Culturally savvy Upper West and Upper East Side residents know how to take advantage of the many amazing exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Because the Met’s admission price is always suggested, the best way to enjoy this massive, world-class wonderland of art and history is to pop in for about an hour, pay five bucks or so, see one or two shows before heading back outside and hitting the park. This way you don’t get art fatigue on any given visit and, because in addition to their vast and amazing permanent collection, the Met is always putting on great new exhibitions, you’re likely to go back many times over the course of a year, so annually you’re shelling out more than your fair share. In that spirit, here’s a quick look at two current exhibitions that I really loved, both squarely American in their subject and sensibility, both grim and powerful in very different ways.
Pictures from the Photography and the American Civil War Exhibit at the Met, Many Unknown to the General Public
First, there’s the fantastic Photography and the American Civil War, an exhaustive, eleven-gallery show featuring more than 200 prints from the era. I’d seen many of these before, the shots of Commander in Chief Abraham Lincoln, for example, and the Matthew Brady-commissioned, post-battle photographs of dead bodies in the field, as well as the numerous studio portraits of soldiers from both sides, officers and infantry, many of whom believed that carrying their picture into battle was a talismanic defense against death.
But there’s a great deal that was new to me as well, including a haunting series of medical portraits that graphically show the physical damage inflicted upon the bodies of men who go to war. The commentary is first-rate at Photography and the American Civil War as well, and this is definitely one of those shows that really rewards close reading of the wall notes. Spend some time, learn some history, look into the eyes and heart of America at its most self-destructive. On view through September 2; more info on the Met’s website.
William Eggleston’s Exhibition is Entitled “At War With the Obvious.”
On a different note, there’s the small but deeply affecting exhibition of William Eggleston photographs, titled At War With the Obvious. As plenty of others have said, these simple, elegantly composed shots of, mostly small-town-ish America in the 1970s and early ’80s, are almost cinematic in their depth and emotion, time and again managing to capture a sense of fear and dread lurking just below the surface of the most ordinary of American settings.
David Lynch has made a career out of this sort of thing, as have the Coen Brothers and plenty of other filmmakers, and it’s easy to see why so many artists from all different fields cite Eggleston as an influence on their work. There are only about three dozen photographs here, hung in a single gallery, but almost every one will provoke some sort of story in your head… and one that usually doesn’t have a happy ending. Beautiful, potent stuff. On view through July 28; more info on the Met’s website.