Rare Chance to Assess, Appreciate Birth of Abstract Art
Collector’s Prescience Translated Cosmetics Money into 81 Key Works
Met has added an iPad Encyclopaedia, Huge Scholarly Book, Posters, Prints
On the Web, Campbell’s Other Brilliant Coup: Connections
Shock of the new: A November 1908 display of Braque’s work at Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’s Parisian gallery is considered the first Cubist exhibition. The Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection contains two landscapes from this historic debut: The Terrace at the Hôtel Mistral (1907) and this work. Created one year apart, they chart Braque’s stylistic evolution toward a reverse perspectival space, wherein highly sculptural forms push outward rather than recede into depth. Light and shade are no longer used to model objects naturalistically. At far left is a cylinder that represents a tree trunk and behind it is a cube, which may indicate a rock or a building farther in the distance. Landscapes such as this one were misunderstood and criticized by Braque’s peers as being “full of little cubes,” leading to the use of the name “Cubism” for this new artistic approach. Trees at L’Estaque by Georges Braque (French, Argenteuil 1882–1963 Paris) Date: L’Estaque, summer 1908 Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions: 31 5/8 x 23 11/16 in. (80.3 x 60.2 cm) Classification: Paintings Credit Line: Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection Rights and Reproduction: © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York On view in Gallery 199
Over the next four months (Oct 20-Feb 16) at the Met art lovers and curiosity seekers both will have a chance to see the storied collection of early 20 Century art amassed by Leonard A. Lauder, a New Yorker and cosmetics king, whose wide open eyes allowed him to pick out many of the highlights of Cubism before other collectors realized their value as examples of perhaps the greatest explosion of visual technical originality in the history of art.
Lauder scooped the pot
Art humorists: Punning and multivalent references delighted Cubist artists and their literary friends. Any word containing the sound “cube” was immediately embraced, from the widely advertised pats of dehydrated broth (“bouillon KUB”) to the celebrated Czech violinist Jan Kubelík, whose name features prominently in this painting. In spring 1912, in connection with a retrospective of work by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Kubelík performed a concert of Ingres’s favorite musical pieces on the deceased artist’s violin. The year after it was finished, the painting was included in the Armory Show, the exhibition that introduced modern art to America. One critic pointed out that even though Braque had misspelled Kubelík’s name, he had succeeded in putting the ‘art’ in ‘Mozart’. Violin: “Mozart Kubelick” by Georges Braque (French, Argenteuil 1882–1963 Paris) Date: Paris, spring 1912 Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions: 18 × 24 in. (45.7 × 61 cm) Classification: Paintings Credit Line: Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection Rights and Reproduction: © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York On view in Gallery 199 Bottle, Glasses, and Newspapers by Georges Braque (French, Argenteuil 1882–1963 Paris) Date: Paris, early 1913 Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions: Oval, 15 × 21 3/4 in. (38.1 × 55.2 cm) Classification: Paintings Credit Line: Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection Rights and Reproduction: © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Lauder began in 1976 and acquired 81 paintings, collages, drawings and sculpture from 1906 to 1924 – by George Braque (1882-1963), Juan Gris (1887-1927), Fernand Leger (1887-1955) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), the French and Spanish leaders of the Cubist movement which shared in the cultural upheaval of the early 20th Century, when iconoclastic works in dance, music and art replaced old standards with new approaches which reflected more the industrialized, mechanized world which was overtaking the imagination of artists.
