In a livestreamed symposium last Friday about insights and issues raised by the Met’s recent Chroma exhibition, Seán Hemingway, the Metropolitan Museum’s curator of Greek and Roman Art, diplomatically soft-pedaled his ambivalence about the jarring interventions in his galleries by archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann of the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection in Frankfurt and his wife, Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann.
Perhaps in consideration of the controversial nature of the Met’s putting its stamp of approval on “reconstructions” (more accurately: “reinventions”) of ancient sculptures, or maybe just due to time constraints, the audience was forewarned that it would “not be allowed to participate directly” in the morning’s discussion.
Here’s Hemingway at “Chroma’s” July 2022 press preview…
…and here he is (seated on the right, facing the moderator) at last week’s scholarly panel:
Given Seán’s ambivalence about the exhibition (as expressed to me here and especially here, when he describes the Brinkmanns’ take on “The Boxer” as “jarring” but “very interesting and thought-provoking”), the curator’s comments at the Met-hosted panel discussion analyzing “Chroma” amounted to a deft exercise in diplomacy. Although he characterized the show as “an exciting new kind of display in the Greek and Roman department—to bring an exhibition into the permanent galleries,” Hemingway took issue with what he called, “Brinkmann’s provocative new interpretation”:
After living with [enduring?] these reconstructions at the Met for the past six months, one detail of the reconstruction seems incorrect: Surely the boxer’s right eye would have been blackened like a real black eye, given the carefully inlaid swollen and blackened bruise that that the sculptor created beneath it.
This would have heightened the effect of his battered state, which very much supports Brinkmann’s mythological interpretation. I hope perhaps a new version may be forthcoming from Vincenz.
As literature-savvy CultureGrrl readers are well aware, a more famous Hemingway (who, as I just learned by querying a Met spokesperson, was grandfather of the Met’s curator) had his own fixation with boxing.
Displaying the Terme Boxer as a companion piece to the so-called Terme Ruler was also a Brinkmann notion, rather than an informed recreation of how the originals were displayed and interpreted in antiquity. The exhibition’s current take on this pair, found near each other in Rome in the 1880s, is that they represent “an important adventure from the Jason and the Argonaut saga: the standing Polydeukes, son of Zeus, has defeated Amykos, son of Poseidon, in a boxing match and now urges him to refrain from murdering strangers with his deadly knuckles.”
In his post for the Met’s website regarding the museum’s 2013 display (which riveted me) of the original “Boxer” (then on loan to the Met), Hemingway had described the boxer not as “defeated” but as primed to fight again: “The muscles of his arms and legs are tense as though, despite the exhaustion of competition, he is ready to spring up and face the next combatant.”
Here’s a close-up of his face:
In his comments during the symposium, Hemingway mentioned one relevant aspect of the Met’s history that I had once known but forgotten: The Met possessed an extensive collection of reproductions—casts of ancient works that had been used for their educational value. But as discussed during the symposium, the museum “completely turned away from that in 1932: We stopped acquiring casts and stopped displaying them in the galleries. Our focus was on original works of art. There was some concern about confusing people: Are you looking at an ancient work of art or at a modern re-creation?”
Exactly: As I eyed the visitors ogling the colorized copies, it seemed to me that many were regarding them as the real deal.
Although “Chroma” officially closed on Sunday, many of its offerings were still on view Monday (when I attended the Met’s press preview for Juan de Pareja, Afro-Hispanic Painter, which opens to the public next Monday). That show represents another type of revisionism—an effort to raise the visibility and status of artists previously under-recognized because of their nationality and/or race. Highly visible as the sitter for one of the most celebrated portraits in the Met’s collection of old masters, Juan de Pareja is now being taken more seriously as an artist. (More on this in a future post.)
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