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“First Impression, last impression” appears to be a mantra by which curators of the Met Breuer strongly abide. To inaugurate its much needed and awaited larger commitment to modern and contemporary art, the Met’s new museum annex location at Marcel Breuer’s building on Madison Avenue (the former home of The Whitney) chose to honor the masters through “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible,” an exhibition devoted to incomplete works from the Renaissance to today. These include masterpieces by Da Vinci, Munch, Klimt, Cézanne, Picasso, Pollock, Twombly, and countless more. The ambitious undertaking surpassed our expectations and left a lasting imprint last week, amid a fair-focused Armory Arts Week in New York.
Scheduled to open to the public on March 18, the show investigates the questions of, when a work of art is finished, or if it can/should ever be finished? These interrogations are confronted chronologically mostly through portraiture on the third floor, devoted to Renaissance and Baroque painting, and through multiple genres (figurative, abstraction, minimalism, conceptualism) on the fourth floor, faithful to the modern and contemporary. However pieces by Van Gogh, Juan Gris, Lucian Freud, and a breathtaking posthumous portrait by Klimt can be spotted on the third floor.
Works on view can be classified into two main categories: pieces unfinished by mishap or interruption against those uncompleted by design. One might add the category of the open-ended piece that transcends entirely the complete/incomplete dichotomy. Pollock’s dripping paintings (one of which is featured on the fourth floor), would fall in the latter as their expansive scale and decentered composition transcends notions of beginning and end. In any case, these provide rare insights into the masters’ creative process, whether finito or non-finito.
With over 190 works dating from the Renaissance to today—forty percent of which are drawn from The Met’s collection, supplemented with major national and international loans—the exhibition demonstrates the type of groundbreaking show that can result when the Museum mines its vast collection and curatorial resources to present modern and contemporary art within a deep historical context.
The show will be furthermore complemented in April with a light-based installation of Tatsuo Miyajima, created especially for “Unfinished,” to be displayed in the Tony and Amie James Gallery in the lobby of the building (late April through mid-October).