It's been six months since New Yorkers set foot in a museum—a long six months.
On Wednesday, I had the privilege of getting a sneak peek of what the Metropolitan Museum of Art has in store for visitors when it finally reopens on Saturday.
As the Met is arguably the city's star cultural institution, it should provide a useful glimpse into what the museum-going experience in general will look like in this strange new world of ours. It's risky business, therefore, safety precautions have to be taken. Checking out a new exhibit (or your favorite standby) is going to look different...at least at first.
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When I got to the front of the museum on Fifth Avenue, the line to get in was spaced out via red tape every six feet. Signs were posted along the way, asking visitors to wear masks and that if they're feeling ill, to return another day. (We appreciated the sick emojis.) The signs also reminded queuers that visitors from certain states must quarantine for 14 days when they first arrive.
A tent was set up outside where staff members scanned visitors with digital thermometers. Stepping up to one of them was definitely strange and felt like we were preparing for something more intense than just looking at paintings and sculptures. Each staff member wore a mask and a visor so there was less risk of transmission.
If you haven't had your temperature digitally taken yet, you're in for an oddly personal moment with a stranger. And yes, if you have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or greater, you will have to come back another time. You should fully expect to wear your mask (over your mouth and nose, people) the entire time you're in the museum.
You'll only be able to get in the museum if you purchase a timed entry ticket ahead of time because capacity is limited to keep down crowding. Social distancing will be in effect inside as well—there are signs and stickers on the floor to remind you.
Only one party at a time is allowed on the elevators. Inside, floor stickers help keep everyone spaced out.
If you need a map (and I wouldn't blame you if you did), you'll have to pull one up on your phone, because everyone's asked not to touch anything. If you do touch something, there are ample hand sanitizer stations throughout the building. You can find out more about what the museum is doing to keep everyone safe here.
When I walked through the galleries, it felt different from any other time I've been to the iconic museum. Usually, I have to wait to see a painting or sculpture because there's a crowd or I'm constantly avoiding being bumped into. This time, I often had an entire room to myself and could spend time with and thoroughly read about each piece.
At 25 percent of its capacity, there should be more time and space to enjoy these works. Not every gallery will be open, though. If you have a question about a certain section, you can ask any docent and they'll be happy to point you in the right direction.
As for the new exhibitions, prepare for some really incredible artwork.
"Making the Met: 1870-2020," takes you on a journey through the institution's history through more than 250 artworks it secured and displayed from its inception through today. Broken up by transitional moments in the evolution of the museum's collection, buildings, and ambitions, you'll see a thoughtful reflection on where it's been and where it's going.
You'll see everything from visitor favorites to fragile treasures that can only be placed on view from time to time. I saw famous Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, and John Singer Sargent paintings, a photograph of Marilyn Monroe by Richard Avedon and a 1960s mod dress from Yves Saint Laurent, religious art like an ornate Hebrew Bible from the 1300s, antiquities from around the globe such as an Egyptian statue of Hatshepsut and a Neo-Hittite decorative stone slab, and so much more.
"Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle" was a real treat because this American modernist's work hasn't been seen by that wide of an audience. It packs a real punch in terms of presenting an inclusive world history, spanning subjects from European colonization to World War I, that puts the experiences of people of color and women at the forefront. These incredibly vibrant, yet often dark, works are part of a series of 60 12-by-16-inch tempera paintings, which for the first time in more than a century are reunited here. Lawrence painted the series at the height of the Cold War and Joseph McCarthy's Red Scare and around the time of major Civil Rights actions, such as the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. I learned that Lawrence was watched by the FBI, too, because his work was seen as progressive and therefore as a "danger."
The Met's Roof Garden commission, Lattice Detour by Lisbon-based Mexican artist Héctor Zamora, is a wall made of terra cotta bricks from Mexico that was built by Mexican and Latin American brick layers. Each brick was constructed so viewers can see through its middle, so when you stand on one side of it, you can still see the skyline. When the sun hits it, its shadow is a latticed pattern on the ground. Lattice Detour isn't subtle. It alludes to the infamous wall the Trump Administration has promised to build along the southern border and it aims to reflect the divisions in society over immigration but it also shows that we are all connected.
The Met's Roof Garden won't be serving up drinks and food this season, but it still offers that same incredible view of the Manhattan skyline. When the doors opened and I stepped out for the first time in what seems like ages, I felt a burst of joy wash over me. It sounds dramatic, but seeing our city before me, knowing all it has gone through and continues to go through, felt like a true homecoming and a reminder of why we're all sticking it out here.
There's more to come at The Met this fall, too. Coming up on October 29, the Costume Institute's 2020 exhibition, "About Time: Fashion and Duration," will open, tracing a century and a half of fashion.
The Met is open five days a week, Thursday through Monday. On Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays, it will be open from 10am to 5pm. The Museum will offer later hours on Thursdays and Fridays and be open from noon to 7pm.
The Met Cloisters will open in September.
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