Ok, Monger doesn’t mean to be totally Met-centric this week but one can’t deny the awesomeness of Sheena Wagstaff’s appointment as the new head of the 20th-21st Century Art Department. Wagstaff is currently the Chief Curator of London’s Tate Modern.
The Met has always seceded contemporary art dominance to the likes of the Tate Modern or MoMA but actions of director Thomas P. Campbell show that he is bucking the trend. Campbell recently finalized a plan to display contemporary art collections in the soon-to-be-vacated Whitney Museum building while the Met’s contemporary galleries undergo renovations and Wagstaff’s appointment indicates an ambition to increase the profile of the museum’s younger works.
The NYT quotes Campbell as saying:
“I’ve been conscious since I became director that a timely recalibration of Modern and contemporary art — not just art of the West, but globally — was something we had to do,” Mr. Campbell said in a telephone interview. “The opportunity to take over the Breuer building is very exciting. It gives us space to show Modern and contemporary art in the context of our encyclopedic collections.”
Mark your calendars!!
The Met’s four-year $100 million dollar renovation of their American Wing is about to reach completion. Many of those glorious paintings mounted on dreary pegboard in visible storage have been reinstalled in the new gallery, opening on January 16th.
Carol Vogel in the NYT reports:
Everything is now on one floor, and Mr. Heckscher [chairman of the American Wing], his curatorial team and the New York architects Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo & Associates gutted and reconfigured the space, adding 3,300 square feet and creating 26 galleries dedicated primarily to paintings and sculpture. The design is modern but not sterile, with either cove or vaulted ceilings and some skylighted spaces. Inspired by 19th-century Beaux-Arts proportions, the walls have simplified Classical cornices and dados, creating a sense of the grand, domestic proportions that were the original backdrop for many of these canvases decades ago.
The new galleries are organized both chronologically and thematically in a way that, as Mr. Heckscher explained it, “tells the story of American art and in the process American history.”
Can hardly wait to visit the Sargents in their new home!
If you’re interested in The Met’s many renovations, you should take the time to visit the Museum of the City of New York’s exhibition on the work of architect Kevin Roche (through Feb 5). He is not only a Pritzer Prize winner, but one of my personal favorites. Roche’s Ford Foundation Building is in my top 5 list of 20th century buildings.
But Roche is also responsible for three decades of expansion and renovation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. KRJD designed every expansion from the glass-fronted court for the Temple of Dendur to the controversial Robert Lehman wing. The MCNY exhibition has some fascinating diagrams of The Met’s various expansions and even if you think it’s become an unwieldy franken-seum (that’s a portmanteau of Frankestein and museum) seeing the building’s development is worth a visit.
Yay! The Met is having a great year– awesome Alexander McQueen Exhibition, successful launch of their new website and now the grand re-opening of their Islamic Art wing. Watch a 3-minute movie about it.
Read the NYT review!
Rather than presenting Islamic art as the product of a religiously driven monoculture encompassing centuries and continents, the Met is now — far more realistically — approaching it as a varied, changing, largely secular phenomenon, regionally rooted but absorptively cosmopolitan, affected by the intricacies and confusions of history, including the history that the art itself helped to create.
Grr. The Brooklyn Museum is following the MoMA/Met precedent and raising its suggested donation price from $10 to $12. At least admission is only suggested. But still. NYT quotes Arnold L. Lehman, the Brooklyn Museum’s director, as saying “We wanted to do this as modestly and cautiously as we could.” Read more here.
Grr. Gothamist reports that the City’s Health Department has forbidden visitors to “Carsten Höller: Experience” from getting naked and swimming in the pool as intended. AND they’re now saying that the slide doesn’t meet safety requirements. Grownups suck.
But Yay! for the Health Department is doing it’s job.
There were a number of 9/11-related cultural events taking place in the city this weekend but I decided to go to The Met for a lecture by artist Faith Ringold and to hear a concert by the Wordless Music Orchestra at the Temple of Dendur.
Ringold is one of my childhood heros: I saw her Tar Beach quilt at a young age, frequently read her children’s book of the same name, and an enormous poster of the quilt (signed by Ringold for my mother) has hung in my parent’s house since I can remember. So seeing Ringold in the flesh and hearing her talk about the 9/11 Peace Story Quilts she created with New York school children was something of a dream come true.
The talk was fine. But Ringlod turned out to be human rather than the all-knowing creative visionary I had imagined since youth. I struggled with my reaction to some of the works she created after the 9/11 attacks and their sense of anger. The flags didn’t square with my mental image of the flying girl.
