what makes a masterpiece?


Considering the influence of popularity on what we call masterpieces,
I thoroughly enjoyed this article
reviewing an exhibition at the Centre Pompidou-Metz in Paris.
Is a masterpiece only in the eye of the beholder?
Does it have anything to do with skill?
Must it have gained a patina of age to even be put up for vote?

The rest of the article is printed after the jump.

I find that the building itself is stunning. Designed by Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines, it is in Metz, the capital of Lorraine, housing modern and contemporary art. Apparently, the ceiling is one of the largest and most complex of its type, inspired by a Chinese hat Ban found in Paris. It is a temporary exhibition space for exhibits from the Pompidou in Paris


It's a masterpiece, whatever that means

The inaugural exhibition at the new Centre Pompidou-Metz revives a long-standing debate about what, if anything, deserves the lofty label.

September 02, 2010|By Suzanne Muchnic, Special to the Los Angeles Times
Reporting from Metz, France and Los Angeles — "Chefs-d'Oeuvre?"
The question — "Masterpieces?" — posed by the inaugural exhibition at the Centre Pompidou-Metz is a matter of many opinions.

 Joan Miró, Blue I, Blue II, and Blue III, 1961
Triptych in October 2010, during the exhibition Masterpieces?.

Four months after the quirky museum with a swooping white fiberglass and Teflon roof, designed by Shigeru Ban of Japan and Jean de Gastines of France, opened its doors in this little-known town 175 miles east of Paris, visitors continue to ask if the strikingly modern building near the majestic old train station resembles a Chinese straw hat, a hut for the Smurfs or a manta ray in flight.
The masterpieces query is a weightier matter and it comes with lots of historical baggage. Composed of about 800 works, the sprawling show is a think piece about the ever-changing meaning of a term coined in the Middle Ages to judge the work of craftsmen in the European guild system but often dismissed as quaintly irrelevant these days.
"I have no definitive definition of a masterpiece," Laurent Le Bon, director of the Metz museum and curator of the exhibition, states in a publication accompanying the show, "but, in my view, it is a work that permits diverse interpretations, indeed contradictions."
Critical reactions to the show include proclamations that it's the most impressive assembly of 20th century art in all of Europe and accusations that it's so confusing and anti-hierarchical as to be meaningless. In art historical circles, the exhibition has revived a debate about the concept of masterpieces. Interviews with curators indicate that there's hardly a consensus on the subject, with some saying it's a valuable way of measuring quality and others pointing out the flaws of any such system.
The Pompidou Center, a Parisian cultural powerhouse that houses the French National Museum of Modern Art, built the satellite in Metz to share its 60,000-piece collection with a city of about 200,000 people. But visitors expecting the Pompidou's greatest hits are in for a surprise. What they get is an eclectic array of paintings, sculptures, photographs, videos, installations, architectural models, furniture and printed material.
An introductory section on the ground floor tracks the evolution of masterpieces "from Middle Ages to revolutionary genius" in works lent by various institutions. But the bulk of the show ending Oct. 25, which continues on three upper floors, is drawn from the Pompidou's 20th century and 21st century holdings. The final display, "Masterpieces ad infinatum," grapples with notions of uniqueness in an age of endless reproductions.
As the exhibition unfolds, major works by such stalwarts as Henri Matisse, Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso, Louise Bourgeois and Bruce Nauman share gallery space with examples by relatively little known European figures and a few sculptures from Africa, Asia and Oceana. The works on view rarely conform to conventional ideas about masterpieces as paragons of beauty or tours de force of skill and they aren't necessarily the best examples of the artists' output.
But pieces such as Bourgeois' enormous installation "Precious Liquids" sum up essential themes — in her case, conflict between the artist and her father and bodily liquids that symbolize pleasure and pain. Other works mark zeitgeist moments that have influenced ideas about what a masterpiece might be.
Marcel Duchamp, who famously said that a masterpiece is created by the viewer, not the artist, is represented by his first "readymade," a bicycle wheel mounted on a wood stool in 1913. Georgio De Chirico's 1914 painting "Premonitory Portrait of Guillaume Apollinaire" is a Surrealist tribute to a leading avant-garde poet and critic, portrayed as a classical statue wearing sunglasses.
Alain Jacquet's 1964 painting "Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe" is part of his "Camouflages" series based on widely distributed reproductions of masterpieces from bygone times. His version of Edouard Manet's celebrated Impressionist work recasts the luncheon on the grass as a poolside picnic obscured by a silk-screen pattern.
The most recently made pieces have yet to pass the test of time. A stunningly detailed photograph of commercial goods packed into a 99 Cents Only Store is a seminal image by Andreas Gursky. But it was made in 1999 by a German artist whose reputation and work continue to grow.
Experts' views
Once upon a time, a masterpiece was a creation that met rigid standards of artistry and craftsmanship. These days, the term usually refers to the best work of an artist's career or an example of outstanding creativity or skill, but there's little agreement on the meaning and relevance of the term, particularly in modern and contemporary art.
Artists featured in the exhibition:

The inaugural exhibition called Masterpieces? was devoted to masterpieces (about 800), of which over 700 were lent by the Centre Georges Pompidou of Paris. The exhibition considered the relevance of the idea of masterpiece and ran until January 17, 2011. The exhibition was attracted over 800,000 visitors during the following year of its inauguration and included:
The four parts of the exhibition were:
  • Great nave: Masterpieces Throughout History
  • Gallery 1: Stories Behind Masterpieces
  • Gallery 2: Masterpiece Dreams
  • Gallery 3: Masterpieces Ad Infinitum
article via {la times}
photos via {google}
list of masterpieces via {wikipedia}


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