In Room 924 at The Met.

9 Mar

As you round the corner from the Jasper Johns American Flag and the Cy Twombly swirly-whirlys, beware. There is a new installation right in the middle Room 924: An inviting number of nearly empty park benches. As much as you would like to sit down, it is clear from the plaster people hovering around them that this is a piece of art. What is NOT clear is where it begins. Actually, if you look closely, and one must, there is a rectangle of black tape marking its boundaries. Black tape. Black tape on the black carpeting.

I missed it entirely and walked right into art history, only to be screamed at by the security guard. “WATCH WHERE YOU’RE WALKING!” I was a little embarrassed to say the least, as I was leading a group of really smart and perceptive teenagers through my “Highlights of The Met Tour.” My tour is rather successful. This is not to boast. But every time I do it, I start out with my own clients and end up with anywhere from six to a dozen hangers-on who have deserted the real art historians and follow the merry actor because he is a little more animated and tells a good story. My group had grown from ten to seventeen by the time I was cut down to size by a man clearly unhappy at his post.

It must get old standing at attention at The Met. I rather felt for the man who was consigned to keeping people from interacting in a non-interactive museum. Until I didn’t.

Trying to explain one of only two Warhol’s in The Met’s collection, “Jackie O.” and how Warhol turned the art world on its head and why that was important, also trying to point out that many people neglect his masterful use of color, a series of blue Jackies on a day that started out so pink, I was interrupted no less than nine times by the guard barking at paying customers, after the fact, I might add, after the infraction, as if they should or could somehow reverse their steps and walk out of trouble.

I had lost my place. What was I saying about the Lichtenstein next to Jackie? In frustration, I said to my group and not to him, “This poor guy, having to keep people away from the stupid park bench.” I’ll grant right now, that was inelegant. But it was intended as a kind nod to the man’s less elegant behavior. Maybe if someone acknowledged him, he might shut the fuck up. I was wrong.

“I’m sorry you think this art is stupid,” he said, erasing two hours of credibility I had earned, “but people still need to stay away from it.”

I was mortified. I had no snappy reply. That is uncharacteristic. I hung my head in shame, finished my tour, and let my flock off to graze on Georgia O’Keefe. But I would not let this unfinished business go. I am indeed, a cranky, cranky old man.

I returned to Room 924 and stood there three yards from the black tape and stared my man down. He continued to yell at offenders. I started clicking off the numbers in my head. A full fifteen minutes I stood there and after he had yelled at 47 people, I approached him. Not too close. There may have been tape around him I didn’t see.

“Sir,” I said. “You had and have no invitation to speak to me, to interrupt my tour, and to interject your unwelcome editorialization. I bring several hundred people here each year who help pay your salary. You work for us. More importantly, I have very limited time to expose them to the greatest collection of art in the world. This particular piece may not be a stupid piece of art, but it is curated stupidly. If you have to stand here and bark at people all day long like a german shepherd at Dachau, why don’t you just go out and buy a goddam roll of white tape.”

I turned on my cranky heels, shaking, and in the silence that greeted my departure, I felt a small enigmatic smile crack across my upper left lip.


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