The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is a treasure trove of world art, with its own stately corps of guardians: the hundreds of people in blue uniforms who keep order and help perplexed visitors find the Renoirs and the restrooms. Behind their sober miens, the Met security guards are an interesting bunch. For example, there’s Joe, who fled political persecution in Togo; Emilie, a working artist with a Brooklyn studio; Mr. Haddad, who moonlights as a professor of Islamic art history; and Patrick Bringley, who has written a lovely book about all of them and their unusual workplace called All the Beauty in the World.
After college, Bringley had a promising job at The New Yorker magazine. Then his adored older brother, Tom, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Emotionally gutted by Tom’s death, Bringley realized he needed a different path while he healed. So he applied for “the most straightforward job I could think of in the most beautiful place I knew.”
Bringley liked working at the Met so much that he stayed for 10 years. A lifelong museum lover, he reveled in his daily proximity to masterpieces, formed friendships and never stopped enjoying the museum’s visitors, especially the newbies. Among the book’s most delightful passages are those detailing Bringley’s encounters with harried moms looking for dinosaurs (there aren’t any, so he sent to them to the mummies instead), rambunctious school kids who want to touch everything and stunned first-timers who can barely fathom it all.
Bringley gives readers sensitive descriptions of his personal favorite artworks, as well, and directions for how to find them. Even better, he describes what’s below ground, outside the public gaze: forklifts carting around crates of priceless art, the security command center, the locker room, the craft workshops—even a real armory.
The author eventually decided to move on from the Met, but his joyous experience there still lives within him. If you’ve been to New York, there’s a good chance you’ve been one of the Met’s millions of annual visitors. If you go back, pack this memoir; you will see the museum with new eyes.