September 18, 2007

Rembrandt and pals stir unlikely controversy in Gotham

“The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” organized by Walter Liedtke, Curator in the Metropolitan Museum's Department of European Paintings. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Through Jan. 6, 2008.

In a wacky installation that reminds me of the time my ex-husband rearranged my books according to size, the Metropolitan Museum has rehung all their Dutch paintings in order of acquisition. Holland Cotter reports in the NY Times: "The work has been sorted not by artists or dates, but by the names and dates of the collectors who bought and gave the paintings to the museum. In this arrangement the history of Dutch 'Golden Age' art begins in the American Gilded Age of the late 19th century, when the Met first opened its doors. The exhibition’s stars are not Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals, but J. P. Morgan, Collis P. Huntington, William K. Vanderbilt and Louisine and H. O. Havemeyer....Rarely in these galleries did it occur to me to ask who once owned these pictures, or when the Met acquired them, or their dollar value. Instead I wanted information about what they depicted, about the paint they were made of and about the hands that brushed the paint on. I wanted to know what the artists — Rembrandt, say — might have been thinking. And I wanted to know what 17th-century viewers saw when they looked at these pictures, what these pictures said in their time. I wanted, in short, a different show, one with exactly the same art but with less institutional ego and more art-historical light." Read more. Check out Cotter's handy interactive guide to the show.

In the NY Sun Lance Esplund has a different take on the concept: "The absolute joy of this show is that everything, organized in the approximate order of acquisition, and can be viewed, relatively speaking, as a whole. More importantly, the pictures can also be compared to one another more readily and in quick succession. This is an essential aesthetic act that reminds us why Rembrandt — whose portraits are more solid, penetrating, and ethereal than any of the others on view — and Vermeer — whose light is more present and spiritually weighted than that, say, in the pictures of Hals or de Hooch — deserve to be at the head of the table." Read more.

At Culturegrrl, dedicated art blogger and journalist Lee Rosenbaum calls the show a grand hodgepodge. "'The Age of Rembrandt' includes the good, the bad and even the fake....A continuing theme running through the exhibition is the large number of works that were treasured as masterpieces when acquired and then downgraded, sometimes not long after their acquisition." Read more and check out Lee's snaps of "the bad and even the fake."

On Bloomberg, Linda Yablonsky reports that "the show may date from 1600 to 1800, yet it couldn't come at a better moment for our obsessively market-driven culture."Read more.

Friendly art blogger and NYC art dealer Edward Winkleman loves the installation concept. "What most impresses me about the concept here is how they've combined their obviously world-class collection with an interestingly educational installation idea (works are installed in the order in which the Met acquired them, providing insights into how such a collection is built)." Read more.

The New Yorker's Peter Schjeldahl gamely embraces the installation. "Sportively arbitrary hanging of great art should happen more often. How about a reinstallation at MOMA according to artists’ hat sizes?" Read more.

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