It took years of drawing and countless visits to the Met to produce this work of art.
When isolation orders caused the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to close down, art enthusiasts were left with naught but digital archives to fill the gap. Much of their vast catalogue has been digitized, with photographs of each work open to peruse, and they also offer The Met 360° Project, which allows a more interactive glimpse of the grounds through virtual technology.
These resources, however, are largely directionless rabbit holes that can get one just as lost as if they decided to explore the real Met grounds without a solid plan in mind. What we really need is one image that shows all the best and most popular exhibits, no aimless wanderings needed. Preferably, it should have a certain retro quality to it, so as to attract the eye of those hipsters in the younger generations.
Open Culture reports that this is exactly the sort of image that John Kerschbaum was commissioned to draw back in 2004. Dubbed The Family Map, this hand-drawn feat of artistic determination is a prize piece of the Met, although it doesn’t hang on a wall. Instead they distribute it freely to anyone who wants a kid-friendly directory that also doubles as a sort of Where’s Waldo-style puzzle. Along with hundreds of illustrations of the Met’s permanent installations, there are brief challenges inscribed upon the borders, directing the reader to find certain landmarks among the kaleidoscope of images.
The massive undertaking to draw such a detailed map across an 18-by-24-inch page took Kerschbaum years and countless visits to complete. Kerschbaum explained to Claire Voon, of Atlas Obscura, that each department directed him towards about 50 of their most permanent works as reference points for the artist to use as the basis for the map. He said:
“I’d have a floor plan of the museum and a clipboard, and I’d make notes of where each item was, either by name or a quick sketch.”
It has always been a challenge for art lovers to view all the pieces that The Met has to offer in one visit, but thanks to Kerschbaum’s fine work, all one has to do is view the Family Map to see it all! While it was intended to entertain and help instill art appreciation in their younger visitors, it has become an invaluable resource in this time of isolation. Whereas many children might not have the attention span to sit still during hours of clicking through images of historical artworks, the Family Map turns the activity into a lighthearted romp through a series of colorful cartoons.
One reason that the Family Map may resonate with kids so much is that Kerschbaum drew it in the presence of his daughter. In a short explanation video from Open Culture, featured below, Kerschbaum says his process was “To draw and draw and draw,” at which point his daughter interrupts, with a certain amount of exacerbation, “And erase.”