Art Alchemy and the Birth of Oxygen Part One

We take the simplest things, like oxygen, for granted. “Oxygen”, however didn’t always exist. Someone had to “discover” it.

I have been well trained to always sneak into The Met at the Plaza Entrance on 81st street. There is rarely a line at the coat check, the admissions desk or the lavatory. Art, Alchemy and the Birth of Oxygen Part OneIt’s like a VIP lounge. As a Boston Resident I qualify for the Associate Membership which gives me all the perks at a significant savings, so it is worth it to me to be able to flash my card to get in (enhances the VIP-ness of the visit too).

Taking the stairs (or classically designed elevators) one flight up deposits me in the middle of the Greek and Roman Galleries. Art, Alchemy and the Birth of Oxygen Part OneThis is not my destination but these high ceilinged and starkly bright rooms set a mood. It is difficult not to feel that these cool white marbles are alien to everything I experience in my everyday life; that I have entered a space that is rare and special.

Walking into The Great Hall I am met with a sea of confused humanity that can be a speck overwhelming. Art, Alchemy and the Birth of Oxygen Part OneSwimming rapidly through toward the Grand Staircase is the best plan. I, and if you are able you should, walk up the stairs to the European Painting Galleries on the Second Floor. Imaging that I am royalty climbing the steps inside my palatial country estate makes it fun.

Arriving at the top of the Stairs, the recently renovated and rejuvenated European Painting Galleries lie directly in front of me.


This is where everything usually falls apart for the average visitor. Staring down the gullet of nearly EIGHT HUNDRED years of commerce, religion, science, politics, music, mythology and agriculture depicted in oil, tempera, watercolor, bronze and marble and saying: “BRING IT!!!” is NOT the best way to go. Don’t be a hero. Museum Fatigue is a real thing and it is easier to get then the common cold. My advice: Walk through as if you are at the supermarket and you came in for mustard but find yourself sauntering up and down a couple of aisles ‘cause you never know whether or not a box of fat free something or other might catch your eye.

I guarantee that you will: 1. Actually enjoy the visit. 2. Cease to fear and loathe museums and 3. That a fat free chocolate cookie equivalent of a painting will jump out at you and from that moment on that image, its colors and composition, and the story that it tells will belong to you in a way that it has never before, and never will again, belong to anyone else.

End Interlude:

For this visit, MY saunter has brought me to the David and Neoclassicism Gallery (614). The room is filled with paintings and objects that were created in an era which sits astride a moment in history which saw the codification of the laws governing the country born of our revolution and the birth of a new revolution against the rule of another Western European Monarch. Art, Alchemy and the Birth of Oxygen Part OneThese generally larger canvases depict stately and sometimes dramatic content rendered in deep, rich palates. As a scientist, one painting jumps out at me as my fat free cookie for this visit. It is a huge canvas which features a very aristocratic looking gentleman and, presumably, his wife posed next to a table littered with an elaborate assortment of glass apparatus the likes of which I have not seen since Organic Chemistry lab in college. Who was this guy and why did someone undertake the monumental task of creating a gigantic painting of him playing with a chemistry set?



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