See change in action
Frame makes a difference: This delightfully playful piece by Braque is more decorative in this suitable frame. The Met caption states The ostensible subject of this still life is a café. The letters “NAL,” shown on a diagonal at right, are part of the French word “journal” (newspaper); at left is a placard indicating the “MEN[U DU] JOU[R]” (today’s menu). With its abrupt spatial shifts and juxtaposed rectangular forms, this work is a striking example of the immediate impact that Braque’s collages had on the aesthetic of his paintings. The inclusion in so many Cubist artworks of the letters “JOU” (from “jouer,” to play) is a hint at the game of representation that lies at the core of Cubism. Bottle, Glasses, and Newspapers by Georges Braque (French, Argenteuil 1882–1963 Paris) Date: Paris, early 1913 Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions: Oval, 15 × 21 3/4 in. (38.1 × 55.2 cm) Classification: Paintings Credit Line: Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection Rights and Reproduction: © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. On view in Gallery 199′
The Lauder collection offers a splendid opportunity to review major works in this historic change as it took place in the minds of four prodigiously talented men, as they competed to push the envelope of art into a new direction which would ultimately take over from naturalism, leaving those who still practice art as a less abstracted representation of what they see and feel looking amateurish and out of date, and outside the main trend which has culminated in the high priced intellectualism, formalism and mirrored irony that fills high end galleries and museums today.
The relief of color: Bold color reentered Braque’s and Picasso’s work in spring 1912, partly in response to the Italian Futurists’ brilliantly hued canvases, which debuted in Paris earlier that year. Picasso used industrial paint to reproduce the cover of a pamphlet, “Our Future Is in the Air,” issued by the Michelin tire company to raise support for the government’s aviation program. The blue, white, and red stripes refer to the French flag. Cubists enjoyed aviation references because they viewed their art as similarly groundbreaking. As an inside joke, Braque and Picasso compared their creative partnership to that of the Wright brothers. The Scallop Shell: “Notre Avenir est dans l’Air” Pablo Picasso (Spanish, Malaga 1881–1973 Mougins, France ) Date: Paris, spring 1912 Medium: Enamel and oil on canvas Dimensions: Oval, 15 × 21 3/4 in. (38.1 × 55.2 cm) Classification: Paintings Credit Line: Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection Rights and Reproduction: © 2014 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York On view in Gallery 199
These works still have one foot in both camps, as it were, the natural and the geometric, being both radical in their exploration of the spatial and geometric relations between the elements of the subjects being painted, which in their work soon take over so completely that it is hard to discern the subject’s original outlines, and yet somehow retaining a good deal of the emotional impression of the subjects and scenes being reflected and displayed.
Even more color: When France entered World War I in August 1914, Picasso, a Spanish national, was not required to serve. He expressed his patriotic sentiments for his adopted country by indirect allusion, as seen at left in the white souvenir cup with its crossed flags. Seemingly nothing is somber in this riotously colorful array, from the bottle of the raffia-encased La Negrita rum to the flocked wallpaper to the pear or pears at far right. Even the dotted vessel at center seems full of energy. Only the uncanny shadow of a bottle on the back wall casts a disquieting note. Playing Cards, Glasses, Bottle of Rum: “Vive la France” Pablo Picasso (Spanish, Malaga 1881–1973 Mougins, France ) Date: Avignon, summer 1914 / partially reworked, Paris, 1915 Medium: Oil and sand on canvas Dimensions: 20 1/2 × 25 in. (52.1 × 63.5 cm) Classification: Paintings Credit Line: Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection Rights and Reproduction: © 2014 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York On view in Gallery 199
The exhibition thus provides the most persuasive account of how this great sea change in the approach of modern art from the concrete to the abstract took place, and provokes contemplation of what was lost and what was gained. From this hindsight review of 81 outstanding early examples one can see how inevitable it was, as these artists worked their way into a new way of drawing and painting their land of perception.
Met elbowing MOMA aside?
Leonard Lauder introduced his collection to the press on a recent morning at the Met, where he said, pointing to where the old entrance to the museum used to be when he first came into it as a child, This exhibition will I hope provide an entrance to modern art, and added that he had taken care to acquire only works so good that the Met would never relegate any to storage.
