Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Latest Smooch in the Jeff Koons-Metropolitan Museum Courtship

Knupfer's "Venus and Cupid," the fifth Koons-owned Old Master on loan to the Met
The odd courtship of the Metropolitan Museum and Jeff Koons dances on.

It seems to have started in 2008, the year the Met gave Koons a solo show on its roof and Koons loaned to the Met, anonymously, a supersized, cartoonish painting of a bull by the Mannerist Cornelis van Haarlem.

As revealed by Art Unwashed last year, the big bull is just one of four works from Koons' private Old Masters stash that are getting a Met provenance as anonymous loans.  Also occupying the museum's value-enhancing real estate are a wonderful Tilman Riemenschneider statue of St. Catherine, a bust length head of Christ with a questionable attribution to Quinten Massys, and an Adam and Eve by the French Rococo court painter Francois Lemoyne.

The latest smackeroo in the Koons-Met lovefest is "Venus and Cupid," a small painting by the little known 17th-century artist Nicolaus Knupfer.  It's currently hanging as an anonymous loan in the Met's just-opened exhibition of drawings.

Durer, "Salvator Mundi"
The only other painting in the roughly 150-work show is Durer's Met-owned "Salvator Mundi," which makes sense given that the exhibition is called "Durer and Beyond: Central European Drawings in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum" and includes several drawings by the German master.

But a painting by the obscure Knupfer . . . ?

Knupfer isn't even generally considered a Central European artist.  Central Europe would include Germany, Switzerland, and Bohemia (the modern-day Czech Republic), and the other artists in the show did, it appears, live and work in those countries.  But not Knupfer.

Though born in Leipzig, Germany, he worked in Utrecht in the northern Netherlands, studied with the Dutch painter Abraham Bloemart, and is thought to have taught the outstanding Dutch genre painters Jan Steen and Gabriel Metsu.

The Louvre, the Getty, and others consider Knupfer an artist in the Dutch school, so the Met is clearly pushing the boundaries of "Durer and Beyond" by including a painting that would ordinarily be displayed with Dutch work in an exhibition of Central European drawings.

Is the Met, for some as yet unstated reason (hoping the artist-collector will eventually donate artwork, perhaps?), pandering to Koons?

What's next from Koons' collection, John Wesley's "The Bumsteads" hanging in the Modern galleries?  (The website that "The Bumsteads" appears on is apparently Koons' private collection.)
Koons-owned big bull at the Met

Photo of Durer from Metropolitan Museum website.  Other photos and text (c) 2012 Laura Gilbert.