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What is a masterpiece anyway?

September 4, 2010 |  7:00 am


What’s a masterpiece?

Laurent Le Bon, director of the Centre Pompidou-Metz, says he doesn’t know. But that’s the central question posed by the new museum’s inaugural exhibition, “Chefs-d’oeuvre?”
The Pompidou Center, a Parisian cultural powerhouse, built the satellite in Metz to share its 60,000-piece collection of modern and contemporary art. But visitors who don’t notice the question mark in the exhibition title and expect to see the Pompidou’s greatest hits are in for a surprise. The sprawling, 800-piece show is a think piece about the ever-changing meaning of a term coined in the Middle Ages to uphold standards of craftsmanship and often dismissed these days as quaintly irrelevant.

“I have no definitive definition of a masterpiece,” Le Bon states in a publication accompanying the show, “but, in my view, it is a work that permits diverse interpretations, indeed contradictions.”

In critical circles, the show has been greeted with bouquets and rotten tomatoes. Among curators and art historians, “Chefs-d’oeuvre?” has revived a discussion about the concept of masterpieces in an art world that has long since gone global and radically revised traditional definitions of what art can be.

To read the full story on masterpieces, click here.

— Suzanne Muchnic 

Photo: Andreas Gursky, "99 cent", part of the Metz show. Credit: Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Comments () | Archives (6)

Stephanie Barron's quote come close for me:

Senior Curator of Modern Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

"The word masterpiece is bandied about way too frequently these days, but I think it is still a useful concept. For me, masterpiece connotes a work of art that manages to work on multiple levels: impact, art historical importance and an elusive quality that lets it be meaningful to a wide audience, rather than only specialists. It needs to touch all those bases to really be a masterpiece."

I’m floored that anyone in a curator role is brave enough to make this kind of statement. Because for it to be true you need to re- evaluate a lot of contemporary art in modern museums and put 80% of it in the basement because the public doesn’t like it.

Yes I think to be a masterpiece means a piece of art that makes it into the public consciousness and is liked by the majority. Skill, decorative quality or pure ideas are not enough when done separately, that masterpiece must have EVERTHING a work of art can contain along with that certain emotional magic you can’t define. That’s why most of the art people quoted are a little mealy mouthed and snaky: “ Masterpiece, whatever that means” Implying if you even like a masterpiece you’re a drooling sentimental idiot who’s not smart enough to hate skill.
What has wreaked art so drastically to the point of contemporary art being considered a joke by the public is because the art world’s perverse preference of the antithesis of masterfully created art. The intellectual gamesmanship of producing work that is the personification of the rejection of everything emotionally relatable for the average person is considered the best kind of art. That’s like asking someone to like you because they hate what you like and understand.
What is good art? Something between an empty white room and a Rembrandt, but a bit closer to the Rembrandt than the empty room. However the contemporary art world would vote for an empty room every time.

a masterpiece is a good pizza

Amen to that WW. She must be older, and know the difference between modern and contempt art, or a rare gem of insight and passion in a desert of art. The youngsters are lost and confused by their Pavlovian art academy training. Electronics and the era of instant gratification has fried their brains, withered their bodies and numbed their emotions.

And a good pizza is considered Domino's these days, God help us.

A Salaam Malaikum

It is a serious question

Deathly. in an era of unintentional absurdity.

good wine is a masterpiece


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