Immaterial: 5,000 Years of Art, One Material at a Time

The Met

Stories of the materials used in making art are often as thought-provoking and illuminating as the objects themselves. From The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Immaterial examines the materials of art and what they can reveal about history and humanity. Each episode looks at a single material: paper, clay, jade, shells, and others, exploring the qualities and meanings that are often overlooked. read less
ArtsArts

Episodes

Blankets and Quilts: Threads of Identity
Jul 16 2024
Blankets and Quilts: Threads of Identity
What happens when our most intimate possessions end up in art museums? Blankets comfort and keep us warm. They accompany us through our lives. They are keepers of some of our most intimate stories. We look at a group of artists who harness this power of blankets and quilts as totems for memory, community and cultural survival. Guests: Loretta Pettway Bennett, Gee's Bend quilt maker Marie Watt, artist Ally Barlow, associate conservator, Department of Textile Conservation, The Met Louisiana P. Bendolph, Gee's Bend quilt maker Louise Williams, board president, Freedom Quilting Bee Legacy Featured artworks: Qunnie Pettway, Housetop, ca. 1975: https://www.soulsgrowndeep.org/artist/qunnie-pettway/work/housetop Marie Watt, Untitled (Dream Catcher), 2014: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/849042 Louisiana P. Bendolph, Housetop quilt, 2003: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/654095 Annie E. Pettway, “Flying Geese” Variation, ca. 1935: https://www.soulsgrowndeep.org/artist/annie-e-pettway/work/flying-geese-variation Willie "Ma Willie" Abrams, Roman Stripes quilt, ca. 1975: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/654081 For a transcript of the episode and more information, visit metmuseum.org/immaterialblankets #MetImmaterial Immaterial is produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Magnificent Noise and hosted by Camille Dungy. Our production staff includes Salman Ahad Khan, Ann Collins, Samantha Henig, Eric Nuzum, Emma Vecchione, Sarah Wambold, and Jamie York. Additional staff includes Julia Bordelon, Skyla Choi, Maria Kozanecka, and Rachel Smith. Sound design by Ariana Martinez and Kristin Muller.Original music by Austin Fisher.Fact-checking by Mary Mathis and Claire Hyman.Sensitivity listening by Adwoa Gyimyah-Brempong. Immaterial is made possible by Dasha Zhukova Niarchos. Additional support is provided by the Zodiac Fund. Special thanks to Eva Labson, Scott Browning, Curator Amelia Peck, and Avery Trufelman.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Space, Part 2: Behind the Scenes at The Met
Jul 2 2024
Space, Part 2: Behind the Scenes at The Met
What is hidden in the 'empty' spaces of an art museum? The Met is more than a museum of art. It is a city unto itself: population 2,000, with a transient population of 5 million. The Met is 21 buildings nested together like puzzle pieces, and it takes 400,000 light bulbs to illuminate all the spaces. But who actually changes those light bulbs? In this episode, peek behind the curtain and meet the people who maintain the hidden ecosystem of The Met. Guests: Marco Leona, David H. Koch Scientist in Charge, The Met Eric Breitung, research scientist, The Met Anna Serotta, conservator, Objects Conservation, The Met Louisa Lam, security officer, The Met Frida Escobedo, architect Featured artworks: Coffin of Irtirutja, 332–250 BCE. Egypt: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/551163 Vincent Van Gogh, Cypresses, 1889: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437980 For a transcript of the episode and more information, visit metmuseum.org/immaterialspacepart2 #MetImmaterial Immaterial is produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Magnificent Noise and hosted by Camille Dungy. Our production staff includes Salman Ahad Khan, Ann Collins, Samantha Henig, Eric Nuzum, Emma Vecchione, Sarah Wambold, and Jamie York. Additional staff includes Julia Bordelon, Skyla Choi, Maria Kozanecka, and Rachel Smith. Sound design by Ariana Martinez and Kristin Muller.Original music by Austin Fisher.Fact-checking by Mary Mathis and Claire Hyman. Immaterial is made possible by Dasha Zhukova Niarchos. Additional support is provided by the Zodiac Fund. Special thanks to Maureen Catbagan, Iva Keselicova, Michael Millican, Elizabeth Reyes Moreno, Sarah Freshnock, Avery Trufelman, and Jennie C. Jones.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Space, Part 1: Giving Form to a Feeling
Jun 18 2024
Space, Part 1: Giving Form to a Feeling
