Author posts

Why Hitchcock's "Vertigo" Is the Greatest Movie Ever — Better than "Citizen Kane"

Bored by “Citizen Kane”? Looking back from our era of psychologically messed up lead characters (think Bryan Cranston’s Walter Whitein Breaking Bad), Vertigo seems decades ahead of its time.

Tattoos that historical figures might have had today

If tattoos had always been as popular as they are today, here is what Charles Darwin, Henry V, Lord Nelson, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama might have inked.

How dark was Degas’ dark side?

There's a strange beauty, yes, but also a violence to Degas' technique. Where did that violence come from?

The Man Who Broke Baseball’s Color Line Before Jackie Robinson

Why did Jackie Robinson have to break baseball’s color line in 1947 after another man broke it almost 70 years before?

Is Amanda Palmer the Prototypical Artist of the Future?

Is Amanda Palmer (who turns 40 today!), queen of pop-up concerts, kickstarter, and social media, the prototypical artist of the future?

Is James Brown the Key to Solving America’s Race Puzzle?

Author-musician James McBride claims that James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, holds the secret to America’s race-torn soul.

What secrets did Shakespeare take to the grave?

What secrets did Shakespeare take to his grave 400 years ago?  Are the plays the thing to unlock the mysteries of literature’s king?

Why Do People Love to Hate Renoir?

Impressionist master or indulgent misogynist?  Why do people either love Renoir or love to hate him?

Did Batman Begin Modern Nerd Culture?

If Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice made you mad, maybe you’re part of the modern nerd culture Batman began.

Who Really Killed the Beatles?

We heard the news today, 46 years ago, that the Beatles were no more.  But who was the real killer in the magical mystery tour of the Fab Four’s finale?

How the Venus de Milo Changed Female Beauty

More than just a pretty face, the Venus de Milo (rediscovered on this date in 1820) has changed ideas of female beauty ever since, often in surprising ways.

Who Made Beethoven Mad Enough to Un-Dedicate a Symphony?

If a politician’s broken promises ever broke your heart, Beethoven knew how you feel.

Who Is Today’s “Man of a Thousand Faces”?

Actor Lon Chaney was the movies’ original “Man of a Thousand Faces.”  Who is the man (or woman) of a thousand faces today?

Laura Poitras's Survival Guide for Living Under Total Surveillance

Artist Laura Poitras—the filmmaker who helped Edward Snowden—shows Americans how to survive total surveillance in a new exhibition.

Are We Still Living in the Age of Pop Art?

Warhol may be dead, but Pop Art is not—it’s more international, relevant, and alive than ever.

How World War I Changed Pablo Picasso

Picasso didn’t fight in World War I, but he still struggled with how that war influenced his art and life.

No Joke: Terry Jones Explains the Last (and Next) Financial Crisis

Monty Python’s Terry Jones argues that economics isn’t a science—it’s history!  Forgetting that history inevitably dooms us to the next financial crisis.

Take the Challenge: Can You Name Five Women Artists?

For Women’s History Month 2016, take the #5WomenArtists challenge and test your (sexist?) art history knowledge.

The Man Who Turned American Movies Into Art

Before #OscarsSoWhite and #MoviesSoBland, William Cameron Menzies turned American movies into art.

Hieronymus Bosch: Freakiest Artist Ever?

On the 500th anniversary of the death of Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch, his native Netherlands is letting the freak flags fly.

Music to My Eyes: Walter Martin Sings Art History

Walter Martin sings about art history in his new album Arts and Leisure and makes music for your eyes.

Why Richard Pryor Still Speaks to Artists

Artists such as Glenn Ligon still look to comedian Richard Pryor to make sense of the African-American experience.

Did the Most Political Artist on Earth Just Sell Out?

Chinese activist Ai Weiwei is the most political artist on Earth. Did he just sell his soul to a department store?

Finding the Lighter Side of Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko’s suicide colored how we’ve seen his art ever since. His son’s book paints a brighter, richer picture.

Try out These Art and Music Pairings to Get More out of Both

Resolved to be more cultured in 2016? Try these art and music pairings to learn to savor more of both.

Why Do We Only Discover Artists When They Die?

Don’t know Ellsworth Kelly or his art? Now’s your chance — he’s dead.

Should We Reopen the Book on Freud?

Freud was much more than the Id and Oedipus, and he may be the answer to today’s problems.

Can You Draw Your Way to Zen?

Always wanted the Zen, but without the meditation? Maybe drawing is your path to mindfulness.

