This sculpture from the third millennium B.C. rests on a sunlit ledge in my office. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. It is in my office, but it was carved in the 21st century after Christ, not before ---a reproduction of a similar piece that rests in a vitrine in the Classical Greek galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, New York City.
When I first saw this Cycladic sculpture and several companion pieces such as this harp player decades ago at the Met—
I was astounded at how modern they were. I thought immediately of the early 20th century Roumanian master, Brancusi, whose work is also on display in the Met, and whose sculptures I knew far better.
No matter what Met blockbuster temporary exhibition may be on display when I go, I am always drawn to the vitrines of Cycladic art, a kind of personal homing beacon inside one of the world’s great art palaces.
Some years ago, I photographed scenes for Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants on Santorini, an Aegean island that's the eastern caldera rim of a mostly dormant volcano. One of the great sites of early Minoan culture, Akrotiri, a civilization that succeeded that of the Cyclades, is tucked in an area away from the docked, ubiquitous cruise ships. My love of ancient Aegean art, enhanced by repeated visits to the Met, lent my filming experience in Greece an even richer context. Throughout my career, museum exhibitions nurture and refresh my sometimes-exhausted body.
Since the end of WWII, the Met has offered a quarterly Bulletin to all its members. Each issue is an expansive but non-scholar’s look at a closely observed single topic. These Bulletins give all members an opportunity to feel engaged in Met scholarship and study regardless of how distant from the Met they reside. Recent issues have focused on illuminations in medieval choir books, Met archeological excavations in Iran and Syria in the 20th century, and anatomical drawings from the Italian Renaissance. It was with some excitement, then, that I received the Spring 2012 issue of the Bulletin, “Art of the Aegean Bronze Age,” featuring a chapter on “Early Cycladic Art and Culture.” Eureka!
The opportunity of having a periodic Bulletin provide such in depth study context for art works that can also be seen in person at the museum is heady stuff. This anecdote of one of my own obsessions is meant to be prologue to a new educational feature of the Met, an internet site you can subscribe to, called 82nd & Fifth. Here, during 2013, the site will present Met scholars every week in several minute long, slideshow discussions, each episode highlighting a single work of art. There will be 100 of these video explorations, each featuring high resolution, multi-angled photo analysis of the work, along with an intimate, personalized commentary by a Met curator concentrating in that field. The site is subtitled: “The intersection of art and ideas.”
The range of topics fully represents the Met’s vast holdings of the world’s artistic treasures: from a Fang tribal reliquary figure standing in gallery 352 of the expansive African galleries,
To Andres Segovia’s guitar in musical instruments gallery, 684
To the complete living room of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Minnesota Little House in the American Wing.
Andrew Bolton deconstructs an extreme fashion by the late British designer Alexander McQueen: a perforated, balsa wood winged vest photographed against the beautiful but unexpected background of the great Medieval Hall.
George Golder, in a video titled “My First Time,” hosts a micro-view scrutiny of one of El Greco’s great paintings, View of Toledo, in gallery 611.
In Enigma, Janice Kamrin examines an Egyptian canopic jar and lid in such detail that we realize that jar and figured head are from two separate works found in gallery 211.
And we are escorted in a series of photos up the main Met staircase by Xavier Salomon, revealing the entry to the European painting galleries and the monumental Tiepolo canvas, The Triumph of Marius, just inside the brightly lit first painting gallery.
Salomon’s tour of this painting is typical of the personal tone many of the pieces embody. This is a Roman painting: Salomon is a Roman, and he guides us through the multi-layered narrative as if it were an opera—or more aptly for us, a motion picture. The large number of detailed photos presents a kind of action sequence.
Two new video essays will be added every week throughout 2013. You can subscribe for email updates. Just scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the email address box:
Send me a comment. I’d like to know your thoughts while exploring the site. I’ll be watching the new videos every Wednesday with you.