Some of the hardworking staff’s friends (yes, we’ve got friends) have proudly proclaimed that they’ve dumped the Boston Globe in favor of its kissin’ cousin New York Times because “there’s nothing worthwhile in the Globe.”
Not so fast, dropniks.
Case in point: The two papers’ dueling reviews of MANET: The Man Who Invented Modern Art at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Tuesday’s Times featured Michael Kimmelman’s review, which was less than flattering:
I can’t recall a major retrospective more clumsily devised. It’s a loveless exercise in curatorial pedantry, occupying a maze of cramped galleries larded with works by second-rank figures like Constantin Guys, Alphonse Legros, Giovanni Boldini and Berthe Morisot. The list goes on. A tedious section on Thomas Couture, the academic poobah in whose studio Manet trained, starts the exhibition. It’s like the heartbreak of heavy traffic on a Sunday morning on the way to the beach. Two Coutures would have sufficed. A mini-retrospective saps the soul.
Regarding the positive reviews of the exhibit, Kimmelman says this:
Robert Hughes, the art critic, on the occasion of the last big Manet survey organized here nearly 30 years ago, wrote that Paris was “unthinkable without Manet; Manet unimaginable without Paris.” Still true. To see Manet even today is to see not only ourselves but also how we see ourselves.
The retrospective, through July 3, catering to our endless taste for his work and the city he captured, has been organized by the Musée d’Orsay, where many of his best works have long lived. So it could hardly have failed.
But it does. I suspect that an abiding reverence for these pictures explains some of the kinder notices; otherwise, there’s no explaining.
Perhaps the review by Globe Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Sebastian Smee can help explain:
The Musee d’Orsay show is not perfect. It was organized in relative haste, and many of Manet’s greatest works are missing. You won’t see “A Bar at the Folies-Bergere,’’ “Woman With a Parrot,’’ “Le Bon Bock,’’ “Young Woman Reclining in Spanish Costume,’’ “The Street Musicians,’’ “The Railway’’ or “Repose,’’ to name but a few.
And yet there’s still no shortage of masterpieces. It’s very hard to complain about an exhibition that contains “Olympia,’’ “The Luncheon on the Grass,’’ “The Fifer,’’ “Boy With a Sword,’’ “Chez le Père Lathuille,’’ and “The Battle of the Kearsarge and Alabama.’’
Kimmelman’s review is about the not-Manet of the exhibit; Smee’s is about the opposite:
To 21st-century eyes, Manet’s way with paint seems more ravishing than ever. He used rich blacks to set off an otherwise light palette, nonchalantly disregarding intermediary tones. There was something sensual but also violent in this nonchalance, as if one way of thinking of love were as a glancing blow.
Edgar Degas, for one, was impressed by the ease with which Manet, “whose eye and hand are certainty itself,’’ committed his feelings and impressions to canvas. “Damned Manet!’’ he once complained to his English protégé Walter Sickert. “Everything he does he always hits off straight away, while I take endless pains and never get it right.’’
Manet’s brush strokes epitomize what the Italians called “sprezzatura’’ — a kind of studied effortlessness. They conjure a dream of erotic ease, a smooth and unimpeded sensuous delight in the world.
Taken together, the Globe and Times reviews provide a deeper sense of the exhibit.
Take note, harddropping friends.