It's More Than Strange Politics. America Has a Serious Gun Fetish.

If all the rational arguments argue against American gun culture, then the irrational (sometimes creepy) ones must be to blame for our fatal firearms attraction.

Do These Images Show a 'Beautiful' Side to War?

The New York Times and other media make war too pretty for our own good.

Is This the Greatest National Museum in the World?

No national museum captures its country’s greatness as perfectly as Russia’s Hermitage.

Is it Time for Hippie Modernism Again?

Turn on, tune in, drop out, but read on about how Hippies and Hippie Modernism might rise again.

Did This Painting Start Modern Art?

Roll over, Picasso, and tell Kandinsky the news.

What American Art Can Teach Us About American History

American stuff is the stuff of American history, as recorded in still life painting.

How Hitler Turned Interior Design into Propaganda

Think your interior decorator is evil? Imagine Hitler’s.

God Complex: How Rubens Flipped the Script on Michelangelo

Rubens’ Prometheus literally flips Michelangelo’s Christ on his head to look at art and gods in a whole new way.

The Most Influential Modern Artist You've Never Heard Of

Vilhelm Hammershøi’s tranquil, yet unsettling interiors make him the most influential artist you’ve never heard of.

Andy Crush: Warhol, Boredom, and Technology

What does the art of Andy Warhol tell us about the nature of boredom and the ways we try to escape (and enjoy) it?

Child’s Play: Picasso the Sculptor

Painting for Picasso was rule-breaking, serious business, but sculpture was rule-innocent child’s play.

Heavy Metal: Modern Meanings from Ancient Iron

A new Barnes Foundation show highlights the connections between ancient artisanal ironwork and modern art.

How Botticelli shaped the modern notion of beauty

It happened 500 years ago — and again in the 19th century.

Piercing the Surface: Thomas Merton’s Zen Photography

To mark the centennial of Trappist monk, poet, theologian, and social activist Thomas Merton’s birth, a new exhibition focuses on his photography and how those photos are not just images to contemplate, but also ways of Zen contemplation.

Borderline: How ‘Repellent Fence’ Clears Up the Immigration Debate

From “Border Walls” to “Anchor Babies,” the immigration debate heats up every American presidential election. An art instillation challenges the cruelty of much of that rhetoric and questions the very idea of borders.

Scientific Revolutions in Optics Made Vermeer a Revolutionary Painter

Why do Vermeer’s paintings fascinate us so? Perhaps the reason lies behind a revolution in seeing in both art and science rooted in Vermeer’s 17th century Holland.

Days of Infamy: August 21 and 22 and Major Art Heists

For art history, August 21 and 22 are the dates that will live in infamy. In some strange nexus of negative karma stretching over nearly a century, three of the greatest art heists of all time took place on these dates.

Electric Apostasy: The Day Bob Dylan Died

For the 1960s generation, however, “the day the music died” was July 25, 1965 — the day when Bob Dylan crashed the 1965 Newport Folk Festival stage with an electric guitar in front of him and rock band behind him to rip into a loud, raucous version of his new hit, “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Atomic Sublime: How Photography Shapes our View of Nuclear Warfare and Energy

The 70th anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will undoubtedly be accompanied by images of the “mushroom clouds” that rose over both cities. Terrible and sublime, these images burned themselves into the consciousness of “the greatest generation” and every generation since that’s lived with both the legacy of nuclear war and the reality of nuclear energy. A new exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario titled Camera Atomica looks deeply at the interrelated nature of photography and nuclear war and peace to come away with a fascinating glimpse of the calculatedly manufactured “atomic sublime” — the fascination with such terrible power at our command that simply won’t let us look away.

A Beautiful Mind: Agnes Martin, Minimalism, and the Feminist Voice

“When I think of art, I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life,” minimalist artist Agnes Martin once explained. “It is not in the eye; it is in my mind. In our minds there is awareness of perfection.” In the first comprehensive survey of her art at the Tate Modern, in London, England, the exhibition Agnes Martin strives to guide viewers to that “awareness of perfection” Martin strove to embody in her minimalist, geometrically founded art. Rather than the cold, person-less brand of modernist minimalism, Martin’s work personifies the warm humanity of Buddhist editing down to essentials. At the same time, surveying Martin’s art and thinking allows us to revisit the feminist critiques of minimalism and shows how Martin’s stepping back from the bustle of the New York art scene freed her to find “a beautiful mind” — not just for women, but for everyone.

