New York Times Has a ‘Manifesto’ for Boston’s MFA

The other day the New York Times ran a big takeout by art critic Holland Cotter on what major U.S. museums should be doing nowadays with their time and money.

For Big Museums, It’s Time to Change

As the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston commemorate their 150th birthdays in a state of heightened scrutiny, our critic offers a five-point plan to save the souls of our venerable institutions.

Two of this country’s largest and oldest “encyclopedic” museums — the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York — turn 150 this year. With both now shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, this is an opportune moment for them — and other big, traditionalist museums in Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere — to take stock of themselves, and for us to acknowledge their virtues but also to consider the reasons behind the present turbulent state of the art institutional soul.

Tall order, no?

The MFA gets the spotlight dance in two of Cotter’s five mandates: Go for Truth and Rewrite History. Cotter begins the former this way: “Although the Boston MFA that I frequented called itself an encyclopedic museum (actually ‘universal museum’ was the term used then), it was an encyclopedia with several missing volumes. There was no Native American art, little if any art from South America, and no African art apart from Egyptian art, which wasn’t considered ‘African.’ Contemporary art had almost no presence, and you had to look very hard to find art by women.”

After conceding that the MFA has made some “slow” changes, Cotter proceeds to detail one of them.

The MFA has filled the entire top floor of its Art of the Americas wing with a roundup of art by women, drawn mostly from its collection. Titled “Women Take the Floor,” it includes blackware bowls by the Native American potter Maria Montoya Martinez; plaster figures by the African-American sculptor Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller; jewelry designed by Claire Falkenstein, and two fabulous portraits: Alice Neel’s 1973 painting of the art historian Linda Nochlin, done two years after Ms. Nochlin’s earthquake of an essay “Why Are There No Great Women Artists?” first appeared; and Andrea Bowers’ 2016 photograph of the African-American transgender hero CeCe McDonald, who was charged with murder after she defended herself during a hate attack, dressed in flowing coral and winged like an angel.

Chaser: “Significantly, in self-rebuking wall texts, the museum acknowledges the show to be the long-delayed catch-up gesture it is.”

The MFA’s cameo in the Rewrite History department basically comes down to this.

Kicker: “[In] another particularly timely wall label, the show raised questions about the legitimacy of the museum’s ownership of its Nubian work” – in other words, admitting that the MFA, in partnership with Harvard University, essentially looted the Nubian objects, since their permits to excavate, as the wall label further states, “were in fact issued not by the Egyptians and Sudanese, but by British colonial officials.”

So, to recap: Holland Cotter is telling Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts that it needs to take stock and address “the present turbulent state of the art institutional soul” by . . . doing what it’s doing?

Or am I missing something here?

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NYT’s Marie KONDO-19 Puff Piece Should’ve Been 86ed

Let’s stipulate that the New York Times has done a terrific job of covering the coronavirus crisis in its news and opinion pages.

But did we really need this Like a Boss feature about kiss-it-goodbye queen Marie Kondo in yesterday’s Business section?

How Marie Kondo Declutters During a Pandemic

With promotional events for her new book canceled, the organizational expert finds solace in cooking, shredding documents and — of course — tidying her Los Angeles home.

The tidying guru Marie Kondo built her global lifestyle brand by developing a system for how to impose order over relentless chaos. “My dream is to organize the world,” Ms. Kondo has said . . .

Now, like every mogul in every industry, Ms. Kondo is trying to figure out how to run her business during a profoundly chaotic and unsettling moment.

And, of course, how to get publicity for her book, which the Times provides in spades, chronicling Kondo’s daily routine in gruesome detail and touting her e-commerce store “where converted neat freaks who have emptied their cluttered homes can fill them up again with robes, slippers, candles and other items curated by Ms. Kondo.”

Seriously, Timesniks? You’ve got nothing better to cover than this journalistic clutter? Maybe try to curate your pages a little more tidily, yeah?

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Dead Blogging ‘Gordon Parks: The New Tide’ @ Addison Gallery

Well the Missus and I trundled up to Andover this past weekend to check out the new exhibits at the Addison Gallery of American Art and say, they were swell.

We started off with Man Up! Visualizing Masculinity in 19th-Century America (through April 5).

The 19th century witnessed the development of a notion of masculinity that tied the worth of a white man to his performance in the workplace—from which women and other minorities were excluded—and to his capacity to accumulate capital and advance socially. By the turn of the 20th century, pervasive anxiety posed by the threat of emasculation and the constant need to prove oneself as a man fostered a sense of an ideal manliness that was cutthroat or “primitive,” a masculinity characterized by passion, vigor, and aggressiveness and manifested through violence, displays and abuses of power, and alienation. Drawn from the Addison’s collection, the works on view in this exhibition reflect the constant redefinition of masculinity in American society during the 19th and early 20th centuries, inviting us to think critically about the shifting definitions of gender roles.​​

Lots of interesting work, both paintings (that’s Thomas Eakins’s Salutat, 1898, above) and photographs.

