All the Beauty in the World: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me by Patrick Bringley
Published by Simon & Schuster
Publication date: February 14, 2023
Genres: Debut, Non-fiction, Memoir
Patrick Bringley is in his 20s and working at his dream job at The New Yorker magazine when a tragedy strikes his family that leaves him unable to give the job what it requires. His grief is such that he quits, looking for a way to make money, but also to escape. All the Beauty in the World is his memoir about how his job as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which was supposed to be a temporary respite lasted ten years and brought him back to life.
The premise of All the Beauty drew me in immediately. As someone who’s visited the Met I’ve always wondered what full access to the museum without the crowds would be like. Then, I tend to spin off into fantasies about trying on the gowns at the Met’s Costume Institute and finding rare books thought to be lost forever buried in boxes…
Sorry, where was I? The book, right. This is as much of an insider’s look at the Metropolitan as anyone can imagine. How many people can say they spend hours a day for years in the same room as masterpieces by Monet, Picasso, Renoir, and historical artifacts going all the way back to the Egyptians? What might seem to be a boring job of standing around is, for Bringley, days spent without the specter of to-do lists, deadlines, and the grief that overwhelms him.
Once he adjusts to the physical requirements of being on his feet eight hours a day, Bringley begins to find his assignments in the various rooms of the museum a chance to let his mind empty and his eyes absorb. He immerses himself in learning the background of the pieces of art and history around him. His curiosity and talent as a writer come together to make All the Beauty as much a descriptive guide to the Met as it is a memoir. I would happily take the book with me to the museum just to see the works he describes.
All the Beauty is also an intimate behind-the-scenes look at how one of the largest museums in the world operates. There are over 500 guards covering the museum’s 2 million square feet. They come from countries around the globe, including Guyana, Nigeria, Malaysia, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, as well as the many states of America. Their uniforms are cleaned and tailored on-site. The factoids are sprinkled throughout the book and are a reality check regarding the hard work that goes into maintaining such a magical realm of art and creativity.
Art lover or not, this memoir is a lovely respite from whatever makes your mind race. Bringley’s journey to emerge from an all-consuming grief, although specific to him, inspires contemplation and is is a reminder of the importance of art as a restorative. While reading All the Beauty in the World there is no choice but to slow down and pay attention, and it’s a lesson worth remembering.
Art often derives from those moments when we would wish the world to stand still. We perceive something so beautiful, or true, or majestic, or sad, that we can’t simply take it in stride.
Looking for more museum-centric reading? Try Metropolitan Stories by Christine Coulson, a wry, sly novel about the Met.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.*