One cannot but wonder what the board and staff of the Museum of Modern Art think of this mammoth, $1 billion coup. Not only is this exhibition a triumphant acquisition for the Met, to whom all the works are promised, but together with the acquisition of the Whitney building at 75th and Madison when the Whitney moves downtown next year, which it promises to fill with modern art, establishes the museum’s giant footprint in the realm of 20th Century art and makes it an equal destination with MOMA, the Whitney and the Guggenheim – the Manhattan museums that previously have owned this space – for those inclined to pursue this field of pleasure and study.
Leonard Lauder with the key figures at the Museum who acquired and curated the collection of his core works of Cubism for the exhibition: Thomas P. Campbell, Director of the Met, Leonard Lauder, Emily Braun curator and Rebecca Rabinow, Lauder’s curator and co-curator of the exhibition
Scholars and educated museum goers will be delighted with the extensive information provided at the exhibition both in the generous captions and placards accompanying the works on display and the catalog, Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection, actually a hefty book of 392 pages and 280 color and black and white plates with no less than 22 expert essays, plus the provenance of each work and its “life” in exhibitions, their stories gleaned from the back labels, and even a 34 page reference bibliography of some 600 items.
Emily Braun, Hunter and CUNY professor of art history and co-curator of the Lauder collection with Rebecca Rabinow of the Met (who is in charge of the new Leonard Lauder research center for modern art) presents the hefty and very scholarly publication that accompanies the exhibition.
Juan Gris abandoned this portrait and used the other side of the canvas to create a new work, since he was like many painters short of money at the time (on the other side is Houses in Paris). The conservators at the Met found many examples of previous paintings on the backs of canvases or under the final work.
This is Gris’ Houses in Paris, Place Ravignan, 1911 or 1912, which is a view of a complex of artists’ studios including those of Picasso and Gris, on the hill of Montmartre, in which Gris added a slight curve to every line thus imbuing the painting with a sense of buoyancy. Met says: The place Ravignan was the site of the Bateau-Lavoir, a run-down complex of artists’ studios, including that of Picasso and Gris, on the hill of Montmartre. While the painting clearly follows the grid visible in the drawing at right, Gris added a slight curve to almost every line, imbuing the painting with a sense of buoyancy. The lower left corner bears a dedication to the artist Francis Picabia (1879–1953), a fellow exhibitor and sponsor of the October 1912 “Section d’Or” exhibition, where this painting was first shown in public. Houses in Paris, Place Ravignan by Juan Gris
(Spanish, Madrid 1887–1927 Boulogne-sur-Seine) Date: Paris, 1911, possibly 1912 Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions: 20 1/2 x 13 3/8 in. (52.1 x 34 cm) Classification: Paintings Credit Line: Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection On view in Gallery 199
Fernand Leger painted a swelling female figure under a black hat on the back of his Houses Under the Trees canvas (see below) but canceled it when nearly complete with black brush strokes; also visible are historical labels yielding the Parisian gallery and WPC the initials of a previous owner, Walter P. Chrysler the son of the founder of the car company.
Fernand Leger’s Houses Under The Trees from 1913 where his typical buoyant semicircles represent foliage whereas on the back of the canvas in his canceled female figure they become anatomical curves. The Met: Léger was intrigued by the contrast between the billowing forms of the trees that frame this composition and the central rectangular buildings painted blue, white, and red—the colors of the French flag. Léger developed a language of basic geometric shapes, which signify different objects depending on their context. Here, the buoyant semicircles represent foliage, whereas elsewhere they become the anatomical curves of a nude figure or ethereal puffs of smoke rising in an urban landscape. Houses under the Trees by Fernand Léger (French, Argentinian 1881–1955 Gif-sur-Yvette) Date: 1913 Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 36 1/4 x 28 3/4 in. (92.1 x 73 cm) Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection Rights and Reproduction: © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
The conservators slipped a sheet of paper inside the back frame and shone a bright light on each canvas to discern what might be revealed and found discarded paintings in more than one instance. This and other interesting stuff can be seen on an iPad or similar for which the Museum has fearlessly put the entire Lauder file on line, including good images of each work. (Go to the Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art). An interesting and unusual section, Archival Labels, offers all the labels found on the backs of the 81 works.
