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Cubist Infusion: Leonard Lauder’s “Transformational Gift” to the Metropolitan Museum


Picasso, “The Scallop Shell (Notre Avenir est dans l’Air),” 1912
Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection; 2013 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

I got this one right.

The Metropolitan Museum this evening announced what director Tom Campbell called, with no hyperbole, “a truly transformational gift”—the pledge by megacollector Leonard Lauder of 78 works, including 33 by Picasso (including the painting shown above), 17 by Braque, 14 by Gris, and 14 by Léger. The gift will be accompanied by the establishment of a new Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, which will be bankrolled by a $22-million endowment, contributioned by Lauder and other Met trustees and patrons.

I had predicted this happy development three years ago, in my CultureGrrl review of what I then called “The Met’s So-So Picasso Show”—a lackluster agglomeration of the museum’s Picasso holdings, which, I said, “can’t hold a candle to what can be seen in the permanent-collection galleries of a certain modern art museum situated a mile downtown.”

All of that will likely change, thanks to Lauder’s trove of masterworks (some of which you can see in this multimedia feature on the NY Times‘ website).

In my review of the Picasso show, I foretold the Lauder benefaction in this account of my encounter with Campbell at the April 2010 press preview. He had asked me what no critic wants to be asked by a museum official, especially when the art scribe is still in the process of forming an opinion about a show’s merits or lack thereof: What did I think of it?

I dodged by saying (truthfully) that I hadn’t seen the entire exhibition yet.

Here’s what I wrote in my blog post about that conversation:

When Campbell greeted me at the press preview, I mentioned the near-dearth of great Analytic Cubist paintings. “You’re right,” he agreed. “We’re working on it. See us in 15 years’ time.” (I should live so long!) Asked if it’s still possible to acquire great Cubist works, and he assured me it was. (Let me guess: Leonard Lauder‘s collection?)

I guessed right. I had mentioned Lauder to Campbell, whose response was (appropriately) silence. Obviously, the “15 years” that Campbell had posited was too long for Lauder, now 80, to wait.

With today’s announcement, Lauder (and the Met’s visitors) won’t have too long to wait to see this superlative collection on view at the Met. It will be showcased in a fall 2014 exhibition, co-curated by Emily Braun, distinguished professor and Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, who has served as curator of the Lauder Collection for 26 years; and Rebecca Rabinow, the Met’s curator of modern and contemporary art.

The following year, we all hope to see the opening of the new Renzo Piano-designed downtown facility of the Whitney Museum, whose board Lauder long chaired before becoming chairman emeritus. In connection with that project, he contributed some $131 million (mostly for endowment) to the Whitney in 2008, with the proviso that the museum could not sell its uptown Breuer-designed building for an extended period. The Met will, at least temporarily, lease that uptown space for displays of its own collection, once the Whitney decamps.

an ArtsJournal blog