USA 2016 Travel Diary: Museum of Modern Art VS The Met

First things first, unless you are an absolute lover of museums, I would not suggest a visit to any two museums in a single day. Because then you would come to realize that there’s such a thing as being “all museum’ed out”!

I guess it has something to do with the mind getting overwhelmed by all the visuals that it processes as you look from painting to painting, sculpture to sculpture. It was a different way of getting tired, I’ll tell you that.

You have to take it easy and enjoy the museums slowly– advisably in different days. Unfortunately time was not really a luxury I had while I was here, but I must say I feel lucky to be able to visit both MoMA and The Met during this trip. I managed to see both of them enough to form an opinion. And yes, Van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’ took my breath away.

I’m not trying to pit the two museums against each other because it doesn’t make sense that way. It would be like comparing potatoes to apples. For me, these two museums cater to different kinds of art lovers, so I thought it would be nice to give you a general feel of each museum.

While I didn’t get to explore the entirety of both museums, I saw enough to have opinions and thoughts. I will also include just a few of my favourite paintings that I encountered, or else we’ll be here all day! Just in case you ever find yourself needing to pick JUST ONE between the two, you won’t feel so clueless. I hope.

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

This being my first time to MoMA I almost missed it as I was walking down West 53rd Street. It’s a glass building with a sign in front but it’s not as easy to spot when you’re not walking across the street, unless of course you look up instead of at Google Maps. Whoops.

As a museum featuring modern art the building itself is quite modern. The walls are all made of glass, and the inside is pretty minimalist, with screens flashing all sorts of images and announcements. This museum charges $25 for entrance, but it’s free from 4PM to 8PM (closing time) on Fridays.

Before going in, you have the option to use their iPod audio guides, and I highly recommend taking advantage of this. You learn about the backgrounds of each painting, making them all the more meaningful than just pictures on a wall.

The thing I like about MoMA is how it shifted my perspective when it comes to art. It showed me a lot of new things that never really sat within the realm of what I considered art in the first place. It also showed me that unconventional things can indeed become art in their own right. I love it for that, even though there were some works I didn’t really get. Still, you can’t deny that the variety is simply astounding.

In MoMA, you will get to see famous pieces like Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’, but when you move on to another gallery the view will shift.

Suddenly you’re in the room of sculptures.

Moving on you might end up in a room full of photographs.

Another room over, you’ll be entering a world of pop art and 1960’s hippie art!

The main and first thing I came here to see was Van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’. There were lots of people gathered around it taking photos and I left them to finish their business while staring at the painting in awe. Pictures are easy to come by, but seeing this painting in person is an entirely different thing. You can actually get close to every stroke of paint.

As I stared at those whirls of dried paint I felt something swirling in my emotions as well, and I found myself wandering into the mind of post-1888 Van Gogh.

Van Gogh had checked himself into an asylum in 1888, after mutilating his own ear, and it was there this painting came to life a year after. It was a view of the night sky from his window in the asylum, and in my interpretation, this depicts one of the more serene moments in Van Gogh’s mind amidst all the dark things that troubled him.

This piece solidified its status as one of my favourite paintings in the world now that I’ve seen it up close. Nearby I also got to appreciate Van Gogh’s other similarly-styled works.

‘Olive Trees’ remind me of a field swept along the rhythm of the wind.

‘Portrait of Joseph Roulin’ was inspired by Van Gogh’s postman friend. Loooove the beard!

The rest of the collection is pretty darn impressive, with paintings from the likes of Pollock and Matisse. I’ll give you a quick run-through of the really iconic ones I encountered, as well as the ones that caught my eye, like this fashionable painting by Gustav Klimt of ‘Adele Bloch-Bauer II’.

Wyeth’s tragic-feeling ‘Christina’s World’ was inspired by his neighbour Christina Olson, who had CMT disease that made it impossible for her to walk. He had seen her crawling across a field from his window, and the rest was history.