How does an artist give presence to absence? Bronze, wood, paint, and stone—classic materials for art making. But what if you're trying and struggling to convey a vast expanse, a terrible loss or a haunting presence? In this episode we'll look at two artists who turned to the material of space to express what nothing else could. Guests: Rachel Whiteread, sculptor Brinda Kumar, Associate Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art, The Met Shania Hall, photographer Featured artworks: Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Three Tables), 1995/1996: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/816239 Shania Hall, Where the Vast Sky Meets the Flat Earth (unofficial title), ca. 2015: https://www.metmuseum.org/articles/framing-plains-indians For a transcript of the episode and more information, visit metmuseum.org/immaterialspaceart #MetImmaterial Immaterial is produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Magnificent Noise and hosted by Camille Dungy. Production staff includes Salman Ahad Khan, Ann Collins, Samantha Henig, Eric Nuzum, Emma Vecchione, Sarah Wambold, and Jamie York. Additional staff includes Julia Bordelon, Skyla Choi, Maria Kozanecka, and Rachel Smith. Sound design by Ariana Martinez and Kristin Muller.Original music by Austin Fisher.Fact-checking by Mary Mathis and Claire Hyman. Immaterial is made possible by Dasha Zhukova Niarchos. Additional support is provided by the Zodiac Fund. Special thanks to Exhibition Design Manager Dan Kershaw, Associate Curator Patricia Norby, and Curator Sylvia YountSee omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Stone: Making and Breaking Legacies
Jun 4 2024
Stone: Making and Breaking Legacies
What happens when the unbreakable breaks? Throughout art museums around the world, you’ll find ancient stone statues of rulers and marble monuments immortalizing noblemen. These objects were made to survive decay and destruction, to remain intact and whole. But from the moment that stone is extracted from the earth, it is bound to become a more fragmented version of itself–chiseled, chipped, and sometimes shattered over time.  In this episode, we examine the many ways that stone breaks. How can a statue’s cracks and cavities tell a more complex story of our humanity? Guests: Jack Soultanian, Conservator, Objects Conservation, The Met Carolyn Riccardelli, Conservator, Objects Conservation, The Met Robert Macfarlane, nature writer and mountaineer Erhan Tamur, former Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow, The Met Sarah Graff, Curator, Ancient Near Eastern Art, The Met Featured artworks: Tullio Lombardo, Adam, ca. 1490–95: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/197822  Statues of Gudea, Neo-Sumerian, ca. 2120–2090 BCE: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/329072 https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/324061 https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010119539 For a transcript of the episode and more information, visit metmuseum.org/immaterialstone #MetImmaterial Immaterial is produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Magnificent Noise and hosted by Camille Dungy. Production staff includes Salman Ahad Khan, Ann Collins, Samantha Henig, Eric Nuzum, Emma Vecchione, Sarah Wambold, and Jamie York. Additional staff includes Julia Bordelon, Skyla Choi, Maria Kozanecka, and Rachel Smith. Sound design by Ariana Martinez and Kristin Muller.Original music by Austin Fisher.Fact-checking by Mary Mathis and Claire Hyman. Immaterial is made possible by Dasha Zhukova Niarchos. Additional support is provided by the Zodiac Fund.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Bonus Episode: Tarot
Sep 14 2022
Bonus Episode: Tarot
Grab a cup of tea and join us for a bonus episode on tarot. We learn about the cards from their patrician origins to the present day, when tarot is being used to subvert limiting tropes of gender and sexuality. A tarot deck begs some questions: what makes something art? And who decides? Some of the answers may surprise you. We meet the artists behind a queer, Southern, collective tarot deck, and hear from an educator at The Met how tarot can be a source of both beauty and resistance. Plus: Camille Dungy, host and tarot skeptic, gets a slightly apocalyptic reading from a fellow poet. Producers Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong and Eleanor Kagan take us behind the scenes: probing something that's not quite a material, but whose story is too dynamic not to share. Guests: Suhaly Bautista-Carolina, creator of Moon Mother Apothecary and senior managing educator of audience development, Education, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Marco Leona, David H. Koch Scientist in Charge, Scientific Research, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Allison Rudnick, associate curator, Drawings and Prints, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Alexander Chee, poet, author, and professor of English and creative writing, Dartmouth College Camille Dungy, poet and host of Immaterial Slow Holler Tarot Artists: JB Brager Corina Dross Miranda Javid Nic Jenkins Objects mentioned in this episode: Niki de Saint-Phalle (American, 1930–2004). Niki de Saint Phalle tarot cards, 2002. 