Saturday, April 23, 2016

Met Breuer Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible

The new Met Breuer show, Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, exhibits works from the Renaissance to the present that are evidently, unfinished: stalled at a strange moment between creation and final existence. In their unfinished states, they appear equally vulnerable, forceful and seductive. A small Jan Van Eyck titled Saint Barbara has such a delicate, intricate under drawing it looks like it might crumble if touched. The heavily reworked charcoal contours in Rubens’ Henri IV at the Battle of Ivry endow a powerful sense of movement. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Head of a Woman is all the more alluring for the lack of finish around her face. Her ephemerality stirs up the sadness of longing.

It’s that longing that carries through the exhibit, even as the “unfinished” theme falls apart with the introduction of modernism. “Thoughts left visible” begins to feel like a bit of a lazy concept when used to describe abstract and conceptual work. George Brecht’s Repository is claimed to be unfinished because it is now displayed in a glass case for preservation, eliminating its intended interaction and mutability. If a work is intended to be always changing does that make it unfinished? 

The show doesn’t veer much from a linear, western canon of art history, nor does it even begin to tackle performance art. According to show's reasoning that open-ended works are "finished" by their audiences, this could have been an interesting area to tackle.

In a rare moment of trans-historical juxtaposition in one of the last rooms, Rodin’s marble figures are displayed next to sculptures by Louise Bourgeois and Bruce Nauman. I wonder what the effect of the show would have been had it all been curated in this way. In this last room, what binds the works together is not their varying degrees of finish, but the sense that they are all grasping after something fleeting. Perhaps all art, in this view, is incomplete.

1 comment:

  1. I thought that the show was a great lesson in art history, but when you mention that it was mostly in the Western canon, I did not even realize that while at the show, and that is obviously not good. I agree with the nakedness that is seen on the first floor- the foregrounds of most of the paintings were bare, with only backgrounds finished. This was probably because studio assistants were the only people to paint on these canvases before the artist or patron decided to cast them aside. I also did not realize that there was absolutely no performance art and that is one of the most ambiguous art medias of all. The show did a great job of name dropping names, old and new, and I don't think they were too concerned with being progressive because it was their opening show and wanted to solidify there place with all the other big name museums.