What I really wanted on Sunday was some kind of catharsis– a moment when my experience of art would lift me beyond feelings of injustice and mourning. So as we exited the auditorium and I headed over to the Temple of Dendur, my hopes were resting on the Wordless Music Orchestra. I envisioned sitting on a stone paver in front of the marred temple and meditating on life and loss and memory while stringed instruments intoned a lamentation.
But the path to the temple room from the theater was roped off and gallery guards were turning people away. They told me to try the entrance from the American Wing. So I walked briskly back through the lobby and European Decorative Arts, though Arms and Armor to the Western entrance to the temple room where I was told that they couldn’t let me in because they were waiting to let people in from a lecture that had just ended. I said “I was at that lecture” so the guard told me to go back to the other entrance. So I walked back through Armor, Decorative Arts, and the lobby to the Egyptian wing where a huge crowd had formed, annoyed that they couldn’t get into the concert. I squeezed my way up to a guard and said that I had been at the lecture and understood that lecture attendees were being let into the concert. He looked like he didn’t believe me but at least made a show of walking over to someone else to ask about it.
By this time, an obviously senior member of the museum staff was shouting that the concert was full and telling people to go away. I have never seen museum visitors so upset. There was yelling. Swearing. Name calling. It wasn’t really the type of atmosphere I was looking for but I hung around a bit just to watch the drama unfold– mostly just hot tempers and bitter disappointment. Hundreds of people were turned away.
I made my way again to the American Wing and stood for a while in a crowd of people outside the West entrance to the temple room, trying to listen to the concert from the hall. Eventually, I walked back to the Engelhard Court for an overpriced cup of museum coffee and an attempt to watch the concert’s livestream on my iPhone. Gave up after 15 minutes.
Museum transcendence on 9/11: fail.
But such is life, right?
The Met might want to look into having an overflow space for such events– perhaps playing the concert’s livestream in their auditorium or setting up speakers in the Engelhard Court. I’m sure that the hundreds of museum goers turned away from the concert would have appreciated such an opportunity.
And now I can listen to the concert online from the comfort of my blog cave. Belated but still beautiful.
On the heels of the massively successful Alexander McQueen exhibit, The Met is having a little trouble with another of its costume shows: “Paul Poiret – King of Fashion” (which I saw ages ago and LOVED). For years, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has had a tradition of mutual loans with Russia’s Kremlin Museum. But a conflict between the Kremlin and a rad Brooklyn-based Jewish sect, Chabad, has resulted in an art embargo between both countries. And this means that the 35 Poiret works in The Met’s collection slated to appear in Russia on September 6th are staying home.
You see, over the course of two centuries, Chabad leaders amassed a large collection of works and religious documents only to have the archive looted by Nazis during WWII (where is Indiana Jones when you need him!?). The collection was eventually appropriated by the Russians and last July, a U.S. court ruled that the materials should be returned to Chabad.
But the Russians don’t want to.
And now they’re refusing to lend works to the U.S. because they think that we’ll resort to the entirely unethical practice of seizing their art as leverage to get back the Chabad archive (even though museum and government officials have assured them that we won’t). So in response, U.S. museums have instituted their own embargo against Russia.
From NYT Artsbeat:
“Everyone here is saddened” that the long tradition of mutual loans has been affected, Mr. Holzer [The Met's Spokesperson] said, adding that “as a gesture of goodwill and friendship,” the Met would be sending something to the Moscow museum: namely, some of the scenic backdrops from its own Poiret exhibition, in 2007. “We feel we can’t send over the actual art,” he said, but “we’re sending over the backdrop material.”
After the initial uproar over The American Folk Art Museum’s plan to sell their building to the MoMA (see previous post) most commentators agree that at least one museum move is a good idea: The Met’s 8-year lease of the to-be-vacated-in-2015 Whitney Museum building. This is a vastly better plan than further expanding The Met’s frankenstein structure on Central Park East. Maybe they should tell that to MoMA.
From Lee Rosenbaum:
The Met will not only pay to lease the building—about $3 million annually, but will also “share additional revenue with the Whitney,” according to Carol Vogel‘s report in the NY Times. The museums’ announcement (linked at the top) also says that the two institutions “will seek to collaborate on collections sharing, publications, and other educational activities,” making this win-win even more winsome. The Met isconsidering whether to rebuild its own contemporary art wing, so it has now secured back-up space for those collections during the possible construction. It intends to continue showing contemporary art in its main building.
