10 episodes

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.

Immaterial The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    • Arts
    • 4.8 • 92 Ratings

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.

    Bonus Episode: Tarot

    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.

    • 26 min
    Metals, Part Two

    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.

    • 49 min
    Metals, Part One

    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.

    • 56 min
    Linen

    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 symbolismGuests:Catharine H. Roehrig , curator emerita, Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of ArtRachel Tashijian , fashion critic and fashion news director, Harper’s BazaarJonathan Square, The Gerald and Mary Ellen Ritter Memorial Fund Fellow, The Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of ArtCora Harrington , lingerie expert, founder of The Lingerie Addict, and author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love LingerieObjects 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.

    • 44 min
    Jade

    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.

    • 40 min
    Shells

    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.

    • 39 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
92 Ratings

92 Ratings

the clay eaters ,

vivid and insightful

i was pulled in episode after episode by the sound design, and found myself learning so much, seeing so many things in new ways. this is a beautiful gift to anyone who is curious about the magic of the physical world and the beauty of the human imagination.

Avoidoid ,

Sound-rich and fascinating

This is a great podcast! Instead of just dryly talking about the collection, this podcast examines the materials used in art making and the sometimes complicated history of those materials. It's also a beautifully sound designed podcast and a pleasure to listen to.

paullemon ,

Fascinating backstories on art and the stuff used to make it

I’ve listened to all the episodes so far (“linen” is the latest, as of this writing).

I’ve really enjoyed the podcast. It appreciates the art and materials on an aesthetic level, and also — the two are intertwined — their histories. There are some fascinating backstories in here, and they go deep with some stuff.

The episode on CLAY takes us on a journey to Mexico, and we meet a contemporary maker of “búcaros” — clay jars — a tradition that’s been around for hundreds of years.

The episode on JADE talks with several Maori people talking about jade pendants, and they gets into some fascinating stuff about the role of museums, taking care not only of the physical artworks but of the metaphysical properties of the art.

The episode on CEMENT was also super-interesting, and talked among other things about how cement is the material of empires (or colonizers), they pave roads and make buildings as a way of establishing their economic presence and dominance.

The podcast invites us on some very cool journeys. At its best, it makes good use of sound and soundscapes, to put us in the scene.

I like the host and her presenting style. Her voice reflects her curiosity, interest, and how she savors the art and the stories behind it.

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