Between Two Worlds: The Unveiling of Yasuo Kuniyoshi

When the Whitney Museum of American Art decided to stage in 1948 their first exhibition of a living American artist, they chose someone who wasn’t even an American citizen, but only legally could become one just before his death. Painter Yasuo Kuniyoshi came to America as a teenager and immersed himself in American culture and art while rising to the top of his profession, all while facing discrimination based on his Japanese heritage.  The exhibition The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi, which runs through August 30, 2015 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, unveils an amazing story of an artist who lived between two worlds — East and West — while bridging them in his art that not only synthesized different traditions, but also mirrored the joys and cruelties of them.

Crude Behavior: How Big Oil Tries to 'Artwash' Itself

A prominent performance artist accuses Big Oil of focusing more on cleaning up their image than their business’ collateral damage... and charges cultural institutions that take Big Oil sponsorship money as accomplices to that crime.

Omnivore’s Dilemma: Rethinking John Singer Sargent

The standard line against painter John Singer Sargent goes like this: a very good painter of incredible technique, but little substance who flattered the rich and famous with decadently beautiful portraiture — a Victorian Andrea del Sarto of sorts whose reach rarely exceeded his considerable artistic grasp. A new exhibition of Sargent’s work and the accompanying catalogues argue that he was much more than a painter of pretty faces. Instead, the exhibition Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends and catalogues challenge us to see Sargent’s omnivorous mind, which swallowed up nascent modernist movements not just in painting, but also in literature, music, and theater. Sargent the omnivore’s dilemma thus lies in being too many things at once and tasking us to multitask with him.

Why the Best Film about Pablo Picasso Is a Graphic Novel

Artists aren’t easy people to be around sometimes. Genius and jerk often walk hand in hand. They may suffer for their art, but those who support them often become collateral damage in the quest for immortality. Making a biopic of any artist and balancing the good with the bad seems an almost impossible task. Making a biopic of Pablo Picasso, a classic case study of the genius-as-jerk, that praises the painting while honestly assessing the collateral damage to women has never satisfactorily been filmed.  But where cinema fails, maybe the cinematic graphic novel can succeed.  The graphic novel Pablo, written by Julie Birmant and illustrated by Clément Oubrerie, is the best “film” ever made about one of the founding fathers of modern art — a portrait of intertwined genius and jerk that never loses sight of either side.

The Gambler: How Paul Durand-Ruel Bet Big on Impressionism (and Won)

What would you do? Imagine you’re a politically conservative, devoutly religious art dealer fleeing your war-torn country when you suddenly see art radically unlike anything you’ve seen before. Do you stay the course or gamble on this next “big thing”? Now add the sudden death of your pregnant young wife, which leaves you with five children under the age of nine whose futures now depend entirely on your choices. Do you roll the dice with your life and theirs? If you’re Paul Durand-Ruel and that artist is Claude Monet, the original Impressionist, you don't just make that bet; you go “all in” — staking your family’s fortunes to those of a family of revolutionary artists. The exhibition Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting, currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, goes “all in” with Durand-Ruel’s gamble and pays off big with a stirring tale of personal courage and art history in the making.

Forbidden Fruit: To See or Not to See Nazi Propaganda Films?

On January 1, 2016, one of the most infamous books of the 20th century — Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf — enters public domain and can be published by anyone in Germany for the first time since the end of World War II. Seventy years after the fall of the Nazis, people still debate allowing that particularly evil genii out of the bottle to influence young minds. Others argue that the genii’s been out of the bottle all along, either through underground sources or, more recently, the Internet. More controllable, however, have been the propaganda films of the Nazis, whose chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, announced in 1941 that, “Film is our most important medium for propaganda.” Felix Moeller’s new documentary Forbidden Films: The Hidden Legacy of Nazi Film examines this question of allowing new generations to see these banned films and, if so, how to show them without that evil history repeating itself.

The Disruptive Roots of African Art Studies in America

The Barnes Foundation’s current exhibition, Mark Dion, Judy Pfaff, Fred Wilson: The Order of Things, epitomizes the business buzz phrase “disruptive innovation” like few other museum shows (which I wrote about here). Disrupt or die, the thinking goes. Old orders must make way for new. Coincidentally, as the Barnes Foundation, home of Dr. Albert Barnes’ meticulously and idiosyncratically ordered collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces left just so since his death in 1951, invites outsider artists to question and challenge Dr. Barnes’ old order, it also publishes their own insider’s critical “warts and all” assessment of Dr. Barnes’ relationship to African art and African-Americans. In African Art in the Barnes Foundation: The Triumph of L’Art nègre and the Harlem Renaissance, scholar Christa Clarke reassesses Dr. Barnes intentions and results in his building of the first great African art collection in America. “More than just formal accents to modernist paintings and other Western art in the collection,” Clarke argues, “African art deserves to be seen as central to the aesthetic mission and progressive vision that was at the very heart of the Barnes Foundation.”

