519, he looked into his black polished obsidian mirror and saw – so it was said later – strange men riding on deer, he was completely unprepared for the shock that fate had in store.

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