Saturday, February 23, 2008

Egyptian Graffiti at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Last week, Joshilyn and I spent a few days stomping around New York City. One of our exciting adventures took us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was completely a coincidence that we went to this museum the day after we watched the episode of Project Runway where the designers visit to get inspiration from the classical sculpture garden, the European paintings, and the Egyptian temple.

The fact that we did visit all of those exhibits means nothing. We were totally already going to see that Temple of Dendur. Aparently, the US paid Egypt $17 million at some point, to help them with some flooding or some other issue. In return we got to pick one of four temples to have. Have in its entirety -- just uproot and transplant. We picked this one, and he Metropolitan Museum won possession in a lottery with other museums.

Seeing it was wonderful. I always get choked up in the presence of antiquity. It's the same reason I cry at rocket launches. It moves me when our little crawling species attempts to do something fine -- whether it's sending a metal needle up into space, or developing a calendar, or making up a religion. That plaintive reaching, that earnest attempting -- gets me crying. So we were walking up to the temple, and I was having my little emotional moment, and then we got closer where we could look at the carvings and hieroglyphics and whatnot, and I saw this:

You know what that is? GRAFFITI! Graffiti from 1820! Some guy (from New York no less) had scraped his rancorous little name into this Egyptian temple from like 3000 years ago. Now, when we first saw it, we could hardly believe it, because we'd been running a little joke about finding fakes. Like, "Oh, this is a total fake! I see John the Baptist holding a cell phone on this medieval reliquary!" or whatever. However, when we asked the museum guy standing there, he said, yes, it is graffiti, and showed us lots of other places where the temple was marked up. Insane.

The reason it was so interesting (I think) is that 1820 is now antiquity. The day that this guy stood there scraping away with his pocketknife, thinking himself very modern and fresh, is now 200 years ago. Some guy named Biltmore had marked up several different parts of the temple. Biltmore is now dead. His record is now antiquity as well. The graffiti of those early explorers is now part of the historical record. And I, standing there, all shocked and appalled by Biltmore and his buddies, and their defilement, am looking at a temple that has been ripped up out of the earth and transplanted to the middle of Manhattan for dorks like me to get misty over. Layers, my friend. Layers.

New York was fun. We also saw this:

Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein. Having finished it, he was unhappy with the face, so he scraped it off and painted another one on later, more overtly mannish and coarse. Interesting. But no one has Sharpied their name into it yet, so it didn't merit its own blog post.


  1. Although I don't get misty-eyed, I do love the Met, especially Dendur. I feel exactly the same way you do about the graffiti - it's a bit sad that the people had no consideration for the structure, but it's also facinating that that one moment in time when the name was carved in is captured forever!

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