In a previous post about collecting I mentioned the idea of collectors and their ability to “go there,” meaning to hone in on an idea or an aesthetic and then to take it beyond any imagined limits. If you want to see an exhilarating example of this idea, go see Matisse: The Cut-Outs at MoMA. The pieces are simply beautiful and the choreography of the exhibit is thrilling–beginning with the artist’s small maquettes which he created while working out composition for bigger projects and finishing with giant scrolls of color and form dancing across gallery walls. It’s interesting to note that in 1942 Matisse wrote to his friend the writer Louis Aragon that he had “an unconscious belief in a future life…some paradise where I shall paint frescoes.” And, several years later, in 1947 Matisse talked about the “greater space” of Islamic art. This show expresses the confluence of Matisse’s aesthetic and his intuition and vision of that greater space, a realm that will lift you with its pure expression of joy and freedom. You cannot help but smile and skip on your way out.
Rachel Lambert Mellon’s collection of fine art and decorative objects and furniture is on view this week at Sotheby’s (the sale begins on Friday) and it is topic “A” at Manhattan cocktail parties. I’ve even received a few emails today peppered with sign offs like “…I’m running up to Sotheby’s to see the Bunny Mellon collection,” or “I’ll meet you after I see the Bunny Mellon collection.”The other night over dinner with some sophisticated French friends we got talking about the idea of taste and personal collecting in reference to the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We were trying to define what makes a personal collection so unique and decided it comes down to an individual’s clarity of vision, the ability to “go there” as one of my friends put it, to build a collection–a story, really–around one aesthetic ideal. This may sound incredibly snobbish, but very few people have this kind of vision. Call it taste. Taste is discipline, the ability to say “yes” to one thing and “no” to another. (Ms. Mellon’s aesthetic has as much to do with her taste in art as it does with her idiosyncratic style, the pluck of hanging a Van Gogh over the bathtub, or an unframed Pissarro over the fireplace). The best collections express a depth of passion and a nimble instinct. You can tell, for example, just looking at a real collection, that the individual picked one piece not only because it was superior in some way to the rest, but because it spoke to them in a way that other pieces did not. I’ve overheard people discussing their impressions of the Bunny Mellon preview exhibit–all ten floors of stuff–at Sotheby’s and it’s funny how the same observation is repeated over and over: the art is incredible, but the decorative pieces, on their own, don’t seem that unique or significant. How could they? Each piece is unique only as it relates to the whole. On it’s own a basket is just a basket. (Still, wouldn’t it be cool to bid on one of the baskets in her collection pictured above?) I suspect the reason so many people are running up to Sotheby’s to get a gander at the ensemble, has less to do with owning a piece of it and more to do with holding onto the last vestige of an old world, a world where this level of taste and kind of lifestyle was the norm. It’s gone now, we won’t see the likes of Bunny Mellon again anytime soon. We won’t hear or read about people who live with art and style the way she did. Here is a link to the Sotheby’s catalogue.