Wednesday, July 29, 2009

MoMA Over Met

Two of the truly great art museums in New York are the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Of course, in many ways the Met is the greater museum by virtue of its enormous collection that ranges across the whole history of art, whereas MoMA covers just a tiny portion of modern Western art. Still, for the person actually experiencing a visit to each of these museums, especially if you’re a member, MoMA wins every time.

So first of all there is the difference when you enter. If you have a membership card with you, the MoMA people just beep you through and you’re in. But at the Met you have to wait in line to get your rather awkward admission button from the rather slow moving volunteers. And even though both museums are almost always crowded, the Met always feels, well, more chaotic. Second, getting around MoMA is easy, the directions are clear and each floor’s exhibits are well marked. The Met, admittedly huge, seems almost willfully confusing. The poor signage makes it impossible to navigate it alone, forcing you to rely on the many rather bored but well placed guides who also double as guards (or is it the other way around). Third, suppose you want to do an audio tour. If you’re a member at MoMA, it’s always free. At the Met, maybe you get a one dollar discount on a five or six dollar tour. In fact, except for the 10% bookstore and restaurant discounts, that one dollar off for the audio tour is the only other perk that comes with your Met membership. At MoMA, they invite you to receptions with wine and snacks. At the Met, you have to be a big, and I mean big, donor before you get to go to anything like that. At MoMA, all the movies are free with membership! At the Met, they still want you to pay $12 for an old Cary Grant flick. And don’t get me started about the differences in the bathrooms! At MoMA they’re on every floor and entirely in keeping with the design of the rest of the museum. I mean it’s actually fun to go to the bathroom at MoMA, it’s part of the aesthetic experience. At the Met, there might be 10 stalls in the whole joint, and if you happen to be in the wrong gallery, it can be a very long walk before you can find a bathroom without a wait, especially if you’re a woman.

Finally, there’s the difference between the two institutions when it comes to closing time rituals. At the Met, they start herding everybody toward the exit fifteen minutes early and pretty much have you out the door with at least ten minutes to spare. At MoMA, they let you hang out indefinitely. Of course, I must be exaggerating, but that’s how it feels. Nobody is telling you to hurry up and leave. I swear I have clocked this and even when the museum closes at 6:00, you are sometimes still catching a glimpse of your favorite Matisse at 6:10. How endearing!

So the next time you go to these venerable New York institutions, and especially if you see someone casting an overly critical eye on the design of the new MoMA, remind them that the Met may be great, but if you’re looking for a pleasant, unhurried, transparent visit, with plenty of extras, MoMA is where it’s at.


  1. And the MOMA cafeteria has excellent food, which they bring right to your table ...

  2. The Met is like the stereotype of nobility. You can 'join' but you're not really a part of it. And they really don't care about your comfort or satisfaction. You're lucky they let you in in the first place. And they really don't have to care, they're 'The Met'.
    MOMA is built on the Bohemian sensibility of contemporary artists themselves. 'C'mon in and look around, I'll just be in the kitchen whipping up some canapes.'
    So you get just what you'd expect, stiff necks vs hair down. And sometimes you feel like a nut and sometimes you don't.
    When deciding which to visit, consider your own mood and act accordingly, you'll have a better time.

  3. Agreed, John. MoMA's food is especially good and served in a great setting.

    As for you, DB, these are terrific observations. Would have been fun to write this one together.