Actually By Robert Benchley
Originally Published in The New Yorker, May 15, 1926 and reprinted in Benchley Beside Himself (1943)
Curator’s Comment: Where appropriate, hotlinks have been added below because they didn’t exist in 1926. But if they had been, we feel certain Professor Benchley would have used them.
Apart from his exhibition reviews, Professor Benchley was also famous for his subtlety at product placement.
Although the new wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“Wing K,” if that makes it any easier for you) was opened some time ago, I have only just this week got around to inspecting it. I’m sorry.
“Wing K” has, since 1916, been empty, and, although passers-by late at night have often reported strange noises coming from its vast recesses, the Museum officials stubbornly maintain that it has been put to absolutely no use at all. This sounds a little fishy to me, however, and if those old walls could talk we might learn a little something more about where Mr. Munsey’s money went. It is said that only a couple of hundred dollars remain of all the millions that he bequeathed to the Museum. Money doesn’t fly away, you know.
At any rate, “Wing K” is full now and it takes a good twenty minutes of fast walking to see everything in it. This does not include the time taken up in getting lost or in walking through the same hall twice.
My inspection was somewhat hampered by having Mr. Charles MacGreggor along with me. Mr. MacGreggor kept constantly asking to see Dr. Crippen. “I want to see Dr. Crippen,” he would say, or “Where is Dr. Crippen?” I told him that the wax-works were in another wing of the Museum, but someone had told him that a replica of Dr. Crippen was to be found in wing K” and nothing would do but he must see it. Along toward the end, as Mr. MacGreggor got tired and cross, he began sniveling and crying, “I want to see Dr. Crippen” so loudly that an attendant put us out. So we probably missed some of the funniest parts of the exhibit. If you want me to I will go up again sometime without Mr. MacGreggor. Or maybe Dr. Crippen is there, after all.
The feature of the new wing is, of course, the Bedroom from the Palazzo Sagredo at Venice. The best way that I can describe it is to say that it is fully twice the size of our guest room in Scarsdale, and fifty per cent fancier. The chief point in favor of our guest room in Scarsdale is that there isn’t a whole troop of people strolling through it at all hours of the day, peeking under the bed and asking questions about it. If you want to sleep after nine in the morning in Scarsdale you can do it without being made an exhibition of. My two little boys may romp into the room three or four times during the morning to show you an engine or a snake, but all that you have to do is to tell them to get the hell out or you will tell me on them.
The owner of the Palazzo Sagredo was a great cupid fancier. Over the doorway to the alcove where the bed is, there are over a dozen great, big cupids stuck on the wall, like mosquitoes in a summer hotel. They are heavy, hulking things and seem to have fulfilled no good purpose except possibly to confuse any guest who may have retired to the fancy bed with a snootful of good red Sagredo wine. To awaken from the first heavy sleep of a Venetian bun and see fifteen life-sized cupids dangling from the doorway must have been an experience to send the eighteenth-century guest into a set of early eighteenth-century or late seventeenth-century heebies. The comic strip on the ceiling is catalogued as “Diziani’s Dawn.” It may very well be.
This, in a general way, covers pretty well the Bedroom from the Palazzo Sagredo. In another month the Gideons will have slipped a Bible onto the table by the bed and it will be ready for occupancy, but not by me, thank you.
Walking rapidly through the rest of the new wing, you come to lots of things in cases which, frankly, do not look very interesting. There is a bit of sculpture labeled “Head of Zeus(?)” showing that even the Museum officials don’t know whom it is meant to represent. Under the circumstances, it seems as if they might have cheated a little and thrown a bluff by just calling it arbitrarily “Head of Zeus” without the question mark. Certainly no one could have called them on it, and it would have made them seem a little less afraid to take a chance. Suppose that it turned out not to be Zeus. What is the worst that could happen to them?
Then, too, there is “A Relief from a Roman Sarcophagus.” As we remember Roman sarcophagi, anything would be a relief from them.
We could go on like this for page after page making wise-cracks about the various uninteresting features of the new wing, but perhaps you have already got the idea. It may have been the absence of Dr. Crippen, or it may have been a new pair of shoes, but the truth is that we weren’t put out of the new wing. We asked an attendant how to get out. And here we are.