Best Museum Exhibition
"Rembrandt in America" at Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The name "Rembrandt" has become symbolic of great artistry, in the way that "Einstein" has come to represent high intelligence or that "Shakespeare" is the epitome of writing. If you were fortunate enough to catch the stunning "Rembrandt in America" exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts last summer — and more than 100,000 people did — you now have a thorough understanding of why that is. The show was billed as the largest collection of Rembrandt paintings ever assembled in the U.S., and it lived up to the hype. This was a world-class exhibit, three large gallery rooms stuffed with masterworks that encompassed the whole of the painter's career. Most of them were his famous portraits — of the local burghers and gentry, but also revealing self-portraits that spanned the artist's lifetime. Beyond the 30 paintings from Rembrandt, the exhibit included 20 works once thought to be by the artist but now considered the works of others, including painters from the master's workshop. That gave the exhibit a B story, if you will — a fascinating subtext about art collecting, connoisseurship, and scholarship. The show's labels were first-rate — generous and informative — and an afternoon in the gallery became a post-graduate education in Rembrandt. Or you could just wander and marvel. It was easy to see how the painter's artistry progressed: the youthful prodigy, the exquisite realism of his mature mid-career, and his looser and more painterly—though no less insightful—style as he aged. Yet his technical brilliance never overshadowed his humanity. Rembrandt had an uncanny genius for giving life to his subjects on canvas. There is light behind their eyes. Perhaps more than any painter who has ever lived, he captured not just the likeness of his subjects but their souls. And that is what makes Rembrandt "Rembrandt."