Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection now at the Met

Picasso's Guitar part of the Lauder collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

In April of 2013, the Metropolitan Museum of Art giddily announced one of the most extraordinary museum gifts in the history of museum gift-giving. Leonard A. Lauder, of Estee Lauder fame and fortune, was handing over (or offering for purchase) his entire collection of Cubist masterworks to the Met, more than a billion dollars worth of paintings and drawings by the genre's giants, including 33 works by Pablo Picasso, 17 by Georges Braque, and 15 each by Juan Gris and Fernand Legers. Just extraordinary. And unlike many great acts of philanthropy, Lauder's gift to the museum came with no strings attached. Curate and display at will! And so, just about a year and a half later, we have this remarkable exhibition, Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection.  .  

Artwork from Gris, part of the Lauder collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Cubism at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met's Cubism show does several things well. First of all, it is exceptionally generous, with all 81 pieces of Lauder's gift on display–no editing of "lesser" works or filler from the permanent collection–all given ample viewing room as the show meanders through seven separate galleries. More stats: about half of the works are on canvas, the other half on paper (several collages are included among these), and there are a pair of Picasso sculptures thrown in for good measure. And the majority of these pieces, many of which can be considered bona fide masterpieces, were created during an astonishingly short period of time, from 1907 to 1918, during which almost the entire Cubist movement can be seen played out in full: the tentative beginnings; the wild embrasure of the form (or, uh, the lack thereof); the later experiments and playful journeys to the extreme edges; and the final maturation. One can only imagine what a thrilling time it was for these men, and the art world in general, especially in Paris.  

Patrons viewing the Cubism art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Leonard A. Lauder Collection 

So the art itself is often fantastic (and always interesting), but what really made the Metropolitan's Cubism show shine for me were the many intelligent, engaging notes posted throughout the galleries, explaining why, for example, this painting is hanging next to that painting, or bringing to life the creative process through which the movement so rapidly evolved, with Picasso and Braque visiting each other's studios almost every evening, learning from each other, pushing each other, almost collaborating. Really, walking through the galleries, spending time reading and viewing, I felt like I had been enrolled in a first-rate course on the Cubist movement. Highly recommended.


For More Information on Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection 

Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection will be on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through February 16. The galleries were busy when I went to the exhibition on a recent weekday afternoon, but not unpleasantly crowded. That said, as we enter the heavy tourist season, and because it's a slow-viewing show due to all the reading (or listening on audio guide), you should probably try to get here early in the day. The Met is open every day, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; and until 9:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Note: The museum is closed Christmas, and New Years Days. Much more information can be found here.

Picasso's Woman - part of the Cubism exhibit at the Met

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