I have to give it to the curators â they did an excellent job, and have
managed to make individually famous pieces take on completely new looks
and meanings through their relationships with the works around them.
Richard Avedon's Marilyn Monroe, Actress, New York City (1957), a print
of which is also currently on view at Pace Wildenstein in the Richard
Avedon: Performance exhibit (through January 3rd), is something else
altogether through its placement near Untitled #313 (1956-57) by the
Malian photographer Seydou Keita.
We see pattern on pattern in Keita's black and white composition of a woman in traditional Mali dress and jewelry; we see a pared down Monroe in Avedon's shot, wearing in a dress made of sequins, the light of performance gone from her eyes. Keita's unnamed woman looks at the camera straight on; Monroe is caught in a rare moment out of character, looking down. She is just a bit more human here than she is amid the big glossy prints of other celebrities at Pace Wildenstein. A glance into the next room at Onesipe Aguado's Woman Seen from the Back (1862) changes the context of the previous two portraits completely. The ivory Bust of Nobleman (1695) by C. Lacroix spins the images in another direction. And so on ad infinitum.
I liked this show so much that I prepared myself, as we neared the exit, with justifications for dropping 50 bucks on a hardcover catalogue. Only, there was no catalogue to debate myself over buying. For the first time ever, the catalogue for a show at the Met is fully available online, and not at all in print. Digital reproductions of every single work in the exhibit "create a kaleidoscope of images similar to that which is experienced in the galleries." See? That was a quote from the online catalogue, which I accessed for free. A strange quote, in fact, because it makes the obviously false claim that an online gallery can create an experience "similar" to a museum show. Clearly, it can't. Especially this show, which is all about looking at familiar (by way of their fame, not everydayness) art objects placed in new physical, spatial relationships with other familiar but altogether dissimilar pieces.
Print catalogues may, sadly, be going the way of the newspaper, but the memory of a gallery walk that snakes through 19th c. American cabinets, wood and ivory stringed instruments from Germany, former Pope's jewelry, Picassos, Van Goghs, and Matisses (and more, and more) provides a mental reproduction of an experience that neither (print/online) form of documentation can touch, anyway.
The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions
Metropolitan Museum of Art, through February 1