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Pollock’s Guest Appearance in the Metropolitan Museum’s Subdued 150th-Birthday Video

What if you threw a birthday party and no one could come?

That’s what happened earlier this month to the most sociable member of my family—CultureGranddaughter, who just turned 4. And that’s what happened today to the Metropolitan Museum, which turned 150 on a plague-day when no visitors could enter, let alone celebrate.

My invitation to the press preview that never happened

If you’ve already seen the Max-&-Dan video that the Met posted today to mark this unexpectedly somber occasion, you may have wondered about the identity of the head peering over Director Max Hollein‘s left shoulder.

Screenshot from today’s Met video

I did a doubletake, because I knew I’d seen it, and then I remembered where—featured at the top of my review of a 2013 show at the Parrish Art Museum—Angels, Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet:

Here’s what I wrote about the Met’s “Number 7, 1952” in my review for the WSJ, in which I called it, “a highlight of the Parrish show”:

Pollock’s transition from his celebrated, mural-size poured paintings to more overtly figurative drawings in black industrial paint may have been inspired by [Alfonso] Ossorio’s works in his Manhattan studio, where Pollock resided while his friend was abroad.

One of those semifigurative Pollocks, “Number 7, 1952,” lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a highlight of the Parrish show. With an elegance reminiscent of old-master drawings, this abstracted but recognizable head, delineated in black and enlivened by yellow splotches, hangs next to Ossorio’s Abstract Expressionist-influenced “Head” (1951). Overworked and overwrought, the Ossorio suffers by comparison to Pollock’s confident expressiveness.

I had published my installation shot of those two works in my CultureGrrl post about that show:

Left: Pollock, “Number 7, 1952, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Right: Ossorio, “Head,” 1951, Ossorio Foundation
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

All of this made me wonder where today’s Met videos were shot: Did Max have the original Pollock (or possibly a copy) at his home, or was he at his office in the (almost) empty museum?

I pestered the Met’s unfailingly patient chief communications officer, Ken Weine, with my minor query, and he promptly came back with this reply:

Good eye. [Actually, good visual memory] That’s the piece—and it’s in Max’s office. Max was shot there, and Dan was at home. Dan and Max are each alternating between working at home and coming into the Museum—the latter allows them to see the essential staff that are keeping the building and collection secure.

That’s dedication. And Max had the “good eye” to make that unlikely pick—Pollock’s tough, raw rendering. Compare it with the soothing, hazy landscape that was hanging opposite Tom Campbell‘s desk, when I had interviewed him in his office for a Wall Street Journal profile:

George Inness, “Spring Blossoms, Montclair, New Jersey,” ca. 1891, Metropolitan Museum

Revisiting my 2010 Campbell interview made me realize how many parallels there are between the challenges he faced then and those that Hollein confronts now.

As I wrote in the WSJ about Max’s predecessor:

His most pressing task upon assuming his new job…was implementing a difficult phase of budget cuts and staff reductions necessitated by the financial crisis that caused a 26% drop in the museum’s total endowment funds for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009….

One side effect of the anemic economy is that Mr. Campbell may soon accomplish what [Philippe] de Montebello had long advocated—a significant reduction in the number of temporary exhibitions. Mr. Campbell also wants to see more shows drawn from the permanent collection—another cost-effective shift.

Those circumstances evoke the Met’s current situation. But what’s unprecedented, to the best of my long memory, is a health crisis that has shut the museum’s doors, with a tentative (but by no means certain) target reopening date—July 1.

We’re a long way from last October, when the Met had exultantly announced this:

On April 13, 2020 [that would be today]—exactly 150 years since the Museum was incorporated—City and State officials will gather for a commemorative program and ceremonial cake cutting. There will be musical performances in the Great Hall throughout the day, presented in partnership with music programs from around New York City’s five boroughs.

If only…

While we await that delayed celebration, here’s today’s melancholy Max/Dan video, which, we can only hope, will be superseded soon by an upbeat reopening message:

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