Category Archives: ten minutes at the met

Last chance — Calder Jewelry at the Metropolitan

This delicious little exhibition closes Sunday, March 1. The rings, pins, necklaces, and uncategorizable breastplate-collars are full of the economy and wit and the organic forms-in-motion of Alexander Calder’s Circus and his stabiles and mobiles. He uses brass and steel and precious metals, but also broken plates and fragments of a red car reflector, whatever his transformative imagination can work on. He makes jokes and puns, working initials into bunny-profiles. And since they were almost all made for friends and relatives, many for his beloved wife Louisa, often very quickly (his grandson, Sandy Rower, says that if the Calders were going out for dinner, he might go off to his workshop in the morning and, by evening, return with a new ring or brooch for Louisa to wear), they have a striking directness and intimacy. Also, of course, because they are objects made for the body: with something like Jealous Husband you imagine how it would be with its curves enwrapping and its spikes defending you.

Jealous Husband, c. 1940, from the Newman Collection

Jealous Husband, c. 1940, from the Newman Collection

Plus they’re really cool, swoopy and modern and tribal and beautifully crafted. If you have a chance, go see them. The show is just three rooms, tucked back in the Modern galleries, and it will delight and refresh you.

Last chance — 3 Decades of Acquisitions at the Metropolitan Museum

The “Philippe show,” as it is known around the joint, closes on Sunday. I was going to make this a Ten Minutes at the Met entry — I went up to the show thinking I’d find just two or three objects to point you to — but I couldn’t do it. There’s just too much going on and, since the objects are from every curatorial department, they don’t compare very well. But here is what I advise, especially if you are going back for a second or a last look: try and take in the witty, or resonant, or baffling combinations. In the very first room, a set of four, nearly square, small panels by Lorenzo Monaco, each with an individual Old Testament hero enthroned, hangs next to a four-by-four grid of Becher watertowers.
Moses, Lorenzo Monaco
A couple of rooms on, an exquisite image from 16th century Iran of divinely drunken dervishes at a poetry party is paired with Bazille’s 1867 painting of a medieval wall in late-evening, south-of-France light. The cylindrical gate-towers against the flat of the stony wall rhyme with the hexagonal house of the dervish party.
Listening to HafizGate at Aigues-Mortes
And it’s not just flat things, it’s sculptures — room six, is it, with the Brancusi Bird in Flight, the pleated dress by Madame Gres, the Egyptian torso with its pleated tunic in basalt, plus the smooth planes of a head of Athena and the rippling curls of Alexander Menshikov’s wig as rendered in pine — small objects and large, musical instruments and instruments of death. Since the narrative of the exhibition is not about the works or their artists or the cultures they sprang from, formal issues are forced forward. I feel a bit abandoned, but more emancipated. Make the stories from what you see.

(oh, as ever — disclaimer applies, see About.)

Ten minutes at the Metropolitan Museum — two new paintings

I had this idea that a series of posts drawing attention to small things at the Big Tomb would be worthwhile: stuff for the ten minutes or half hour of attention you have after you’ve seen the big special exhibition. It might be a smaller loan show, but more often would be a bit of the permanent collection, maybe a new case or a rotating exhibition (or even just a single bay). (Disclaimer applies, of course, see ABOUT.)

Two paintings freshly on view in the European Paintings galleries will serve as the launch. One’s Italian, sixteenth century; one’s French, early seventeenth. The later picture was the earlier to arrive, just a few weeks ago: Valentin de Boulogne’s c 1626 The Lute Player. He is hanging in the French classical room (turn right from the hall at the top of the main stairs, through the glass doors (“Harry Payne Bingham Galleries”) and past the small Tiepolo sketches) along with Poussin and Georges de la Tour, and on second view Valentin’s very Italian, Caravaggesque style seems a little out of place there. It’s nice to have him across a doorway from the Laurent de la Hyre muse with an archlute from about 20 years later, though the instrumental pairing may even throw the difference in styles into a brighter light. And if you duck through that doorway and look left you’ll find another, later French plucked-string player, Watteau’s c 1720 Mezzetin with his long skinny fingers. Of course the Valentin picture caught my attention particularly because of all the lute-players I know; when I mentioned it to a couple their eyes got very keen and, “How many courses?” they asked. Stutteringly, I had to confess I hadn’t counted. (It appears to be eight, of which the top and bottom are single, for 14 strings total.) Grant and Tony were dubious about the player’s left-hand position, and, sadly, the music book open on the table has no legible notation. Still, it’s a beautiful picture.

The other painting I had in mind doesn’t belong to the Museum; it’s a loan from a private collector, it’s a late work (c 1592) by Jacopo Bassano, and it represents the Baptism of Christ in a dark, gloomy setting, the bodies of John and Christ curving concentrically as John raises a shell-full of water to spill on a head that, bowed and sorrowful, already reflects the suffering of the crucifixion still to come. The dove of the Holy Ghost glimmers above, and one of the three handsome young angels clustered on the left to hold Christ’s drapery looks right at it. The paint is thin and agitated. To find it, bear straight back on the right side from the first Eur Paintings gallery, all the way back, and then turn right; Bassano hangs with his Venetian co-masters, Titian and Veronese; it’s Gallery 8, if I recall correctly.