By Carter B. Horsley
Visitors to the re-opened the Greek and Roman
Art Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see The
City Review article) are likely to be overwhelmed by the number
of works on view and enchanted by the fact that several of the
galleries now have clear windows overlooking Central Park and
Fifth Avenue and that the main gallery has a large skylight.
There is much to delight the eye as well there
should considering that the renovation of the galleries over the
course of about 15 years cost $220 million, not counting the art,
an astounding sum.
The reconstruction of the galleries now permits
the museum exhibit almost double the number of works in its Greek
and Roman Art collection that are now on view. The new galleries
now permit the museum to show almost 95 percent of the more than
5,000 works in the Greek and Roman Art collection.
By restoring the south wing to its original
purpose, the reconstruction also pays homage to the vision of
its first architects, McKim, Mead & White, who created it
with Greek and Roman art in mind.
In comparison with the very handsome barrel-vaulted
hall with skylights that was created several years ago, the new
central hall, shown above on the right, now called the Leon Levy
and Shelby White Court, is pleasant but not as elegant.
The galleries are in the museum's south wing.
The south wing opened in 1926 and its central hall then was a
single-story peristyle court with Doric columns. As reconfigured
by Kevin Roche of Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo, the architectural
firm that has overseen much of the museum's expansion in recent
decades, the central hall now has a two-story peristyle hall with
While it was originally opened in 1926 as a
single-story, peristyle court with Doric columns, the new courtyard
has a two-story peristyle with Ionic columns, doubling the height
of the gallery. In 1954, the museum decided to convert the main
gallery into a large cafeteria with a large pool with sculptures
by Carl Millius. Several years ago, the museum decided to remove
the pool and Millius sculptures and replace them with a sunken
white-table restaurant service area.
Many of the works are perched atop grey stone
columns. One observer, Michele Leight, observed, correctly, that
the columns are drab and not worthy of the surmounted art works.
Also many labels are hard to read as their background is grey.
Surely $220 million could have provided some travertine or light-colored
More recently, the museum opened a new restaurant
in the basement to replace the two in the south wing. The new
basement cafeteria had known of the grandeur of the south wing's
height and especially the great Art Deco panel from the Normandie
oceanliner that overlooked the bar area. In addition to the new
basement cafeteria the museum opened a restaurant at the west
end of the Petrie Court that is very attractive since it has views
of Central Park but is not inexpensive and another very limited
menu food area on the west side of the sculpture court of the
American Wing that also overlooks Central Park.
By moving the restaurant operation out of the
south wing, the museum was able to replace its kitchen with galleries
that have windows facing south overlooking Central Park on both
the main floor and mezzanine levels.
The center piece of the new central hall is
a large, low, black-stone fountain. It ain't the Trevi Fountain
and it ain't old! Its form and color and its slight gurgling sound
are not terrible, but Anita Ekberg and other goddesses are not
likely to traipse about in it.
The museum's Greek and Roman Art Department
is following the lead of the museum's Egyptian and American Art
departments in putting most of its collections on view, both in
the main galleries and in the "study collections" in
the South Wing's mezzanine. Furthermore, it has arranged to a
certain extent the galleries in chronological order.
But a few have a lot of shards and the only
way to locate particular objects is to find one of the few installed
computer touch screens and try to master its system.
Sadly, the museum has published
an expensive catalogue that unfortunately does not document all
the objects now on view. Indeed, it has relative few illustrations.
The renovated galleries opened in April, 2007.
In an article published in The New York Times
April 18, 2007, Robin Pogregin notes that in the former restaurant
hall "The new tessera floor is modeled after that of the
Pantheon, with green-and-red marble in alternating squares and
circles. The floor pieces were cut and shaped in Italy, then hand-laid
on sand bedding without grouting." 'It allows the stone
to settle into place, said Jeffrey L. Daly, the Mets
senior design adviser to the director for capital and special
projects,' the article continued.
"Building a fountain was another point
of contention. McKim, Mead & Whites 1920s court featured
a modest rectangular pool surrounded by greenery and classical
sculpture. But this time many of those involved were concerned
that a water feature in the center of the soaring space would
rivet the eye and upstage the art," Ms. Pogrebin wrote.
Not to worry....