Happy 150th Birthday Metropolitan Museum of Art

Alan Fisher, [Tapestries exhibited at Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York], 1941 (2012.121.32)

PM, March 6, 1941, pp. 18-19 (photos by Alan Fisher)

PM Photographer Agrees With Moses About Museums…

Early this week Park Commissioner Robert Moses said some unpleasant things about the city’s museums. They were musty, he announced in a report to Mayor LaGuardia, and their “sacred” atmosphere “intimidated… not only public officials but the public generally.”

To check the Commissioner’s charges, Alan Fisher, PM photographer, visited New York’s most venerable museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Then, for comparison, he went to the new Museum of Modern Art. He came back strongly pro-Moses and these pictures show why.

The Metropolitan, Alan Fisher said, gave him “museum indigestion… If it would just clear out 50 per cent of the exhibits and buy about 5000 baby spotlights it would have a wonderful show. As it is now, they make no attempt to point out anything to you. It’s cluttered and gloomy and I felt as if I had to whisper all the time.”

[Photo captions:] Compare this overcrowded exhibit room at the Metropolitan with the Museum of Modern Art’s simple presentation of Navajo blankets on the opposite page, top right. Francis H. Taylor, the Metropolitan’s new 37-year-old director, agrees with Commissioner Moses that “…the people have had their bellyful of prestige and pink Tennessee marble. the museum must not be… a place where the old can go and sit to serve an apprenticeship for the cemetery.”

This tapestry hangs in one of the great marble halls of the Metropolitan, often called America’s Lourve. Tired visitors must sit on uncomfortable benches like this. No smoking is allowed except in the museum restaurant. Note the cluttered presentation of objects in the gallery.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been housed in this imposing old structure on Fifth Ave. at 82nd St. since 1880. Admission free.

This unimaginative arrangement of Greek and Roma statuary doesn’t compare very favorably with the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition of Indian Art on the next page. Nut Mr. Taylor, its director, plans many rearrangements as well as modernization of the building.

PM, March 6, 1941, pp. 18-19 (photos by Alan Fisher)

…After Comparing Metropolitan and Museum of Modern Art

The Museum of Modern Art had just the opposite effect, he said. There all exhibits were presented and lighted dramatically in an atmosphere of warmth and spaciousness.

Comm. Moses blamed much of the mustiness on directors who represented an aristocratic, conservative tradition.

In 1940, 886,771 people visited the Metropolitan and 585,303 visited the Modern. But: the Modern charges 25 cents a day everyday, while the Metropolitan charges 25 cents only on Mondays and Fridays (this year there’s no charge at any time). An average of 818 people paid a quarter to visit the Met on days when admission was charged. An average of 1632 paid a quarter everyday to visit the Modern. Obvious conclusion: more people are willing to pay 25 cents to go to the Modern than to visit the Metropolitan.
PM, March 6, 1941, pp. 18-19

[Photo captions:] The Museum of Modern Art moved into this modern five-story glass-and-white marble building at 11 W. 53d St. in 1939. Admission 25 cents.

One critic said of the Museum of Modern Art’s current exhibition of Indian Art: “It is seldom our privilege to encounter installation so consistently beautiful, so constructive, so helpful, so appropriate, so dramatic.” Exhibition like this makes museum-going an adventure as well as an education. During spring and summer the Museum exhibitions in its grey-and-yellow pebbled back yard, where visitors can buy ice-cream and Coca Cola.

The great window dominates the front of the building, which was designed to give a maximum amount of light and feeling of spaciousness. The Museum was founded in 1929.

Most striking arrangement in the Indian exhibition is treatment of these Haida Indian masks. Highlighting from below in a completely dark room emphasizes their sinister symbolism.

A huge photo enlargement dramatizes the little stone figure on the stand. Moses thinks technique like this would take the mustiness out of city museums.

The exhibition that PM was gushing about at MoMA was “Indian Art of the United States,” January 22–April 27, 1941. The wildly well-attended exhibition (almost as popular as Picasso) featured underground burial chambers, totem poles, a sixty-foot mural, and much more. Of course the Met weathered Robert Moses’s and PM’s (and Alan Fisher’s) criticism and is one of the best and most popular museums in the world. More than three million people visited MoMA in fiscal year 2018. Somewhere in the ball park of seven million people visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in fiscal year 2019.

Garry Winogrand (1928-1984), [Stairs of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York], from “Women are Beautiful,” 1975 (499.1983)

Tod Papageorge, Metropolitan Museum of Art Opening, 1977 (882.2000)

150 Years of Art, Community, and Ideas
When The Met was founded 150 years ago today, on April 13, 1870, it had no art and no building. It began simply as an idea—that art can inspire anyone who has access to it.

Happy Birthday 150th Metropolitan Museum of Art!

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