Lewis Wickes Hine, Recreation in Training Camp, 1917

Artist unknown, [Group of women dressed as men], 1930

Bonus material: A couple of George Bellows’s excellent prizefighting lithographs.

Next we took in Expanding the Narrative: Recent Acquisitions (through March 1).

​​The Addison Gallery opened its doors in 1931 with a core collection of 423 objects purchased for or given to the museum by Phillips Academy alumnus, Thomas Cochran and his close friends. Since then, the museum has annually added to the collection via generous donation and judicious purchase to make it what it is today–over 21,000 works representing the best of American art across media.

Addison curators carefully choose each work to enter the collection, selecting objects that augment and amplify the museum’s already established strengths, initiate conversations and offer meaningful connections with works of different periods and media, and expand the museum’s ability to present a fuller range of American art.

Very impressive.

But the main event for us was Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950 (through April 26), a dazzling display of photographic dexterity and encyclopedic diversity.

​​During the 1940s, American photographer Gordon Parks (1912–2006) grew from a self-taught photographer making portraits and documenting everyday life in Saint Paul and Chicago to a visionary professional shooting for Ebony, Glamour, Smart Woman, and Life. For the first time, the formative first decade of Parks’s 60-year career is the focus of an exhibition, which brings together 150 photographs and ephemera—including magazines, books, letters, and family pictures. The exhibition will illustrate Parks’s early experiences at the Farm Security Administration, Office of War Information, and Standard Oil (New Jersey), as well as his close relationships with Roy Stryker, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison and reveal how th​ese helped shape his groundbreaking style.

Gordon Parks self-portrait, 1941.

 

 

Gordon Parks 1942 portrait of long-suffering Washington government charwoman Ella Watson (one of 90 poignant photographs he took of her), which wound up on the cover of Life magazine.

 

 

The exhibit also details Parks’s monumental Back to Fort Scott, which Life magazine commissioned but inexplicably never ran.

The other big exhibit currently at the Addison is A Wildness Distant from Ourselves: Art and Ecology in 19th-Century America (through July 31) but we sort of didn’t get it so we gave it the swift.

And we totally missed Come As You Are: American Youth (through March 8), “curated by Phillips Academy students in Art 400, Visual Culture: Discovering the Addison Collection, and . . .  presented in the Museum Learning Center,” which is why we missed it.

But you shouldn’t. It’s all well worth a trundle.

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How Corporate Gunsel Rick Berman Bit One Watchdog Group

Actually, the headscratching staff has no idea how megabucks lobbyist Rick Berman – who sets up fog-machine front groups for the fast-food industry, the tobacco industry, the liquor industry, and any industry fighting minimum-wage increases – managed to hijack the website that was established to monitor his stealth marketing.

The unlikely saga begins with this full-page New York Times ad that ran a few days ago.

 

Given that the hardworking staff has been bird-dogging Berman for years, we poked around a bit and put this post together. In the process we went to visit the website of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which ten years ago set up BermanExposed.org to, well, expose Berman’s shenanigans.

Representative samples regarding two of Berman’s myriad front groups.

Imagine our surprise, then, to click on BermanExposed.org and wind up with this.

 

 

That’s right – BermanExposed now exposes you to . . . Berman’s corporate website.

Wait, what?

So we sent this email to Jordan Libowitz, Communications Director for CREW.

Dear Mr. Libowitz,

We have frequently written about corporate gunsel Rick Berman. (See here)

So naturally we wrote about Berman’s Fake Meat/Dog Food ad in the New York Times this week.

But imagine our surprise when we discovered that CREW’s BermanExposed.org website is now owned by Berman himself.

Would you be willing to talk about how that happened?

We’re sure our faithful readers would be interested to hear your side of the story.

Sincerely,
The Hardworking Staff

We have not heard back from Mr. Libowitz, which under the circumstances does not surprise us. As for Rick Berman, he’s laughing all the way to the dog food bank.

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Fast Food Industry’s Sneak Adtack on Plant-Based Meat

The hardtsking staff has noted on numerous occasions the antics of Rick Berman, corporate America’s go-to gunsel for subverting labor unions, public-health advocates, and consumer, safety, animal welfare, and environmental groups.

(Helpful Rachel Maddow interview with Berman.)

