Is it possible to see too much art in one day? Not during New York’s Armory Arts Week, and especially not on 3 March, when the Sotheby’s Preferred agenda included visits to two major exhibitions: Van Dyck: The Anatomy of Portraiture at the Frick Collection, and Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, the inaugural show at The Met Breuer. The day began at The Met Breuer – the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new outpost for modern and contemporary art – for a visit weeks ahead of the Museum’s public opening, and would conclude with an after-hours look at Van Dyck’s masterworks with a curator.
PREFERRED MEMBERS TOURED UNFINISHED: THOUGHTS LEFT VISIBLE AT THE MET BREUER.
I arrived that morning at the iconic Marcel Breuer-designed building, the former home of the Whitney Museum, excited to experience it as The Met Breuer. Our group toured Unfinished, a show of 190 works spanning 600 years that explores the question of when an artwork can be called complete. Arranged chronologically, the exhibition (on view through 4 September) sets a tone for The Met Breuer to display fascinating contemporary works but in a reserved, traditional format, which echoes the curatorial style and general organisation of The Met Fifth Avenue. (To experience Lisa Dennison’s initial sneak peak video, click here.)
A few hours later I headed to the nearby Frick Collection, where Preferred members gathered in the quiet museum for a fascinating private tour of the Van Dyck exhibition led by its co-curator Adam Eaker. I was struck by the fact that despite being stylistically opposed, the Beaux Arts Frick mansion (1912) and starkly modernist Met Breuer (1966) emanate a similar sense of grandeur. Like Unfinished, the approximately 100 works by Van Dyck are arranged chronologically – in a sense, biographically – to show the artist’s growth and range as a portraitist over time. This show of Old Master drawings and paintings feels traditional too, but in a way that is expected of and matches The Frick as an institution.
A GUEST ADMIRING GUSTAV KLIMT'S POSTHUMOUS PORTRAIT OF RIA MUNK III, 1917–18.
But there was more than that. As I stood marveling at some of Van Dyck’s early preparatory sketches and subtle engravings, curator Adam Eaker commented that Van Dyck often created etchings that were less technically complete but more expressive for his most prominent patrons, who preferred this style, while his “finished” etchings were produced in greater numbers for wider distribution. Suddenly, this room felt like a section of Unfinished.
I could hardly believe the irony – it seems like practically all of New York is buzzing about The Met Breuer, and yet its opening exhibition features works which 500 years ago were appreciated only by the most discerning art patron. While The Met Breuer may seem reserved in contrast to the Whitney Museum of American Art or New Museum, perhaps we sometimes take for granted the ambition and innovation of our contemporary culture – especially that which is housed in iconic New York art institutions.
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