22 cards: illustrations ; Height: 5 1/2 in. (14 cm) ; Width: 3 1/8 in. (8 cm) + 1 booklet (48 unnumbered pages ; Height: 5 1/2 in. (14 cm)). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (N6853.S255 S25 2002) For a transcript of this episode and more information, visit metmuseum.org/immaterial #MetImmaterial Immaterial is produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Magnificent Noise. This episode was produced by Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong and Eleanor Kagan. Special thanks to Holly Phillips, Jessica Ranne-Cardona, Maria Schurr, E. Henderson, and Rachel Pollack.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Metals, Part Two
Aug 31 2022
Metals, Part Two
In the second part of our alchemical journey, we meet what ancient philosophers called the “noble” metals: mercury, silver, and gold. How did a nineteenth-century set designer harness one of the most captivating—and toxic—materials in the world and wind up as one of the fathers of photography? When does a coin go from a piece of stamped metal to an act of faith? And how did gold in Ghana go from dust in the water to a touchstone of language, story, and the strength of an empire? Guests: Yaëlle Biro, former associate curator for the Arts of Africa, African Art in The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Daniel Carrillo, studio photographer Benjamin Harnett, independent scholar of ancient technology and digital engineer, The New York Times Marco Leona, David H. Koch Scientist in Charge, Scientific Research, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Irene Soto Marín, economic historian and assistant professor of ancient history, Harvard University Yaw Nyarko, professor of Economics, New York University Stephen Pinson, curator, Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Objects featured in this episode: Works of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (various) Roman coins (various) Staff of Office: Figures, spider web and spider motif (ȯkyeame), 19th–early 20th century. Ghana. Akan peoples, Asante group. Wood, gold foil, nails, H. 61 5/8 x W. 5 3/4 x D. 2 1/4 in. (156.5 x 14.6 x 5.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of the Richard J. Faletti Family, 1986 (1986.475a-c) For a transcript of this episode and more information, visit metmuseum.org/immaterial #MetImmaterial Immaterial is produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Magnificent Noise and hosted by Camile Dungy. This episode was produced by Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong. Special thanks to Alan Shapiro, Bobby Walsh, Lauren Johnson, and Kwabena and Rose Gyimah-Brempong.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Metals, Part One
Aug 17 2022
Metals, Part One
Philosophers and scientists have tried for millennia to crack the code of alchemy: the art of turning lead into gold. But alchemy goes much deeper than that—it gives us a framework for turning metal into story. In the first of a two-part episode on the metals of alchemy, we explore iron, bronze, lead, and copper. Our stories go deep into the basement of The Met, and back in time to a waterlogged ancient tomb. You’ll hear about books that dazzle, puppets that weep, and the long lost sound of a 2000-year-old bell. Guests: Edward Hunter, armorer and conservator, Arms and Armor, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Marco Leona, David H. Koch Scientist in Charge, Scientific Research, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Ali Olomi, professor of Middle East, Islamic, and Global Southern history, Penn State Abington Kannia Rifatulzia, translator, In-depth Creative Defri Simatupang, archaeologist, North Sumatera Archaeology Center, Indonesia Zhixin Jason Sun, Brooke Russell Astor Curator of Chinese Art, Asian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Yana Van Dyke, conservator, Paper Conservation, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Objects featured in this episode: European armor (various) Zhong bells (various) Puppet Head (Si Gale-gale), late 19th–early 20th century. Indonesia, Sumatra. Toba Batak people. Wood, copper alloy, lead alloy, water buffalo horn, paint, H. (without pull rope) 13 1/4 in. x W. 6 in. x D. 6 1/2 in. (33.7 x 15.2 x 16.5 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Fred and Rita Richman, 1987 (1987.453.6) Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp, ca. 1525–30. Opaque watercolor, ink, silver, and gold on paper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Arthur A. Houghton Jr., 1970 (1970.301.1–78) For a transcript of this episode and more information, visit metmuseum.org/immaterial #MetImmaterial Immaterial is produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Magnificent Noise and hosted by Camile Dungy. This episode was produced by Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong. Field production by Tanita Rahmani. Special thanks to Sheila Blair, Lauren Johnson, and G. Willow Wilson.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Linen
