The museum regularly updates its displays of permanent collections to update the visitor experience and engage audiences. The Brooklyn Museum does just that—and more—with a new exhibit opening in February.
The museum has a permanent collection of approximately 6,000 works of European art, re-displaying some of the 19th and 20th centuries in galleries on the fifth floor, bringing together works previously displayed in its expansive Beaux-Arts Court, one with a huge branch chandeliers and glass floors, as well as works that were part of a traveling exhibition.
The resulting exhibition of 89 works – “Monet to Morisot: Reality and Imagination in European Art”, on view through May 21, 2023 – gives the museum the opportunity to re-create through the lens of the 21st century Examine its collection.
One of the main texts on the wall explains the rationale for the museum’s transformation.
“As with most American collections built in the 19th and 20th centuries,” it wrote, “the Brooklyn Museum’s European collections during this period consisted primarily of white male artists, with only a few female and artists of color. work.”
Museum director Anne Pasternak said the gender- and race-conscious re-hanging was “an opportunity to connect this work to today’s conversations”. She said staff had been answering questions from tourists about provenance, the environment, economic inequality, gender and race.
When Ms Pasternak was an art history student in the 1990s, the field “only discussed formal qualities like colour and light,” she said.
But, she added, “these artists were artists of their time. They were reflecting on labor and industrial issues and social change. Why can’t our installations reflect that?”
Lisa Small, the museum’s senior curator of European art for the re-display, said the European collections of the 19th and 20th centuries were narrow and undiversified, so her job was to “overcome those limitations” and ” Very transparent” about the taste system, the collection system, the sponsorship system, all of which have long been categorized, race, gender. “
That mission could lead to a didactic exhibition with a message that eclipses the art. However, “Monet to Morisot” is a thoughtful themed walk through a series of collections containing many gems, including Claude Monet’s “Doge’s Palace” (1908), Pierre Bonne “Breakfast Room” (circa 1925) by Henri Matisse and “Nude in the Woods” (1906) by Henri Matisse.
Some paintings, like Monet’s, are irrelevant to 21st century discussions around gender and race. Others are.
For example, Jean-Léon Gérôme’s “The Carpet Merchant of Cairo” (1869), an oil painting depicting carpet merchants in the bustling bazaars of the Egyptian capital .
Returning to the “real and imaginary” language of the exhibition title, the rug vendor appears to be an invention: his costumes, ornate silks and rugs draped over his shoulders, and the figure in the background in a robe and veil is the imagination of a fictional oriental painter force. At the time, however, European audiences believed they accurately represented the East.
“Right away, you have that sense of distance, that sense of otherness,” Ms Small said, “that ethnographic ‘look at this kind of people who are so different in skin color or face, with such different living habits ourselves. of.'”
Another painting in the series that is viewed differently today is Edgar Degas’ unfinished “Nude Woman Drying Herself” (c.1884-86).
Ms Small said Degas invited models into his studio to pose in basins he had set up, and he would ask them to “do the laundry like a human being”.
The resulting paintings and pastels are “very natural in how the body bends and moves,” she said. However, she adds, “they do have a very voyeuristic quality”, especially when the subject is constantly looking away and “all eyes are ours”.
Brooklyn Museum Make the headlines in 2020 When it raised nearly $40 million by selling or selling some of its works to maintain its collection. The ethics of infidelity are hotly debated.That same year, after an uproar, the Baltimore Museum of Art Cancelled planned sales Among the three works in his collection.
Ms Pasternak said the Brooklyn Museum’s donation was worth less than $200 million.
Without additional funding, she said, “every time the economy goes down, you run the risk of losing important people who care about the collection, like conservators, art handlers and registrars.”
Works sold in 2020 were “outliers in our collection, or secondary examples of an artist’s work,” she said, adding that the museum’s policy was to never sell contemporary art by living artists, and never sell major works of art work.
Since that sale, nearly 500 new works have been added to the Brooklyn Museum’s collection, dating back to the 6th century to the present day. Most of them were gifts, the museum said.
These include the 1793 portrait of the Countess by Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun, a French portrait painter of the late 17th and early 18th centuries One of the female artists who taught her work in class. and exhibited in museums.
Another is a “Portrait of People of African Descent” (circa 1600) by an unknown artist. In a press release announcing the acquisition, the museum described the work as “a rare and striking portrait of an as yet unidentified black man” that “does not have typical symbols of slavery.”
The portrait opens up an “inclusive narrative about the presence of blacks in early modern Europe — some of whom arrived as pilgrims or members of the diplomatic entourage,” and counteracts perceptions that 17th-century Europe was “almost entirely white,” according to the release. view environment. “
Ms Small said that after “Monet to Morisot” was taken down next year, the next re-display would focus on religious imagery from the Italian Renaissance, but also from Peru and other territories under Spanish rule. work.
She said the museum will once again use the opportunity to re-contextualize the work — “to think about art under colonial rule, the violence of that contact” and “imagery that emerges from religious conquest.”