Friday, October 17, 2014

At The Met On A Wet Day

I went back to the Met yesterday to catch up with a few shows that have recently opened and was not especially taken with the Thomas Struth photographs. They are for me big and dull. Especially tiring are his black and white images of empty New York City Streets from the late 70’s and look like the kind of photographs the city would use for zoning and real estate documentation. These are not very large and I guess they serve as some kind of timeline to the city’s recent past, but they are too cold and territorial for me. I prefer my New York City bustling at the seams, these are just dreary.  The large color cinematic photographs are strong in one or two images but mainly in the sense of surprise at how big they are. Ultimately they are just elephants in the room, and the exhibition is not large enough to really give the viewer a feeling for his work or what he is trying to do with these gigantic images. They’re like billboards in search of a wall and I can’t imagine how or why anyone would want to own of one these monsters, these conversation pieces and who has a wall big enough to hang one of these things over their couch? I know the answer of course. There are plenty of millionaires out there with the room for one of his photographs, but I come back to the question of why. His portraits are ordinary and in the give away brochure the examples illustrated include some deadly images of flowers and only add to my feeling that his is an oversized reputation, another big elephant, an emperor without his clothes that I don’t get but he certainly fits right in with the snazzy wow art world scene and showplace of the stars of which he is one of even if he glows dimly.  See it if you must.

Much more exciting and vivid and well worth a visit is Thomas Hart Benton’s tremendous 10 panel mural “America Today” that was originally done for the boardroom of the New School For Social Research. That was some boardroom. Its here now beautifully hung and restored in a wrap around gallery that recreates the original room and is epic in its strength and painting skill. Featuring ten panels made of different views and segments of American life from the 1920’s the mural features crowded scenes of different parts of the country along with day to day views of hard living and working with an acknowledgment of the coming of the great depression, along with more lighter moments in time and place. It was originally done for the New School in 1930 where it stayed for about 50 years before being sold to AXA Equitable, formerly known as Equitable Life, in 1984. The exhibition also features many of his preliminary drawings along with works by artists, who were active at the time, and not all were always friendly or sweet on him, check out the Stuart Davis painting who pretty much despised Benton. Also hanging is an early Jackson Pollock painting who was a student of Benton’s and posed for some of the figures in the mural. This is a wonderful thing to see and I know full well that some might find it old fashioned and conservative, and might have problems with Benton’s politics (I sure do) but there’s no denying the scope and magnificence of this work. 

Kimono A Modern History

This was the final exhibition I took it, and it is a dazzling display of fashion and pattern that traces the history of the kimono in Japanese history and culture from the late 18th Century up to today. There are some fifty of these robes basking in a lovely display in the Asian wing along with supplement material of  prints, books, ceramics and postcards. These postcards are small color delights showing women shopping at Takashimaya’s that was the first shop to sell kimonos and opened in Kyoto in 1831 . But it’s the kimono’s that are the stars of this show, so rich and beautiful with elaborate patterns and designs all superbly made in beautiful color and fabrics.  There are also strange and odd examples here like the children’s kimono festooned with images of Mickey Mouse and one from the war years with fighter planes. This exhibition is also a nice companion piece to the eye popping Matisee extravaganza of paper cutouts now at the Moma. Both shows offer powerful images both as art and fashion.


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