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Holland Cotter’s Bad-News Day: Off-Base Times Reviews of Philippe and Picasso Shows

Steve Wynn’s “Le Rêve,” right, on the original catalogue cover from MoMA’s landmark 2003 show

Holland Cotter, whose art criticism I generally esteem, owns the front page of today’s “Fine Arts” section in the NY Times, with reviews of both Acquavella’s Picasso show (which I discussed here) and the Metropolitan Museum’s “The Philippe de Montebello Years,” which opens today (and which I viewed at the press preview Monday).

Aspects of both appraisals seemed uncharacteristically clueless.

First off, in the Picasso review, he incorrectly identifies as “La Rêve” the star attraction of the show. (A correction and a French refresher course are called for: It’s “Le Rêve.”)

More shockingly, he consigns that sublime picture to “the kitsch category.” As I previously noted, the Museum of Modern Art, which surely knows a great Picasso when it sees one, had reproduced Wynn’s painting on the original catalogue cover (on the right, above, in my advance press copy) for its landmark “Matisse Picasso” show. (MoMA was later forced to reprint the cover before the opening, when the casino mogul withdrew it at the last minute over insurance concerns.)

Even more surprisingly, in today’s Cotter review of the Met’s tribute show for its director, Philippe de Montebello, he never mentions the organizing principle behind the installation: It is arranged in roughly chronological order, according to each object’s date of acquisition by the Met. This eccentric concept (reminiscent of the museum’s recent The Age of Rembrandt) was dreamed up by someone not previously known for organizing Met exhibitions—Jeff Daly, the museum’s senior design advisor for capital and special projects.

The Met’s curators, led by the exhibition’s coordinator, Helen Evans, curator of Byzantine art, had been considering traditional installation approaches—by department, or according to the chronology of the objects’ creation. But Philippe let it be known that he wanted an unconventional concept and he responded with enthusiasm when Daly suggested an “and then I collected…” approach.

The intention, as described by de Montebello in his opening remarks at the press preview, is to give visitors a sense of what curators experience at acquisition meetings, where a variety of disparate objects are submitted by various departments for general consideration. This inside-baseball conceit is suggested at the outset by a photo montage, below, which gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the director and curators engaged in such a conclave:


I’ll have more to say about this show next week.

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