Cézanne to Picasso, at the Met
The Metropolitan Museum of Art trots out its big brand names for its big fall show... but really, it's the person in the subtitle that makes this exhibition interesting.
Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant Garde offers the hordes that will surely come a fairly routine collection of works by, obviously, Cézanne and Picasso, as well as Van Gogh, Renoir, Degas, Gauguin, Derain, Bonnard and more (there are a few Matisses here, but even the museum's own notes can't get too excited about them, admitting that they're from a "between styles" period). But the hook, and it's a good one, is that everything on display was bought, sold, commissioned or exhibited—and often for the first time—by a single, visionary Parisian dealer, the aforementioned, subtitled, Ambroise Vollard.
And so you have a show that's as much about commerce as it is about creativity: just about every work is discussed in the context of how much Vollard made on its sale, or failed to make because he couldn't sell it, or how much he potentially could have made if he held on to it a little longer. It's intriguing stuff (how often does a museum talk so openly money?) and gallery junkies will eat it up, but I thought it got a bit repetitive. More amazing is to imagine how this one man managed to have relationships—ranging from affectionate, long-term creative collaborations to quick professional transactions—with so many of history's all-time greats.
No question, Vollard's must have led a heady, fascinating life (the two-minute movie of him chatting and smoking with and an aged, painfully arthritic Renoir is priceless), but can it sustain a major museum show? Well... yes and no. I wasn't bored, exactly—that was Co yawning and giving the "can-we-go-now" eyes, not me—but I wish the art itself had been more immediately compelling. Yes, there are some breathtaking pieces here: a couple of perfect Cézannes, a gorgeous Van Gogh triptych, two or three nice Picassos (I had never seen Crazy Woman with Cats before, and I loved it); Derain's bright London landscapes that almost look like they were done in crayon. And the room of Vollard portraits (Picasso's is below) is a clever idea, well executed. But given the show's rules of inclusion, there's also quite a bit here that feels like filler.
Cézanne to Picasso will be at the Met through January 7, and with the museum's continued suggested donation policy, there's really no reason not to go see it at some point between now and then.