An entertaining peek behind the curtains—and the security cameras, and the interpretive signage, and the archival cases and winding basements—of Manhattan’s famed house of culture.
Who knew that the Metropolitan Museum of Art is New York City’s foremost tourist attraction, welcoming more than four-million visitors yearly? According to pop historian Danziger (1215: The Year of Magna Carta, 2004, etc.), each of the Met’s thousands of employees does, so justifiably proud are they of the world’s second-largest museum (after the Louvre). Danziger lets some 50 of those employees speak for themselves in a series of first-person monologues (democratically organized in alphabetical order) preceded by one-paragraph profiles. He begins, fittingly, with immigrant, Honduras-born custodian Juan Aranda, who reveals, “the ledges on the balcony above the Main Entrance are the most difficult places to clean because they are so hard to reach.” Also hard to reach are some of the prices the international art market commands, admits Keith Christiansen, a curator specializing in the earliest stirrings of the Renaissance who was able to procure a rarest-of-the-rare Duccio by appealing to the vanity of the Met’s director. “Tom Hoving had his Juan de Pareja,” Christiansen told Philippe de Montebello. “I don’t see why you shouldn’t have this toward the end of your career.” For his part, Montebello proclaims, “I am the Met,” and contemplates his last walk through the galleries in “maximum zenithal light.” From high and low, all the people of the Met gladly own their positions and take them with the utmost seriousness, providing here a primer on the care and feeding of a massive public institution that spends and earns millions upon hundreds of millions and houses some of the nation’s and the world’s greatest treasures.
A delectable pleasure for Met devotees.