If you thought the Eurocentric gods may have been toppled from their comfortable perches at the top of Mt. Met, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The Metropolitan Museum’s renovation of the Marcel Breuer building, which reopens this month, has left it largely in the same state we all remember, and, with the exception of a few touchups and finesses, largely unaltered. Add to that the fact that the museum is marking the coming-out of its new contemporary- and modern art-focused pavilion with a show dedicated to “the unfinished,” and you have a rather underwhelming experience.
There is nothing radical about the Met Breuer; in fact, there is something staid about the expansion from Fifth Avenue to Madison Avenue. The main exhibition provides an almost exclusively Eurocentric stroll through Western art history, starting with the European Renaissance and continuing on through Auguste Rodin, Cy Twombly, Gerhard Richter, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Urs Fischer. These are known quantities that fit neatly into the history of art — nothing radical here.
The idea of Unfinished is peculiar to begin with, and even the wall text often questions whether the works on display are finished at all. For Titian’s “The Flaying of Marsyas” (probably 1570s) — one of the must-see masterpieces in the exhibition — the text is strangely rambling: “We do not know for whom Titian’s late masterpiece was painted, whether it was completed to the artist’s satisfaction (although it is signed), or whether it was altered following his death.”
Each work is a puzzle, but there aren’t many answers, and that’s OK. The general mood suggests that unfinished works have a contemporary air about them, like they offer insight into an artist’s mind that finished works could not, but is the concept strong enough for an entire show at the center of a new building’s relaunch? Not really.
The Met’s reboot, new logo and all, has been highly anticipated and promised a more global and contemporary vision of the history of art. What we’ve gotten so far has been a watered-down version of that exciting promise.