Saturday, September 22, 2012

Met Museum Expands Old Master Galleries; Meantime, Its Most Expensive Acquisition Disappears from View

Duccio's Madonna and Child, which cost the Met a reported $45 million, is nowhere to be seen
The Met, without any public announcement, is expanding its Old Master galleries by converting adjacent space previously devoted to such large special exhibitions as "The Renaissance Portrait" last spring.  To get an idea of the expansion's size -- it should add 20% to 25% more square footage -- consider that the portrait show displayed some 160 works.  So it's an exciting prospect.

At the same time, the tiny painting of the Madonna and Child attributed to the late 13th-, early 14th-century Sienese master Duccio -- the Met's most expensive purchase ever, at a reported $45 million -- has disappeared from view.

Closures hit the Italian Renaissance galleries
Supposedly, that's because the galleries currently devoted to Old Masters are being renovated, and so far Italian Renaissance art has been hit hardest -- at last visit, five of those galleries were closed, bare walls just barely visible behind tall screens.

But why was the much-vaunted Duccio put in storage rather than displayed elsewhere in the museum?  Perhaps because very few visitors stop in front of this unengaging sad sack of a painting when it is on display.

The Old Masters project follows the likewise unannounced disruption in the Met's Egyptian galleries, where a staggering 18,000 objects have been taken off view to protect them from vibrations caused by reconstruction of the Costume Institute below.  (More about Egypt's being a fashion victim can be found in my article here.)

The expansion of the Old Master galleries is expected to be complete sometime next May.  As far as the renovation goes, I can report that two existing galleries have been combined into one long space and that the walls where the Duccio and other Italian Renaissance art used to hang are now a rich slate gray.

Check back here for updates.

Duccio image from the Met's website.  Other image and text (c) Copyright 2012 Laura Gilbert.