Better Late Than Never: Yoko Ono at the MoMA

John Lennon liked to joke that Yoko Ono was “the world’s most famous unknown artist.” Before she infamously “broke up the Beatles” (but not really), Ono built an internationally recognized career as an artist in the developing fields of Conceptual art, experimental film, and performance art. Unfairly famous then and now for all the wrong reasons, Ono’s long fought in her own humorously sly way for recognition, beginning with her self-staged 1971 “show” Museum of Modern (F)art, a performance piece in which she dreamed of a one-woman exhibition of her work at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Now, more than 40 years later, the MoMA makes that dream come true with the exhibition Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960–1971. Better late than never, this exhibition of the pre-Lennon and early-Lennon Ono establishes her not just as the world’s most famous unknown artist, but the most unfairly unknown one, too.

Southern Gothic Punk: Reading Nell Zink’s 'Mislaid'

If Flannery O’Connor somehow birthed the love child of Sid Vicious, she might end up sounding like novelist Nell Zink. Equal parts Southern Gothic’s grotesquely twisted charm and punk and alternative music’s insiderish anti-establishmentism, Zink’s second novel Mislaid will disorient you until you let it delight you. Zink’s mix — which I’ll call Southern Gothic Punk — might be an acquired taste, but a taste well worth experiencing if only to break out of the contemporary rut of MFA-programed, sound-alike fiction that’s become the bubblegum pop of today’s literature.

A Show About Nothing: Richard Tuttle’s Mindfulness Masterpieces

More than 20 years ago, the sitcom Seinfeld went “meta” and joked that it was “a show about nothing.” But 20 years before George Costanza’s epiphany, artist Richard Tuttle was staging shows about nothing featuring works such as Wire Piece (detail shown above) — a piece of florist wire nailed at either end to a wall marked with a penciled line. But, as Jerry concludes, there’s “something” in that “nothing.” A new retrospective of Tuttle’s art at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, Both/And: Richard Tuttle Print and Cloth, dives into the depths, and widths, of this difficultly philosophical, yet compellingly simple artist who takes the everyday nothings of line, paper, and cloth to create extraordinary statements about the need to be mindful of the artful world all around us.

Disruptive Innovations: Reordering the Barnes Foundation

Few business buzzphrases draw as much interest (and ire) as “disruptive innovation.”  Disrupt or die, the thinking goes. Old orders must make way for new. At the Barnes Foundation, home of Dr. Albert Barnes’ meticulously and idiosyncratically ordered collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces left just so since his death in 1951, three artistic innovators aim at questioning and challenging Dr. Barnes’ old order.  Mark Dion, Judy Pfaff, Fred Wilson: The Order of Things invites three award-winning, contemporary installation artists to disrupt the existing paradigm at the Barnes and assist us in seeing Dr. Barnes and his collection in a whole new way.

Body Language: Why Comics Still (and May Always) Get Women Heroes Wrong

No matter how hard they try, comics never seem to be able to turn the genderist tide. As Jill Lepore points out, “They all look like porn stars.” Why do comics still get women heroes wrong?

The Glam-Ur-ous Life: Archaeology and Modern Art

When British archaeologist Leonard Woolley discovered in December 1927 the tomb of Puabi, the queen/priestess of the Sumerian city of Ur during the First Dynasty of Ur more than 4,000 years ago, the story rivaled that of Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt just five years earlier. “Magnificent with jewels,” as Woolley described it, Puabi’s tomb contained the bodies of dozens of attendants killed to accompany her in the afterlife — the ideal material for a headline-grabbing PR campaign that momentarily shouldered Tut out of the spotlight. A new exhibit at New York’s The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World titled From Ancient to Modern: Archaeology and Aesthetics puts Puabi back in the spotlight to examine how archaeology and aesthetics intersected, transforming ancient art into modern and making modern art strive to be ancient.

