Wednesday, October 31, 2012

An Exclusive Glimpse of the Met's Renovated Old Masters Galleries; Museum to Announce This Major Project in a Few Weeks

The overstuffed gallery of Venetian Renaissance art before renovation with red walls that competed with the paintings.
Venetian art now occupies twice the wall space, with paintings hung at eye level and more space around each work.  Renovation continues behind the screen.
The Met will soon announce its construction and renovation endeavors, as was first reported here September 22, to rehang and expand -- by about 20% -- its European Paintings galleries of Old Masters.  A celebratory press release is expected within a few weeks.

It is not yet clear how much the project will cost, whether any large donations will result in naming rights, or whether the rehanging of the collection will reflect any rethinking of art history.

The Met would not comment on the project pending its own announcement.  But Met spokesperson Elyse Topalian did assure this reporter that Duccio's Madonna and Child, the Met's most expensive acquisition (at a reported $45 million) which has been off-view since July, will soon be back on display in a gallery set aside for works temporarily displaced by the renovation.

The project is expected to be completed by May of next year.  Meantime, a few Italian Renaissance galleries have already reopened, and if what's seen there is any indication of what's in store -- well, it will be like seeing familiar Old Masters for the first time.

"Rediscovered": Pietro da Rimini, Crucifixion, 1330s
In the few renovated galleries, you can now actually see a fair number of paintings that were out of sight because they were hung over doorways like an architectural ornament or above other paintings in a pell-mell jumble.  Some of this art has been rehung at eye level.

There's also more space around the artworks, so each can be seen without distraction.  Concentrated viewing is facilitated by gray walls instead of the sometimes vibrantly colored ones that competed with the art.

How dramatic these changes are can be seen in the before and after photos (at top) of  the display of Venetian art, which now occupies about twice as much real estate.

Equally dramatic is the "rediscovery" of a large fragment of the Crucifixion by Pietro da Rimini after years of near-invisibility above a door frame.  Now that it is at eye level, it is sure to be valued as one of the glories of the Met's early Italian Renaissance paintings.

Some works in a renovated gallery of secular art this reporter can't remember having seen before -- perhaps because of better lighting or recent cleaning.  One hopes that the series of portraits now hung there just below the ceiling are an experimental placement that will be reconsidered.

Portraits hung below the ceiling: Back to the past?
Something new and of questionable value -- some labels now refer the viewer to the Met's website, even for such essential information as the translation of a brief inscription.  The Met's website is a rich resource, but not everyone carries a computer or an iPhone to look up information on the spot.

Top photo from Met website.  Other photos and text (c) Copyright 2012 Laura Gilbert.