Friday, September 27, 2013

A Day at the Met – Some Brief Remarks

By Charles Kessler

I've been seeing a lot of art lately, some of which I thought was pretty good, but for some reason I haven't felt like writing about it. When this happens, I go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to recharge.
The Met's David Koch plaza and fountains have been under construction for a year now. What's up? 
The Met installed four awesome (and I mean that literally) Caravaggio paintings together in gallery #621 (up the Grand Stairway and to the right),

including this touching painting (below) from a private collection. There's no information about the painting on the Met's otherwise abundantly informative website, not even a reproduction of the painting – so a photo that I took will have to suffice.
Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi), The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist, oil on canvas, early 1600s. 
The wall label states that the painting is one of the few Caravaggio's that was commissioned by an individual for private devotional purposes, and the painting is in fact so intimate that it feels embarrassingly voyeuristic to look in on the Holy Family during this private moment. Note also how Saint Joseph is pressing John the Baptist's fingers on Jesus's thigh, but he's not touching the Baby himself (that's the Virgin's somewhat manly right hand around the Child – not Joseph's). Caravaggio here is emphasizing the minor role Joseph plays in this drama – he isn't the father. (Later, however, he begat many of Christ's brothers and sisters.)

Another new small installation is a grouping of three 1920's paintings that Matisse made when he lived in Nice. It's located in the Modern and Contemporary wing, gallery 917. I'm familiar with The Three O'Clock Sitting, but I don't remember seeing the other two before. For all I know they could have been hanging in various places at the Met for years, but seeing them together, and in their own space, made me notice them.
From left to right: The Three O'Clock Sitting, 1924; Girl by a Window, 1921; and The Goldfish Bowl, Winter, 1921-22. 
Not too far from the Matisses are the contemporary galleries. 
Why do museums so often install contemporary art in these over-bright, over-large, over-dramatic spaces? Wouldn't this work look more substantial, less flashy, in a space like gallery 919, the Clyfford Still Room (below)? 
Gallery 919, the Clyfford Still room (which BTW, looks less crowded and busy since they removed the David Smith sculpture from the middle of the room).
In the stairwell going from the second to the first floor of the Contemporary and Modern wing (Gallery 903) is a bizarre Kiki Smith sculpture, a crouching female figure hanging upside-down on the wall. I noticed, for the first time, that as you pass by you look right in the disturbingly realistic eyes of the figure. 
Installation view, Kiki Smith, Lilith, 1994, bronze with glass eyes, 31 1/2 x 27 x 17 1/2 inches.
Finally, the Chinese wing is closed for "infrastructure upgrades" until December. But it's worth visiting the hallway leading to the Chinese wing (Gallery 207) because they recently added to their collection of ancient Chinese bronzes that were on display there. (What is it that's so profoundly strange, and even a bit creepy, about ancient Chinese bronzes?)
Ancient Chinese bronzes located just inside the hallway leading to the Chinese wing.
and further down the hallway is an entire wall of snuff bottles that you could spend hours enjoying.
Room 207 –  the end of the hallway near the entrance to the Chinese wing.
Snuff Bottle, Late 18th century, Qing dynasty, agate with glass stopper, 2 1/2 x 2 1/8 x 1 inches.


Carl Belz said...

What, no Balthus?

Charles Kessler said...

Haven't seen it yet, but I doubt if it would help my blahs!

Kyle Gallup said...

Thank you for this update. I'm hoping to make a visit soon. They changed the Matisse's around in that small area. There was an Odalisque on the wall for a long while with a couple of other small Matisse beauties.

I guess they've put away my favorite ink stones with poetic names in the Asian area--I have group of images of them that I've been thinking about and looking at for a year...but I will definitely take a look at the bottles and bronzes.