To hear some people tell it, connoisseurship is a concept that has been lost by much of the art world — or at the very least, underplayed. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts this week opens an exhibition that instead puts connoisseurship back in the spotlight.
In Pursuit of a Masterpiece, which opened on Sunday, has been designed to help visitors take a closer look at nearly two dozen paintings, prints and other objects in the museum’s permanent collection and compare their quality, their form and the techniques used to produced them. They come from seven curatorial departments.
The first section, called “Changing Historical Definitions of a Masterpiece,” includes pieces like the Chinese ritual water basin at left — which was not labeled a masterpiece when it entered the museum’s collection — and considers how that decision was made. This area also includes pieces that were “masterpieces, only to be revealed as fakes.
The second section, “Connoisseurship: Knowing a Masterpiece When You See One,” contains works never doubted as to quality or authenticity. Courbet’s “Deer In The Forest,” right, is an example.
The third section is called “Taste and the Evolution of Knowledge,” and it’s probably the most interesting. It explores how taste and new scholarship have altered the “art historical canon.” For a start, it’s fascinating that a museum would today acknowledge that there is a defined art historical canon, let alone attempt to define what’s in it and what’s not in it. But MIA has placed several works in this category, including a Djenne horseman sculpture from 15th Century Mali (left), a Francis Bacon painting it acquired in 1958, when Bacon was not widely admired, and Jasper John’s Figure 2, purchased in 1970.
Another entry consists of two prints of the same photograph by Ansel Adams, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, one printed in 1961 and the other some time in the 1970s. The quality difference is discernable.
The exhibit accompanies a loan show called The Louvre and The Masterpiece, and is another example of a museum using its permanent collection creatively. MIA director Kaywin Feldman is the curator of In Pursuit of A Masterpiece.
Photos: Courtesy Minneapolis Institute of Arts