Aug 3 2022
Linen
Take a spin through The Met and you’ll find thousands of items made from linen. From a 3,500 year old sheet from Ancient Egypt, to a Giorgio Armani suit from the 1980s, linen has been a symbol of wealth and authority. But it's also been a tool for the oppression and exploitation of enslaved people in the American South, and an engine of work and comfort in the Victorian era. Suit up as we undress the legacy of linen through its complex, layered symbolism. Guests: Catharine H. Roehrig, curator emerita, Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Rachel Tashijian, fashion critic and fashion news director, Harper’s Bazaar Jonathan Square, The Gerald and Mary Ellen Ritter Memorial Fund Fellow, The Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Cora Harrington, lingerie expert, founder of The Lingerie Addict, and author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie Objects featured in this episode: Length of Very Sheer Linen Cloth, ca. 1492–1473 B.C. Egypt, New Kingdom. Linen, Greatest length 515 cm (202 3/4 in); Greatest width 161 cm (63 3/8 in); Weight 140 grams (5 oz.); 46 warp x 30 weft per sq. cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1936 (36.3.111) Armani linen suits (various) Nineteenth-century lingerie (various) For a transcript of this episode and more information, visit metmuseum.org/immaterial #MetImmaterial Immaterial is produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Magnificent Noise and hosted by Camile Dungy. This episode was produced by Eleanor Kagan. Special thanks to Emilia Cortes, Jessica Regan, Mellissa Huber, Janina Poskrobko, Cristina Carr, Kristine Kamiya, Minsun Hwang, and Dr. Vanessa Holden.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Jade
Jul 20 2022
Jade
Deep in the riverbeds of Aotearoa New Zealand’s South Island, you’ll find a stone that’s as hard as steel and as green as the first breath of the earth. It’s called pounamu, or nephrite jade. It’s been formed into everything from adzes to earrings, including hei tiki, greenstone pendants handed down in Māori families for generations. Meet a pair of hei tiki—one with two hundred years of family history, and one that's being brought back to life in The Met. From their start as colonial institutions, you'll hear about the role museums can play in setting taonga, or treasures, free. Guests: Dougal Austin, senior curator, Mātauranga Māori, Te Papa Tongarewa The Museum of New Zealand Dan Hikuroa, senior lecturer in Māori Studies, University of Auckland Maia Nuku, Evelyn A. J. Hall and John A. Friede Associate Curator for Oceanic Art, Oceanic Art in The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Lisa Ruaka Reweti, public programs presenter, Whanganui Regional Museum Featured object: Greenstone pendant (hei tiki). Aotearoa New Zealand, Maori. Nephrite jade (pounamu), H. 6 1/8 in. (15.5 cm); W. 3 in. (7.6 cm); D. 1 in. (2.5 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Heber R. Bishop, 1902 (02.18.315) For a transcript of this episode and more information, visit metmuseum.org/immaterial #MetImmaterial Immaterial is produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Magnificent Noise and hosted by Camile Dungy. This episode was produced by Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong and Rachel Smith. Special thanks to Chanel Clarke and Cellia Joe-Olsen.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Shells
Jul 6 2022
Shells
It all begins with a sea creature—a snail called a conch—and the mathematically perfect spiral it transforms into a home, which we humans then put to our lips and play like a trumpet. Throughout time and cultures, conch shells have been used to communicate across great distances, from signaling on the battlefield to connecting with the divine. Hear stories about a jazz musician who plays the conch to connect with his ancestors, why a sacred Incan site way up in the Andes became a ceremonial conch concert hall, and how a conch shell made its way from the depths of the ocean to echoing through the Great Hall of The Met. Guests: Bradley Strauchen-Scherer, curator, Musical Instruments, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Markus Sesko, associate curator of Asian arms and armor, Arms and Armor, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Steve Turre, master jazz trombonist and seashellist Jim Waterman, founder and owner of Shell World Miriam A. Kolar, scholar of archaeoacoustics and  lead investigator for the Chavín de Huántar Archaeological