Painting

3 Inaugural Exhibitions @ The Met Breuer, NYC

March 25, 2016

Do yourself a favor and check out the new Met Breuer, which finally opened to the public last week. The building, a work of art in itself, was designed by the great Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer and until recently functioned as the Whitney Museum. Thomas Campbell, the Met’s charmingly British Director and CEO, says that he hopes the Met Breuer will offer new points of entry and a new dimension to the modern and contemporary art scene in NYC and in the world.

Being the largest museum in North America has its perks. Of the 5,000 years of art in the Met’s collection, the Met Breuer is dedicated to the last 116 – specifically the art of the 20th and 21st centuries. And it intends to explore these periods using everything in its arsenal, traveling far beyond the present day western canon of art to ask the best possible questions.

The opening season is extraordinary. The highlight is the massive 2-floor exhibition called Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, which explores a key question in art: when is a work “done?” Unfinished is par exemplar of a new curatorial trend of exhibiting old masterpieces alongside modern and contemporary works – effectively raising the status of the latter to that of the prior. The exhibition positions unfinished works alongside seemingly and possibly unfinished works spanning from the Renaissance to today.

The first floor is a wonderland of some of the greatest painters in history. Titian’s “The Flaying of Marsyas” greets you upon entry and leads you into a room of paintings by Rembrandt, Poussin, Rubens, da Vinci, el Greco, Dürer, Velázquez, among others. While many of the works contain passages awkwardly lacking paint (for example: a jarring, smile-inducing 18th century portrait by German painter Anton Raphael Mengs, in which the seated aristocrat’s face is missing, or the 17th century Flemish painter Gonzales Coques’ “The Young Messenger,” in which the clothing is not painted), other works in the exhibition are canonized art-historical masterpieces (the El Greco, for example, which is normally on display in the permanent collection at the Met, would never normally be called “unfinished”). You will find yourself wondering, “Wait, how is this unfinished?” and that’s kind of the point (it is 2016).

With each room, you travel through the centuries and closer and closer to the present, stopping along the way at unfinished and “unfinished” works by Manet, Monet, Matisse, van Gogh, Giacometti, Degas, Whistler, Munch, Klimt, Picasso, Neel, Freud, etc. etc., and a whole room dedicated to Turner.

S. Nasreen Mohamedi Untitled ca. 1975

The second floor is a modern and contemporary heaven (or hell) and packed with more Picasso (because there’s always more Picasso), Cézanne, Pollock, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Johns, Mondrian, Marden, Basquiat, de Kooning, Twombly, Richter, etc. etc., and a gorgeous painting by Kerry James Marshall, for whom the Breuer will host a mid-career retrospective this fall.

If all of that seems like a lot of name-dropping, that’s because it is. After all, it’s the Met, so why shouldn’t it be totally awesome?

The other 3 inaugural exhibitions are all worth checking out as well. An entire floor is dedicated to the work of Indian modernist Nasreen Mohamedi, one of the most important artists to emerge in post-Independence India. Her first museum retrospective in the US does not disappoint, with more than 130 paintings, drawings and photographs, a feast for those who drool over graphic minimalism.

For the auditorily inclined, don’t miss the down-to-earth genius of Relation: A Performance Residency by Vijay Iyer. Vijay has curated a non-stop marathon of live performance (often including himself on the keys) that breathes life into the Breuer’s first floor gallery. The experience is mesmerizing and a good reminder that sensational art can manifest at any moment, even right now. Plus, Vijay is one cool cat.

Scout Opatut and David Molesky