Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Stairway to heaven… the Met doesn’t pretend art began – or stopped – in 1900. Photograph: Alamy

If only Britain had a place like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. This great compendium of art and culture on the edge of Central Park is about to rebuild its modern wing – in other words, to improve on what is already an unrivalled cocktail of past and present. Meanwhile it has just launched so much of its collection for free download that its website temporarily crashed under the pressure of public excitement.

No other great museum has the Metropolitan’s range. Its name is appropriate for it turns the whole world, across all time, into one buzzing city. You can stroll from an Egyptian temple to a Renaissance studiolo, from a roomful of Rembrandts to an encounter with Jackson Pollock.

American critics have so far been deeply cynical about the renovation, and about its “spotty” collection of modern art – which just goes to show that people don’t know when they are well off. From a British point of view, the idea of a museum where you can immerse yourself in Rembrandt then be blown away by Jackson Pollock’s majestic Autumn Rhythm sounds like some delirious artistic utopia. New Yorkers have the luxury of sniping at their local museum: I just feel envious of them.

Britain’s leading museums are not exactly failing – they’re crowded – but they are trapped in the 19th-century mindset of their creators. The scars of an archaic civil service mentality define each like a government department with a rigorously specified area of responsibility. The British Museum does not collect European paintings. The National Gallery does not display Egyptian mummies, or modern art beyond early Picasso. Only the V&A has a little bit of the Met’s truly encyclopedic spirit.

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Jonathan Jones
The Guardian

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