In March the Met opened up the Met Breuer, their contemporary offshoot, repurposing the space previously occupied by the American Art-centric Whitney Museum. The Met Breuer opened with an ambitious inaugural show called Unfinished, an enormous art historical survey focusing on works (paintings, sculptures & drawings) that were left incomplete for one reason or another. Such a broad topic guarantees a lot of material, and Unfinished does not disappoint on that front – the exhibit takes up 2 floors and is comprised of 197 different works!
Such a large exhibition is a bit overwhelming, but starts off with a bang, with masterpieces by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, who were both known for leaving plenty of works unfinished. A large work by Peter Paul Rubens hangs nearby, a fragment of a series of history paintings commissioned by Marie de’ Medici to document victorious battles of her late husband Henry IV of France, and the unfinished nature gives us a look into Rubens’ painting process.
Picasso was another repeat offender with unfinished works, and this show boasts 10 exceptional examples. Portrait of Olga in an Armchair depicts the Russian dancer Olga Khokhlova, who would soon become his first wife. Picasso worked on the costumes and set of a Russian ballet in 1917, which is where he met Olga, who was a muse for the artist during their time together. (His relationship with his next muse, Marie-Thérèse, ended his marriage to Olga.) In this portrait Olga is seated at the center, against a stark background and is staring off into space. Her pose shows the influence of Neoclassical portraits of elegant women, but she is also relaxed – her arm rests over the back of her decorated chair. Picasso considered this to be complete, but the unfinished background warrants its inclusion here.
When is a work of art considered finished? Is this something that the artist or the critic decides? These questions recur throughout the exhibition as does the question of our understanding of what makes something finished. This carefully curated show is made up of works chosen to contextualize the idea of what makes something complete. It’s such an interesting, albeit open-ended project, and I had so much fun exploring works by Freud, Turner, Matisse, Degas, Bourgeois, Warhol and Manet, among others.
This cake recipe might be unfinished by some standards – the sides are missing frosting! However, I think the sweet buttercream between 4 layers is just enough! What do you think?
Frosting recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction
Peter Paul Rubens, Henry IV at the Battle of Ivry, oil on canvas, circa 1628-30
Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Olga in an Armchair, oil on canvas, 1918
Lucien Freud, Self-Portrait Reflection, Fragment, oil and charcoal on canvas, circa 1965