The Metropolitan Museum of Art can be an overwhelming place to visit. Most people focus on the special exhibits, and “Charles James: Beyond Fashion,” which opened in early May, is certainly one to see. In the year I’ve been volunteering at the Met, I’ve uncovered several permanent treasures that I probably wouldn’t have ordinarily seen as a casual visitor.
The first is the Studiolo (or study) from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio. Located in gallery 501 in European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, the Studiolo was intended for meditation and study. According to the Met, its walls are carried out in a wood-inlay technique known as intarsia, and the latticework doors of the cabinets demonstrate a contemporary interest in linear perspective.
Another meditative spot is the Astor Chinese Garden Court located in gallery 217 in the Asian wing. A recreation of a Ming Dynasty garden, the Astor Court was part of the first cultural exchange between the US and the People’s Republic of China.
On your way to the garden stop by gallery 207 to see “Small Delights: Chinese Snuff Bottles.” It will be on view through June 14, 2014 and they are truly delightful tiny works of art you might have otherwise passed by.
Located between European paintings and the American Wing, is another hidden treasure at the Met — The André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments. In galleries 680-684, you can find traditional instruments like guitars and flutes as well as some unusual ones like the trumpet call harmonica pictured above. One hall is devoted to Western instruments, arranged by type or family, and the other to non-Western instruments, grouped geographically. Many of the instruments may be heard on the Met’s audio guide.
Another often missed area of the Met are the 9 galleries that comprise the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. While they are all really interesting, my favorite is gallery 354, home to the Oceanic arts of Melanesia (subdivided into two areas: New Guinea and Island Melanesia) and Australia. Covering most of the ceiling in the room is a ceremonial house ceiling from the Kwoma people, which can be seen in the photo above.
Equally interesting are the funerary carvings that line one side of the room. They are part of malagan, the collective name for a series of ceremonies, as well as the masks and carvings associated with them. As described at the exhibit, these rituals, still practiced today, are held primarily in memory of the dead and combined with initiation ceremonies in which young men symbolically replace those who have died.
So by all means, see the Met’s special exhibits, but leave yourself some time to view some of the museum’s hidden treasures.