Now at the Met through February 1, 2009 is a celebration of thirty years of Philippe de Montebello’s stewardship at the museum before his departure next year. The exhibition, entitled The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions, displays almost 300 works from 17 curatorial departments at the Metropolitan Museum which were acquired by the museum with de Montebllo as Director, and a few while he was a curator in the 1960s. Each work of art was selected by its departmental curator for the impact it had on the collection and the importance of the object itself from a social, historical or art historical perspective. The rooms are organized according to the years in which the objects entered the museum’s collection, allowing for an interesting mix of cultures and genres in each space.
The first time through the exhibition, armed with my headset to hear anecdotes from the Director and curators about how the objects in question wound up in the collection, I found it rich and wondrous, yet hard to take in all at once as I was trying to learn about each object, absorb it in context with the objects around it and to learn about the manner in which the museum acquired the object (through donation or purchase). The second time through, however, I found a rhythm to the “highlights” type of exhibition and began to appreciate the juxtapositions created by objects, such as a Mexican jadeite sculpture of a face beside Vermeer’s arresting painting of a young woman whose own face beckons from her canvas.
When you go, take the time to absorb this exhibition and to enjoy all the incredible costumes, paintings, sculptures, furniture and decorative arts, photography and drawings. If you leave unable to recall the details of any work, the entire body of artwork is available on-line at the Met’s website.