Meet the Met!
Matthew Marrone, arts correspondent
The following dispatch arrived on the first Wednesday of the month from Unwinnable World Headquarters in Kearny, New Jersey:
NEW ART MUSEUM IN GOTHAM STOP INSIST YOU ATTEND STOP SUBMIT REVIEW POST HASTE STOP
I must admit I felt a stroke of melancholy at the transmission. It was, indeed, the first message of its kind I’d received since the previous day’s passing of Mr. Samuel F.B. Morse, a figure of paramount regard among this publication’s many fanboys, if I may coin a phrase.
Yet we must soldier on. I buttoned up my Sunday best and made my way to the temporary hall at 681 Fifth Avenue.
For a start: While no one would mistake the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a restaurant or trading post, its moniker lacks a certain . . . flair. Museums might be places of quiet contemplation, but why should their names put you to sleep? Consider this one fleeting. At any rate, if you’re coming from out of town a year from now, don’t expect to inquire about it by its present title and not have haughty New Yorkers brusquely correct you.
The new institution boasts but a modest collection, which is to be expected at this early stage. To be sure, with its powerful benefactors, it has only to grow. Still, I found the temporary environs quite sufficient, even charming, and see no reason to be hasty in relocating the museum – which henceforth I shall call, quite cleverly, I think, “The Muse”. Attendance among anyone but the most well-heeled of Manhattan society is nil; there are plans to open it soon to the public at large but I daresay the days of the working man rushing through the doors reside far in the future. But assuming a move is inevitable, we can at least hope “The Muse” won’t be relocated “along the park” – as I overheard one expensively attired but weak-minded attendee suggest.
Yes, madam, right as Olmsted and Vaux are carving out dedicated space to conserve Mother Nature as our booming city encroaches so rudely upon her, let us slap some steel and marble upon its rocks and grass! Let us not preserve but mar the very beauty depicted so tenderly and lovingly on the canvases of The Muse’s finest artwork! Why not build museum after museum, in a row, along the new park’s borders until there is nothing left in view but brick and mortar? Simpleton!
Not that I scoff at progress. As my reader knows – salutations again, you devil! – I embrace modernity. Perhaps I am not quite so brazen as that fanciful old Frenchman whose writing is lately all the rage, but I do occasionally indulge in fantasizing about the fate of my city in the new century shortly to come – a fate The Muse will be there to share. Whether Mr. Verne would have it move underwater, I could not say without him sitting for an interview.
Forgive me, editors, for this tangent, but as I squinted at the portraits and landscapes adorning the walls of The Muse, my mind wandered, and I began to think of my own Muse, and how she has lately drawn me, farther and farther each day, beyond the confines of this island and out into the surrounding countryside. I have never shared this before in these pages, nor with anyone at all, to be sure, but I believe the future of Gotham – perhaps not its financial might, but its art world, its society, its food and wine, so forth – will not be found in Manhattan at all. Nor will it be in neighboring Brooklyn, whom many believe will one day become incorporated into New York City – say, in 1898, to randomly select a year.
No, I’m going bolder: Queens. John Jacob Astor apparently never deigned to set foot in his namesake portion of this fair enclave – Astoria, previously known as Hallet’s Cove – some of the more affluent New Yorkers already call parts of it home and with the Steinways now tinkering there with their pianofortes, music, quite literally, fills the air. So much must be established there still – perhaps a giant municipal swimming pool near the Hellgate? Or a famous Eastern European-style beer garden? – but during my long walks through the still largely rural area, I can’t help but feel a buzz. It’s a faint buzz and will require generations of settlers to raise its volume.
For now, if you have the means, I suggest purchasing land there. And a house! It’s a fantastic investment. The Muse – the institution I toured for this article – might well remain in Manhattan forever, but there will be others. Maybe a new generation of so-called “Metropolitan” museums, as yet to rise. Since we’d need to craft another clever nickname for this glorious group, with The Muse now taken, perhaps Queens, as the center of culture in the 20th century, will one day be the home of The Mets.
Matthew Marrone has been Unwinnable’s reigning Rookie of the Year since before the Civil War. When he’s not wiring missives from across the Hudson, he’s cracking peanuts at New York Mutuals games.