Here’s the first graf of Berman’s bio on the Center for Media and Democracy’s SourceWatch.

Richard B. (Rick) Berman is a former labor management attorney and restaurant industry executive who, with his firm Berman & Co., currently works as a Washington, D.C. lobbyist for the food, alcoholic beverage, tobacco industries and, more recently, other industries. Berman & Co. has lobbied for companies such as Cracker Barrel, Hooters, International House of Pancakes, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Steak & Ale, TGI Friday’s, Uno’s Restaurants, and Wendy’s.

But Berman isn’t out front in those efforts; he’s all about front groups – non-profit organizations such as the Center for Consumer Freedom, which ran this ad in yesterday’s New York Times.

 

 

Since the ad urges Times reader to “Find out which is which at CleanFoodFacts.com,” we went there. And yes, as you might have guessed, the list on the right features the plant-based meat ingredients.

Drive vegans nuts graf: “Fake meat may try to mimic the look and taste of meat, but its ingredients are closer to mimicking dog food.”

Rick Berman might be – as CBS’s 60 Minutes labeled him – Dr. Evil, but he’s damn good at this stuff.

Here’s how good.

About 10 years ago the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) set up a website called Berman Exposed.

CREW LAUNCHES BERMANEXPOSED.ORG– RIPPING THE CLOAK OF SECRECY AWAY FROM FRONT MAN RICHARD BERMAN

Washington, D.C. – Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) launched BermanExposed.org, a site dedicated to exposing lobbyist Richard Berman’s activities, his myriad front groups and projects, his employees’ work, and his firm’s tactics.

For years, Berman has been a front man for business and industry in campaigns against consumer safety and health promotion groups. Through his public relations firm, Berman and Company, Berman has fought unions, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and other watchdog groups in their efforts to raise awareness about childhood obesity, the minimum wage, the dangers of smoking, mad cow disease, drunk driving, and other issues. Berman runs at least 15 industry-funded front groups and projects, such as the Center for Union Facts (CUF).

Except . . . click on the BermanExposed.org link and you get this.

 

 

Wait, what?

Rick Berman now owns BermanExposed.org?

That’s not even evil. That’s just brilliant.

P.S. The headscratching staff will be contacting CREW forthwith to ask how the hell that actually happened.

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Dead Blogging ‘Flora in Winter’ at Worcester Art Museum

Well the Missus and I trundled out to the Worcester Art Museum yesterday to catch Flora in Winter: Epic Bloom and say, it was swell – and smelled great too!

One of the region’s most anticipated events of the year, Flora in Winter displays floral arrangements inspired by art from WAM’s encyclopedic collection. For the 18th year, visitors explore the galleries, encountering beautiful and evocative floral designs by some of the area’s most talented floral artists. This year’s theme, Epic Bloom, is influenced by the current exhibition, “Photo Revolution: Andy Warhol to Cindy Sherman.”

Representative samples from previous years:

We like this kind of exhibit because a) it takes us to parts of the museum we might not otherwise go, and b) it makes us look more closely at the artworks than we otherwise might.

So if you can’t wait for a shot of flower power until Art in Bloom at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in April, head out to WAM this weekend. It’s well worth the trundle.

P.S. The Missus advises that you pack a lunch – WAM’s Museum Café is lovely, but the lines will be awfully long.

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U.S. Trusts Donald Trump Over Religious Leaders, News Media

(With apologies to Herman Melville)

Whenever the hardworking staff finds itself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in our soul; whenever we find ourselves involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral we meet . . . then, we account it high time to get to see what’s happening in the ad world as soon as we can. This is our substitute for pistol and ball.

Except . . . advertising is no escape from anything these days.

Exhibit A: We sought refuge from political news at MediaPost, but found this.

As you can see, the Cheeto-in-Chief slightly edges out the Bible thumpers but totally blowtorches the news media (not to mention the U.S. government, of which he is [quick Google search] comb-over head).

Exhibit B: Advertisers feel the same way we do, as New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports.

With impeachment in the news and the 2020 campaign inspiring nasty hashtags on social media, it has become routine for companies to reject pitches for ads that even touch on politics. They have also asked that their ads be placed far from candidates’ campaign spots.

“It’s like McCarthyism — people are too frickin’ scared to say anything,” said Gaston Legorburu, a longtime advertising executive who founded the agency Glue IQ. “I’ve seen briefs where on Page 1 they’re telling you to, by all means, stay away from anything that is political.”

Given that campaign spending could top $10 billion this election cycle, bringing up the rear of funerals looks downright appealing right about now.

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The Arts Seen in NYC (New! Improved? MoMA Edition)

Well the Missus and I trundled down to the Big Town to go a-museuming for a few days and say, it was swell.

