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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A monumental gift, an exciting and historic moment and an unrivaled collection. Those are just some of the extravagant words from another museum today, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, announcing a gift of art worth more than a billion dollars. They're cubist paintings - 78 of them - from the collection of cosmetics tycoon Leonard Lauder, but they are not your typical Met fare.

For more on Mr. Lauder's gift and what it means for the Met, we're joined by Carol Vogel. She's an arts reporter for The New York Times. And, Carol, let's start with the art. What's in this Lauder collection and help us understand its place within the world of cubism.

CAROL VOGEL: Well, there are a lot of firsts in this collection. The first time that cubism was ever exhibited and that the public could see it and actually criticize it, which they did because it was so shockingly different from anything they'd known before, was in 1908 in a Paris exhibition. And Mr. Lauder was able to buy two wonderful paintings by Braque from that exhibition. He also was able to get what's considered the first cubist painting that Picasso ever made in 1909.

There are all kinds of things - the first collages that were ever made that incorporated wonderful things like sand and bits of newspaper and things like that, all of those kinds of firsts are in his collection. He waited very, very patiently for years, often, to get just the right thing to fill in a gap in the story of cubism.

CORNISH: And I know you've actually interviewed Leonard Lauder. Tell us a bit more about him.

VOGEL: Well, he's terribly charming, terribly focused as a collector, adores art, has been very involved with museums in the city before and realizing that the Metropolitan Museum didn't have the kind of cubist art that an institution of that stature should have. He really targeted the gift for them.

CORNISH: How big a deal is it that he is offering this art with no strings attached, no restrictions or conditions on how it's displayed or where it's displayed?

VOGEL: Well, I think that's a pretty big deal because there are a lot of collections that have come to institutions with very, very strict guidelines. They have to be either shown together as a whole collection, or they can't be split up, or they can't travel past that museum. And I think realizing that the Metropolitan Museum is an encyclopedic institution - and this work not only harks back to something like tribal African art or back to the future of all the young artists who are looking at cubism for inspiration, that there are so many different kinds of exhibitions that can tell different stories - realizing that, he just simply gave it to the - or is giving it to the museum.

CORNISH: Now, as we mentioned, these paintings aren't the sort of thing that one normally finds at the Met. How do they fit into the current collection there?

VOGEL: They fit in absolutely perfectly because the Met is really trying to build its 20th century holdings. This was a chapter that was not as well represented because, of course, at the time that cubism was getting very, very hot and was being made was just at the moment that the Museum of Modern Art was being founded. And so that was the focus of new art back then. The Met sort of fell by the wayside in telling this story. And now, so many years later, they realized this was a huge gap.

CORNISH: So what will be done with the art? I mean, will we see an exhibit almost immediately?

VOGEL: We're going to be seeing an exhibit in 2014, which the curators are working on right now. And what's interesting is even though major, major pieces from this collection have been included in exhibitions all over the world, it's never been shown as a collection together. So in 2014, when the Met has this, it'll be the first time that anybody who hasn't known Mr. Lauder and seen his art will see what his collection looks like and how it hangs together as a sort of story within the history of art.

CORNISH: Carol Vogel is arts reporter for The New York Times. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

VOGEL: Thank you.

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