New Colombian Bling at Met Brings Out Paulson, Dubin, Steinhardtby
A benefit at the Metropolitan Museum details 2015 acquisitions
Art can give 'nuanced understanding' of Islam, Latin America
Made with 5.3 pounds of gold and more than 400 emeralds, the Crown of the Andes would make an excellent one-percenter’s gift this holiday season. Instead, on Thursday night, John Paulson, Howard Marks, Ajit Jain, Michael Steinhardt, J. TomilsonHill and about 375 others celebrated its acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
"Talk about bling," Met Museum Director Thomas Campbell said of the crown in a video that played during dinner at the museum’s annual Acquisitions Fund Benefit.
The object -- made to adorn a statue of the Virgin Mary in a cathedral in Popayan in the Spanish viceroyalty of New Granada (now Colombia) -- was acquired from a private collector who stored it in a Citibank safe deposit box. It is set to become the centerpiece of the museum’s colonial Latin American art holdings, an area the museum wishes to grow. The diadem was made in 1660, the arches around 1770. It came to the U.S. in 1936, and for the next several years was put on display at world’s fairs, Macy’s and even used as a dinner centerpiece.
The centerpieces for the Met’s dinner were flowers. The menu: tuna carpaccio with black olive salt, followed by Tournedos Rossini (one of the hot dishes at Michael White’s new French restaurant Vaucluse), and a pine chocolate pot de creme.
If the dinner had an Italian and French spin, and the art celebrated was Spanish, the theme of the evening was global. Founded in 1870 with no art of its own, the museum has always collected from all over the world.
"We’ve never been more connected with the rest of the world, and yet there’s never been more misunderstanding impacting relations," Campbell said. “People want to have a more nuanced understanding of the parts of the world that they are reading about in the news."
The Met’s galleries of Islamic and Arab art have been heavily visited since they opened in 2011, 10 years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Campbell said. Yesterday, the museum announced a new partnership with South Korea’s ministry of culture to support the presentation of Korean art, with a major exhibition planned for 2018. A similar agreement exists with India.
"We think of ourselves a little bit like a small country, where we have these relationships over time," said Daniel Weiss, president of the museum. "We’ve been doing archaeological work in Egypt for over a century."
The Met has more than 26,000 objects of Egyptian art and 39 galleries devoted to it, yet even the head of that department found another item worthy of acquisition in 2015.
"I just acquired something in September, a major piece," said the curator in charge of Egyptian art, Diana Craig Patch, during the cocktail hour in the Great Hall. "It is an upper half of a statue that is a hippo goddess." The piece merges a pregnant woman’s body with a hippo’s head and a crocodile’s tail. She protects women at the time of birth and the newborn infant.
Patch had spent the morning working on the pedestal for the object, extending her thumb and index finger apart to indicate the statue’s height.
Chinese-born investor Oscar Tang said the value of a museum is not just protecting and preserving an object: "It’s the scholarship and capability to impart understanding about it. As a new American, it’s very important to me that my country learns as much as possible about China and Asia."
Tang continued: "If you think of what’s happening in Iraq and Syria, almost a similar type of situation occurred in China, and a tremendous amount of material was destroyed. If you kill the cultural roots of a civilization, then people have nothing to return to."
Soon a stream of guests -- Leonard and Judy Lauder, Glenn and Eva Dubin, Blair Effron, Joyce Menschel, Ellen Marcus -- made their way to dinner. The path brought them through Egyptian galleries, past a quartzite lion cub and the sarcophagus of the Hathor priestess Henhenet, and dropped them off in Gallery 131, home to the Temple of Dendur, built when Roman emperor Augustus ruled Egypt. On the walls were projections of images by Irving Penn, marking another 2015 acquisition.
"This is the dinner of the year for the Met because it’s all about what we’re doing," said its chairman, Daniel Brodsky. The event raised $2.1 million for acquisitions.