Every exhibit at The Met, ranked, based on how good of a spot it is for crying in public

Your expert guide to attention-seeking catharsis

It is late-October, 2020, in the United States, and there is much to cry about. Things are Bad, and one of the real benefits of living in New York is that I can cry about it just about anywhere.

Sure, it’s more dignified to cry in the comfort of your own home, but sometimes the moment strikes when you’re out and about. And here, you don’t have to hold it in. You can cry on the train! You can cry in the park! You can even cry on Staten Island.

If you’re feeling fancy, you can also cry at a cultural institution. There are plenty to choose from (The Cloisters is clearly the best in terms of crying ambiance, in that it is a monastery with a dedicated tomb-room), but I will be focusing on The Met, which spans thousands of years of human history and four square blocks of precious New York real estate. It is, in my expert opinion, an excellent place to cry.

But not all exhibits at The Met are equally adequate crying spots. Some, frankly, just won’t work. So I’ve assembled this list ranking The Met’s exhibits from worst to best, based on their sufficiency for crying in public.

13. Arms & Armor

If you find yourself walking through The Met and wondering, where are all the dads? They’re here, in the Arms & Armor exhibit, taking pictures of the knives. There are too many men having fun here, making this a bad place to cry.

12. Period Rooms

The Met’s period rooms are deceptively bad crying spots. Hear me out. Yes, they most closely resemble private domestic space. But, the period rooms are the only place in the museum with mirrors. Big ones. And if you’ve ever looked at yourself while you’re crying, you know better than to do that again. The decor also reminds me that there was a time in history when I’d be diagnosed with hysteria for crying where other people can see me, which doesn’t exactly help the period rooms’ case. It’s mostly the mirrors, though.

11. Medieval

Part of the allure of the public-city-cry is that people just leave you alone. They mind their business and you mind yours. If a tree cries at The Met and no one pays attention to it, it doesn’t make a sound, you know? But medieval art is an ever-present reminder that if there’s a God, She’s watching me. I don’t want to feel watched. It’s tough to strike the perfect invisible-but-not-alone balance here, surrounded by a variety of vengeful deities.

10. Native American

The wood floors in this exhibit were creaky. Like, really creaky. And it made doing the awkward am-I-looking-at-things-at-the-correct-speed museum shuffle even more awkward, especially in a mostly-empty-covid-times-museum, where everyone is hyperaware of the pace of the other four people in the room. Without the loud floors, this is an otherwise adequate exhibit to cry in, so consider this a ranking that is subject to change.

9. Pre-Columbian South Americas

Now feels like the right time to identify what makes an exhibit good for crying at all. While it’s certainly a combination of Layout and Vibes that determine the ranking (see #11, Layout was fine, Vibes were off), the Layout is a practical metric that we can assess together. Take this Pre-Columbian South Americas Exhibit — huge, dimly lit, with most of the objects in cases off the wall. This Layout is preferred to, say, the Layout of a room of paintings, which lacks cases as a privacy buffer, and tends to have brighter lights. There are certain Layout Additions that generally make an exhibit a better place to cry (namely, Tombs and Fountains).

However, we also need to consider Vibes. While this metric will vary from individual to individual, it is important to assess the sensory aspects of the space, and the internal experience of looking at the art itself. Much of the art in the Pre-Columbian South Americas Exhibit is teeny-tiny and delicate-looking, or, it’s the kind of art that stresses me out, as a person with really long limbs that knock stuff over a lot. If you’re short, this is a great spot to cry. For me, and my disproportionately long arms? A little too nerve-wracking.

8. Modern & Contemporary

The one place I truly let myself be a bitch is in the Modern & Contemporary section of an art museum. I get to be smug about things like knowing the difference between Modern and Contemporary. I get to sneer when people look at a Rothko and say, I could do that. I know the names of the artists without having to look at the placard. It’s not that I can’t cry here, it’s that I don’t want to. I am too busy being a bitch about it all. I am too busy having fun doing so.

7. Ancient Near East

There’s something nice about being reminded that you did, at one point, know things. This is how I felt in the Ancient Near East exhibit, where my brain recalled that Mesopotamia exists, and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers exist, and that I was once a fifth grader who memorized those things for a standardized test. However, this exhibit inspires significantly less smug knowledge for me than Modern & Contemporary Art does. I have room to learn, in the Ancient Near East room. This also means that I have room to cry.

6. Islamic Art

We all have Museum Objects that Really Get Us Going, and for me, that object is a Cool Old Book. The Islamic Art section contains a number of them, along with a lot of Cool Old Tiles. My strong affinity for these objects makes this exhibit a good place to cry, in that I feel welcomed and comforted by Meditatively Crafted Stuff, as evidenced by my large collection of handmade journals that I stare at lovingly instead of writing in them.

5. Greek & Roman

The Greek & Roman provides ample space and lovely atmosphere for a late-afternoon cry in particular. Just look at that glow! I don’t think I’d want to start my morning here and let it all loose — this is where you go after a long day of wandering around, pretending to understand art, and finally let go on the bench in a room where things feel familiar.

4. African

This is an exquisite crying exhibit, and it’s only at #4 because of the sheer amount of stuff they’ve managed to hang from the ceiling, which makes me a little bit nervous. There are rooms in this exhibit without art hanging from the ceiling, though, and they’re exemplary crying rooms. Just make sure you look up before you start.

3. On the big stairs outside

The stairs are a nearly perfect place to cry. There’s not one, but two fountains, that swirl about in a meditative sort of way and the water goes over the edge like an infinity pool, which is, to me, cool. This cry will have the energy of a regular-public-cry, with the prestige of a cultural-institution-cry. You don’t even need to pay to get in. You really can have it all, weather-permitting.

2. Sculpture Court

If there’s anyone I want to share my public-cry-space with, it’s the people who spend a whole day sketching in the sculpture court. They want to be left alone to draw, I want to be left alone to cry, we all understand each other. And in socially distant times, the chairs are bolted to the floor with space between them, ensuring no one will accidentally sit next to you and then awkwardly get up when they realize what’s happening.

  1. Ancient Egypt

If there’s one thing I have in common with my third grade self, it’s an affinity for Ancient Egypt. This is a top-tier crying exhibit, featuring a plethora of side rooms, giant statues, tombs, and a fountain with seating all the way around. Ancient Egypt really has it all. Layout, Vibes, Fountains, Tombs. Just public enough, just private enough, easy to navigate, familiar yet new. Why you’d cry anywhere else in The Met is beyond me.

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