Just our luck, we arrived on an official Gridlock Alert Day, which meant it took us fully 60 minutes to crawl from 71st and 1st to 32nd and 5th.

Undaunted and safely ensconced in our moderately priced hotel, we headed out to see what we could see. (As per usual the itinerary was set by my ever-loving Swiss Army Wife.) First stop: the FIT Museum to catch Paris, Capital of Fashion (through January 4).

Paris is widely regarded as “the most glamorous and competitive of the world’s fashion capitals” (to quote The New Yorker). But how and why did Paris acquire this reputation? The history of Paris fashion is usually presented, simplistically, as a genealogy of genius, dominated by “the great designers,” “kings,” or “dictators of fashion.” Paris, Capital of Fashion was the first exhibition to explore the cultural construction of Paris as the capital of fashion.

Curated by Dr. Valerie Steele, director of The Museum at FIT, it featured approximately 100 objects, dating from the 18th century to the present. The exhibition was accompanied by a scholarly book, Paris, Capital of Fashion (Bloomsbury, 2019), edited by Steele, who is also the author of Paris Fashion: A Cultural History.

(Not sure why the exhibit is already in the past tense – maybe to save on editing once the show closes.)

It is/was a terrific exhibit, “presenting an original couture suit by Chanel together with a virtually identical licensed copy sold by Orbach’s department store . . . [ demonstrating] how the idea of Paris fashion ‘works’ across fashion cultures, appealing to elite American women and making money for American manufacturers and retailers.”

Special bonus visuals.

Also showing at FIT is Power Mode: The Force of Fashion (through May 9), which I skipped in order to get a donut but which the Missus said was okay. Here’s the trailer.

 

 

Power to the purple!

From there we subwayed uptown to the Bard Graduate Center to catch French Fashion, Women, and the First World War (through January 5).

In moments of great upheaval—such as in France during the First World War—fashion becomes more than a means of personal expression.

As women throughout the country mobilized in support of the war effort, discussions about women’s fashion bore the symbolic weight of an entire society’s hopes and fears. This exhibition represents an unprecedented examination of the dynamic relationship between fashion, war, and gender politics in France during World War I.

As is typical at the Bard Center, the exhibit was both engaging and illuminating. Here’s the timeline featured in the exhibit, which was captured on video by a steady-handed individual who goes by “theObjectified” on YouTube.

 

 

And a few pages from the catalogue.

 

 

 

No wonder we (art) New York.

• • • • • • •

Early next morning it was cold as hell (a phrase that makes absolutely no sense) so instead of walking the 21 blocks to the Museum of Modern Art as we normally do, we ducked into the subway.

The $450 million expansion of MoMA – which enlarged the museum by 165,000 square feet – either a) “adds one-third more gallery space to the institution’s 80-year-old complex on West 53rd Street and integrates it more seamlessly with the public realm,” as Sydney Franklin wrote in The Architect’s Newspaper, or b) “[is] a supersized MoMA tote bag—very capacious, very useful, but in the end worthwhile only for what’s inside,” as Martin Filler put it in The New York Review of Books.

Whatever, we started on the 5th floor, which contains artworks from the 1880s to the 1940s – MoMA’s sweet spot. What’s not so sweet to many critics is the absence of the traditional “isms” in organizing the works, as Filler notes.

The only “isms” on full display here are revisionism and Surrealism, which was spared in this thoroughgoing purge perhaps because it is a favorite of theory-oriented academics who might denounce any toying with their hobbyhorse. Thus in place of Dadaism we now have “Readymade in Paris and New York,” as if laypersons know that specialist term for the innovation of appropriating a found object and declaring it a work of art—exemplified by Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel (1913/1951) and the snow shovel he named In Advance of the Broken Arm (1915/1964), both seen here in facsimiles recreated by the artist after the originals were lost. We also have “Masters of Popular Painting,” a designation more befitting Norman Rockwell and N.C. Wyeth than the Outsider artists unknown during their lifetimes and happily displayed here (including the magical Bill Traylor).

Here’s how the 5th floor looks gallery by gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spent a good – a very good – two hours traversing those galleries and thought most of the changes were for the better, even the rumpus rooms like “Around Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” which has been roundly criticized for pairing Picasso’s breakthrough 1907 painting with Faith Ringgold’s 1967 depiction of a race riot.

One of the best changes is the extra 47,000 square feet of gallery space, which allows MoMA to exhibit many more of its 200,000 works. (Every six months, Martin Filler tells us, one-third of the museum’s permanent collection will rotate.)

