Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer, MET 5th Avenue

"All He Painted Was The Medicis"

Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer

MET 5th Avenue
November 13, 2017 - February 12, 2018

Curator: Carmen C. Bambach

Exhibition made possible by Morgan Stanley

Additional support provided by an anonymous donor, the Gail and Parker Gilbert Fund, the Diane W. and James E. Burke Fund, Dinah Seiver and Thomas E. Foster, Cathrin M. Stickney and Mark P. Gorenberg, Ann M. Spruill and Daniel H. Cantwell, and the Mark Pigott KBE Family

Image courtesy MET Museum website

Missed the show? Ouch. Bummer.

At least you can find up-to-date listings of Michelangelo exhibitions, dozens of his works, and exclusive articles on

It's like Pandora, for paintings.

February 11, 2018

So it's the 2nd to last day of the Michelangelo exhibit at the MET. Many of the drawings are from Oxford, so I know this is right up my alley. My emaciated art history brain can't wait to engorge itself with charcoal and memories of Florence.

I arrive around 4pm, check my backpack, and figure "I've got some time" since the coat check guy (who I should clearly trust in all museum matters) tells me the exhibition will be open late - owing to it being the last weekend.

I meander leisurely through the Medieval Art section and into the Robert Lehman Collection, checking out a few strange Silver Caesars before heading upstairs to European Paintings. I'm feeling pretty smug with myself for knowing exactly how to get to Michelangelo while tourists fumble with their museum maps and ask security guards for directions to Vermeer.

It's 4:15, and thinking that I have plenty of time I hum with self-satisfied and affected art historical appreciation at a Odilon Redon Study of Man Between Trees before glancing around to see if anyone noticed how cultured I am. They didn't.

But it's okay, because I'm going to see Michelangelo.

I emerge in the 19th & 20th Century wing and see a disorganized array of slightly concerned people facing one direction. Oh. Shit.

It's a line.

It's the longest line I've ever seen at the MET. And I have an hour to get through it AND examine every single one of the 135 Michelangelo drawings.

With increasingly dropped jaw I walk, like the unpopular kid at recess who's friends won't let them cut, through countless galleries. Through parts of Greek and Roman Art to the Ancient Near East. In horror, I realize I've never been to this part of the museum before.

Starting in gallery 402, we snake past Seleucids and Parthians and Sassanian Iran and something tells me no one will wait in line for them. The line, though cumbersome and infuriating for the idiots (like me) who waited until the last minute, still moves fast enough to avoid any real appreciation from taking place. Instead of thinking "Oh, that brooch in the form of a stag is really delightful, I wonder what talented craftsman in the 3rd century spent hours honing their craft to make it," we evilly eye potential line cutters and moan about the state of our feet and our backs.

What is it about Michelangelo that draws us to him in such numbers over Cyprus and Iran? Is it because we imbued him with meaning, placing greatness upon him like a mantle? Or a yoke? Is it because we see more of ourselves in him, thinking "I could have done that" if only our parents had enrolled us in art school at the age of 4. We have literally no idea how to work bronze or metal like the Parthians, but we can conceive of our kids' crayon scribbles one day becoming the Sistine Chapel.

These thoughts go through my head as we snake through galleries 819, 822, 825, 826, and finally Michelangelo is in sight.

Surprisingly, it only took us 20 minutes. Many wait longer for an iPhone and complain less while doing so.

Behind me, someone grumbles, "Why did we wait in line so long? All he painted was the Medicis."

Oh yeah dude, and the Sistine Chapel, and Moses, and the Prisoners, and some guy named David. Forgot about those, did you?

First thing I notice is the MET is really doubling down on its "Hey let's join all these letters together and make it really hard to read!" theme first introduced in their new logo. On every label with "Michelangelo" it reads like "MIC??LANGELO", and the nested LL is enough to confuse any school child with dyslexia. 1 point for brand consistency, -1 point for legibility. Adjusting kerning does not a font make.

But the exhibit is stunning. I cried.

And Peter Schjeldahl does a better job explaining why than I ever could.

We exit past Mesoamerica and Cameroon, shuffled out by security guards past silent statues of ancient deities we no longer remember. Our deity today is Michelangelo.

Vasari's assertion that he willingly destroyed his drawings, sketches, and cartoons "so that he might appear nothing less than perfect" is proven by the smile on my face as I leave the MET's hallowed halls. Even his blemishes, inconsistencies, and weaknesses pull our attention, and we wait in line to see them. And they are perfect.

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