Saturday, December 27, 2008

this is the color of my dreams

Philippe de Montebello — whose long career at The Metropolitan Museum of Art has spanned nearly a third of the institution’s entire history — is retiring after more than thirty-one years as director. Now the curators of the various departments have each dug around in their collections and chosen to feature acquisitions made during the de Montebello years, their favorites. And that's one of the current exhibits. Some pieces have been chosen more because the story of the acquisition is fascinating than because the artwork itself is tops. So it's a hodge podge, arranged, room by room, according to the date the work came to the museum rather than its year of creation. So you'll get whiplash moving from the 18th-c. wooden bust of a powerful Russian politician to Segovia's favorite Spanish (actually Austrian) guitar to some Tahitian faces drawing by Gauguin in 1899.

Jane and I went last night. We saw an especially large Brancusi bird-in-space sculpture, made in 1923 and acquired in 1995. We saw and loved Jasper Johns' 1955 White Flag. Prior to getting this big canvas the Met had never owned a single Jasper Johns. The director and modern painting curator went to Johns' place in Connecticut to purchase it from the artist himself. White Flag is the largest of Johns's flag paintings and the first in which the flag is presented in monochrome. It's been described as having a "lush reticence," and I'd say that's exactly right.

And, to my mind, the most compelling piece in the show: Miro's 1925 "Photo: This is the color of my dreams," a fine instance of peinture-poesie. Miro was thinking about a photograph and then painted a painting "about" it while at the same time making not effort to reproduce the photo visually. It's not a painting about a photograph but, rather, a painting about the poetics of photography.

Damn, I forgot to bring my good camera and so took these not-so-clear shots with my phone. Forgive me, but you get the idea.

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The Miro painting/anti-painting show at MoMA is open until January 12. "I want to assassinate painting," said the artist in 1927 and these works date from '27 to '37. (Thanks to Kaegan Sparks for reminding me of this exhibit, which I haven't yet seen.)