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Reopening of the Greek and Roman Galleries

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

"Three Graces" on loan

One of highlights of new galleries is "Three Graces," a Roman marble sculpture loaned from the collection of Shelby White and Leon Levy after whom the central hall is named.

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.

Gallery overlooks Central Park

Some of the "new galleries" now have windows overlooking Central Park to the south or Fifth Avenue to the east

Other "side" galleries" now have windows overlooking Fifth Avenue. with bronze statue of Eros Sleeping, Greek, Hellenistic or Augustinian, 3rd Century B.C.-1st Century A.D., Rogers Fund 1943, at left foreground

sleeping baby

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.

Some "old" friends such as this "Old Lady," marble statue, Roman, Julio-Claudian Period, A.D. 14-68,, Rogers Fund, are back

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 Ionic columns.

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 marble.

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.

Bronze masked and veiled dancer

Speaking of goddesses, there are some familiar masterpiece faces and/or bodies including the bronze statue of a veiled and masked dancer, Greek, 3rd-2nd Century B.C., bequest of Walter C. Baker 1971, right

Bronze Aphrodite

Bronze statuette of Aprhodite, Greek, circa 150-100 B.C., variant of 4th Century B.C. of Aphrodite of Knidox by Praxiteles, Rogers Fund 1912

Bronze Hermes Bronze satyr

Masterpiece men, of course, are not neglected. Brpmze statuette of Hermes, Greek or Roman, 1st Century B.C., Rogers Fund, center; bronze statuette of a satyr, Greek, 3rd to 2nd Century B.C., Fletcher Fund 1929, right

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.

Some of the "study" vitrines have a pleasant assortment of small bronze gods...

And some have an appealing group of marble torsos...

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.

The colorful and dramatic frescos are once again on view...

One of the major works that will be "new" to many veteran Met visitors is an impressive sarcophagus...

Stucco bas-reliefs

And some very graceful stucco bas-reliefs, Romanlate Julio-Claudian or Flauvian Period, 2nd half of 1st Century A.D., gift of Henry Marquand

Myceanaen figure of seated woman Cycladic marble figure of a woman

For many visitors, however, there are "little" treasures in some nooks such as terracotta female figure in a 3-legged chair, Helladic (Mycenaen), Helladic IIIB, circa 1300-1200 B.C., Cesnola Collection, 1876, left, and marble female figure, Cycladic, Neolithic period, circa 4500 to 4000 B.., bequest of Walter C. Baker, right

Connoisseurs, of course, will enjoy some ancient glass...

Greek Attic water jug

And a few pots such as this Greek Attic, Black-figure terracotta hydria, circa 510 B.C., lent by Shelby White and Leon Levy

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.

Mosaic panel

Mosaic panel of pigmies, Roman, mid-3rd Century A.D., lent by the Dubraff family

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 Met’s senior design adviser to the director for capital and special projects,' the article continued.

"Building a fountain was another point of contention. McKim, Mead & White’s 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....

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