Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Why Give a Famous Cubist Collection to the Met?

Cosmetics tycoon Leonard Lauder has promised his famous collection of cubist works -- 33 Picassos, 17 Braques, 14 Légers and 14 works by Gris, with a total value of around a billion dollars -- to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

But why?

The Metropolitan already has far more stuff than it can display, which guarantees that much of Lauder's trove will not be seen often. The Metropolitan has no expertise or reputation in Modernism; the MOMA was founded as a place for this sort of art, in which the Met had no interest. Maybe the point is that the MOMA and other hypercool places have long ago moved on from paintings, however radical, to "installations," "events," "happenings," and suchlike "art." So only a traditional museum would given century old canvas the lavish attention Lauder thinks his collection deserves. But I think the real reason is that Lauder wanted to be a Big Donor like the Mellons or the Guggenheims, and the top of the big money New York art elite is found on the Met board rather than anywhere else.

I am annoyed myself because the Met has thousands of things I would love to see but can't because they don't have space. Now they will probably set aside a big room to display this stuff, which will force them to put a bunch of beautiful Greek or Medieval or Islamic artifacts into storage. Ugh. I do realize that lots of people, for whatever mysterious reason, like Picasso and his ilk, but there are already thousands of Picassos on  display in museums around the world, including in New York. Do we need to devote precious space in the Met to showing a few more?

Three works from Lauder's collection: Georges Braque, Trees at L'Estaque (1908); Picasso, Woman in an Armchair (1913); Fernand Léger, The Typographer (1917). The Times says of this last work,
It shows Léger’s affinity with the anonymous working man as seen in the standardized parts of the figure and his fascination with the trappings of modern Paris.
Which is the sort of art politics that makes me retch. If Léger had felt any real affinity for working people he would have painted something they would like, or at least understand, instead of this avant garde collage that surely would have made them laugh out loud.

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