Acquire as well as view
Juan Gris ‘Checkerboard and Playing Cards from 1915 collects some everyday objects such as dice, playing cards, bottles, wineglasses that figure often in other Cubist artworks, but his still life is an exercise in distillation and design.
In keeping with the museum shop as one of the most resourceful departments at the Met the scholarly, research-library-quality book, Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection, is available for $65, and there are prints and posters from $9.95 to a high of $325 for Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection Print Folio .
In the plentiful pages of the splendid book accompanying the exhibition you will find among the huge selection of images from the Cubist era earlier works with similar themes, offering a comparison to show the stylistic change very clearly, as in these two images of Picasso’s Woman with a Book from spring 1909 with Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s Interrupted Reading from about 1870, forty years earlier.
Only connect – with Connections
One cannot leave the topic of this or any other event or exhibition at the Met without pointing to the quite remarkable pages on the Web at the Met site labeled Connections, where individual staffers at this supposedly stuffy, long established institution at the center of the world of art and art scholarship take a huge personal step onto the public stage and describe their own responses to the themes of art.
One of the most moving, for example, in the collection of these revealing four minute video testimonies is the personal affidavit, one of 100 in all so far, of Jennifer Meagher, on the theme of the Embrace as it occurs in dance (the tango, in particular) and in painting and sculpture over the ages.
Meet Jennifer Meagher, researcher at the Met, on Connections, talking on the theme of The Embrace in Art.
Meagher is a strikingly photogenic researcher of European painting who “investigates the emotional intensity of physical closeness”, a theme sparked in her case by taking up a form of Argentine tango called “The Embrace”, “in which the rib cages of the partners are pressed close together”, thus finding herself “within an hour of my life as a dance student…in this intimate embrace with a room full of strangers”.
Her moving account of how this gap between strangers to intimates is bridged in the many depictions of the embrace she finds in art through the ages – “I find myself looking for the story and the emotions that are living inside the embrace” – is itself an inspiring example of how that gap between strangers – us and her – can now be closed on the new 21st Century conduit, the Web, in ways never before possible except by silently communing with art itself. The artworks she describe can be explored in detail by moving to the accompanying In Time page, where they are distributed over a timeline.
The Director’s inspiration
This admirable initiative, another leap forward in the Met’s open armed embrace of the Web, was undertaken in 2011 by the imaginative Thomas Campbell when, after fourteen years in the Met European department as a specialist in tapestry, he was promoted to be the Met’s new director, and today he introduces the result (to which he has contributed also) as follows:
Thomas P. Campbell, here introducing the Lauder Collection to the press, earlier – 2011 – introduced one of the most imaginative of his own initiatives on the Met web site, the Connection.
I’m Thomas Campbell. In my first few months as director of the Metropolitan Museum, some colleagues and I developed the idea of a series that would get people thinking about the Met’s collection in a new way.The result is Connections, an exploration of the Met’s holdings by staff from around the Museum. These journeys through the collection are not driven so much by art history as by broad, often personal themes. Some are playful; some are deeply complex.
Here, as works of art are tied together—across time, cultures, and disciplines—we hear our staff’s individual responses to these objects, and by extension, introduce new ways to travel through and understand the Met’s incredible riches.
I hope people find these stories as intriguing as I do, and that they follow them as they appear throughout the year. If we’re successful, our audience will be inspired to discover their own path through the Metropolitan Museum and find their own connection to some of the world’s greatest works of art.
— Thomas P. Campbell, January 2011
Even if you can’t make it to Manhattan to visit the Lauder Exhibition or any other of the cornucopia of riches that abound in this supreme art museum you can get another kind of fix at Connections.