Passing the Baton: New Met Leadership To Help Out The Frick

Some interesting art institutional news is emerging which will have a significant impact on (arguably) two of the best museums in the New York – which just so happen to be within a couple of blocks of each other.

The Frick Collection is possibly my favorite museum in New York: small but grand, elegant but welcoming, and mercifully free of the vast crowds that prevent you from actually seeing anything, as is so often the case at the Metropolitan Museum of Art just up the avenue, despite that museum’s gargantuan size. As regular readers know, the Frick been working on an expansion and renovation plan which, after many failed starts, at last seems to be on track to finally getting underway. In order for this to happen, the museum will have to close for a period of time; in anticipation thereof, staff had been searching for places to temporarily display some of the over 1400-piece collection, while the rest went into storage.

To the surprise of everyone, the Met has stepped forward and offered the Frick the use of Met Breuer, the former home of the Whitney Museum of American Art which the Met moved into not too long ago. The atrociously bad Breuer building, which the arts establishment of the present day love for reasons best understood by their psychotherapists, is still owned by the Whitney, but is leased to the Met until 2025. The Frick will become the Met’s subletter, a use which is permitted under the terms of the rental agreement.

The occupancy, which is expected to last for two years once construction is finally greenlighted at the Frick mansion, will allow the entire Frick collection to stay together in one spot as the renovation proceeds. It will also allow visitors the questionable pleasure of seeing beautiful art set in a hideous space. As Ian Wardropper, Director of the Frick, pointed out in an interview with The Art Newspaper, “I think in the beginning people are going to be really curious—what does the Frick look like in a distinguished Brutalist building?”

What, indeed. The term “distinguished”, incidentally, is one of those throwaway words that is used in artspeak for something old that no normal person actually likes, but which the art establishment uses to make you feel bad if you express the opinion that an establishment darling is utter crap (see also, Marina Abramović, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, etc.) But be that as it may, the fact that one will be able to go to the temporary home of the Frick and see some of their glorious works, like this, or this, or this, will be worth it if, at the end, a newly revitalized permanent home will be in the offing.

The agreement appears to have come about through the efforts of the Met’s brand-new director, Max Hollein. Mr. Hollein has taken over the bloated barque of the Met at a rather crucial time in its history; I’ve written about some of its recent problems under its previous director, in these virtual pages, as well as for The Federalist. While the museum plots a new course, and tries to right itself financially from the risk of tipping over, generating some income from the Breuer building seems like a good idea. It also shows that there’s a new captain on deck who’s determined to get everything shipshape.

Sorry, I got carried away with all of the nautical language there.

On Monday, Mr. Hollein gave a lengthy interview to ArtNet, talking about the past and future of the Met as an institution. One of the big takeaways here is that the Met, which has the unenviable mission of trying to be all things to all people – imagine trying to put the entire collection of the Smithsonian under one roof – needs to diversify to reflect the art and history of other cultures that are currently underrepresented at the museum. For example, the Met is well-known for its numerous galleries of magnificent Ancient Egyptian art, but only recently made the effort to coordinate and bring together its extensive collections of jewel-like works of Islamic art into a series of connected galleries. The Met has really lost its way in recent years, being more concerned about its popularity than its integrity, so refocusing on its core work of collecting, preserving, and displaying for the purposes of edification and education would be a very welcome development indeed.

In any case, good news ahead for fans of the Frick, and (hopefully) good news for the future of the Met, as well.

Esp

Art News Roundup: Birthday Bonanza Edition

For those of you who didn’t read it earlier this week, my article on the latest art restoration disaster in Spain – and some questions about institutional oversight of cultural heritage within the Spanish Episcopate – has been republished on The Federalist this morning. As always, my grateful thanks to Joy Pullman and her team for wanting to share my scribblings with others. If you enjoy what you read, or want to take issue with what I’ve written, comments over on The Federalist site are as gratefully appreciated as they are over here.

On a happier note – that is, as far as the Spanish art world is concerned – next year marks the 200th birthday of the Prado Museum in Madrid, universally considered to be one of the greatest art collections in the world. Earlier this week, the museum announced a veritable bonanza of special exhibitions that will begin this fall and continue throughout next year, to mark the institution’s bicentennial. As expected, the major exhibitions – which include shows on Fra Angelico and the Florentine Renaissance, one hundred of Goya’s drawings, and a show comparing the works of Velázquez, Vermeer, and Rembrandt, among other exhibitions – will be taking place at the Prado itself. However, in a highly unusual move, the Prado has also organized two traveling exhibitions that will be sent out to other parts of Spain.

Of these, the largest single show is going to Barcelona later this year; I’m planning to see (and review) “Velázquez and the Golden Age” at the Caixa Forum in late December. Meanwhile, the “On Tour Through Spain” show will send at least one work (and in some cases more than that) from the Prado’s permanent collection to every autonomous community in Spain. Sites include, but are not limited to, the Dalí Museum in Figueres, the Museum of Fine Arts in Badajoz, the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art in Cuenca, and the Museum of La Rioja in Logroño. Even the Spanish overseas territories of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa will get in on the occasion. If you love great art, and why would you be subscribing to this blog if you didn’t, make your forthcoming travel plans accordingly.

And now on to some other art news headlines for the week.

