As of February 2011 in New York City, the grand façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was adorned with giant banners touting artifacts from China’s Qing dynasty, a large Roman mosaic discovered in Israel, “card player” canvases by Cézanne, a Renaissance masterwork by Filippino Lippi, and then something altogether different. “Guitar Heroes: Legendary Craftsmen from Italy to New York,” on view until July 4, is an exhibit of stunning archtops built by John D’Angelico (1905-1964), Jimmy D’Aquisto (1935-1995) and John Monteleone (born 1947).
On one level, these guitars are utilitarian objects, tools that have helped shape the sound of American jazz and popular music. Yet many are also fine and rare works of art, standing up well next to the Met’s many other treasures. “The work of these three luthiers is firmly rooted in the long history of Italian, particularly Neapolitan, stringed instrument making,” explains curator Jayson Kerr Dobney in a companion book to the exhibit. Sensibly, “Guitar Heroes” looks not only at the work of D’Angelico and other immigrant builders who plied their trade in New York in the early 1900s, but also the work of their Italian forebears from Cremona, Padua, Naples and elsewhere, stretching back to the 17th century. “I’m in huge company,” said Monteleone, taking stock of the offerings at a press preview. “I’m incredibly humbled and honored.”