The Whig Dining Room

img_0282 British architect Robert Adam designed the Lansdowne House for Prime Minister John Stuart in the 1760s. Stuart sold it before completion around 1768 to William Petty-Fizmaurice, Earl of Shelburne, who used his new home as a gathering place for Whig politicians. When Landsowne was converted into a club in 1930, the dining room was sold and transported to the Met in 1931, where it was rebuilt as a mirror image of its original self, due, according to explanatory text, “to the exigencies of space.”

As it stands now, the room is a grand hyper-Classical space with fluted columns and period (though not original) furniture of mahogany and leather. This is one of a very few spaces in the museum with columns, and the Met’s floor plan renders them as tiny dark blue dots. It’s a place where I can imagine mustachioed men of power complaining about the burden of being very, very rich, while servants roll their eyes and wonder just how difficult it would be to fatally poison a member of Parliament.

A dinner table sits beneath an overwrought chandelier; classical statuary flanks diners. The bluish gray walls and ceiling are beautifully decorated with ornate vegetal and nautical molding. Rigid griffins preen and fluted fans and egg-and-dart motifs cover the surfaces like lichen. A grisaille over-mantel painting momentarily fools you into thinking it’s bas-relief carving.

The Met does reassembled architecture well, but these resituated places always feel off to me. Landsowne shares a west wall with Central Park; on its north side, black fabric covers a floor-to-ceiling window, obscuring what would otherwise be a surreal view of the American Wing Café.

The Dining Room from the Landsowne House

Highlight: The wine cooler made of old-growth hardwood, not high-fructose corn syrup and malt liquor.

Memorable quote: “Lansdowne House, designed by Robert Adam and situated in the Southwest corner of Berkeley Square, London, was begun for Prime Minster John Stuart, third Earl of Bute, who sold it, unfinished, about 1765 to William Petty-Fitzmaurice (1737-1805), Earl of Shelburne, later first Marquess of Lansdowne and a leading Whig statesman of the period.” From the text for 32.12

Next Week: Cubism! Cubism! Cubism!

Here is a sad griffin I saw walking to the Museum. I was. I was walking to the museum. The griffin, who’d just been abandoned by the love of his life, was lying there in pieces.

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Edward Hopper > ads for Bravo shows

Those hip motherfuckers over at The Happy Corp beat us to the punch reporting the news that MoMA has finished installing a project in the Atlantic/Pacific subway station. The Happy Corp got a preview tour of the installation yesterday. We got high and watched The Talented Mr. Ripley again. Spoiler alert: Jude Law smolders.

We say yes to this project, and we haven’t even seen it yet (though we have perused the rapidly-growing flickr gallery). We’re all for public art, even when it comes from the most established of the Art Establishment.

atlpacAnd the free, downloadable mp3 audio tour? Yes please. We plan on arriving to Atlantic/Pacific a half-hour early next time we visit chez Andy Van Slyke. That way we’ll have enough time to stroll through the station while an art historian drops little knowledge bombs on us like this one, from the track on Cézanne’s The Bather: “Quite often, Cézanne used landscape color on the figure, and figure color on the landscape.” Scuse me while I turn up my iPod to LEARNING.

Eagle-Rape

The Spyros and Eurydice Costopoulos Gallery lies along the Met’s west façade, just south of the newly renovated Greek and Roman Galleries. It contains Greek art of the 4th Century B.C., a period that saw Greece grow from a collection of sparring city-states into an empire stretching to India.

Among the Costopolous’ treasures is a row of six marble heads, long since cleaved from their bodies. The forlorn faces are broken and smooth and stained. There’s a shiny gilt scabbard and three marble stele, or grave markers, all of which feature bas-relief portraits of the deceased shaking hands with someone in their family. Particularly moving is the veiled face of a statue representing mourning. Nothing like some drapery executed in stone, am I right? Right? Yeah.
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The gallery’s clear stars are its smallest artifacts. They’re so unassuming I overlooked them on my first pass through the room. It was only on revisiting yesterday that I caught them: the most wonderful god-damned earrings I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen some beauties.

Each of the earrings is a tiny scene showing Ganymede being spirited away to Mt. Olympus by Zeus in the form of an eagle (the gods had decided to kidnap him because A. they needed a bartender and B. he was GORGEOUS).

What’s remarkable here is not just the craftsmanship—though the detail is impressive, in Zeus’s feathers especially. But more notable to my eye is the mood of the tiny pieces, the tenderness that the man and the animal show each other. In Rembrandt’s formulation, the abduction of Ganymede was a rape, á la Leda and the Swan (Leda was also violated by Zeus, who, in addition to his penchant for serial rape, was a bestiality enthusiast. Take that, The Internet! Hellenic mythos makes you look staid by comparison!)

But in these Macedonian earrings, the two figures have an affinity. Ganymede slings an arm above his head, delicately encircling the neck of the disguised Zeus, whose talon grips the youth’s other hand. They look like lovers. Miniature, solid-gold, interspecies rape-lovers.

The Met is so fucking weird and great and I suggest you go immediately.

The Spyros and Euridice Costopolous Gallery

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Highlight: The Ganymeade Earrings

Memorable quote: “Marsyas was so proficient at playing the double-flute that he challenged the god Apollo himself to a contest. Apollo agreed on the condition that the victor could do as he pleased to the vanquished, and after winning, he had Marsyas flayed alive by a Scythian slave.” From the text for exhibit 12.139.4a.b.

Next week: Nobody at the Met knows what’s in the Met. And, by overwhelming popular demand, an in-depth look at the dining room commissioned by John Stuart, third Earl of Bute. Try not to pee in your pants with excitement!!!

The Metric System

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Assuming you’re not a cretin—and, this being the Internet, I think that’s fair to assume—you love the novel From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Well, that’s terrific, since I do, too. In fact, that little gem of juvenile fiction has indirectly inspired me to write this blog.

A brief explanation. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is, more or less, the story of a girl and her little brother who run away from home and hide out in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s a wonderful book, and if you haven’t read it we probably wouldn’t be friends anyway. You’re probably on the wrong website. I think you’re supposed to be here (not really sfw).

In any event, Claudia and Jamie’s adventures gave me a predilection for the Met, and there’s just about no place I’d rather be on a rainy day than in the American Impressionist galleries.

But I’m listing from my initial point, which was something about the purpose of this column. I wanted do a yearlong, room-by-room walkthrough of the entire Museum and post weekly reviews, observations, and bons mot on Suggested Donation. Kind of charmingly quixotic, right? Lots of fantastic and varied subject matter—could be fun to read, right? Right. Except for one thing. The Met is very, very big.

The European painting and sculpture galleries alone comprise over 50 rooms. A room-by-room review of the Met would take more like a decade, and galleries’ content changes frequently. The Met measures over two million feet square—more, if you count the Cloisters, the Met’s semi-autonomous satellite of medieval art that sits on a hill north of the George Washington Bridge. The Museum is so big that I found a whole new wing last month on the West side of the ground floor, an atrium that I’d missed each of the dozens of times I’d wandered through.

So comprehensive may be out, but consistent is in. I’ll post weekly updates to this column—which will be called 52 Ways of Looking at the Met, or, wait, METrosexual. METonymy. METric System. Something.

As a means of engaging you, Reader, let’s have a Name this Column competition! With prizes! In the interest of fairness, it’s worth noting that your prize will probably be my lightly used copy of Atlas Shrugged, in the margins of which are scribbled my insights on the text (“Are you fucking serious?”)

Next week: Visit One, in which I learn that it’s easy to get lost in the Met.