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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.