The Metropolitan Museum of Art Expands

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Expands

The Met Breuer exterior (©Ed Lederman)

There is something old and something new for museumgoers this weekend when The Met Breuer, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new satellite for its modern and contemporary art programs, opens to the public with three days of events, March 18–20. (For extended hours and pricing, see below).

The old is the building: Marcel Breuer’s 1966 modernist structure that housed the Whitney Museum of Art until its move last year to the Meatpacking District. (The Met has leased the building from the Whitney for eight years.)

The new is the possibility (and hope) that The Met will have the secret to warming up the famously austere interior with a proper museum gift shop, notable dining options and boffo exhibits. If The Met Breuer’s first show is any indication, the future indeed looks rosy.

Just when is an artwork “finished”? That’s the provocative question at the heart of the opening exhibition, “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible,” a show of some 190 paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints that, for one reason or another, either were intentionally left incomplete by their creator or appear incomplete in the eye of the spectator.

A romp through art history, from the Renaissance to today, the show (approximately 40 percent of it) is drawn from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection, with the rest on loan from important national and international public and private collections. The massive undertaking is logistical planning at its most assured and a model of erudition. Think: Titian, El Greco, Velázquez, Gilbert Stuart, Reynolds, Manet, Klimt, Picasso, Turner, David, Daumier, Degas, Matisse, van Gogh, Ruscha, Johns, Lichtenstein, Bourgeois, de Kooning, Gober and more under one Upper East Side roof and on two floors.

Several works stopped me in my tracks.

• Lucian Freud’s masterpiece of texture, “Portrait of the Hound,” 2010–2011, is a full-figure nude portrait of Freud’s friend, model and assistant David Dawson and his pet whippet, left unfinished on the easel in the studio at the artist’s death in 2011.

• Théodore Gericault’s “Race of the Riderless Horses at Rome,” an 1817 oil-on-paper study for a larger work that never materialized is a treasure because so few Gericaults exist (he died when he was onlhy 33) and no one painted horseflesh as sensuously or as viscerally as he.

• Anton Raphael Mengs’ mysterious and unsettling “Portrait of Mariana de Silva y Sarmiento, Duquesa de Huescar (1740–1784),” 1775, reworked milady’s face, eventually obliterating it. Deliciously creepy crawly.

• Five turbulent Turners on loan from the Tate and National Gallery, London, and secreted in their own chamber take the breath away, as well they should.

• For insight into an artist’s mind at work, check out Alice Neel’s “James Hunter Black Draftee,” 1965. First, Neel sketched the outline of the sitter's body on the canvas from life. Then, she partially filled in his head. When Hunter failed to show up for the second sitting (he was going off to fight in Vietnam), Neel signed the canvas, declaring with her signature that the incomplete was indeed complete and that it was time for her to move on to the next work.

Don’t you move on without first taking in this once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s up March 18 thru Sept. 4.

The Met Breuer, 945 Madison Ave., at E. 75th St., 212.923.3700

Inaugural weekend hours, March 18–20: F & Sa 10 am–10 pm, Su 10 am–5:30 pm. Suggested admission: $25 adults, $17 seniors (65+), $12 students, free children under 12 and accompanied by an adult. The amount that visitors pay, however, is up to them; the museum asks visitors to be as generous as they can. Admission to The Met Breuer includes same-day admission to the museum’s main building (now known as The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters.

For a slide show of some of my favorite works in “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible,” see below.