What decidedly has not changed is all the idiots who would rather take a selfie with the artworks than look at them. Yeesh.

As we departed there was also a moment of MoMA drama at the coat check. The garment on my hangar was someone else’s, a not inconsequential matter since it was 13˚ outside. After the coat checkers fruitlessly spun the carousel around several times, one of them ventured into the back of the room and discovered that my coat had taken up residence on the conveyor belt for god knows how long.

Once we thoroughly defuzzed the coat, I put it on and we wandered out.

Our next stop was the Museum of Arts and Design to enter The World of Anna Sui (through February 23).

Born and raised in Detroit, educated and discovered in New York, Anna Sui reinvented pop culture fashion with her signature rock-and-roll romantic label in the 1990s and has remained a design icon ever since. Beginning with her premiere catwalk show in 1991, Sui has shaped not only the garments, textiles, accessories, cosmetics, and interiors that comprise her design universe, but also the course of fashion history by popularizing the boutique fashion look . . .

Unlike other popular American designers, Sui is driven by telling stories head-to-toe about the worlds of cowgirls, grunge girls, hippie chicks, hula girls, Mods, pirate rock stars, Pre-Raphaelite maidens, and surfer nomads.

Trippy in the extreme, Sui in many ways is unlike other popular American designers. You could even say she’s sui generis. But, of course, you wouldn’t.

Also on exhibit at MAD is Burke Prize 2019 (through April 12), “[an] exhibition of works of the 2019 finalists and winner of the Museum’s Burke Prize, awarded to a contemporary artist under the age of forty-five working in glass, fiber, clay, metal, and/or wood.”

The works themselves have yet to be posted on the MAD website, but I managed to track down the winner: BODYWARP: Casting Series by Indira Allegra. It’s a film/installation combination that the artist describes semi-clearly.

BODYWARP explores weaving as performance and calls for a unique receptivity to tensions in political and emotional spaces. The work investigates looms as frames through which I as the weaver become the warp and am held under tension, as I perform a series of site-specific interventions using my body. Like the accumulation of memory in cloth, in BODYWARP, looms and other tools of the weaver’s craft become organs of memory, pulling my body into an intimate choreography involving maker, tool, and the narrative of a place.

The tour guide who led us through the exhibit said that all the Burke Prize judges had significant reservations about the work, but unanimously voted it the winner.

Kinda warped, no?

From there we moseyed up to the American Folk Art Museum, which has returned – a victim of its own ambition – to its original home at 2 Lincoln Square after selling its fabulous 53rd Street building in 2011 to MoMA, which wasted little time in demolishing it for the museum’s latest expansion.

New York Times reporter Robin Pogrebin chronicled the sad tale in this valedictory piece.

When a new home for the American Folk Art Museum opened on West 53d Street in Manhattan in 2001 it was hailed as a harbinger of hope for the city after the Sept. 11 attacks and praised for its bold architecture.

“Its heart is in the right time as well as the right place,” Herbert Muschamp wrote in his architecture review in The New York Times, calling the museum’s sculptural bronze facade “already a Midtown icon.”

Now, a mere 12 years later, the building is going to be demolished.

In its place the adjacent Museum of Modern Art, which bought the building in 2011, will put up an expansion, which will connect to a new tower with floors for the Modern on the other side of the former museum. And the folk museum building, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, will take a dubious place in history as having had one of the shortest lives of an architecturally ambitious project in Manhattan.

The major exhibit at the museum is Memory Palaces: Inside the Collection of Audrey B. Heckler (through January 26), a remarkable and wide-ranging assemblage of folk art pieces.

The collection of Audrey B. Heckler is emblematic of the growth of the field of self-taught art in the United States, which manifests a strong interest for African American artists, a consistent attention on American classics, a curiosity for European art brut, and a search for international discoveries. For the last twenty-seven years, Heckler—a long time and committed patron of the American Folk Art Museum—has surrounded herself with excellent examples by the most significant artists associated to this art niche, among them Emery Blagdon, Aloïse Corbaz, William Edmondson, August Klett, Augustin Lesage, Martín Ramírez, Thornton Dial, and Anna Zemánková.

Our favorites were the carved wooden figures by Charlie Willeto, a Navajo medicine man who, according to the Smithsonian American Art Museum website, “broke with traditional taboos against carving sacred images into wood, and created dreamlike men, women, owls, and spiritual creatures from old pieces of pine.”

 

 

The exhibit features 160 works by more than 70 artists, along with lots of artists’ statement, oral histories, and archival material.

Here’s what New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz wrote back in September: “The American Folk Art Museum is the most underrated cultural resource in Manhattan. Show after show, mounted with grit, intelligence, and love in the museum’s difficult lobby space, luxuriates in the glories of self-taught visionary artists. This fall, see a deep dive into Heckler’s magnificent collection of their work.”

