This weekend we're checking out three exciting new exhibitions of paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. First we'll see El Greco in New York, a small but impressive show show celebrating the 400th anniversary of the visionary Old Master's death. Just down a stairway is Madame Cézanne, a series of portraits made by the French modernist of his longtime wife and favorite subject. And finally we'll walk through Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection, a huge show of newly donated paintings by Picasso, Braque, Leger and Gris. Afterwards, we'll grab some tacos and tequila at Taloache, a great Mexican spot a few blocks to the east. Update: the three exhibitions featured in this post are now closed. To stay updated on what's going on right now, sign up for our #YourArtWeekend newsletter here.
THE ART /
El Greco is by far the earliest painter of the artists celebrated in these three shows, but his work here seems just as confoundingly original. As we've discussed before, El Greco often rejected the obsessive naturalism of his Old Masters peers, favoring looser, more emotional painting. For example, his "View of Toledo" landscape here is not actually a topographically realistic depiction of the city; instead it is an attempt to capture "the spirit of the place." And the massive, unfinished painting "The Vision of St. John," which was certainly influential for later painters, is a near-perfect example of El Greco's visionary, expressive, almost mystical style. This anniversary exhibition, which takes over just one smallish room at the Met, is a dense, impressive show that will leave you appreciating El Greco's talents and vision even more than you already did.
The Met is also showing a large new exhibition of Paul Cézanne's portraits of his longtime wife Hortense Fiquet, made over a period of more than twenty years. Madame Cézanne's restrained facial expressions don't attract your eye -- instead you tend to focus on the globs color and slightly-off geometry of the pieces. The exhibition's panels drop hints about the not-so-rosy biographical details of the Cézannes, but like El Greco's work upstairs, Cézanne's portraits aren't conventionally realistic. The paintings embrace color and form in a more abstract way, anticipating the next generation of modernists in Europe. Looking at these strange, ambitious portraits, you remember why Picasso once called Cézanne "the father of us all."
The museum's other big painting show this fall is a celebration of collector Leonard Lauder's massive gift of cubist art by the genre's masters, who worked in France a little more than a hundred years ago. Picasso and Braque are the giants of the style -- their fractured portraits and still lifes are featured in just about every serious museum's collection of modern art -- and their pioneering work helped inspire several generations of painters (and other kinds of artists) who turned straightforward representation on its head in the twentieth century. Don't forget to spend some time with the work by Léger and Gris as well, who add some much-needed color and playfulness to the mix.
These are separate exhibits from three different eras of European painting, but walking through them all on a single afternoon feels like a perfect fit. All these artists succeeded, each in his own way, in moving away from natural representation in painting, and their exploration produced new styles that emphasized emotional expression and resonated with modern notions of perception and psychology. The best part of visiting the Met has always been making connections between art produced centuries (even millennia) apart, and these new shows are yet another great way to do it.
A few blocks to the east you can settle in for some food at Toloache, a great Mexican spot on 82nd Street. Warm up with some tequila or be adventurous and grab some grasshopper tacos.