Unfinished but not underwhelming: The Met Breuer on opening day

A reflection on Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, The Met Breuer’s opening-day exhibit. Because some things were meant to be left incomplete.

My feet approach Robert Smithton's Mirrors and Shelly Sand at The Met Breuer on Opening Day.

My feet approach Robert Smithton's Mirrors and Shelly Sand at The Met Breuer on Opening Day.

Today Last Friday I stepped into The Met’s new modern and contemporary art space, The Met Breuer, not sure what to expect. A friend asked me to go there on a whim, and not one to turn down opportunities for art viewing, I readily accepted the invitation. 

Since childhood, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Fifth Avenue museum has always been a favorite place. It’s probably the only place in the world where you can see ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, medieval European coats of armor and aboriginal masks in person, all in the same day.

The Met Breuer is much smaller than the Met Fifth Avenue: The Breuer is five winding floors tall, and packed with art, but doable in just a handful of hours. Curators on the first floor suggested to start on floors three and four—an exhibit titled “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible.” So we did. 

The exhibit unfurled in a semi-chronological order: Renaissance segued into Romanticism, which overlapped with Modern works, which finally led us to Contemporary art. Most were unfinished, as the title of the exhibit suggests. All explored the idea of what “finished” actually means. 

As an artist myself, I found this extremely intriguing. What force compels the painter to put down her brush, put away her oils? When does the sculptor take his hands off his clay—and why? For what reason does the artist step away and say, “I’m done”?

Some pieces were old friends I’ve seen previously, including Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ thoughtful, interactive piece on love and loss, “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991; and a few classic pieces by Titian. But some were new to me and the exhibit covered a wide range of media, from sculpture to film. All elicited deep thought.

If I could choose one work that will most inspire some of my coming art, it would be Pablo Picasso’s study, Portrait of Olga, 1921. The piece transitions from seemingly polished, finished—rich—pastel up top and morphs into loose charcoal sketch on the bottom. Or perhaps it’s the other way around, morphing up from charcoal into pastel. It covers two smaller sheets of canvas pasted atop a larger canvas background. 

While some of the works in this collection can feel kind of abruptly unfinished, Portrait of Olga is left undone in what appears to be an intentional way that leaves viewers more satisfied—or me, at least. And besides that, the work encompasses mixed media and techniques, two of my favorite styles. 

The Met Breuer’s Unfinished will set your creative cogs in motion, whether you consider yourself an artist or not. I highly recommend it!  


Lingering thoughts:

  • Is The Met Breuer on your museum to-see list?
  • What other museums and/or exhibits are on your to-see list?
  • What do you think makes a piece of art "finished"?