Nothing induces guilt for an art-lover like strolling quickly by masterpiece after masterpiece at the Metropolitan Museum just in order to deal with the current exhibitions on view.
Once in a while, on a recent visit, one of our favorites would stop us in our tracks, such as Young Woman Drawing (by Villers, not David) or a portrait by Petrus Christus, but then soldier on we must, to suffer through most of Childe Hassams horrible paintings.
Its not just the banal countryside perspectives but the revolting greeting-card palette of Hassam that disgusts one. Yet all is redeemed by the stunning reminder of patriotism mixed with senseless war that is simply the roomful of flags.
Much as one enjoys a visit to old New York in Jack Finneys novel, Time and Again, one tries to spot buildings and street corners that still exist in Hassams bewitching pictures of Manhattans venerable boulevards. A disappointment in the suburbs, Hassam is one very hot Childe in the city.
Only the Met with its incomparable riches has the luxury to dump its new acquisitions in a nondescript hallway somewhere between the show of August Sanders tiny raw photographs and the cafeteria.
But here is a prize indeed -- a stunning golden yellow view of a shepherd and his sheepdog by Caspar David Friedrich. Its worth a visit to see just this one piece, and if you can afford the extravagance, to only see this one piece!
Then its on to the modest selection from the Pierre Matisse collection, with a great Derain portrait of a woman in a checked dress, and an especially shitty Chagall, followed by a leisurely visit to one of paintings greatest anomalies, Caravaggios Supper at Emmaus (1601), in which Christ resembles Spencer Tunick or some other Chelsea chubby: the Caravaggio is a situation comedy disguised as the sublime. Try to ignore the work of his Northern Italian inferiors surrounding it.
Of course, the most beautiful galleries at the Met, with a full view of Central Park, house the worst work. We refer to Bill Liebermans circus of contemporary casualties, soon to be helmed by Gary Tinterow.
Passing the excruciatingly dull Clyfford Still room and two abominations by Terry Winters, we stop to gaze at a simple personal favorite, two blue zips by Barnett Newman, as comforting as a Mediterranean breeze.
What distinguishes the Mets contemporary holdings is the work thats never there. Collector Norman Dubrow, whom we encountered in the chow line at the new restaurant, sighs, You know, Charlie, I gave the Met two beautiful paintings by Laura Owens and Ellen Gallagher and theyve never even shown them.
Dont hold your breath, Norman. Tinterow has probably never heard of either of them.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).