“We” are the art, the evidence, the beauty that these walls are built around and that these lights proclaim important. Objects made of everything, anything: yes, paint and marble, bronze and gold, glass, silver, paper, clay, but also steel and ribbons, mud and hair, wood, wire, and bones. We come from everywhere: tombs and closets, palaces and studios, floors and ceilings, fortresses and temples, sometimes with parts of those places still clinging to us. Because so often we were removed by someone, somewhere, when that someone couldn’t wait, or we couldn’t stay.
“They” are our minders, men and women with a mothering, smothering kind of love for us. They fret over our every inch, every scratch, every wound, every questionable repair. They polish us like it’s the school play, every day. Our big moment for the world to see what beaming, glossy children we are.
Every piece of us is testimony: Whose eye chose that shape, whose hand made that line, whose mallet carved that bump? Show us what happened, they beg, so we’ll know. Well, mamas, there’s been some mile- age since we were made, some action, in slow drips and big splashes. Glory, war, revolution, the tilts of taste and the swags of renaissance. Some dark, dark ages, too. Empire to dirt in the course of a millennium. Slices cut into our sides to fit us into a new room. A century in a cardboard box, woodworms drilling like some unscratchable itch. The goddamn vacuum cleaner banging into our legs. Light bulbs!
. . . Survival is a funny business, too. A losing game. Literally. They love us, and we lose them all. The ones who made us, the ones who gave us, the ones who sat down and played with us, the ones who held us, or just laid eyes on us. The ones who bought, traded and sold us. Cleaned us, redeemed us, brought back the sheen on us. Loved us. Learned everything there is to know about us.
Imagine how many reflections that ancient mirror has seen? Now imagine, imagine: Every one of them. Dead. Gone. But we live on. We are the proof, sticky but silent, hanging on that wall, standing on that pedestal. The proof that anyone was ever there at all.
Excerpt from Metropolitan Stories by Christine Coulson. Recently published by Other Press. Coulson worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for 25 of its 150 years.