Amen to that.

Our last stop of the day was the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center to catch In the Company of Harold Prince (through March 31)

No one did more to define the American musical today than Harold “Hal” Prince. His resume included some of the most important titles of the past century: West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Company, Sweeney Todd, and The Phantom of the Opera. In the Company of Hal Prince will explore Prince’s reinvention of musical theatre from the script- and score-based model created by Rodgers and Hammerstein and George Abbott to a more visual, almost cinematic art form in which the director is auteur. Prince acknowledged that fruitful collaboration is the foundation of theatrical genius, and this exhibition will illuminate the team of designers, stage managers, press agents, composers, and writers Prince assembled to create so many history-making shows.

The exhibit is a lot of fun, but note to curators: Too many of the audio clips bleed into one another, creating a bit of a cacophony. Mr. Prince would not be pleased, we think.

• • • • • • •

Next morning it was off to The Frick Collection to take in Manet: Three Paintings from the Norton Simon Museum (through January 5).

The Frick presents three Manet canvases from the collection of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. As three distinct views of the artist’s life and work, the canvases demonstrate the range of Manet’s pioneering vision: Fish and Shrimp (1864) focuses attention on the paint itself; The Ragpicker (ca. 1865–71; possibly reworked in 1876–77) highlights the artist’s engagement with art history and contemporary visual culture; and Madame Manet (ca. 1876) prompts consideration of his biography.

Édouard Manet is to Impressionism what Robert Johnson was to the blues: hugely influential, too often overlooked.

But those three Manets are definitely arresting.

Also at The Frick: Bertoldo di Giovanni: The Renaissance of Sculpture in Medici Florence (through January 12) and Henry Arnhold’s Meissen Palace: Celebrating a Collector  – both worth a look.

From there we sashayed up Fifth Avenue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which offered up its usual cornucopia of engaging exhibits.

First we visited Félix Vallotton: Painter of Disquiet (through January 26), which could just as easily have been titled Printer of Disquiet given Vallotton’s distinctive and slightly disturbing woodcuts, which both revitalized and revolutionized the art of wood engraving.

Here are some representative samples from Vallotton’s 1897-1898 Intimacies series of woodcuts, all infused with ambiguity and tension.

 

Upon his arrival in Paris in 1881 at the age of 16, Vallotton flirted with Les Nabis (Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard) and produced paintings like this one.

 

 

Vallotton may have flirted with Les Nabis but he married money, specifically the wealthy young widow Gabrielle Rodrigues-Henriques, leading to a life rich in resources but poor in, ironically, intimacy.

 

 

Regardless, as the Met’s website notes, “Witness to the radical aesthetics that gripped Paris in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Vallotton developed his own singular voice. Today we recognize him as a distinctive artist of his generation [thanks to] his lampooning wit, subversive satire, and wry humor.”

Next up was In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection (through May 17), which “features promised gifts from Sandy Schreier, a pioneering collector, who over the course of more than half a century assembled one of the finest private fashion collections in the United States. The show explores how Schreier amassed a trove of twentieth-century French and American couture and ready-to-wear, not as a wardrobe, but in appreciation of this form of creative expression.”

 

 

While the clothes are absolutely fabulous, the back story is a total hoot, as related to New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman by Schreier.

[W]hen I was little there were no nurseries and my mother was busy with my little sister, so my dad would take me to work with him [at Detroit’s high-end department store Russeks]. I’d just sit on the shop floor, and I fell in love with fashion: The staff would dress me up, and I would look at all the pictures in the magazines. At that time, it was no longer fashionable to pass clothes down, and my dad’s clientele saw how much I loved the clothes and started sending me their couture after they had worn it once, or sometimes not at all. Their drivers would bring the boxes over.

Wait — how old were you?

Three or four. I never really thought of what I was doing as collecting, though. I was just acquiring these wonderful things.

Those wonderful things now number 15,000, most of which Schreier is donating to the Met. So the 165 pieces on display in this exhibit are just a first course.

Bon appétit!

Our next exhibit was pretty much the polar opposite of velvet and silk.

The Last Knight: The Art, Armor, and Ambition of Maximilian I examines the profound significance of European armor at the dawn of the Renaissance, through the lens of Emperor Maximilian I’s (1459–1519) remarkable life. On view only at The Met, The Last Knight coincides with the five-hundredth anniversary of Maximilian’s death, and is the most ambitious North American loan exhibition of European arms and armor in decades. Including 180 objects selected from some thirty public and private collections in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States, The Last Knight will explore how Maximilian’s unparalleled passion for the trappings and ideals of knighthood served his boundless worldly ambitions, imaginative stratagems, and resolute efforts to forge a lasting personal and family legacy.