Eye Opening: Modern Art and the Early Days of American Television

By the 1960s the two most criticized art forms in America were modern art and television.  Some critics called modern art mystifying junk, while others targeted TV as anything from trash to a threat to democracy.  Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television at The Jewish Museum, New York, hopes to redeem both media by exploring how modern art provided an ethos and aesthetic for early television — a debt repaid later as television, in turn, inspired a new generation of modern artists, including Andy Warhol, who began as a modernist-influenced graphic designer for, among other clients, television networks. By looking back at modern art and television’s mutual love affair from the 1940s to the 1970s, Revolution of the Eye challenges us to reflect on the artistic aspirations of TV’s latest golden age.

The Shock of the New (and Old): The Whitney Museum’s New Home

With the May 1st grand opening to the public of its new building in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, the Whitney Museum launches a new era not only in the New York City art scene, but also, possibly, in the very world of museums. Thanks to a Renzo Piano-designed new building built, as Whitney Director Adam D. Weinberg put it, “from the inside out” to serve the interests of the art and the patrons first, the new Whitney and its classic collection of American art stretching back to 1900 has drawn excited raves and exasperated rants from critics. Their inaugural exhibition, America Is Hard to See, gathers together long-loved classic works with rarely seen newcomers to create a paradox of old and new to mirror the many paradoxes of the American history the art embodies and critiques by turns. This shock of the new (and old) is the must-see art event of the year.

Like a Rolling Stone: Was 1965 the Most Revolutionary Year in Music?

What do “Yesterday,” “Satisfaction,” “My Generation,” “The Sound of Silence,” “California Girls,” and “Like a Rolling Stone” all have in common? They were all hits in 1965, the year author Andrew Grant Jackson calls “the most revolutionary year in music.” In 1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music, Jackson weaves a fascinating narrative of how popular music and social change influenced one another to create a year memorable not only for great music, but also for great progress in American culture. In this whirlwind tour of multiple genres of music as well as multiple pressing political issues, Jackson states a compelling case for 1965 as a key turning point in American music and society as well as provides a mirror for how music and society interact today, 50 years later.

Vision Loss: The Forgotten German Prophets Secretly Behind Modern Art

The forgotten aspects of art history will always be the most intriguing. Digging up the dead storylines of art history, whether in the distant or the recent past, will never end, mostly thanks to forces that buried the facts, if not the bodies, for whatever agenda. Artists and Prophets: A Secret History of Modern Art 1872-1972 at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt resurrects German visionaries and Jesus wannabes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries to look at how their exploits and artistic creations helped shape the course of German and European modern art. It also shines light on how the impact of those figures fell into obscurity as another casualty of the ideological war waged by that most unfortunately unforgettable of German messianic aspirants — Adolf Hitler.

Flower Power: Women, Gardens, and the Dawn of American Impressionism

American Impressionism’s often been seen as a pale copy of the French Impressionism that flowered in the late 19th century. Although American Impressionists early on copied their French counterparts (and even made pilgrimages to Monet’s Giverny garden and home), the exhibition The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887–1920, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts through May 24, 2015, proves that American Impressionism quickly blossomed into something distinct—and distinctly American—by the turn of the 20th century. Capturing aesthetically a moment of contradictions as American nativism threatened to close borders while women’s suffrage struggled to open doors, The Artist’s Garden demonstrates the power of flowers to speak volumes about the American past, and present.

Repairing the World: The Road to The Rothko Chapel

Of the many concepts of Judaism artist Mark Rothko took to heart, the idea of tikkun olam, Hebrew for “repairing the world,” penetrated the deepest. In Mark Rothko: Toward the Light in the Chapel, academic and a cultural historian Annie Cohen-Solal cuts to the heart of Rothko’s life and art and sheds new light on how both seemingly had to end at The Rothko Chapel (shown above), the Houston home of Rothko’s final works that he tragically didn’t live long enough to see himself. In this tightly focused new biography, Cohen-Solal shows us both how The Rothko Chapel culminates Rothko’s life-long mission to repair his world and how it continues to serve as a light of hope in our darkening world.

Comebacks: Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and the City of Detroit

Few American cultural institutions stared as deep into the yawning, austerity-driven abyss of large-scale deaccessioning as The Detroit Institute of Arts. When the City of Detroit declared bankruptcy in 2013, vulturous creditors circled the DIA’s collection, estimated worth (depending on the estimator) of $400 million to over $800 million. Some experts see signs of a Detroit comeback, however, but one very visible sign is the new DIA exhibition Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit, a showcase of the city’s ties to Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera as well as a tribute to Kahlo’s and Rivera’s own artistic comebacks. Few exhibitions truly capture the spirit of a city at a critical moment in its history, but Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit is a show of comebacks that will have you coming back for more.

