What is Finished?

Recently a friend and I met up a week after my oral surgery (three wisdom teeth extracted, story for another day) to have lunch and visit the new Met Breuer Museum in Manhattan. The Breuer resides in the building that used to house the Whitney Museum of American Art, which moved downtown. A new space of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Breuer is described as “Modern and contemporary art through the lens of history” on its brochure. From scanning an article online about it beforehand, I didn’t pick up on the “through the lens of history” aspect, so I was surprised when their exhibits displayed works by the likes of Michelangelo (who lived from 1475 to 1564).

The exhibit “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible” was fascinating; it featured works, mostly paintings, that were unfinished. Some were studies deliberately incomplete, some were unfinished due to the artist’s poor health or death, and some we do not know why they were never done.

We are used to modern and contemporary paintings looking “unfinished” even when they are finished due to their often abstract and conceptual nature. However, perceiving roughness and a sketched quality in paintings from periods such as the Renaissance was like seeing a model without makeup. How surprising to see the inner workings of a piece that are usually covered up and invisible to the eye.

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Attributed to Gonzales Coques, possibly 1640s

 

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Anton Raphael Mengs, 1775

 

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Sir Thomas Lawrence, circa 1803-5

 

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Gustav Klimt, 1917-18

The Breuer has three floors of exhibits and a coffee bar on the fifth floor, which we stopped at for a sit before walking to Grand Central. I toted my leftovers from the Thai restaurant we had eaten lunch at earlier that day, whose ceiling was adorned by colored lamps. 101_0208

Museums, unlike the ever-changing restaurants and cafes in the city, often seem like permanent fixtures. In fact they are like other businesses in that they were once established and can change hands and move to another neighborhood altogether. How funny that years from now I can say we visited the Breuer’s first exhibit.

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6 thoughts on “What is Finished?

  1. The Thomas Laurence one really works well in that state. I’m impressed you were up for a museum visit, I had one wisdom tooth taken out last year and I felt terrible afterwards!

    • Well, it had already been a week since my surgery! But you’re right, actually later that day I didn’t feel very well.

      According to the wall label, the subject of that painting, Emilia, Lady Cahir, captivated Lawrence, and we don’t know why he didn’t complete it. She paid him for the portrait, but he never finished or delivered it to her.

  2. What a neat exhibit! And indeed the question “what is finished” is one that plagues every artist I’m sure – because it’s just never finished. I can imagine you toting around your leftovers too, haha!

    • It was an interesting exhibit, well curated with a thought-provoking overarching theme.

      Yes, I don’t understand people who waste food– one can just eat it later or give it to a homeless person!

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