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“Trunk Show” — A Deplorable Development At the Met — CORRECTED AND UPDATED

The other day, a friend forwarded to me an email he had received from the Metropolitan Museum* — he was disgusted and I was horrified. It was an invitation sent via Paperless Post to a “Trunk Show” in the Met’s Balcony Lounge of “a unique jewelry collection” designed by Joel Alexander Rosenthal “to complement the exhibition of his jewels” that have been on view at the Met since Nov. 20 — the one called Jewels by JAR.  Here’s the invitation:

b4e6f578d189f8782b3ce76e8caf899d-20-16812687This trunk show, as you can see, will take place next Tuesday, Dec. 17, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is, as my friend pointed out, no information in the invitation of where or to whom any proceeds raised by the trunk show will be going. If it were a benefit for the Met, I am sure it would have been disclosed. That suggests that none or a very small portion of the proceeds will go to the Met.

UPDATE: It turns out that the proceeds DO go to the Met. “Maybe the language is not as clear as it could be,” said a Met spokeswoman to me in a call.

No kidding.

So, I am sorry I wrote that it would have been disclosed, above, if that were the case. I should have said it SHOULD have been disclosed, as I am not the only one who misread the invitation.

This development — using Met space for commercial activity — is deplorable. Still, I stand by what I said about exhibition itself — which I have not seen, but have certainly heard about.  Although it was said to be curated by Jane Adlin, an associate curator, I’m told by a pretty reliable source that Rosenthal selected the 400 pieces in the exhibition. Although most come from “private collections,” it’s not hard to see that some of them are probably for sale too. It’s too commercial for my taste.

I do recall another jewelry exhibition at which the Met sold — in its museum shop — high-end jewelry related to the show for a cut of the proceeds. This trunk show takes it a step further, and an odious one.

It JAR makes one wonder about the direction the Met is going: it used to set standards that other, less well-funded museums tried to follow. Now it’s down there with the worst of them.

In the press release, the Met called the JAR exhibition “the first retrospective in the United States of his work and the first retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum devoted to a contemporary artist of gems.” That’s nothing to crow about. Let’s hope — if this is a typical example — that it will be the last. As for the trunk show, the invitations should be resent with clarification. it should be stopped.

*I consult to a foundation that supports the Met.



  1. Mary F. Sibley says:

    It is sad indeed if the Met is being used as commercial space for the sale of jewelry by Mr. Rosenthal, who I am sure is quite capable of off-loading his wares by other, more appropriate venues. The question has to be is just why the Met agreed in the first place to this monkey’s puzzle, whether they are garnering a share of any profits or simply being ” nice guys”.

    While I am quite sure that Jane Adlin is a wonderful curator, why is an associate and not a head curator heading this exhibition if it is of utmost importance? She seems to have been over-riden by Mr. Rosenthal’s decisions for jewelry pieces. It would seem to me that this entire show is second tier, going hand in hand with the “Trunk Show” hawking Mr. Rosenthal’s wares and not worthy of placement at the Met.

    What an incredible decline for the mighty Metropolitan Musuem of Art. . .

  2. Is the balcony now a shop? Smells of desperation. Who oked all of this. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    • Actually, the balcony lounge was a shop before it became a lounge — so the shop up there shrank.

      • Thanks for the clarification about the proceeds going to the Met.

        I have enjoyed shows of fashion: McQueen, Punk – which consider it to be art. And Chamberlan made autos into art, albeit in their discarded state.

        As long as the proceeds go to the Met.

        But there should be a long, dispassionate look at curatorial practices.

  3. The Met’s brazen declaration that Mr. Rosenthal is a “contemporary artist of gems” is what (in my view) wrongly justifies both the exhibition and the so-called trunk show in the museum’s eyes. What he is, in truth, is a “designer” of gems—albeit of gems “prized the world over.” Of course, anything is “art” in the eyes of the Met these days—that’s one thing I find disgusting about this whole mess.

    (Both the [“disgust”] your friend felt in response to the trunk show invitation, and your [“horror”], are entirely justified.)

    A final point: Are not the listees at the bottom of the invitation, who “made possible” the exhibition, partially to blame for the trunk show? And what of the museum’s director and trustees?

    Louis Torres, Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts)

  4. Traditionalist says:

    Things are going horribly wrong at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Once a bastion of scholarly standards, it is quickly devolving into banality, chasing trends like a desperate, minor institution rather than leading the way as an exemplar of acknowledged and historically proven museological methodology. There is no excuse for the unhappy and in fact shocking developments that have taken place behind the scenes over the past several years, considering the twin factors of the institution’s deep pockets and the basic principle that you don’t fix what ain’t broke. One wonders what exactly its new leaders envision with the transformations they are effecting. What exactly is their agenda?

  5. I don’t think it’s fair to say that things at the Met are “devolving into banality.” The Met has currently and recently had on view exhibits devoted to The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800, the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, Medieval Treasures from Hildesheim, a three-room exhibit of mostly obscure 18th century etchers, an exhibit on Korean funerary treasures, a room of 18th century French pastels, Birds in the art of Japan, a Velazquez portrait from Italy, and on and on. I don’t see how any of that represents “banality.” There are always big shows on at the Met, but there are also always small shows in out-of-the-way departments that are models of scholarly insight and visual delight (e.g., exhibits devoted to Chinese snuff bottles and recent acquisitions of Budhist art). And anyone who attends these exhibits and reads the wall texts or the catalog will get an education in the subject. No other American museum comes close.

    • If the “block buster” shows support the scholarship you cite than why not? But how do we assure that the scholarship endures?

    • Traditionalist says:

      Points taken, BobG. I am referring, however, to the radically transformed institutional culture of the Metropolitan Museum–what is happening to its policies and internal organization, how this has been impacting staff and holdings, not to the many wonderful exhibits that have been in the pipeline thanks to the serious work of the scholarly curatorial departments.

      • I know nothing about the inner workings of the Metropolitan; I’m merely a member and regular museum-goer. It would be very interesting to hear something about the specific policy and organizational changes that concern you.

  6. I went to see the Jewels by JAR exhibit today. I don’t entirely understand the animus toward it. It seemed like a fairly conventional exhibit, although it did have unusually dramatic lighting by Met standards. The Met somewhat regularly shows works by living artists (e.g., the rattan sculptures by the Cambodian Sopheap Pich, and a while back, a beautiful show of paintings by Sean Scully). The Met shows jewelry in many exhibitions. Jewelry is on view in the Greek and Roman galleries. Extraordinary gold jewelry is the star in the Silla Kingdom show. There is a small display of Faberge items on long-term loan from a private collection on view. And a new exhibit of amazing Venetian glass objects by Carlo Scarpa just opened.

    The JAR show is in the same gallery that recently held small ceramic sculptures by Ken Price, who died very recently, in 2012.

    What makes the JAR show so different in the context of these other shows?

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