Death at the Museum: Tunisia, ISIS, Civilization, and Survival

The attack at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, Tunisia, on March 18, 2015, was an attack on civilization itself. Not just Tunisian civilization or Western civilization or Islamic civilization or Christian civilization — ALL civilization. ISIS may not have been directly involved in the Tunisian attack, but its iconoclastic, its “year zero” philosophy certainly was present. The fact that these attackers targeted tourists seeking out ancient civilizations rather than the artifacts of those ancient civilizations makes this latest tragedy even more chilling. The Bardo National Museum attacks may one day emerge as the first battle in the ultimate fight for civilization’s survival.

“Starf@#king”?: Björk at the MoMA

It’s hard to remember a major show at a major American museum generating so much angst as Björk at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Some arts sites quickly began aggregating art critics’ aggravation over almost every detail of the show. What began as art criticism evolved into a media lynching of the MoMA, American museums, and pandering-to-the-public curators (in this case, Klaus Biesenbach). New York art world critics, and husband-and-wife team, Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith hated the show in different ways, but both connected to their love of Björk and her music. ArtNews’ M.H. Miller wins the poison pen prize, however, for coining the new critical term “starf@#king” to describe the MoMA’s treatment of Björk as much as its treatment of the viewing public. The question of whether Björk is good or not might really be a question of what Björk is really about.

How to Capture the Soul: Rodin's Portraits

While looking at Jean-Antoine Houdon’s portrait bust of Voltaire in the Louvre, sculptor Auguste Rodin remarked, “To tell the truth, there is no artistic work that requires as much penetrating insight as the bust and the portrait. ... Such a work is the equivalent of a biography.” On a separate occasion, Rodin stated, “The resemblance that [the artist] should achieve is that of the soul. Only this matters.” A new, full-scale reinstallation at the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, focuses on Rodin putting those words into practice in his own portrait busts. Known for his large-scale, full-bodied works such as The Kiss, Rodin imbued an equal amount of passion into his symbolic, soulful portraits of friends, lovers, and the famous.

Andy Warhol’s Masturbation Metaphor

In a 1977 interview with Glenn O’Brien for the marijuana lifestyle magazine High Times, O’Brien asked Andy Warhol if his teachers recognized his early “natural talent.” “Something like that,” Warhol responded with his characteristic unconventionality, “unnatural talent.” Warhol’s “unnatural talent” quip alluded not only to his mass-produced, machine-like paintings of soup cans and silk screen portraits, but also to his sexual orientation — the “unnatural” life of a homosexual. Just as Warhol turned that verbal double play, art scholar Michael Maizels tries to touch those two bases of Warhol’s art in “Doing It Yourself: Machines, Masturbation, and Andy Warhol” in the Fall 2014 issue of Art Journal. For Maizels, the way that Warhol made art reflected the way Warhol lived his life as a homosexual male in late 20th century America. When we look at Warhol’s art, Maizels suggests, we should see not just a critique of commercialized society and its art, but also a critique of that same society’s sexual tolerance.

Unlocking the Mystery of Japan through the Art of the Kano

Ever since American Commodore Matthew C. Perry sailed into Uraga Harbor near Edo (the earlier name for Tokyo) on July 8, 1853, ending the isolationist policy of sakoku and “opening” (willingly or not) Japan to the West, “the Land of the Rising Sun” and its culture have fascinated Westerners. Yet, despite this fascination, true understanding of that history remains elusive. A new exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Ink and Gold: Art of the Kano builds a cultural bridge for Westerners to Japan’s heritage through the art of the “Kano School,” a family of painters to the powerful who influenced all of Japanese art from the 15th to the late 19th century. Combining the sumptuousness of golden artworks with the compelling story of their makers, Ink and Gold: Art of the Kano offers the key to unlocking the mystery of Japan through the art of the Kano.

Piero di Cosimo: Renaissance “Madman” for the Modern Age

Half a millennium later, you would think the Italian Renaissance could hold no more secrets from us, no “codes” to decipher. And, yet, secrets hiding in plain sight continue to startle modern audiences with the depth and breadth of that amazing era. One of the well-kept secrets, at least until now, was the work of Piero di Cosimo, subject of his first major retrospective, Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.  Called “a madman” for his personal and artistic quirks by Renaissance chronicler Giorgio Vasari, Piero’s ability to paint in multiple genres all with a dizzying amount of detail may have seemed madness to contemporaries, but appeals to modern audiences conditioned for such visual assaults. There may have been a method to Piero di Cosimo’s madness after all.