Renoir Restitution

A continuing problem in the art world, as well as for the international legal system, is the thorny issue of works of art which changed hands in the period before, during, and after World War II. Just this week, three major stories in this vein have made headlines. First, the grandchildren of a woman whose portrait was painted by Matisse lost their latest appeal to recover the painting from the National Gallery in London. The work had been entrusted by the woman who was the subject of the portrait to an individual who turned thief shortly after the end of the war, as Berlin was being occupied and divided. Second, it turns out that four French 18th century drawings in the collection of the sister of Nazi art-hoarder Cornelius Gurlitt, whom I have written about previously as you may recall, were stolen from a family in Paris, only one of whom survived the Holocaust. Those works have now been returned to the owners’ heirs. Finally, a Renoir which the Nazis stole from a bank vault in Paris in 1941, where the owner had stored his most valuable paintings during the German invasion, has been returned to the granddaughter of the original owner; four other Renoirs and a Delacroix from the same collection are still missing.

REnoir

Flipping Fantastic

The National Gallery of Denmark has just opened a rather interesting exhibition, “Flip Sides”, in which works of art in the museum have been turned around and hung so as to display their backs. We often don’t realize that there is a great deal of information to be learned from the back of a picture. Sometimes there is a second work of art on the back, such as in the case of Leonardo’s portrait of Ginerva de’ Benci here in the National Gallery in Washington. In other cases, the back of a picture tells us about a piece’s history and provenance, shows how the artist went about creating their work, or demonstrates that the artist was reusing their own or someone else’s materials.

In the example from the exhibition shown below, we’re actually being fooled by the artist, for Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts (c.1630-1675) was a famous trompe-l’œil painter. In this case, the rather Surrealist “trick of the eye” that he painted is the very realistic-looking back of a painting, shown on the front of a painting. “Flip Sides” runs through March 10, 2019.

tromb

Discovering Dixon

Not being a specialist in decorative arts, I must confess that I’d never heard of American Arts and Crafts designer Eda Lord Dixon (1876-1926) until I read this very interesting and well-researched article about her life and work. It turns out I’m not alone in my ignorance because, as the article itself points out, when a magnificent silver and enamel hand mirror by Dixon was gifted to the Metropolitan Museum of Art back in 2014, she was “virtually unknown.” In her day, Dixon was primarily known for her enameled jewelry, but she also produced luxury household objects such as jeweled boxes (like the one below, also owned by The Met), finger bowls, cigarette holders, and even a solid silver enameled chalice engraved with a verse from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. With more attention (quite rightly) beginning to be drawn to Dixon’s work, this is a good time for collectors to bone up on her biography, style, and materials, before heading to your local consignment shop or flea market in search of lost treasure.

L.2017.25.1a, b

Thought-Pourri: Location, Location Edition

A week from today I’ll be flying out to Chicago, ahead of speaking at the Catholic Art Guild on Saturday, May 5th. I’m currently culling through my research to try to make sure I keep this presentation both on point and under the 1-hour mark, so that I don’t overwhelm the audience with too much information (or too many images.) Details are available here, and hope to see many of my readers from the Chicagoland area, there!

Now, on to some art news.

New To The National Gallery (UK)

Two beautiful new works have now joined the permanent collection of the National Gallery in London. The older of the two is the over-titled “Still Life with Lemons, Lilies, Carnations, Roses and a Lemon Blossom in a Wicker Basket, together with a Goldfinch perched on a Porcelain Bowl of Water, on top of a Silver Tray, all arranged upon a Stone Ledge” (c. 1643-1649) by Juan de Zurbarán (1620-1649). This Zurbarán is the son of the more famous Francisco de Zurbarán, (1598-1664) whose “Jacob and His Twelve Sons” I recently reviewed for the Federalist, and his is a classic example of the “bodegón”, a type of stark but highly realistic still life painting that is typical of Spanish Baroque art. The second new acquisition is the more simply titled “Wineglasses” (c. 1875) by the great John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), which depicts a gazebo in a summery garden setting, probably in France, with dappled sunlight splashing over the surfaces. Makes you want to step right into the picture and have a drink, doesn’t it?

Sargent

Quite a Haul In Quincy

A different sort of acquisition scheme is described in this fascinating article from the Boston Globe about James Pantages, an employee and resident of the city of Quincy, Massachusetts, who spent the last 30 years buying art at modest prices, and then cramming his acquisitions into every possible space in his home. Among the paintings in his collection of over 1,200 works of art are pieces by George Inness (1825-1894), one of this country’s most important landscape painters; the polymath Rockwell Kent (1882-1971), whose murals decorate the U.S. Post Office Headquarters and the Longworth Building of the U.S. House of Representatives here in D.C.; and the great American Impressionist painter Colin Campbell Cooper (1856-1937). While not everything Mr. Pantages bought is significant, at this point the auctioneers who have been called in to assess and value the collection have only analyzed about 10% of the collection, so more treasures may await discovery. There is a touch of sadness to this article, I find, and I hope that Mr. Pantages will be able to find some comfort and peace in letting go of these items.

Fixed Up In Florence

Mannerism, the somewhat exaggerated art style that succeeded the High Renaissance in Italy, has been getting a lot more attention recently from academics and the art media, and two of the best representatives of it are Jacopo de Pontormo (1494-1557) and his pupil, Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572). A showcase for significant work by the pair recently re-opened to the public after a lengthy preservation and restoration project founded by American philathropists. The Capponi Chapel in the church of Santa Felicita in Florence houses the newly-restored “The Deposition from the Cross” (1528), which is generally considered to be Pontormo’s masterpiece; it is a twisting, turning composition of elongated, ethereal figures dressed in bright colors that look like they came from a Pucci scarf. Accompanying it in the chapel are frescoes of the Four Evangelists by Pontormo and Bronzino, now returned to their former glory. This is all thanks to major support from the Friends of Florence, a U.S.-based philanthropic foundation that is “dedicated to preserving and enhancing the cultural and historical integrity of the arts in the city and surrounding area of Florence, Italy.” Well done, and thank you.

Pontormo