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art and travel journal from a round-the-world art adventure

Metropolitan

USA | Saturday, 10 December 2011 | Views [450]

In the opening passage of Rudyard Kipling's Kim the Lahore Museum is described as "the old Ajaib-Gher - the Wonder House". Which is true, as this museum contains many a forgotten treasure. Dusty, yes. Neglected, somewhat. But that is easily part of its charm.

The question then becomes how to describe the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, whose treasures are so astonishingly large as to render quite inadequate words like mansion or even palace.

The collection is overwhelming. There are objects from Crete and Persia, Japan and Africa, Meso America and the South Pacific. Everything made by man, from the earliest days to immediate present.

Everyone finds it daunting. Friends say it is possible only in small doses, that you must go to see just one small part and then escape before the weight of all that history buries you.

I disagree. Yes, the Museum is encyclopaedic in its breadth. Yes, there is too much to see in one or even several days. But my time here is limited, so I gorge before the feast. Stock up on sights and drawings to be digested later, perhaps on the long slow journey home in January.

I draw armour and musical instruments, antique weapons and Nabataean ceramics from the 1st Century AD. There are samurai helmets and bronze ends for walking sticks. Roman glass and Etruscan figurines.

And then there are the images. Indian miniatures, late gothic panels and Tiffany stained glass all have their galleries and exemplars. Several rooms, clearly once the private collections of modern oligarchs of one kind or another, are filled with Picasso and Matisse. Klee, Kelly and Kapoor.

But the museum is not about lists. Is not about seeing this or that specific thing. It is instead a vast repository of examples of all that can be seen and made. A 'wonder house' indeed.

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