A whopping 560,000 square feet, the city's second-largest museum contains a world-class collection of roughly 1.5 million works covering a wide cultural swath and virtually every period in art history. Its commanding Beaux-Arts structure, designed by McKim, Mead and White, was set to become the largest art institution in the world, back in 1895. (The plans were dashed when Brooklyn became just another borough two years later and the funding headed north to the Met.) After decades of lagging maintenance, the museum revived itself in the last two decades of the twentieth century via massive renovations designed to reposition its famed holdings of ancient Egyptian antiquities and century-spanning American Art. The Egypt Reborn installation traces over 3,000 years worth of artifacts (among them, the prized Bird Lady figurine and the Cartonnage of Nespanetjerenpere).
A series of eight thematic galleries take a fresh look at American painting dating to Colonial times. Also reinstalled—and pulling many objects out of storage in the process—were the Arts of Africa, the Pacific Islands, and Asia (with Japan particularly well represented). Many other departments read like a litany of artistic greats: three centuries' worth of watercolors by the likes of Edward Hopper, Mark Rothko, and Norman Rockwell; major works by Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissaro; early modernist art by Max Weber and Georgia O'Keeffe. In almost a century, the museum's most dramatic physical change is a glass entryway with a tiered roof that echoes the original grand stairway that was dismantled as a safety hazard. — Simon Spelling