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.
What do you think of this (not quite) contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.
7 thoughts on "Video | Betty Woodman Reviews an Ancient Clay Sarcophagus"
Have seen these sarcophagae many times in Heraklion Museum, in Crete. Absolutely fascinating.
I wish the music were at a lower volume since it make hearing the speaker very difficult for those of us with hearing impairment issues.
While Ms. Woodman might be right about the lid getting too hot. I think also uneven heat is one possibility as well as the lid not being the one made for this specific sarcophagus are possible reasons for the fact that it does not fit as one would expect.
Such wise remarks by Betty, and doesn’t she look grand , the way she has decorated herself..beautiful dress, tights and shoes. ❤️
This is fascinating and Betty Woodman is a huge artist!!
Marion Waldo McChesney
Loved this. I have been a ceramic artist for over 40 years and am a big fan of Betty Woodman. This video was quite special &I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it.
I remember visiting Crete, about 20 years ago and entering a museum that had at least 50 of these sarcophagae lining the walls. Someday I would like to go back and see them again.