Published: March 2, 2010
The Minneapolis Institute of Art presents “In Pursuit of a Masterpiece,” a selection of more than 20 masterpieces from all seven curatorial areas in the MIA’s collection. Unpacking the concept of “a masterpiece,” the exhibition encourages visitors to consider familiar works in different ways: through the lens of connoisseurship, historical taste and the art historical canon. Curated by MIA Director Kaywin Feldman to coincide with the traveling exhibition “The Louvre and the Masterpiece,” “In Pursuit of a Masterpiece” will be on view through April 11.
The exhibition is arranged in three sections: Changing Historical Definitions of a Masterpiece; Connoisseurship, or Knowing a Masterpiece When You See One; and Taste and the Evolution of Knowledge.
Displaying works not considered masterpieces when they were first executed, the first section introduces connoisseurship’s role in labeling and identifying objects from the past as works of genius. Highlights include a ritual water basin from Eastern Chou dynasty China and an early Nineteenth Century throne-like seat from the Cook Islands. The section also embraces fakes that were considered masterworks when they entered the museum’s collection.
The MIA’s Chac mool, purchased in 1947 and exhibited widely in Europe, was believed to be a distinctive Maya-Toltec sculpture made between the Tenth and Twelfth Centuries in Mexico. Research by MIA curators in the 1970s proved the object was a copy of the famous Chichen Itza figure, which was discovered in the Yucatan Peninsula.
In Connoisseurship or Knowing a Masterpiece, Gustave Courbet’s lively and popular painting “Deer in the Forest” †part of the museum’s collection since it opened in 1915 †was one of the first masterworks of the permanent collection. Other highlights in this section of undoubted authenticity and quality include a 1792 Italian inkstand and case by Vincenzo Coaci, a pair of Sixteenth Century screens by the Japanese artist Sesson Shukei and the 1795 William Blake monotype “Nebuchadnezzar,” one of the MIA’s finest prints.
In the third section, Taste and the Evolution of Knowledge, changes in taste and advances in scholarship redefine the art historical canon. In recent years, the remarkable Djenne Horseman sculpture from Fifteenth Century Mali has become understood as a masterwork. Francis Bacon’s “Study for Portrait VI,” 1953, acquired by the museum in 1958, demonstrates discrimination and connoisseurship, during a time when Bacon’s work was not widely admired. Jasper Johns’ “Figure 2,” 1963, exposes beauty in the banal, acquired by the MIA in 1970, the acquisition highlights the museum’s foresight and discernment.
The exhibition also provides opportunities for visitors to act as connoisseurs, comparing and contrasting masterpieces in relationship to one another. Three stunning Chinese Sung dynasty stoneware objects, displayed next to one another, encourage visitors to determine the finest example by comparing the purity and color of the objects’ celadon glazes and simplicity of form.
Two prints of Ansel Adams’s iconic 1941 photograph “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” †developed from the same negative 20 years apart †demonstrate the subtle, but significant differences in numbered series.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is at 2400 Third Avenue South. For information, 612-870-3131 or www.artsmia.org .
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