Monet’s stirring ‘Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond’ is a dreamy rendition of lilies, light, and the sky, playing within the water. It makes you feel like you’re looking right into the pond itself in Monet’s garden, thanks also to the massiveness of it. This impressionist icon is my favourite in the Water Lily series Monet created.

Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’ is shockingly small! I missed it the first time and I had to double back and take another look following the digital map in my hands.

This Surrelist piece highlights that moment in our everyday when it seems like time just melts away into this strange reverie. Dali included himself in the painting although you’d never recognise that figure in the center to be him.

I really like Henri Rousseau’s dream-like ‘The Sleeping Gypsy’. This piece from the 1890’s is like the first iteration of the Beauty and the Beast concept.

Magritte’s SUPER creepy ‘The Lovers’ made a huge impression on me, so much so that I seem to have forgotten to take a photo! It’s worth a mention though.

Jackson Pollock’s ‘One, Number 31’ is a very famous “drip technique” masterpiece. Personally I’m not a fan of these kinds of paintings. Some art critics like it for the intense energy it seems to convey though.

There are a few Warhol pieces here as well, including the ‘Gold Marilyn Monroe’ and ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’. These pieces came to define Pop Art as it is today so it’s pretty interesting to be able to see them in person.

For ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’, Warhol created the image of one Campbell soup can and then silkscreened 31 other copies to be able to complete the 32 varieties of soup Campbell had at the time. He added the names of each individual flavour by hand. Can you even still get these flavours?

One of the most interesting pieces for me is the ‘F-111’ by James Rosenquist. It looks very much like a wall mural and is so massive that it commands attention. But when you look at it, it depicts some very meaningful images of American life during the Cold War. You will see bits of consumer culture intertwined with military-related objects.

I enjoyed seeing comic book art on display here as well. Lichtenstein’s melodramatic ‘Drowning Girl’ looks as though it has been printed rather than painted!

I was surprised when I came across these psychedelic portraits of The Beatles by Richard Avedon. All four images are kind of trippy, but I think they effectively represent each of the members. These lithographic prints were first released around the Sgt. Pepper era as magazine covers, I believe.

One of the really interesting pieces is Robert Rauschenberg’s ‘Canyon’. It’s a mixed media piece that is part painting and part collage, but the element I find unique is the addition of a bunch of random objects. Rauschenberg often tries to find interesting discarded things for his art when he goes out for walks. He seamlessly incorporated a stuffed eagle and a flattened metal drum in here, among other things.

MoMA has a Sculpture Garden on the gound floor that is littered with statues in different shapes and sizes. Some look oddly gruesome! Nonetheless, this seems like a really nice place to just sit and hang. If you need a little break out in the sun before resuming your day at the museum, here’s where you should go!

Some of the sculptures do bask in beautiful simplicity, like the ‘Rose II’ by Isa Genzken.

As you can see, I already shared quite a bit of pictures and I’ve barely managed to scratch the surface! There’s truly so many unique and interesting things to see in here.

Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)

The Met screams your traditional museum from the get-go. Its Beaux-Arts structure is massive and imposing along Museum Mile, on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. You can get here from Central Park, which is exactly how we planned our trip here.

The Met employs a pay what you want scheme, although the suggested “donation” to enter is also $25. I think if you plan to stay here for half a day, paying half the amount would be okay. But if you plan to really make the most of your trip here and plow through all the galleries, paying the full $25 is worth it. Seriously, I can’t begin to tell you how massive The Met is.

The permanent collection itself contains over 2 million works of art, as well as artifacts, arms, and armour, from all over the globe. Take your pick from Ancient, European, African, Asian, Egyptian… The list goes on!

To say that this place is impressive would be an understatement. I honestly don’t have a word to describe it. If paintings are your priority, at the top if The Met’s Grand Staircase sits 32 rooms with art history spanning over 500 years. With art from the 1300’s to the Renaissance and even afterwards, you will not run out of things to see at The Met. (And I’m not just talking about paintings here.)

