December 16, 2012

A (Quick) Visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

With all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I can highly recommend a little interval to visit some of the smaller temporary exhibitions now on at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Less crowded than the big headline shows, here are a few gems that will give you a worthwhile art-fix without eating up too much precious time.

For a break with a smile, check out "Faking It:  Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop", a survey of images from the 1840s to the early 1990s that make the viewer wonder "what the heck???".  Using techniques such as over-painting and retouching, collage, multiple exposures and creative cropping, photographers have been doctoring photographs since the process was invented - long before re-dos could be easily done on any home computer.  For reasons ranging from vanity to propaganda, advertising to art, photographic images have been systematically enhanced to simply improve their appearance or to overtly deceive the beholder.  On view are over 200 photographs ranging from the bizarre to the laugh-out-loud funny that completely destroy the myth "The Camera Never Lies"!

Let's move downstairs to the The Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas where a tiny but remarkable temporary exhibition is now on view.  "African Art, New York and the Avant-Garde" explores the enormous impact ethnographic artifacts had on the art scene in New York at the beginning of the 20th century. 

New York emerged as the platform of the modern art movement after the groundbreaking Armory Show of 1913.  This trailblazing show, coupled with the outbreak of World War I, opened up transatlantic art commerce and put New York City firmly at the center of the avant-garde movement.  Galleries such as Alfred Stieglitz's "291" began to show African sculptures and objects alongside "real" works of art thereby elevating them to the level of modernist icons.  Artists such as Picasso, Brancusi, Matisse and Picabia were all fascinating with this new aesthetic and quickly incorporated them into their own œuvres.  This exhibition presents some fabulous examples of ethnographic works, primarily from the French and Belgian colonies, alongside works of modern art which they inspired.  Especially interesting are the vintage photographs of gallery installations and inside private New York collections where the two cultures exist in perfect harmony.

For me, no holiday season is complete without seeing the Met's fabulous Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Crèche, a New York tradition since 1964.  Situated in the museum's Medieval Hall and resplendent with its fifty silk-robed angels surrounded by a massive baroque crèche, the Metropolitan Christmas Tree is a magical sight to behold.  As I walk around the base admiring scenes like the Nativity, the procession of the three Magi and the daily lives of colorful townspeople and peasants, I am always amazed at the minute attention to detail and at the gorgeous dress of each figure.  Add to that the beautiful music playing in the background and I can almost forget about the cards and the shopping and myriad other things that still remain to be done!  Happy Holidays to All!

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