A monthly blog about the sensory experience of New York City

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

TOUCH: The floors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

When I heard that one could navigate one’s way around the Metropolitan Museum of Art blindfolded, using only the texture of the floor beneath one’s feet as a map, I was intrigued. How many times had I visited the Met and fixed only one sense—my vision—on only one thing—the walls? What would it be like to ignore the artwork and focus solely on the feeling of my footsteps as I made my way through this vast institution?

So I set out to do this one recent weekday morning, when the museum was not too crowded and I could absorb the full sensory experience of walking through the galleries: the different colors of the floors, the sound my feet made passing from room to room, the textures of the surfaces. I should note that I was wearing a pair of especially thin-soled sneakers that always make me feel rapid and stealthy. I therefore didn’t mind when the security guards eyed me as I photographed their floors.

Hellenistic floor

I began in Hellenistic Art, where the roughness of the black and white mosaic tiles offered a pleasant friction. The second floor of art from Cyprus was wood parquet, and my feet encountered more stickiness as I moved across it, perhaps as a result of floor polish. In African Art, a supple, almost creamy rose-colored marble greeted me. The photography wing—an exhibit of beatnik photos at the time of my visit—was squishy, almost bouncy dark gray carpet, soothing and noise-dampening, and so plush that visitors left a faint trail of footsteps in its nap. In the Twentieth-Century Art Wing, however, the carpet turned more utilitarian, almost itchy in its synthetic nubbiness. I exited quickly down a rare internal staircase. My sneakers made a satisfying “pat-pat” sound on the marble. The risers were the shallow type that give you the illusion of floating up and down them.

Cyprus floor

In French Art Deco, the floors were buffed concrete with stylish cracks. My sneakers made an unavoidable and conspicuous “slap-slap.” It was a relief to enter the Modern Design Collection, where slick black marble and bricked tiles with waves in them allowed me to ice-skate through the wing. The parquet in French Rococo Furniture was a dark, stately basketweave, offsetting the faux candlelight, fireplaces, and the stately beds. The Medieval galleries presented the most unforgiving floor: matte stone with brittle grouting, offering not even the faintest reflection of light.

African floor

After my journey, my senses were heightened enough to appreciate the genius of the Main Hall, the atrium one enters upon arriving at the museum. Its gold-flecked floors were either granite or an intricate mosaic of red and orange stones, and they absorbed the sound of footsteps so thoroughly that all one could hear was the grand, echoing murmur of voices and a faint underlying shuffle of anticipation.