MMA: The New 19th Century Galleries for Painting and Sculpture

Last week, I visited the New 19th Century Galleries for Painting and Sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The point of entry to these galleries is a long, grand corridor of paintings and sculptures that invites the visitor to wander around at their own pace. The grand surroundings give a sense of class and status, but despite this, the art seems accessible: low pedestals in open space make it easy for children to see the art and encourage visitors to walk around the sculptures and view the artwork from just inches away.

The near-perfect symmetry of the first gallery space creates an unmistakable sense of balance and order, both in terms of the arrangements of artwork  and interior architecture. The lighting seems like pretty general overhead lighting – it does not appear to cater to individual works.

From the initial hall of painting and sculpture, visitors have a choice of three doorways to other galleries. From here, visitors choose their own path to wander through the other galleries.

The didactics in these galleries are quite simple, providing a little background and perhaps an tidbit of interesting information regarding the artwork.

Benches in some galleries provide a welcome place for visitors to rest for a little while, or perhaps sit while spending some time looking at a painting.

The Wisteria Dining Room (1910-13), designed by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer in Art Nouveau style, is one part of the exhibit that stood out. The entire room, originally built in a Paris apartment, has been put back together within the museum. The incorporation of the room’s original floor lamps makes the room appear as it would actually have looked almost one hundred years ago.

A couple of the painting galleries were surprisingly dimly lit. Sure, it creates contrast between the rooms, and the dim light really brings the visitor in, but I found myself squinting to see the paintings. I suppose that this was the intention of the exhibit designers, so I’ll be interested to find out more about why one might choose to display paintings in such a dark environment.