Field Trip: The Met Breuer

I hadn’t been all that excited to visit the Met Breuer, because I didn’t have especially fond memories of Marcel Breuer’s 1966 building from when it was the Whitney Museum. But I wanted to ride the Second Avenue Subway, and there isn’t a lot right around there to justify the trip, so the Met Breuer it was.

The stations on the Second Avenue Subway were about what I expected, having read that they looked and smelled a lot cleaner than their older brethren. It really does feel like you’re in some other city, which can be disorienting. The second photo below is of the escalator at 96th Street, heading up from the platform. And the long walk from Second Avenue to Madison drives home how necessary the new subway is.

Entering the Met Breuer, meanwhile, brings to mind North End Grill. “How much would you like to pay?” asked the cashier while I was still mesmerized by the lights. I had forgotten we were in Metville. The suggested admission is $25, which seemed like a lot to me; the higher the suggested admission, I suppose, the more money people will pony up. I paid the full $25 because I didn’t want to appear cheap, but if I’d had more time to think about it, I’m confident that I would’ve convinced myself of a reason not to.

A reason presented itself soon enough: There was only one exhibit up at the time, which made the $25 sting. When you click “Exhibitions” on the Met Breuer website, you’re actually shown what’s at all three Met museums. Seeing that there was a ton of stuff going on, I didn’t dwell on the particulars. So I was quite surprised when, having taken the elevator to the top floor, I discovered empty galleries. I pretended I was at a conceptual show about the vacuity of contemporary art.

To cut to the chase: I fell in love with the building. Unlike many museums, it doesn’t defer to the art (to some of the art’s detriment, no doubt). I don’t know if much was improved with the Met’s post-Whitney renovation, or if I was just in a more receptive state of mind, but I’d love to explore the Met Breuer empty in a way that wouldn’t interest me at all at the new Whitney, despite its merits. I wandered around, gawping at things everyone else was walking right by. Such as the stairwell….

I had been so convinced that I wouldn’t be writing about the excursion that I didn’t even bring my real camera—a shame, because this window deserves better.

Even the draft stoppers enchanted me. They looked like something that inched up from the New Museum.

The lone show was actually a twofer: a retrospective of Kerry James Marshall’s work, along with a gallery of works chosen by him from the Met’s collection. Marshall’s work didn’t speak to me, but that might be because was in love with something else at the time. Also, I’m increasingly bored by retrospectives—they’re too much of the same thing at once. I felt that way at the Guggenheim’s Agnes Martin show; a few of her works, surrounded by other artists’, would have had much more of an impact. They want to react against something, which might be true of most art.

Look at those ceilings!

In which case, the “Kerry James Marshall Selects” show was destined to interest me more. I was pleased to discover the work of artist George Tooker, whose “Government Bureau” is below.

My plan was to have lunch at Flora Bar, the basement restaurant from the Estella/Café Altro Paradiso guys. It’s beautiful. But the real restaurant is only open for dinner; for lunch, you get the coffee bar, which has three sandwiches and some other light bites. I decided to return at night, and/or in summer, when I could sit outside.

Before heading downtown to Upland—which I’m obsessing over these days—I admired the façade. The moral of this story: Who says you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression?

Previous Field Trip posts:
ICP Museum
Noguchi Museum & Socrates Sculpture Park
The Fisher Landau Center for Art
The High Bridge
The Broad
Crown Heights
Spuyten Duyvil
New York Botanical Garden
The New Whitney Museum
The Rockaways
Wave Hill
Governors Island
F.D.R. Four Freedoms Park
Litchfield County, Conn.
One Wall Street
Behind the Scenes at Grand Central Terminal
The Howard/Crosby Microneighborhood
Federal Reserve Bank of New York
East River Ferry
Museum of American Finance



  1. Not that I ever pay the full $25, but doesn’t it also give you free same day admission to the orriginal MET and the Cloisters?