George Schastey The Met built a small show, Furniture in New York’s Gilded Age, around their “discovery” of furniture designer George Schastey, responsible for the Met’s newest period room, the dressing room from 4 West 54th Street completed in 1890 for Arabella Worsham, mistress and later wife of Colles Huntington. Period photographs allowed the Met curators to locate and identify pieces held in other collections, either wrongly or unattributed, except for one at the High in Atlanta that bore Schastey’s name. The labels at the Met were as excited about how and where they found the pieces as about their artistic merit.

The latter, in my view, was very low. Or shall we say that tastes have changed. The Schastey furniture was uniformly heavy, bulky and over-decorated – what we think of as “Victorian,” in the negative. The style borrowed from various sources: eclectic was the nice description, a mess would be as appropriate. Hideous agate marbles, for instance, had no place in the table and chest bases they stuck out from. By way of contrast, one gallery displayed contemporary pieces from Herter Brothers and other better-known designers of the time – all of which were cleaner, more consistent and more beautiful to my eyes.

It may be catty, but the provenance of Schastey’s work is hardly reassuring. Instead of working for the Vanderbilts or Rockefellers, his client was the nouveau, social-climbing Arabella and, presumably, her Huntington paramour. The other client cited in the show was William Clark, the Montana copper baron and father of Santa Barbara’s Huguette, more rogue than Manhattan elite. It’s possible to speculate that these non-New Yorkers were sold on razzle-dazzle – Schastey’s excess – than good taste. Moving to the present, it’s possible to speculate that the Met curators were so excited about identifying a “new” artist – and one they had an inside track to – that they put aside their normal standards to celebrate him.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy One year after Santa Barbara’s wonderful exhibition of paintings by Moholy-Nagy, the Guggenheim is mounting the “first-in-50-years” retrospective of the innovative Hungarian/American multi-media artist. It’s a show that spans not only his entire career but his entire oeuvre, which includes photomontage, photogram, photograph, sculpture, film, print, mobile and paint on every conceivable backing. After seeing it all, I have to say that what I like best are the geometric abstract paintings of 1921-23, which formed the core of the show in Santa Barbara.

Too often, Moholy seemed to be experimenting for the sake of the experiment. He didn’t have that many new ideas; rather, he applied his old ideas to new materials. Sometimes, as in the case of photograms, the experimental process just didn’t result in attractive or interesting art. The fact that other materials soon disappeared or haven’t since been used by artists speaks to their lack of success. It’s of historic interest, but not art-museum interest, to see innovations that go nowhere. Conversely, in an adjoining gallery the Guggenheim displayed early abstractions by Kandinsky, Mondrian and others, largely from the decade before Moholy’s best work. Those are examples of innovations that have stood the test of time and are as stunning today – especially the Mondrians – as they were innovative in 1914.

Gods and Mortals at Olympus. A small show at the Onassis Center off Fifth Avenue of archaeological finds from “Ancient Dion, City of Zeus,” was a nice postscript to my Naples trip and illuminated my negative reaction to group travel. I had never heard of Dion, but since its rediscovery in 1976 it has been giving up wonderful statues, mosaics and everyday objects appropriate to its status as a provincial temple town. Maybe nothing was as spectacular as what we saw in the Naples Archaeological Museum, but there were plenty of fine pieces: rounded statues of gods, stone bas-reliefs, an extraordinary tabletop of Leda and the Swan and a sensational large mosaic of the Epiphany of Dionysus. What I liked best, though, was the feeling of individual discovery. The gallery was obscure and not crowded, I could read the labels and watch the videos, and I felt I was digesting the information. There was a sense of discovery and identification – the kind of thing that attracts me to birdwatching and snorkeling – that is largely missing from a guided tour.

Seljuqs at the Met. This was another digestible show – not because it was small, but because it was focused and skimmable. Knowing nothing about the Seljuqs – basically Turks who ruled in Iran from 1100-1300 – there was no need to study the names of various rulers or care about where or when an object was made. I could simply admire the fancy metalwork, the red-and-blue ceramics and the moon-faced statues.

On another visit to the Met – to see Turner’s whaling paintings – I wandered through the early Italian galleries as a postscript, primarily, to our trip to Florence. The great works are in Italy, of course, but it is amazing to see how many of the artists we saw are at least represented in New York. As I wandered another time through the lower floor of the Met, I couldn’t get over how many great pieces from all over Europe are here, waiting to be discovered.