NEW YORK — For about five seasons now, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been running a very cool show called The Artist Project, a series of web shorts in which artists respond to items in the Met’s collection.
In February they showcased Betty Woodman, who spoke at length about the museum’s Minoan larnax, a type of terracotta sarcophagus that comes from a Bronze Age civilization on the island of Crete. Dating from 13th century BCE, the tomb is almost old enough to be removed from time, but the sharp-eyed Woodman sees connections that resonate today. The painting reminds her of Picasso, but she also noticed an imperfection with the tomb’s lid. It’s warped, probably from the kiln being too hot.
This isn’t to throw shade on the anonymous artisan who made the sarcophagus, but that detail is fascinating. It connects that nameless individual to literally every other artist who has had a firing turn janky. It humanizes this artifact a great deal. After seeing that you can draw a line from this ancient civilization directly to Woodman.
“It’s very moving to me as a human being to have a sense of belonging, and being part of a continuum of something,” Woodman states in the video.
It’s a work that maintains its presence even today, but Woodman thinks it is important to recognize the distance as well.
“I don’t think you can make this today. You can’t do this anymore. It isn’t contemporary. What I feel you have to do is capture something about it that brings it to mind and isn’t trying to reproduce it, because you kill it if you reproduce it.”
Many thanks to the Met and to Woodman for her eloquent criticism. She could put all of us out of a job, if she wanted to.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor at cfile.daily.
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