NEW YORK – The new installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Cycladic Art: The Leonard N. Stern Collection on Loan from the Hellenic Republic, opened to the public on January 25 and was featured in the New York Times on February 1 in the article titled ‘Old-Time Modernity: Cycladic Art at the Met.’
“New York City has added another jewel to its glittering cultural crown, and it takes up little more than one medium-size wall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” writes the Times’ co-chief art critic Roberta Smith, adding that “you’ll find the wall in the Belfer Court, the first space on the right as you enter the Greek and Roman Galleries from the Great Hall.”
“Walk too fast and you may miss it,” Smith writes in the Times article, noting that “slow down and prepare to be stunned by the largest display of ancient sculpture from the Greek islands known as the Cyclades ever seen in New York.”
Smith goes on to describe the installation: “Five large vitrines, usually three pairs of shelves each, cover the wall, their red felt interiors setting off the gleaming white chiseled marble of 120 figures and vessels. The shelves are dominated by around 70 small, spirited female figurines or idols, averaging around 16 inches in height and in one rare piece reaching just over four feet. These are the glory of Cycladic art, distinguished by their stylized forms, folded arms and blank faces — except for little wedge-shaped noses — also by their understated sensuousness and reverberating stillness. They’re like tuning forks.”
Smith notes that “all 161 works were made in the Cyclades, a group of small islands in the Aegean Sea east of Greece between roughly 5300 BC, or the late Neolithic period, and 2300 BC, the beginning of the Bronze Age, a span of time also referred to as Early Cycladic I and II.”
“The figures especially are among humanity’s greatest achievements, grave and cool yet instantly familiar and even essentially realistic, like skeletons,” Smith writes, adding that “they were collected starting in the early 1980s by Leonard N. Stern, chief executive of Hartz Mountain Industries, who as a teenager was enthralled by the Cycladic art at the Met.”
“Stern has given his collection to Greece and in a deal worked out between him, the Met and the Greek government, most of them will remain on view at the museum for the next 25 years — with select works periodically returning to Greece — and a possible extension of the loan for 25 more years,” the Times reported, noting that “the display has been curated by Sean Hemingway, head of the Met’s Greek and Roman Department, and Alexis Belis, one of its assistant curators.”
“Cycladic sculpture begins the great tradition of Greek sculpture that is seen as culminating in the Classical sculpture of the Greek Golden Age, centered on Athens, nearly two millenniums later,” Smith writes in the Times article, pointing out that “they are also an important origin of Western abstraction. Like African sculpture, they were colonial plunder, ensconced before the turn of the 20th century at the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris, where they influenced modern artists like Constantin Brancusi, Amedeo Modigliani and Picasso.”
“The Stern Collection of Cycladic Art turns the Belfer Court into one of the Met’s greatest galleries,” Smith notes in the Times article.
More information is available online: https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/cycladic-art.