I paid a belated visit to the Metropolitan Museum’s Modern Times: British Prints, 1913–1939 on Monday, having already published a post expressing my skepticism about the advance hype for the museum’s “transformative acquisition” of the “renowned collection.” What I saw confirmed my conjecture that the size of the acquisition from the Leslie & Johanna Garfield Collection—some 700 works on paper—was disproportionate to the pleasant, but not dazzling, impact of this foray into “British modernism in the years bracketed by two world wars” (as described in the introductory wall text). It was “transformative” only in the sense that the Met didn’t own much of this marginal material but now it has a superabundance of it.
The display includes lively city scenes, such as Lill Tschudi‘s bird’s-eye view of a bustling Piccadilly Circus, returned to vibrant activity after London had endured World War II and its “devastating bombing campaigns” (in the words of the print’s label)…
Even this empty platform in what is ordinarily “one of the Underground’s busiest stations” (as described in the Met’s label) is swirling with energy. It is ballyhooed by the Met as one of artist Cyril Power‘s “most popular prints”:
Less superficially engaging but more deeply engrossing was this complex composition of war-weary World War I combatants, making “visible the mental and physical exhaustion of the French army, which had suffered enormous losses by 1916”:
Nevinson was an “official war artist,” some of whose works were “censored due to his unflinching portrayal of modern warfare,” according to the Met’s admirably incisive and informative wall text.
Here’s how it looks on the Met’s website:
But here’s what it looked like when I eyeballed it up close. (Focus especially on the lower left corner):
Such puckering (aka: buckling) of works on paper can be caused by humidity—a perverse echo of the watery scene depicted in Power’s linocut. I asked the Met’s press office for further explanation of the state of “The Eight,” and will update here if I learn more. UPDATE from the Met: “The Eight was made with an oil paint printed onto a very thin Japanese paper called gampi. This paper is naturally undulated and the printing process used by Power (and other artists of the Grosvenor School) resulted in papers that retained ripples and other distortions. This work is in overall very good condition and these features in the paper are part of the work of art and have been since it was made.”
In my previous post, I had noted that the print acquisition, characterized as “generously enabled by the Garfields” was actually part-gift, part-purchase. Power’s “The Eight” and “The Tube Station” appear to be entirely donated, as witness the credit line, above. UPDATE: The exhibition also includes pieces that were donated-in-full by the Garfields in 2005.
But most, if not all, of the other Garfield works in the exhibition have a long list of funding credits, as with Nevinson’s “Troop’s Resting” (pictured above):
At a time when the Met is controversially diverting some of its deaccession proceeds to pay for salaries, not just for acquisitions (in accordance with the Association of Art Museum Directors’ temporarily relaxed standards), deploying some purchase funds to acquire an enormous collection of limited interest and importance seems less like taking advantage of an irresistible opportunity than taking another small step towards impecunity.