The Met Museum Is a Happening Place

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

Jean Alaux

William Orpen


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

About Eleanor Foa Dienstag (36 Articles)
Eleanor Foa Dienstag is a veteran author, journalist, photo-journalist and award-winning corporate writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper's, the New Republic, the New York Observer, Ms., Travel & Leisure, and many other websites and publications. Eleanor is the author of three books. Her most recent, available on Amazon and Centro Primo Levi is MIXED MESSAGES: Reflections on an Italian Jewish Family and Exile. It is a multi-layered memoir about Eleanor’s personal journey, her father’s exile from Fascist Italy and the Foa Family journey, whose Italian-Jewish roots go back to the 1500s in northern Italy where her ancestors were famous printers. WHITHER THOU GOEST: The Story of an Uprooted Wife, also a memoir, was acclaimed by Business Week for its insights into corporate life. Her third book, In Good Company: 125 Years At The Heinz Table, offered a unique view of a quintessential American company. Eleanor served as staff speechwriter to the Chairman and CEO of American Express. In 1983, she founded Eleanor Foa Associates ( It provides a wide variety of corporate writing and marketing services. Eleanor is past president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), received speechwriting awards from IABC, and was awarded literary residencies at Yaddo, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). She resides in Manhattan.