Acoustics Project Featured object: Conch Shell Trumpet, late 19th century. Vanuatu, Melanesian. Conch shell, 12 x 6 in. (30.5 x 15.2 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments, 1889 (89.4.772) For a transcript of this episode and more information, visit metmuseum.org/immaterial #MetImmaterial Immaterial is produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Magnificent Noise and hosted by Camile Dungy. This episode was produced by Elyse Blennerhassett. Music in this episode performed and composed by Steve Turre, Lemon Guo, Sophia Shen, Elyse Blennerhassett, Austin Fisher, and Chris Zabriskie. Shell recordings from Chavin provided by Miriam Kolar and performed by Miriam Kolar, Robert Silva, Ricardo Guerrero La Luna, Riemann Ramirez, Ronald San Miguel, and Tito La Rosa. Special thanks to Tim Caster, Markus Sesko, John Guy, Maia Nuku, James Doyle, Julia Waterman, Paul Schneider, and Peter Rinaldi.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Clay
Jun 22 2022
Clay
In seventeenth-century Europe, some of the wealthiest women in the world were doing something strange with the ceramic jars in their curiosity cabinets. They were eating them. But these clay pieces from Mexico—called búcaros—weren't just some bizarre snack. They were seen as a piece of the “New World,” one you could touch, smell, and taste. They were so well known that they even made it into the foreground of masterpiece paintings. But what is the real story behind these jars? Who is preserving this centuries-old ceramic tradition, and what does it mean to be one of the few artists who still works with this specific, sensuous clay? Guests: Fernando Jimón Melchor, master ceramics artisan from Tonalà, Mexico Federico Carò, research scientist, Scientific Research, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Margaret Connors McQuade, Deputy Director & Curator of Decorative Arts, The Hispanic Society Museum & Library Ronda Kasl, curator of Latin American Art, The American Wing, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, professor and historian of science and medicine at the University of Texas Featured object: Covered jar (Búcaros), ca. 1675–1700. Mexico, Tonalà. Earthenware, burnished, with white paint and silver leaf, 27 3/4 in. (70.5 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Sansbury-Mills Fund, 2015 (2015.45.2a, b) For a transcript of this episode and more information, visit metmuseum.org/immaterial #MetImmaterial Immaterial is produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Magnificent Noise and hosted by Camile Dungy. This episode was produced by Eleanor Kagan and Ariana Martinez. Translation, photos and field production by Fernando Hernandez Becerra of Esto no es radio. Special thanks to Marie Clapot, Monika Bincsik, Sarah Cowan, Lam Thuy Vo, and ArtShack Brooklyn.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Concrete
Jun 8 2022
Concrete
Concrete is full of contradictions. First it’s dust, then liquid, then hard as stone. It’s both rough and smooth, it’s modern and ancient, it can preserve history or play a hand in destroying it. Unsurprisingly, concrete is all about the gray area. Hear about this material from its supporters and detractors alike: why it’s so controversial, why it’s so often used in memorials, and how Colombian artist Doris Salcedo uses it to address grief and mourning. Guests: Nadine M. Orenstein, Drue Heinz Curator in Charge, Drawings and Prints, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Abraham Thomas, Daniel Brodsky Curator of Modern Architecture, Design, and Decorative Arts, Modern and Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Adrian Forty, professor of architectural history, University College London, and author of Concrete and Culture (2012) Marco Leona, David H. Koch Scientist in Charge, Scientific Research, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Iria Candela, Estrellita B. Brodsky Curator of Latin American Art, Modern and Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Featured object: Doris Salcedo (Colombian, b. 1958), Untitled, 1997–99. Wood, concrete, and steel, 32 x 15 1/4 x 16 1/2 in. (81.3 x 38.7 x 41.9 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift and Latin American Art Initiative Gift, 2020 (2020.25) For a transcript of this episode and more information, visit metmuseum.org/immaterial #MetImmaterial Immaterial is produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Magnificent Noise and hosted by Camile Dungy. This episode was produced by Eleanor Kagan. Special thanks to Doris Salcedo, Laura Ubate, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Harvard Art Museums, and the Nasher Sculpture Center. Audio © President and Fellows of Harvard College. Recorded by Danny Hoshino on November 2, 2016, Harvard Art MuseumsSee omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.