The Sweet, Happy Side of Philip Larkin, the Sour, Sad Poet

“They f**k you up, your mum and dad,” poet Philip Larkin wrote in the late work “This Be the Verse.” “They may not mean to, but they do./ They fill you with the faults they had/ And add some extra, just for you.” Larkin kidded that those lines would be his best remembered, a guess not too far off 30 years after his death. Where others see in those lines a perfect portrait of the sour, sad curmudgeon poet, in the new biography Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love, James Booth sees something different. “The poem’s sentiment is sad, but the poem is full of jouissance,” Booth argues. “This must bid fair to be the funniest serious English poem of the 20th century.” Likewise, Larkin — target of posthumous charges of racism, misogyny, and assorted cruelties — could lay claim to being the “funniest serious” English poet of the 20th century. Booth, who knew and worked with Larkin, shows the sweet, happy side of the sour, sad poet and makes a strong case for learning to love Larkin again, if not for the first time.

“Birth of a Nation” and the Birth of American Cinema

On February 8, 1915, at Clune's Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation premiered. The fledgling art form of film would never be the same, especially in America, which even half a century after the end of the Civil War struggled to come to terms with race. Now, a century after Birth of a Nation’s premier, America still struggles not only with race, but also with how race plays out on the silver screen. For good and ill, Birth of a Nation marks the beginning of the first 100 years of the American Cinema—epically beautiful, yet often racially ugly.

Is the Future of Museums Really Online?

In a world where the future of seemingly everything is online, museums — those repositories of the past — seem to resist the internet’s full digital embrace. It’s a question that’s increasingly crossed my mind thanks to a series of unrelated stories that share two common questions — how do people use museums now and how will they in the future? For every digital breakthrough enticing us to step on the virtual gas comes a cautionary tale reminding us to pump those virtual brakes. Ultimately, the online revolution is coming to museums, but is the future of museums really online?

How Man Ray Made Art of Math and Shakespeare

While advanced math and Shakespeare combine to make a nightmare curriculum for some students, for artist Man Ray, one of the most intriguing minds of 20th century art, they were “such stuff as dreams are made on,” or at least art could be made from. A new exhibition at The Phillips Collection reunites the objects and photographs with the suite of paintings they inspired Man Ray to create and title Shakespearean Equations. Man Ray—Human Equations: A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare traces the artist’s travels between disciplines, between war-torn continents, and between media that became not only a journey from arithmetic to the Bard, but also a journey of artistic self-discovery.

Facing African-American History Through African-American Art

When the Philadelphia Museum of Art purchased Henry Ossawa Tanner’s painting The Annunciation in 1899, they became the first American museum to acquire a work by an African-American artist. That purchase announced a new era of recognition of African-American art and artists just as much as the painting itself announced a new style of art moving away from stereotypical “black” scenes towards a freedom of aesthetic choice. Persons of color could express themselves in any way, even abstraction, but faced the new problem of remaining true to themselves at the same time. The new exhibition Represent: 200 Years of African American Art and accompanying catalogue show how these artists faced the challenges posed to them by art and society and provide all of us with a fascinating guide to facing African-American history—tragic, tenacious, transcendent—through its art.

What Does Football Really Teach Us?

What does football really teach us? In "Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game," author Mark Edmundson recounts his own high school football experience from the perspective of age and asks that very same question in a nuanced, clear-eyed way that might make you think twice about why we love football so much and what that love may be doing to us and our children.

Madame Cézanne: The Case of the Miserable Muse

If Mona Lisa is the smile, Madame Cézanne is the scowl. Hortense Fiquet, Paul Cézanne’s model turned mistress turned mother of his child turned metaphorical millstone around his neck, endures as a standard art history punch line—the muse whose misery won immortality through the many masterpiece portraits done of her. Or at least that’s how the joke usually goes. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current exhibition Madame Cézanne, which gathers together 24 of the 29 known portraits Cézanne painted of Hortense over a period of more than 20 years, tries to rewrite that joke as it hopes to solve the riddle of Madame Cézanne, aka, The Case of the Miserable Muse.

JFK: The Opera?

Whereas European countries were once able to tap into their history for subjects for opera, America’s never succeeded in doing the same. That problem comes in part from the decline in opera as a popular, public art form, but also perhaps from the lack of operatically epic subjects to be found in American history. Now, composer David T. Little hopes to create a modern American opera with JFK, a 2-act, 2-hour opera focusing on the life of President John F. Kennedy, whose life and death became defining moments not only for the Baby Boom generation, but also, many would suggest, the hinge upon which all American history turns for the last half century. Set to premier in 2016, JFK as a work-in-progress already raises important questions about how opera (and art in general) can approach history.

