The Mayor’s Priorities for Culture 2009-12. See the document here for his vision on maintaining London’s position as a world centre of cultural excellence.
For an another viewpoint let’s turn to Gotham Girl’s analysis of transatlantic museum visiting.
The British Museum wallops the Met in ancient civilizations
The Elgin Marbles – that is a proper test of wills
The Tate Modern is notably NOT just a storage space
I love museums. I live only a short walk from Museum Mile here in Manhattan so museums figure prominently in my leisure schedule at home as well as abroad.
I don’t think the front of the British Museum offers quite the same experience.
At the Met, I can curl up with a book in Engelhard Court. I frequently head to the Temple of Dendur to visit with friends. We can – and do – even enjoy lunch or drinks now that they’ve reclaimed the first floor for the Greek and Roman galleries and the eateries have had to move downstairs. This move hasn’t done much for the Greek and Roman collections but it has improved the “grab a bite of lunch” experience at the Met tenfold.
Still, museums are, on many levels, the sum of the collections and much as I love the Met as a whole, certain galleries don’t fare very well when compared to their British Museum counterparts. The British Museum wallops the Met in ancient civilizations. The Greek and Roman collection of the Met is a bit “meh” – well, a lot “meh.” The Temple of Dendur, aside, their Egyptian collection isn’t much better and is displayed abysmally. As for controversial artifacts – the Met pales in comparison. Sure, Turkey went after the Metropolitan about the Lydian Horde but the Met returned it so – in a mere six or so years – that was that. The Elgin Marbles – that is a proper test of wills. Impressive. Oh and here’s a handy tip – don’t make remarks on how “liberated” the marbles look within earshot of guards. Goodness, how that man glared. Still, it wasn’t as bad as the time at Westminster Abbey when I stomped on Thomas Hardy’s name in Poet’s Corner. Still, that’s another story for another time (and in my defense I think MOST people would like to stomp on Thomas Hardy).
The Met does have its strong points — including The Cloisters (home of the Met’s Medieval Collection) which are very special – the collection, the location, the garden, the views, the building. Not to be missed. The Costume Institute is often the reason for my visits to the Met. Their shows are, by and large, beautifully curated and amazingly well-written (so many shows in so many museum are NOT well-written). The collection is impressive in scope and remarkably well used by those in charge. OK, the Costume Institute doesn’t have a British Museum counterpart. That’s more a V&A thing and the V&A’s textile and fashion collection is top notch. But I still prefer the space and form of the Met’s presentations.
Elsewhere on the museum landscape: I adore the Cooper-Hewitt (properly called the ‘Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution’ but who has time for all that!). The Cooper’s collection includes both historic and contemporary pieces so it’s a bit like mixing 3 cups of V&A with a dash of Design Museum. I say ‘a dash’ of the Design Museum because I haven’t been but from what I’ve heard it isn’t the powerhouse it aims (or claims) to be quite yet. Has anyone been? Would love to hear what it is like.
Also on Museum Mile is the Guggenheim. Sigh. I know the building is iconic. I know its 50th anniversary is coming in two weeks. I know it just underwent a massive revamping. I just don’t care much for it. I will go for particular exhibits but it’s not somewhere I feel drawn to for its own sake or the sake of its permanent collection. Given a choice, I’d rather wander around the Museum of the City of New York (just up 5th Avenue). I’ve also been known to kill time at MOMA but if I’m going to spend my day looking at modern art, I’d rather do so at the Tate Modern (speaking of iconic buildings). MOMA is – well, dull. There. I said it. The space may be ‘state of the art’ and goodness knows the renovation a few years back was extensive enough but there’s nothing special about it. The Tate Modern is notably NOT just a storage space. The space is part of the collection and central to the experience.
Of course, both London and New York have their versions of Madame Tussaud’s and having been to one (in London, years ago), I can’t see a reason to go to the other (or revisit the first one, come to think of it).