The summer is winding down and the pace of New York is slow. I decided to run away for an afternoon and spend it monster hunting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The MET is a huge museum and attempting to see it all in day is a lot like trying to cram for an art history exam — your brain will not absorb the quantity of images and objects. If you pick a slice of the museum — a wing, a period, an exhibit or two — you’ll have a much better time.
I decided to focus entirely on MONSTERS and resist my impulse to stray.
Starting in the new galleries of the Islamic Art department, I was overwhelmed with fabulous creatures from a Phoenix (on a spectacular tile from late 13th century when the Mongol invaders brought Chinese mythological creatures to the Persians) to a throne leg in the shape of a Griffin (7th Century Iran).
I found lots of Dragons in my hunt. One was on an Edo period lacquered helmet in the galleries of Arms and Armor and another was on a wood panel from a 15th century French door. Sphinxes, Harpies, Centaurs and Sirens were all over the museum (Greek and Roman Art, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, Egyptian Art, etc.) with wild variations in the mix of human and animal.
I overheard a very funny conversation between two women chuckling about one of the Met’s more famous Sirens. She’s an Italian bronze with two tales and was part of a 1644 inventory of the Barberini family of Rome, having been brought into the family’s wealth by marriage to Colonna princess. From the hips up she’s a beautiful woman, but then there are these two fabulous fishtails. (Umm…) The Greek Sirens, on red and black glazed jugs and jars, were less Mermaid-ish and more bird. I suppose they were more focused on the lure of the Siren’s notorious song.
Monsters were everywhere I looked and I don’t want to think about the ones I missed when, on an impulse, I decided to race through Africa and the Americas on the way to Oceania, where the scale of a grasshopper-like creature inspires shivers. Once there, in the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, I was distracted by the mystery of his disappearance and presumed death. Once again I promised myself, I’d look into the story. It’s a fascinating saga about a young man from one of the wealthiest families in the States following his passion to learn about distant cultures. Did he drown trying to swim ashore after his dugout canoe was overturned? Or did he restart his life in a far away land?
Mid-hunt, I stopped for lunch and I treated myself to a glass of wine — just like the protagonist in my second MONSTER (Bram Stoker’s Summer Sublet). I didn’t have a second glass, or chocolate cake or espresso — like Willie — but at the end of the day I did visit the handsome man depicted in the Roman era Egyptian shroud that she sees at the end of the story. I like to visit him. He helped me write a MONSTER.
Happy Monster Hunting!