It is hard not to write a paean to the Met after the two exhibitions and two and a half hours of other things that I took in last night. The two exhibitions, “Cezanne to Picasso” and “Americans in Paris” are superb. The rest, I mean the museum at large, is as well.
“Amercians in Paris” made me realize that American artists had an enlightened view of women that was not generally shared by their European counterparts. Women, and Sargent’s “Madame X” is a prime example, were seen as confident, self aware characters. Compared to Renoir’s chubby happy women, naked or otherwise, who seem destined to be mothers or temptors, American artists portrayed ambitious and strong women capable of being social equals. And the American artists were every bit as gifted as their European counterparts, something that I was taught as not being the case.
What else can you say about the explosiveness of painting from 1860 to the First World War? Lots, but what is really clear is that the art world has never really had such a productive time period since. Today’s art, at least the art that is in the headlines, seems both clever and devoid of character. The paintings I saw last night were not clever, or at least not clever in the sly sense. (The one exception might be Gauguin’s work whose self awareness is so very apparent and just a little boring.) The sly, commercial cleverness was to come as the art market changed into something driven more by the market and less by the artist’s vision.
I have been critical of the Met in the past. Not so much for what it does, but for what it does not do. However, it is almost impossible not to be impressed by what is on display. It is well lit, well displayed and the place is serene and yet social. This is how all museums should be.