It’s an amazing exhibit, but not nearly as eye-popping as Making Marvels: Science & Splendor at the Courts of Europe (through March 1).

Between 1550 and 1750, nearly every royal family in Europe assembled vast collections of valuable and entertaining objects. Such lavish public spending and display of precious metals was considered an expression of power. Many princes also believed that the possession of artistic and technological innovations conveyed status, and these objects were often prominently showcased in elaborate court entertainments, which were characteristic of the period.

Making Marvels explores the complex ways in which the wondrous items collected by early modern European princes, and the contexts in which they were displayed, expressed these rulers’ ability to govern. Approximately 170 objects—including clocks, automata, furniture, musical instruments, jewelry, paintings, sculptures, print media, and more—from both The Met collection and over fifty lenders worldwide are featured. Visitors will discover marvelous innovations that engaged and delighted the senses of the past, much like twenty-first-century technology holds our attention today—through suspense, surprise, and dramatic transformations.

Don’t believe me? Check out this video.

 

 

That ended our four-hour visit to the Met. As we rode the bus down Fifth Avenue, we debated: Nice dinner, or John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Charcoal (through January 12) at the Morgan Library & Museum?

We went for charcoal over charcoal-broiled.

John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) was one of the greatest portrait artists of his time. While he is best known for his powerful paintings, he largely ceased painting portraits in 1907 and turned instead to charcoal drawings to satisfy portrait commissions. These drawn portraits represent a substantial, yet often overlooked, part of his practice, and they demonstrate the same sense of immediacy, psychological sensitivity, and mastery of chiaroscuro that animate Sargent’s sitters on canvas. The first major exhibition to explore the artist’s expressive portraits in charcoal, John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Charcoal will recognize the sheer scale of Sargent’s achievement as a portrait draftsman.

The exhibit features cracking good portraits of everyone from William Butler Yeats to Winston Churchill to Ethel Barrymore.

 

 

While the exhibit was great, the crowd was less so. First there was Mr. Pilot Fish, a creepy old guy who attached himself to us by  standing two inches away and constantly leaning in front of us in order to be as annoying as possible.

Then there were the inevitable charcoal artists sprawled on the floor and clogging the gallery at every turn.

And finally, the exhibit contained far more than the average number of know-it-alls declaiming about this and that and then . . . this and that again.

In short, it was ten pounds of pretentious in a five-pound bag.

But, man, that Sargent guy could really draw.

• • • • • • •

The next day was Saturday, so the Missus took her shabbos goy to the Jewish Museum to see Edith Halpert and the Rise of American Art (through February 9), “[t]he first exhibition to explore the remarkable career of Edith Halpert, the trailblazing art dealer whose influence, eye, and passion for American art championed the work of Stuart Davis, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, Ben Shahn, and Charles Sheeler.

Born to a Jewish family in Odessa, Russia (now Ukraine), Edith Halpert (1900–1970) was the first significant female gallerist in the United States, propelling American art to the fore at a time when the European avant-garde still enthralled the world. In 1926, Halpert opened the Downtown Gallery in New York City, the first commercial art space in bohemian Greenwich Village. She deliberately promoted a diverse group of living American artists, fundamentally shifting the public’s opinion of whose voices mattered in the art world. Though an outsider in many respects—as a woman, an immigrant, and a Jew—Halpert was, for over 40 years, the country’s defining authority of the American art landscape.

The exhibit features 100 works that were either owned or sold by Halpert. As Terry Teachout wrote of the “Forgotten Impresario” in the Wall Street Journal, “[the exhibit] also gives its viewers an opportunity to acquaint themselves with the history of American modernism prior to the rise of Abstract Expressionism in the ’40s. Few museums (the Phillips famously excepted) go out of their way to feature modern American art that predates the emergence of such New York School masters as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Yet the work of the earliest American modernists is every bit as exciting. To see such paintings as Davis’s “Egg Beater No. 1” (1927), Sheeler’s “Americana” (1931) and Marin’s “From the Bridge, N.Y.C.” (1933) is to witness the electrifying spectacle of ambitious American artists translating Old World styles—Cubism in particular—into the up-to-the-minute vernacular of the New World. Viewing their work in this show, you can see for yourself how the long-accepted narrative of the postwar “triumph of American painting” by the Abstract Expressionists fails to tell the full story of American modernism.”

