Exhibit of the week
Giorgio Morandi, 1890–1964
Metropolitan Museum, New York
Through Dec. 14

“A mood of hush-hush sanctity” surrounds Giorgio Morandi’s reputation, said Christopher Benfey in Slate.com. For nearly 40 years, the Italian artist lived with his mother and sisters in a small apartment in Bologna, almost exclusively painting still lifes of the same objects: “ascetic clumps of cheap crockery and empty Ovaltine boxes” that look as if they’re on loan from a pawn shop. Why did Morandi “insist on painting such worn, cheap, dusty, everyday objects?” Studying the nearly 120 works on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one is tempted to conclude that these forlorn objects mirror the artist’s interior life. His entire existence was a sort of artistic experiment, in which he lived with and looked at these objects every day, and “the biographical myth of the saintly Morandi” suffuses this quiet, reflective exhibition.

A myth is precisely what it is, said Ariella Budick in the Financial Times. Morandi wasn’t a saint, he “was a monomaniac,” and this exhibition carries more than a whiff of claustrophobia. “One senses, deep beneath the calm, impenetrable surfaces of his pictures, a revulsion toward the unpredictability of experience.” The artist has a small group of intensely devoted fans, who rhapsodize over the “purity” and “profound geometries” of his paintings. But to me they all more or less look the same. Perhaps “it is possible for a subtle eye to distinguish among the artist’s myriad still lifes,” but most viewers are likely to die of boredom first.

To each his own, said Holland Cotter in The New York Times. “I found myself waking up rather than winding down as I walked through the show.” It is the surface similarities of Morandi’s works that draw your attention toward their deeper differences. “Despite his repetition of themes, he is never wearing,” and taken together the paintings provide a sort of tour of art history. Morandi learned from painters of all periods. From 15th-century Italians such as Piero della Francesca, he gleaned how to create the impression of weight and life. From Paul Cézanne and 20th-century modernists such as Giorgio de Chirico, he learned to infuse still lifes with metaphorical import. It’s true that Morandi’s deep meditations aren’t for everyone. But they should be “something that anyone in love with painting and its very specific poetry will want to see.”