She’s much smaller than I thought” is a com­mon re­frain for many who’ve made their way to The Lou­vre and queued to see the Mona Lisa. This work of art looms so large in our minds that it’s a sur­prise to find it’s only 77cm x 53cm. It can also be a sin­gu­lar rea­son for vis­it­ing the most fa­mous art gallery in Paris, if not the world. In the rush to get to Leonardo da Vinci’s mas­ter­piece, many vis­i­tors run out of time to see other ex­tra­or­di­nary works on dis­play.

So how to tackle a gallery of this stature? My Lou­vre ex­pe­ri­ences are lim­ited but I’ve ap­proached the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York in a number of ways.

The first time was with a lo­cal who took me to her per­sonal top 20. We criss­crossed floors, up and down stairs, ig­nor­ing chronol­ogy, gen­res, in favour of see­ing art­works that pleased her most. It was gen­uine and novel.

The next visit I lim­ited ex­plo­ration to pieces with which I was most fa­mil­iar. Ver­meer, Monet, De­gas, Pi­casso and Matisse were sud­denly real and in front of me. An­other time I joined the Empty Met Tour. A small group of us ar­rived 90 min­utes be­fore open­ing time and, with a guide, roamed the Met floors, see­ing hid­den cor­ners, learn­ing fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries.

On the most recent visit, I planned my day around the Cos­tume In­sti­tute ex­hi­bi­tion, Heavenly Bod­ies: Fash­ion and the Catholic Imag­i­na­tion, and was en­thralled for sev­eral hours.

I don’t know when I’ll next be back in NYC, but I know when I am I’ll be back at the Met, find­ing an­other way to ex­pe­ri­ence it. Our cover story this week is about the magic of Man­hat­tan and its other bor­oughs. If you’ve been to the city you’ll know why it’s easy to be drawn back, again and again.

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