Hearing (and Feeling) the Contemporary Art of Allora & Calzadilla

Imagine standing in a bare room in which a small, 4-billion-year-old rock hangs from the ceiling by a thin wire as three vocalists whistle and breathe on it to make it swing. For some people, such a scenario might be the nightmare version of contemporary art run amok, so far “out there” that it’s never coming back. 

Picturing Mary: Yesterday and Today

Christmas may be Jesus’ “birthday,” but, as any mother will tell you, his mother Mary really deserves the applause. Providing the humanity half to join with Christ’s divine side, Mary volunteered to play a part from the Incarnation to the Crucifixion to the Resurrection as everything from an active participant to an interested bystander, depending on your interpretation of Christian scripture. 

How to Speak Fluent "Museum"

For many people, art museums feel like a foreboding foreign nation with a language all its own. Frederick Wiseman’s new documentary, National Gallery, offers an immersion class in how to speak fluent "museum." 

How Peter Blume Painted His Personal Reality of Hope

On October 3, 1948, at 3:50 pm, Peter Blume finished his epic painting, years in the making, titled The Rock (shown above). “After a turbulent decade in which Peter Blume embarked on false starts, endured debilitating anxiety, experienced self-doubt, and found his faith in the creative process renewed,” Robert Cozzolino writes in the catalog to the new exhibition Peter Blume: Nature and Metamorphosis, finishing The Rock must have been a great relief. Blume recorded that date and time the way many record the birth of their children, for The Rock was his precious baby, but completing it marked a rebirth of sorts for Blume as a different kind of artist. Shaped by political and artistic currents of the first half of the 20th century, Blume emerges as a difficult to categorize artist, but also as a fascinating visionary who struggled to paint a personal reality clinging to the foundation of hope.

William Glackens: Forgotten Father of American Modernism?

With a $20,000 check and instructions to bring back “some good paintings” from friend and financier Dr. Albert C. Barnes, American artist William Glackens set off for Paris in 1912 with carte blanche to buy the very best modern art he could find. Long a champion and connoisseur of European and American modernism, Glackens sent back to Barnes 33 works by now-renowned artists such as Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent Van Gogh that helped shape the collection that eventually became The Barnes Foundation.

Should We Be Letting Machines See for Us?

Anyone who has seen James Cameron’s 1984 film The Terminator remembers “seeing” through the eyes of the killer android sent into the past as it scans its surroundings for clothes, weapons, and, eventually, its target. German filmmaker Harun Farocki would later call those pictures “operational images”—the machine-made and machine-used pictures of the world that threatened to supplant not just how people see, but people period. 

 

How Prison Changed Egon Schiele’s Portraits for Better or Worse

Bürgerschreck! rang the accusations in German at Austrian painter Egon Schiele in April 1912. This “shocker of the bourgeois” found his home rifled by local constables searching for evidence of the immorality locals suspected of a man who lived with a woman not his wife and invited local children to pose for him. The constables brought over one hundred drawings as well as Schiele himself to the local jail, where he sat for 24 days until a court trial during which the judge flamboyantly burned one of Schiele’s “pornographic” portraits in front of the chastised artist before releasing him. That experience changed the rest of Schiele’s life and art. Egon Schiele: Portraits at the Neue Galerie in New York City centers on this turning point in Schiele’s portraits, which remain some of the most psychologically penetrating and sexual explicit portraits of the modern age. Schiele’s capacity to shock today’s audience may have declined as modern mores finally catch up to him, but the power of his portraits to captivate through their unconventionality, sensitivity, and empathy never gets old.

Steven Sebring and Coco Rocha’s Visual Manifesto of the Human Body

“Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it. Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it,” Madonna lied and “Vogue”-ed way back in 1990. Contrary to popular opinion, posing is hard work, made even harder by the requirement to look effortless. The reigning “Queen of Pose,” Canadian supermodel Coco Rocha has been clocked at 160 different poses per minute and viral videoed striking 50 poses in 30 seconds. When photographer Steven Sebring approached Rocha back in 2010 with the idea of a project involving one model striking a thousand different poses captured using Sebring’s revolutionary, 360-degree photographic technology, it seemed a match made in modeling heaven. Study of Pose: 1,000 Poses by Coco Rocha tests the limits of expression by the human form while capitalizing on the latest in technology to produce no less than a new manifesto on posing the human body as an object to be both admired and accepted for all its truth and beauty.

 

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