New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art is known for its grand exhibitions of iconic visual artists, most of them dead, but also a few living ones who have attained high-ranking stature in their fields.
So it struck many in the art world as strange when the museum announced this week that it would be taking a step -- albeit a small step -- in the direction of pop culture by displaying former Beatle Ringo Starr's gold-plated snare drum that he used while still performing with the band.
The snare drum comes from the Ludwig Drum Company and was used during the Beatles' 1964 U.S. tour. It will be displayed at the Met from July 7 to the end of 2010 to commemorate Starr's 70th birthday.
The Met's musical-instrument department, which is organizing the display, specializes in instruments from the baroque and classical periods, as well as non-European instruments from Asia and Africa.
Jayson Kerr Dobney, the associate curator of the department, said the uncharacteristic detour into rock music came about when Starr was at the museum recently to tape an installment of the PBS series "Live from the Artists Den."
"I'm an amateur drummer, so I had known about this iconic gold drum and I asked him if he would consider loaning it to us for a while," said Dobney. "He said that he would be honored to."
The curator said the museum doesn't have rock instruments in its permanent collection, but that doesn't mean it won't consider them down the road. "These things are becoming so iconic," he said. "It may not seem like they're from all that long ago, but they're from a turning point in history, and many have already attained an important cultural stature."
He added that unlike other curatorial areas of the museum, the musical-instruments department considers works from all periods of history. "We take it day by day," said Dobney. "If something appears to be important to us historically, we would consider it."
According to the museum, the drum was given to him by the Ludwig Drum Company in Chicago in appreciation of popularizing the Ludwig name -- visible on the front of the large bass drum -- during the band's February 1964 appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
The drum will be displayed as part of the museum's musical-instrument galleries, which have recently reopened following an eight-month hiatus.
-- David Ng
Photo: Ringo Starr, with other members of the Beatles and friends, and his gold-plated snare drum. Credit: Ludwig Drums / Metropolitan Museum of Art.