I feel a little bad about posting a long ranty thing about stupid and annoying art at the Met, because every time I go there, I find something new and really impressive. For example, the renovations underway in the museum forced me to cut through the European Decorative Arts section, where I never go, because who wants to look at a bunch of over-decorated bedrooms? But in passing through there, I stumbled across a couple of Italian rooms that were really cool– this trompe l’oeil studio, and a neighboring reconstructed chapel with strange Escher-like geometric figures done in wood inlay on some of the wall panels. It was amazing, and I had never run across it before, despite being to the Met several times.
They also had one good and two outstanding special exhibitions going on. The merely good one was a
The first of the outstanding exhibits was a collection of Chinese paintings with detailed explanations. This was a terrifically well-done exhibition (and the thing I was looking for when I wandered into the Korean screens), because it’s usually not clear quite why some paintings are considered masterpieces, especially when they’re from foreign cultures. This exhibit set out to explain why, and did a fine job of it.
Each of the paintings in question was presented in a large case, and surrounded by detail views and explanatory text. They highlighted the specific symbolism of important features of landscapes or outfits, compared details of one painting to details of other similar works, and even translated the poems and inscriptions left by previous collectors.
The attraction of calliagraphy continues to be largely lost on me, but for the landscapes and historical scenes, the explanations were really illuminating. They should do more shows like this.
The other outstanding exhibit was a small area stuck in the middle of the Meso-American section, featuring ancient feather art from Peru. This stuff was astounding– large, brilliant textiles made by painstakingly attaching feathers from tropical birds to fabric. The color and texture was just amazing, and some of these pieces have been carbon-dated to the eighth century.
Nobody is quite sure what some of this stuff was for, because these people never developed written language, and the Spanish were bastards. That’s really kind of poignant– somebody spent months putting detailed stitching onto tiny little dolls, which have survived a thousand years to end up in a museum, but we have no idea why they did what they did.
Let this be a lesson to you: if you ever find yourself starting an ancient civilization, develop writing first.