The Met Breuer is not a museum. It’s a new concept, years in the making.
When the Breuer opened its doors to the public on March 18, viewers had the chance to observe one of its inaugural programs, Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, a thought-provoking show that includes a series of artworks “left incomplete by their makers.” And while it did receive some criticism—mainly, why not just incorporate these new pieces into its space on Fifth Avenue?—the exhibit does offer a quality experience with high-caliber material.
The cast of artist in Unfinished includes Titian (his remarkable “Flaying of Marsyas”), Turner, Rembrandt, and Cezanne. If you’re wondering about contemporary artists, there are works by Alice Neel (one particularly stunning portrait of a draftee), Jackson Pollock, and Robert Rauschenberg. In all, there are over 190 works of art covering 50 decades, 40 percent of which are from the Met’s vast permanent collection. Is it any surprise, with all that to coordinate and curate, that the Breuer has taken its time to unveil Unfinished?
Contemporary art, as we know, is increasing popular. It is prevalent at most New York City galleries, both the smaller ones, that are little more than one man, 200 square feet, and four paintings, and at higher-end places like Pace, which offers works that often sell for seven or eight figures. Such galleries tend not to show solely contemporary art, but the majority of their exhibits include works by living artists.
Many of the great museums of our time revolutionized how we think about art as well. One of the first to do so was the New Museum, in 1977. It helped popularize the works of young artists. Then came the recent downtown Whitney, with its new building and an emphasis on both 20th-century and contemporary American art. Both museums have incorporated wonderful new works into older collections, and put on shows that exhibit post and pre-War works side-by-side. These types of exhibitions are becoming more and more popular, and the trend is accelerating, but few have a message as insightful, expansive, and fundamental as Unfinished at the Breuer: We will present you with incomplete works spanning over 500 years, and we will entertain—and perhaps even surprise—you by doing so.
An exhibit like Unfinished represents the desire of today’s art audience, plus the commitment of the Met and its curators. It does often provide an understanding into the artists’ creative process, a progression—or obsession—that seems to transcend time. To the Met, that’s what its shows at its Breuer space must become, a balancing act that finds new ways to put modern and contemporary art together.
For more information, visit metmuseum.org.