This Fall, the Met Museum is a happening place. Crowds are enormous. New exhibitions are blooming. Existing masterpieces have been rehung, re-thought and relit. And the once staid Great Hall is ablaze with a site-specific, computer-generated, multimedia installation projected on its walls. I venture to guess that the younger generation will find, A Metta Prayer, by interdisciplinary artist Jacolby Satterwhite, totally cool. I found it bewildering.
A Metta Prayer
For those who have not set foot in the place for a while, my advice is to pace yourself. If possible, ignore the long lines for the Manet/Degas show, and plan to see it in late December and early January when most tourists have departed. It’s worth seeing, of course, but under better conditions. There are too many people in too small a space.
Vertigo of Color
Instead, head for the smaller, less-publicized exhibition of two other French painters of the same era, “Vertigo of Color: Matisse, Derain and the Origins of Fauvism.” It’s stunning, sparsely attended, historically illuminating and a total treat.
Its back story is simple. In 1905, Matisse invited his friend and fellow painter, Derain, to join him and his wife for a few weeks of painting in the south of France in the tiny fishing village of Collioure. Those two weeks, it turns out, forever changed the course of painting in the 20th century. Inspired by the color and light of the water, hills and beaches, they began to dispense with traditional techniques and simply embraced color as the essence of their vision and experience. When they exhibited their work in Paris, critics called them Les Fauves or “wild beasts.”
Portraits (Left Derain by Matisse; Matisse by Derain)
Matisse’s wife by Derain
Matisse’s wife by Matisse
Today, we see their work as examples of unbridled joy and exuberance. The artists portraits of each other demonstrate their skill and power as portraitists as well as colorists. At times, their work is almost interchangeable. A Derain portrait of Matisse’s wife looks like a Matisse. And Matisse’s sketch of his wife, could be a Derain.
Look Again: European Paintings 1300 – 1800
Met CEO Max Hollen
Stephan Wolohojian, Curator in Charge of European Paintings
Upstairs, the recently reopened galleries – after five years of major renovations – invites all of us to immerse ourselves in 700 world-famous works from the Met collection. Changes are both subtle – the skylights are new, the rooms have been enlarged, sightlines improved between gallery rooms, walls repainted – and dramatic: galleries are arranged chronologically, new attention given to women artists and, in some rooms, paintings new and old arranged next to each other.
The Artist’s Studio
Kerry James Marshall
Elaine de Kooning
Most stunning, for example, is “The Artist’s Studio,” (Gallery 638). A large work by the contemporary artist, Kerry James Marshall, flanked by works made by artists from different eras, styles and centuries. Other juxtapositions (below) are equally arresting.
El Greco and Picasso
Head of Christ and Francis Bacon
In addition to these three exhibitions, there are two modern sculptures nestled in two curved spaces outside the museum, flanking its main entrance, and another major show, which I have yet to visit, “Africa and Byzantium.” Again, it’s been heralded as a major “rethink of history” show with a plethora of rare treasures.
There is no question that the Met is striving to be more hip, more relevant, more compelling. And it’s succeeding. Go see for yourself.
Text and images by Eleanor Foa Dienstag