NEW YORK - With museums closed around the city because of the coronavirus pandemic, some simply shut their doors, but bigger museums have to keep up with security and other safety measures. For the biggest museum in country, the lights may be out, but eyes are still monitoring every single object in the museum.
With flashlight in hand, Carolyn Riccardelli inspects the many treasures inside The Metropolitan Museum of Art, making sure the vast collection is safe during the museum’s months-long pandemic-induced shutdown.
She is looking for anything unusual, any kind of damage that could spontaneously occur: insect activity, leaks, or dust buildup.
We followed along for an unconventional stroll through their iconic galleries.
Most areas of incredibly dark, but iIn some areas, one can put their flashlight away because of skylights.
"Everything is bathed in beautiful, natural light, but we're still looking at everything to make sure everything's OK,’ Riccardelli told us.
The Met had detailed plans for all kinds of emergencies and natural disasters, but not for a pandemic. So Ricardelli, a conservator, led a team to quickly create one.
Thirty monitors from different departments come to the museum on a rotating schedule to inspect the galleries. They have been at it since the museum closed in March.
Laura Peluso, from the textiles department, walks from East Harlem to do her inspections.
"So we're looking here not only for the condition of each different type of artwork, but we're also looking in the air,” Peluso told us as she scanned her flashlight through a gallery with all kinds of art — paintings, sculptures, glassware and textiles. She paid particularly close attention to the shadows, and the imperfection-makers they might be hiding. “We use our flashlights to look in those shadow spaces in the ceiling. We look for water damage, and down below we would look for unwanted pest activity.”
On a busy day, the Met might welcome 40,000 visitors. Having it to yourself might seem like an art lovers dream, but for the monitors it’s a huge responsibility.
Riccardelli thinks the artwork can take on an eerie feeling.
"I think that when you have a combination of the lights off and the empty feeling and the knowledge of what's going on in the world, we kind of project our feelings onto the art,” Riccardelli said.
The collections monitors definitely have their work cut out for them. There are more than 1.5 million objects here, spread out over 2 million square feet.
Peluso said the entire team knows how important the work is to the museum, the art world, and to each other.
"The public knows that there are so many treasures in the museum’s encyclopedic collection, but it doesn't perhaps know about another treasure. And for me, that treasure is museum staff. And it was an honor to work alongside them, brave people who have made a commitment to care for the museum at this critical point," she said.
Their eerie adventures, crisscrossing the darkened corridors of perhaps the most famous museum in the world, will continue until the museum reopens.