Since neither of the museums have exclusivity over any specific artist, there’s a chance you will see an artwork by your favourite maestro at The Met which you didn’t find over at MoMA. Of course the masterpieces are scattered in different museums all over the world, so it helps to do a little research!

You can even sit here all day and try to draw your favourite artwork on your sketchbook. That’s on my to-do list for next time. 🙂

Try as I might, I only managed to see maybe a small 20-30% of what the museum had to offer before feeling a bit overloaded haha! In any case, let me share some of my favourites. Obviously I only took pictures of some of the paintings. I am very much drawn by paintings that feature subjects with interesting expressions, like these portraits by Hans Memling.

I’ve loved Johannes Vermeer’s works since way back. While most people go gaga over ‘Young Woman with a Water Pitcher’, I personally love the mood of ‘A Maid Asleep’ more. Judging from the position of the chair and the open door, it seems like someone left her the moment she fell asleep.

‘Young Woman Peeling Apples’ by Nicolas Maes has the same feel. I love that small contented smile on her face that shows how much she appreciates this menial task of peeling apples.

I also quite enjoyed all the pieces by Remembrandt that I saw, but there was something about ‘Portrait of a Young Woman with A Fan’ in particular that made me step closer.

One of my favourite portraits is the moody ‘The Penitent Magdalen’ by Georges de la Tour. Mary Magdalen seems to be in deep contemplation in this instance, her form highlighted by the shadows under the candlelight. Surrounding her are symbolic objects. The mirror = vanity; skull = mortality; candle = spiritual enlightenment.

I was utterly in love with all the mythology-themed paintings just because I really love Greek and Roman myth. Titian’s ‘Venus & Adonis’ shows a very clingy Venus trying to prevent Adonis from leaving.

One of my favourite paintings would have to be Pompeo Batoni’s ‘Diana & Cupid’. Look at the teasing expression on Diana’s face as she denies Cupid his bow, effectively denying him of his power.

But the painting that really made my jaw drop was Carle Vernet’s ‘The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus’. It’s a gigantic painting with mind-blowing details– the sort that would make you want to step closer and look at the whole story unfolding before you.

This one shows the Roman general on the way back from defeating the Macedonians at the battle of Pydna in 168 BC. It also shows how Romans throw parties in the old days. 🙂

Sculptures scattered amongst the galleries were plenty, but Pedro de Mena’s ‘Ecce Homo’ & ‘Mater Dolorosa’ were two of the most emotional I came across.

Walking along the hallways of The Met, I caught sight of the Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Court and knew I had to run down there. It was designed after a classical French garden, making the feel of the Sculpture Court nice and breezy.

This was my favourite sculpture in here because you can identify the mythology it belongs to at a glance– ‘Perseus with the Head of Medusa’.

Taking a break from wandering around I was treated to this wonderful sight:

Amazing and absolutely inspiring! This man has really reminded me of how much I love drawing, and thanks to him I have busted out my sketchpads!

So here’s the thing: Personally, I am more appreciative towards masterpieces that lean more in the traditional sense of how people see art. It’s not that I dislike modern art—not at all!—I just find myself more drawn towards stuff painted by Remembrandt and Vermeer, compared to pop art and Beatles portraits.

MoMA has a lot of classical paintings on display as well, and while I would say as a fan of Van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’ that seeing it in person was life-changing, I feel like there’s so much more to see at The Met if that’s your kind of thing.

On the flipside, when you go to MoMA you’ll probably have stories of more interesting things just because of the sheer variety of artworks over there. Also, plenty of them would probably be more relatable to the current generation haha! I actually had an easier time remembering all the paintings I saw at MoMA though I was more moved by the ones I saw at The Met during that moment.

It’s nice to be able to see the highlights of both museums if you are able because these are the world-renowned pieces. As for the rest of the collection, at the end of the day it’s all really a matter of taste.


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