Halpert was not only an ecumenical dealer but also a masterful marketer, pairing American Folk Art with modernist works to give the former more authority. She also was dedicated to providing access to art not only to wealthy clients but middle-class ones as well.

There’s a great audio guide on the Jewish Museum website (transcripts here) that’s well worth checking out, as is the Halpert biography The Girl With the Gallery by Lindsay Pollock.

On the way out we passed through the exhibit Rachel Feinstein: Maiden, Mother, Crone (through March 22) but we sorta didn’t get it so we kept walking.

Then it was home again home again jiggedy-jig.

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Three-Way Tie in New York Times ‘Year in Pictures’ Bakeoff!

One of the cherished holiday traditions here at the Global Worldwide Headquarters is the annual Running of the Photographers in the New York Times’s Year in Pictures special section.

(Past bakeoff winners, if you’re keeping score at home.)

From the Times website: “5.6 million. That’s roughly the number of images photo editors of The New York Times sift through each year to find the perfect photographs to represent the news for our readers.”

This year, 62 images and 45 photographers made the cut. Thirty-nine of the shutterbugs had one photo in the special section; three others had two.

That leaves three photographers with more than two, and this is where it gets interesting.

Start with Lam Yik Fei, whose chronicling of the Hong Kong protests earned him the front and back pages of the section.

 

Two other Yik Fei shots of the protest are featured . . . and then there’s this.

 

 

Construction worker, anti-Beijing lawmaker, volunteer medic, another volunteer medic. Do they count as four or one?

So Yik Fei has either seven or four representations in the YIP.

Next up: Elizabeth D. Herman and Celeste Sloman, “who photographed each one of the record number of women in the 116th Congress.” That’s over 100 portraits (if you’re keeping score at home), of which these made the YIP.

 

 

So – six? Or one?

Last, but by no means least, is Erin Schaff, a Times staff photographer based in Washington. She got to travel with Donald Trump to South Korea (and the DMZ) and various Trump rallies, including one last month in Georgia.

 

 

In all, Schaff has five photos in this year’s YIP.

Thus, our three-way tie.

There are a few other iconic images we should note.

A meme-able Nancy Pelosi from previous bakeoff winner Doug Mills.

 

 

Madonna on Madonna from the mysterious “JR for the New York Times.”

 

 

Notre-Dame de Perish by Thomas Goisque.

 

 

Helluva year, no?

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Dead Blogging Ballets Russes Photos at Russian Icon Museum

Well the Missus and I trundled out to Clinton over the weekend to catch Emil Hoppé: Photographs from the Ballets Russes (through March 8) at the Museum of Russian Icons and say, it was swell.

Emil Otto Hoppé and the Ballets Russes pays homage to the genius of two men: Sergei Diaghilev who, more than a century ago, founded the Ballets Russes, and Emil Otto Hoppé, who, between 1911 and 1921, photographed the champions of that illustrious company.

With both studio portraits and ballet sequences, this visual chronicle presents not only the leading stars of the Ballets Russes such as Vaslav Nijinsky, Adolph Bolm, Michel and Vera Fokine and Tamara Karsavina, but also celebrities whose connection with Diaghilev was tangential rather than axial – such as Mathilde Kschessinska, Anna Pavlova and Hubert Stowitts.

In his review yesterday, Boston Globe art critic Mark Feeney called the exhibit “balletomane heaven.”

[Hoppé] understood that while the stage exalts the body in all its sculptural fullness the camera worships the face.

Faces Hoppé would give it. The supreme example belongs to the name supremely associated with the Ballets Russes: Nijinsky. The sheer sexiness of the portrait of him in full costume (and even fuller makeup) from “La Spectre de la Rose” is hard to overstate. He isn’t so much flesh and blood as gunpowder in search of a match.

Hoppé’s “pictorial chronicling” of the Ballets Russes stopped just short of the arrival of Diaghilev’s baby ballerina, the British-born Alicia Marks, who joined the dance troupe at age 14, defying two of the impresario’s ironclad rules: He didn’t work with children, and he didn’t work with anyone who couldn’t speak Russian.

Markova went on to dance for 38 years and become the most acclaimed ballerina of her time, her worldwide renown surpassing even the great Pavlova’s.

(Shameless plug for the Missus goes here)

You can discover the marvel that was Markova at this website accompanying The Making of Markova, the definitive biography of the first Jewish prima ballerina assoluta.

Even without Markova, though, the Hoppé exhibit is well worth the trundle.

P.S. The museum hosted a lovely event on Saturday, Russian Holiday Tree Traditions & Soviet New Year’s Ornaments  – a tree lighting and talk by Masha Goncharova from St. Petersburg, Russia, with tea and refreshments. Thoroughly delightful.

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