What’s potentially wrong with this picture is the contradiction embodied in Vogel’s article: While noting that the deal gives the Met “much needed space” for its contemporary collection, she also notes that the Met’s contemporary works “have long been considered its weakest link.” Does it really have enough important pieces in storage to fill another entire museum? Presumably this temporary expansion, which might be extended, will be used to entice art donors to enhance the holdings.
Once viewed as mere commercial fluff, fashion has gained a foothold in the curatorial heart. More and more institutions in recent years have turned to exhibitions of clothes to engage patrons and provide new perspectives on history and the arts.
Geraldine Fabrikant at The New York Times reports:
Harold Koda, the curator in charge of the Met Costume Institute, believes that there has been what he called “a generational shift,” adding: “Until about 10 years ago, there was an uneasy relationship between museums and fashion. But today there are more museum directors who are engaging in contemporary fashion.”
The big-city shows have helped legitimize fashion for smaller museums and provide a template for how to raise funds. And pop culture highlights fashion’s allure. “A hit show like ‘Project Runway,’ whose viewers are young females, underscores the passion for fashion among a key demographic that is also crucial for museums,” said Tyler Green, who edits the blog Modern Art Notes.
The Met’s Costume Institute has been putting on fashion exhibitions for years, not to mention the Museum at FIT (which has an interesting exhibition on sports clothes coming up at the end of May). Is the clothing-in-museums-fad really something new?
In a recent post, Nina Simon over at Museum 2.0 mentioned the troupe’s latest mission: an autograph signing for King Phillip IV in front of the recently restored portrait by Velazquez. They were eventually asked to leave but the patron response was very positive.
We got a wide variety of reactions from the patrons in the museum. Some stared bewildered, some laughed, some took photos, some wouldn’t stop asking questions. I’m not sure if we actually fooled anyone, at least not anyone who took the time to do the math at how old someone depicted in a Renaissance painting would have to be. Yet with my suit and the King’s costume, we did look pretty professional. We looked like we were supposed to be there. I overheard a few people guessing he was a modern day king, a descendant of the king in the painting.
Check out the full story and some great photos of the project here.
Can we please get more guerrilla historical interpreters in our museums!? PLEASE!
Meet at The Met is a weekly series highlighting one person’s favorite piece at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This week’s amateur museum guide is Jan Eldredge of Cody, WY.
I’ve known Jan my entire life (full disclosure: she’s my mom) and ever since I can remember, her favorite painter has been portrait artist John Singer Sargent. So I wasn’t surprised when she guided me up to the European Art galleries and Sargent’s painting of The Wyndam Sisters.
Jan: I just think this painting is so beautiful. And I love how he (Sargent) gives you an impression of their personalities.
Monger: I know! I love the expressions of the sisters. The youngest one looks like a flirt.
Jan: Oh yes. But they’re all very genteel.
Monger: The interplay of dark and light is really nice– having the subjects in white makes them really stand out against the shadowy background.
Jan: Mmm. It amazes me how abstract the brushstrokes are when you get up close to a Sargent painting. How does he do that? You can see how few brush strokes it took to do the fabric and somehow our brain turns it three-dimensional.
I adore the Temple of Dendur at The Met. Maybe it is the clash of the exterior gridded windows with the temple’s rough, mottled stone or maybe just my New Yorker’s appreciation of vast indoor space, but I feel serene as soon as I set foot in the Sackler Wing.
The temple was purchased from Egypt in the 1960’s when the construction of the Aswan High Dam threatened to submerge it forever. After a national bidding process, the temple was awarded to The Met and reconstructed in the light-filled gridded addition designed by Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo, and Associates.
I visited the temple on Saturday but my serenity was soon poisoned when I learned that vandals and looters were taking advantage of the chaos and rioting throughout Egypt to targeted museums and historic sites. Standing in The Met’s Egyptian Wing, in the midst of mummies, hieroglyphs, and beautiful gold-leafed sarcophagi, I experienced a powerful visceral disgust for the individuals that willfully tore the hands off of mummies, shattered vitrines, and dashed a statue of King Tutankhamun to the ground.
The Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, Dr. Zahi Hawass, was able to fax his account of the events to friends in Europe who then posted it to his blog. Read it!
It is difficult for me to imagine anyone so angry with their government that they would attempt to destroy the most invaluable artifacts of their own culture. I suppose that issues from the privileges of living in a stable nation and being brought up to revere historical objects. One man’s trash is another man’s priceless antiquity.