Cubism on Display at The Met

When visiting the Upper East Side’s cavernous Metropolitan Museum of Art, it is often daunting to choose where to start.

Museum mainstays such as the diverse collections of Egyptian artifacts and Impressionist-era paintings are all worth the trip.

However, a temporary and soon-to-be-ending exhibit on the Cubist period of modern art should immediately move to the top of your list of destinations.

Made possible by a historic gift to the museum, “Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection” is shown throughout seven separate galleries at the Met.

The exhibit highlights the work of four European artists who were at the forefront of the Cubist movement: Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger and, of course, Pablo Picasso–easily the most well-known of the bunch.

While all of the artists were contemporaries of each other in Paris during the Cubist period, Braque and Picasso actually spent several years working side by side, often sharing studio space.

This fact is clearly evident in the art produced by the two men.

In one gallery, museum curators placed two of their paintings next to each other, both depicting musical instruments amongst standard still-life material such as glassware and fruit.

At first glance, it is easy to write off the two paintings as similar copies of each other.

However, upon closer examination one can point out small but distinct differences between the works.

It is this need to look closely, to scrutinize and to examine that truly characterizes the Cubist movement.

Sean Sonnemann/The Quadrangle
Sean Sonnemann/The Quadrangle

The subject matter is visible, but only slightly recognizable.

Form and shape are splintered, with bits and pieces of the subject scattered and mixed up.

A portrait of a woman may have an ear on one side of the canvas and the other placed directly below it–or sometimes not even present at all.

Yet still, we know ultimately that it is a portrait of a woman, just different from the conventionally accurate portrayal.

While paintings such as these are common throughout the exhibit, the artists also experimented with other mediums such as collage and sculpture.

With these pieces, one can see how the Cubist movement was thoroughly modern, helping to usher in the trend of using found materials (in the Cubists’ case, newspaper, wallpaper and even a spoon used for drinking absinthe) and pushing the boundaries of what exactly defines art.

Another interesting feature of the exhibit is a few paintings where the back of the frame and canvas is also visible to museum-goers.

This view offers a fascinating look at the history of the paintings themselves, with stickers and labels of various dealers and owners visible along the wooden frames.

Like the subject matter of the paintings on the front side of the same canvases, once again a new and unique perspective is offered.

Masterfully curated and displayed throughout the galleries, the collection as a whole is interesting to see both on an artistic and historic level.

It is not an exhibit meant to be quickly passed through and skimmed. Instead, one should take the time to stop at each and every painting.

Unfortunately, the exhibit will be closing after Feb. 16, so you should at least rush to see the collection while it is still on display.

The textures and colors present are hard to replicate through a computer screen or print, something essentially true for any work of art, but especially for this worthwhile collection.