This month the Metropolitan Museum of Art unveils its newest location. Joining the classic Fifth Avenue museum and the Cloisters uptown in Fort Tryon Park is the Met Breuer, occupying the former home of the Whitney Museum of American Art, which has moved to the Meatpacking District downtown.
The reopening of Bauhaus-trained architect Marcel Breuer‘s modernist 1960s Madison Avenue building might be enough in itself to draw curious crowds. As Met Director and CEO Thomas P. Campbell said during his remarks at yesterday’s preview, the museum aims to “do our part to recapture [the landmark building’s] beauty as a work of architecture, as a work of art in its own right.” But two capacious inaugural exhibits do much as well to make the debut of the new space an occasion to remember, especially if they indicate the scale of Department of Modern & Contemporary Art chairman Sheena Wagstaff’s ambition.
The museum intends to devote the Met Breuer to art of the 20th and 21st centuries, Wagstaff’s purview. She aims to “continue to embrace but also look well beyond the Western canon.” Appropriately, the second floor is devoted to a career-long survey of the work of Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990). The extensive exhibit shows this rigorous thinker’s compelling early work evolving into a painstakingly intellectual form of abstraction using variations on crosshatched lines.
Informed by her experiments with photography, a small sample of which is included, the earlier works, while abstract, often suggest organic forms, as if picked or molded from nature. The one pictured, more suggestive of real (blocky) objects than most, conveys the density of her vision at this stage.
The Mohamedi exhibit also includes a number of the artist’s handwritten diaries, which she turned into artworks in themselves, using lines to text to experiment with how the lines in her artistic vision could cross and intercept one another. Of the late work itself, the show gives us, if anything, more of it than we need in order to get the point and experience the effect. On the other hand, the sheer completeness of the exhibit augurs well for the future of the Met’s new venture.
Occupying the third and fourth floors is “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible,” a spectacular survey of 190 works dating from the Renaissance to the present, many from the Met’s own collection. Each selection is either unfinished, possibly unfinished, or relevant to the idea of incompleteness. Works by Titian, Velasquez, El Greco, Cezanne, Monet, Picasso, Mondrian, Klimt, and many other important painters and sculptors combine for a dazzling and eye-opening installation offering revelations about artistic vision and process.
Contemporary American painter Kerry James Marshall, who will have his own exhibition at the Met Breuer later this year, was on hand to offer brief remarks, and is represented in “Unfinished” by a striking untitled 2009 painting.
Janine Antoni’s “Lick and Lather” comments baldly on impermanence. The artist licked the chocolate bust and washed herself with the soap bust before presenting them for viewing.
“Unfinished” by itself is worth a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s shiny new iteration of an iconic building. Everything old is new again.
All photos by Jon Sobel