WRB—Feb. 2023 Arts Supplement
When modern devices fail, it is our nature to reach back among the cures of our fathers. If those fail, there were fathers before them. We can reach back for centuries.
[I’m going to limit my gallery round-up to the greater Washington area with occasional excursions as far north as Philadelphia and as far south as Norfolk. —Nic]
Julian Bell reminds us in the London Review of Books that the acute accent in “Cézanne” is an affectation adopted by the artist’s admirers and never really used by Cezanne himself.
The Bean has arrived in New York. We can only hope it doesn’t make its way down I-95. [Though if it did, the city would probably install it in Navy Yard or on the Wharf, where I would never have to see it. —Nic]
In The New Criterion, Michael J. Lewis defends Eero Saarinen against the claims that his publicist wife influenced his actual designs.
Within the twenty-four-hour intimacy of a marital/business relationship, there can be constant communication that leaves no paper trail whatsoever. The best that Hagberg can offer is proximity: “she was in the office, sitting at a desk facing Eero’s, during the late 1950s, and it is reasonable to infer . . . that she would have supported anything that promoted extensive dialogue about design.” Doubtless the Saarinens had scintillating conversations, but conversation hardly makes you a collaborator; there is a broad continuum between the roles of sounding board, editor, and coauthor as Aline played them, and the biographer’s task is to parse out those distinct capacities.
Also in TNC, an update from the Cleveland Museum of Art. [One of my old haunts. —Nic]
[I’d be curious to know if readers want to see photography covered in this newsletter. My immediate thought is “no”—much for the same reasons that we have a separate supplement for film. But obviously I like looking at photographs too, and if anyone wants to read about them, I’m happy to oblige. —Nic] [“The illiteracy of the future will be ignorance not of reading or writing, but of photography.” —Chris]
The Financial Times takes a deep dive on the campaign to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece.
How Salvador Dalí Built His Brand [So what’s the deal with this acute? —Chris]
The National Gallery has loaned a Vermeer to the Rijksmuseum for the largest show on the artist ever. The effect of seeing so many of his tightly composed portraits all at once is dizzying, writes Jackie Wullschläger: “So potent is his vision of interiority and the eternal presence of things that when you leave the show, the other paintings in the Rijksmuseum's permanent collection look suddenly too large, obvious, strident.”
[It closed late last year, but Washington’s own Vermeer retrospective had a comical news hook: one of the paintings was a fake. —Nic]
The Hirshhorn will be the arena for a reality T.V. show to be aired on MTV, the museum’s latest attempt to connect with “a younger demographic as well as a more mature demographic.”
At the National Gallery, a Philip Guston retrospective (March 2–August 27).
And in the Times, Roberta Smith asks if maybe there’s too much Guston at the Met:
This is also a period when museums are seen as overstocked treasure houses. Careful consideration should be given to how many artworks museums assume responsibility for. It would seem the last thing the Met needs is an enormous monument to an exemplar of America’s most famous art movement . . . The Met does not own 96 paintings by any other European or American painter, living or dead—nor do most American museums. For perspective, the Museum of Modern Art has 55 paintings by Picasso and just 34 by Matisse. The Guggenheim has 70 paintings by Kandinsky and the Whitney has 222 Hoppers, but a great number of these are early or small works. Furthermore, these artists are foundational to their respective institutions’ identities—present from their founding, if not before.”
[Personally, I’ve always found Guston amusing. When he and Philip Roth were hiding out in upstate New York in the early Seventies, both became obsessed with Richard Nixon. Roth produced the novel Our Gang, and Guston, inspired by his friend, made a book of illustrations, Poor Richard. The less said about both, the better. —Nic]
The Portrait Gallery has a biographical installation on Maya Lin (through April 16). [Louis Menand’s old profile of Lin is still worth a read. It’s somehow fitting that the creator of the Vietnam memorial would think of herself in these terms: “If you ask Maya Lin what type of artist she is, one of the things she will say is ‘Midwestern.’ She was born in Athens, Ohio, twenty miles from West Virginia, on the fringes of the Appalachians. Although her architecture shows Scandinavian and Asian influences (she studied in Denmark and Japan), almost all the rest of her work—the memorials, the sculpture, the landscape art, the installations—takes its inspiration from the hills, stones, and streams of southeastern Ohio.” —Nic]
In Smithsonian, a profile of Lin, who hilariously declined to speak to the publication arm of the museum highlighting her career, citing a desire to keep her “inner world private.”
And on the stage in New York, a play (through February 19) about the obstacles Lin faced in getting the Vietnam memorial built. The reviews are not exactly complimentary: “The remaining story is pressed into a parable of art versus oppression, and the didacticism weighs on the performances.” (New Yorker), “Process-driven” (the Times).
Dumbarton Oaks has an exhibition on medieval gardens (through July 31). [I love how Dumbarton Oaks constantly reshuffles its collection to entice new visitors. Not that there’s any reason to do so. Beatrix Farrand’s design for the grounds is perfect and speaks for itself. It is still one of my favorite places to wander around, even a decade after the first time I visited. —Nic]
Out in the Maryland suburbs, Glenstone has put up a Kara Walker installation. [I’ve always thought that Walker is kitsch. I will forever associate her with that one Detroyer song which Dan Bejar admits was basically thrust on him and has nothing to do with Walker, with whom he was unfamiliar: “I like the idea of the song being about her, even though I know very little about her work, and even less about her as a person, and I don’t think it’s about her, any more than it’s about me.” —Nic]
April 18 | Rizzoli
Giorgio de Chirico: Life and Paintings
by Fabio Benzi
From the publisher: This is the most comprehensive volume probing the life and work of the modern art icon Giorgio de Chirico.
Giorgio de Chirico was one of the most controversial and consequential artists of the twentieth century—a key member of the Paris avant-garde, he was a major influence on other artists, especially the nascent surrealists. His repertoire of motifs—empty arcades, elongated shadows, mannequins, trains—created images of forlorn emptiness that became iconic.
Artists inspired by de Chirico’s early work include Yves Tanguy, Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, and René Magritte. His influence also extended beyond painting and included writers and poets Guillaume Apollinaire, André Breton, John Ashbery, and Sylvia Plath, filmmakers Jacques Prévert and Michelangelo Antonioni, and even David Bowie, who admired de Chirico’s genderless tailors’ dummies that inspired his music videos.
After the Great War, he turned toward neoclassicism and bitterly fell out with the surrealists and the mainstream modernist movement—in the process, becoming an outspoken outsider of the art world.
This in-depth examination of the artist’s life and work by the world’s foremost de Chirico authority is based on new archival research and offers a fresh view of de Chirico’s relationship with surrealism, fascism, forgery, and the European avant-gardes.