Welcome to the Met! My name is Aaron, and I’ll be your tour guide today.
Oh! It’s kind of a funny story, actually. I was supervising Finger-Painting Day last week, and this four-year-old spilled yellow paint all over my uniform! It’s still at the cleaners.
Of course they have spare uniforms. But they don’t fit me very well. I have an unusual hip-to-waist ratio. Also, broad shoulders.
Anyway, let’s get started!
This is a painting by Clyfford Still. The title is “Untitled”.
The first thing you’ll notice about this painting is that he used a lot of red paint.
It’s also really big, but I don’t know how big. Every time I try to measure it with my yardstick, the guards make me leave the museum.
I like to call this painting “Clyfford the Big Red Painting”. Get it?
It’s a joke. I know that Clyfford is the artist, not the painting. A better name would be “Clyfford’s ‘The Big Red Painting'”. But “The Big Red Painting” is a title, and the title of this painting is “Untitled”. Giving it a different title would be disrespectful.
What I always wonder about this painting is why Clyfford Still didn’t make it even bigger. He could have made it twice as big without doing any more work.
I mean, really, what if this painting were huge? Like, a hundred feet tall? That would be so cool. Why didn’t Clyfford Still do that?
You’re right. He would have had to buy a lot more paint – maybe he couldn’t afford that much paint. Or maybe the canvas would have been so heavy that nobody could move it. Or maybe he did make some paintings that were a hundred feet tall, and the Met just isn’t big enough to show them.
Or maybe he’d get bored if he had to paint such a big canvas. It must be boring sometimes, to be a painter. Jackson Pollock got so bored that he started throwing paint instead of brushing it. Josef Albers got so bored that he couldn’t think of anything and just painted big red squares.
I’ve always wondered why people spend so much money to buy these red squares. What do you think?
I wish that someone would make a documentary about people who spend millions of dollars to buy red squares, where they talk about their reasoning. I would pay to see that movie.
Not millions of dollars, though. Ten dollars.
Anyway, this is a painting by Willem de Kooning! The title is “Attic”.
According to the writing on the wall, he stopped using color right around this time.
I wonder if he stopped using color because he ran out of colored paint and didn’t want to buy any more?
If that wasn’t the reason, he must have left a lot of half-empty paint cans inside his studio. So you could say that all the color that isn’t inside of this painting is still back inside a can of paint, somewhere.
Actually, maybe somebody bought that half-empty can of paint and used it to make something colorful. That would be nice!
But I’d still feel sorry for the paint, because it seems like better luck for a can of paint to be used by a famous artist like Willem de Kooning. Wouldn’t it be nice to be such a good artist that any materials you bought would be lucky because you chose them?
Some of you look a little confused. That’s okay — abstract art isn’t for everyone.
Let’s try a different part of the museum.
I don’t speak Arabic, so I don’t understand the words on this bowl. It looks elegant and profound because I don’t know what it says. If I could understand Arabic, I probably wouldn’t be impressed, because then the art would just be words. This bowl says something like “Home Sweet Home” or “Kiss the Cook”, I think.
Oh! “Peace and prosperity”. I didn’t know you spoke Arabic, ma’am! You just ruined this bowl for me. Thanks a lot. Oh — no, I was just kidding. It’s okay.
Stop walking so fast, everyone! You look like you’re in a hurry to leave or something. Stop for a second. Look at this tiny statue.
Imagine that you could go back in time and tell the person who made this that their statue was in one of the most famous museums in the world, over a thousand years in the future.
Wouldn’t that be great?
I know! It totally would. Maybe something one of us makes will be in a museum in a thousand years.
I love the art in this section, but sometimes the words annoy me.
Right here, someone wrote that the bird in this sculpture was “probably associated with good fortune”.
Come on. Do you really think the sculptor was thinking: I know! For my next project, I’ll sculpt the concept of good fortune!
I mean, some people think that way nowadays. But maybe this person just wanted to carve a bird because they liked birds. Can you imagine the Met writing that next to a sculpture?
This is a sculpture of a bird: The artist probably liked birds.
I think that would be a lot more honest.
Next up, we have “The Death of Socrates”, by Jacques Louis David.
My favorite part is the guy on the far right. Everyone else is sobbing quietly, but this guy is throwing his arms in the air and panicking. Like: “Nooooooo! Without Socrates, we won’t have anyone who can think for us! What are we gonna dooooooo?”
I like to imagine that right after this moment, Socrates turned to that guy and said:
“Don’t worry. If you’ve learned anything from me, you’ve learned how to think for yourselves.”
And everyone gets quiet for a second.
And then Socrates lies down, and it looks like he’s about to die, and everyone huddles in close.
But then he opens one eye, reaches out, and flicks that guy on the nose!
Then he dies. And that guy will never know why Socrates flicked him on the nose.
This is a painting by Guido Reni. The title is “The Immaculate Conception”.
This is one of my very favorite paintings, because everyone is trying to look at God, but he’s too high up! So it looks like the Virgin Mary and the angels are rolling their eyes at God. Like: “Oh, God! You’re so lame! Stop conceiving immaculate babies and go have some fun like all the pagan gods!”
No, you’re right, that’s blasphemy. Guido Reni probably wasn’t thinking that while he painted this painting. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Socrates, it’s how to think for ourselves.
The next painting on the tour is “House of Fire”, by James Rosenquist.
Don’t worry. We aren’t upside-down. The painting is upside-down.
This is Pop Art with serious tension, because those bananas are about to fall out of the grocery bag and I’m very worried about them.
We’re almost done with the tour, but first I want to show you Ellsworth Kelly’s “Spectrum V”.
Sometimes, after a really bad day for tips — tips are appreciated, by the way! — I fantasize about quitting this job and traveling around the country selling “Spectrum V” to the mayors of small cities.
Here’s my pitch: “For only ten thousand dollars, I will produce an exact replica of one of the greatest works by one of the greatest American painters. I will paint it on one of the big, empty walls in your city. And then — again, for only ten thousand dollars — your city can lay claim to something as magnificent as the paintings in New York’s Metropolitan Museum!”
If I travel fast enough, and hire local art students to paint, I could put “Spectrum V” in 20 or 30 cities before any of the mayors noticed.
What? Of course not. They’d have no right to demand their money back.
And when the hullabaloo dies down, I can argue that, by painting the same thing on so many walls, I’ve strengthened the ties between American cities and brought connection to our fractured nation. I bet I could get a MacArthur Genius Grant for that one.
My other business idea involves finding an old, famous museum in deep debt, making perfect forgeries of all the art, selling off the originals, and replacing them with the forgeries. I could retire with that kind of money.
Anyway, that’s the whole tour. Tips are very much appreciated. I don’t have enough money to buy di… I mean, to pay the cleaners for my uniform! I love this job, but it’s not exactly Wall Street.
…maybe I could sell “Spectrum V” to a bunch of banks, instead of mayors. I’d save so much money on bus tickets!
Sorry, everyone, but I have some phone calls to make. Come back soon!