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August 2005

NOTES & COMMENTS

Dated Items!
Be sure to note the dates on exhibitions cited below (as well as in the note immediately following), some of which will be closing soon.

For Painters and Sculptors: Open Competition at the NPG
Classically trained artists who make portraits (including self-portraits) may want to consider entering the inaugural competition of the National Portrait Gallery, despite the institution's evident postmodernist bias (see article in this issue). The deadline for online entries is September 6 and the entry fee is $25. Works completed after January 1, 2004, are eligible. Full details are posted on the NPG website. The gallery, we should point out, is closed for renovation, but will reopen on July 4, 2006.

EXHIBITION: Matisse at the Met
Matisse: The Fabric of Dreams--His Art and His Textiles (Metropolitan Museum of Art, through September 25). Like many retrospective exhibitions, this thematic one on Henri Matisse (1869-1954) has much to offer everyone, illuminating a primary source of inspiration for his lushly colorful paintings. In contrast with the predominant view of this influential modernist's painting, we have always regarded it mainly as "decorative" rather than "fine" art. As the exhibition clearly demonstrates, his depictions of women, for example, emphasize abstract qualities of form, pattern, and color, with little (if any) attention paid to the individuality or character of the subject--contrast his aptly titled Decorative Figure on an Ornamental Ground (1925-26]), say, with Thomas Eakins's Portrait of Amelia C. Van Buren (1891). The designation "decorative" is even more applicable to the "paper cutouts" Matisse produced during the last fifteen years of his life, several of which (including Acrobatic Dancer) are featured in the exhibition. According to an informative statement by the National Gallery of Art in connection with a 1977 exhibition, these works created "an environment that transcended the boundaries of conventional painting, drawing, and sculpture." For more on Matisse, see the comprehensive entry at Artcyclopedia).

Monumental Bronze in Manhattan
Hermes, by Sabin Howard (Time Warner Center, Columbus Circle, New York City, through August 31 or September 11. For information, call Millenia Fine Art Partners at 212-521-4089). How often does one get to see a new classical nude sculpture of heroic proportions these days? We cannot recall any at all in recent decades, not in New York at least. Yet for the past several months anyone ascending the escalator to the second floor of the Time Warner Center [more]--to shop for books at Borders, say--might have noticed Sabin Howard's seven-foot bronze, Hermes. If this is the first you have heard of the work, however, it is no surprise. None of the city's dailies (including the New York Times, the New York Sun, and the Wall Street Journal) saw fit to cover its unveiling on April 29 or has deemed it worthy of mention since, apart from an inconsequential item of some hundred words in the New York Post on May 7. For our money, the event was worth attending, especially as the estimable sculptor--who characterizes himself as a "strict classicist"--was present to speak about his work. Lamentably, the Hermes has been moved from its original ideal location to a poorly lit, cramped spot near the United Colors of Benetton storefront and against a distracting background. Still, it merits a trip to see it in person before it moves on to another city (location and dates forthcoming). Be forewarned, however, that we were unable to determine with certainty the last date of its present installation.

EXHIBITION: Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Sculptor for the Ages
Augustus Saint-Gaudens: American Sculptor of the Gilded Age (Vero Beach Museum of Art, Vero Beach, Florida, through September 5). We cannot often enough sing the praises of this titan of American art, worthy of comparison with the sculptors of any age. A brief overview of his life and work is available (in English) on the website of the Augustins Museum in Toulouse, France, the region his father's family hailed from. See also the comprehensive website of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site. Finally, the Artcyclopedia page on Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) is a valuable source of information, including locations throughout the United States where his work is located. In New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a must visit, as it numbers some thirty-two of his works in its permanent collection. The city itself boasts four of his major public sculptures, including the great Sherman Monument [more]. Images of the other monuments in New York, as well as of works in such cities as Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Dublin, are to be found on the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site pages. The most unusual of these is the spare Oliver and Oakes Ames Monument at Sherman Summit, near Laramie, Wyoming (follow the link on that page to get to thumbnail images of other works). Who were Oliver and Oakes Ames? Anyone interested in the westward expansion of the United States and nineteenth-century cultural history will find a brief account of these two brothers (and images of the monument and the two relief sculptures by Saint-Gaudens) informative.

Rand Scholar Marks a Tenth Anniversary
Like her or not, it grows more difficult with each passing year for scholars and other intellectuals not to take Ayn Rand seriously as a thinker. No one deserves more credit for this state of affairs than our good friend and colleague, political and social theorist Chris Matthew Sciabarra, who has long been a Visiting Scholar at New York University. This month, along with countless other readers, we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the publication of his Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (Penn State University Press). Chris--who also co-edited Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand and is the founding editor of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies--is the pre-eminent Rand scholar. But don't take our word for it. Compare his published contributions with those of any other writer. No one comes close. And there is more in the pipeline, as this list of his forthcoming essays and research projects indicates. Considering the multitude of interests Chris pursues, we often wonder how he finds time to do all that reading, thinking, and writing. But find it he does.

MUSEUMS: Tenth-Anniversary Exhibition at the Dahesh
The Dahesh Collection: Celebrating a Decade of Discovery (Dahesh Museum of Art, New York City, through September 22). The tenth anniversary of the Dahesh merits celebration for the considerable pleasures offered by the elsewhere-neglected art the museum is devoted to--nineteenth- and early twentieth-century academic art by masters such as Bouguereau (his Water Girl [more] is the exhibition's poster image), as well as by accomplished, albeit less familiar, artists we have enjoyed becoming acquainted with there. (See Director Peter Trippi's remarks, "Much Accomplished, and Much More Ahead"). Also laudable in our view is the inspiration the museum has provided to contemporary painters and sculptors who are perpetuating that artistic tradition in a contemporary context. For our part, during the next decade, we would welcome an expansion of the museum's program to include exhibitions of their work, too.

British Newspaper Asks, What is art?
In May, The Observer, one of London's leading dailies, ran a piece prompted by the imminent publication of a book entitled What Good Are the Arts? the author of which holds that a work of art is "anything that anyone has ever considered a work of art." The Observer posed the question Do the arts matter? along with these old standbys--What is art? Who decides? and Are there absolute standards?--to a varied lot of Brits who "ought to know." After posting their responses, the paper asked readers, What do you think? Louis Torres could not resist. Both his remarks and a rejoinder are posted on the Observer Blog of May 7 (scroll down, or search for his name).

Caveat on Greenblatt
In view of our enthusiastic recommendation (Notes & Comments, December 2004) of Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World--a recommendation admittedly based not on a reading of the book but on an interview with the author by Brian Lamb--we owe it to readers to point to numerous reservations that have been voiced regarding the book's validity as biography. See, for example, "Who Owns Shakespeare?" by Rachel Donadio (New York Times Book Review, January 23, 2005).

Weblog Sighting: "Wat is kunst?"
Even if you are not fluent in Dutch, you may recognize the question "Wat is kunst?" In any case, scroll down the page to find a reference to a book in English said to provide the answer.

Cessation of an Influential Quarterly
When New York Times columnist David Brooks reported earlier this year that the neoconservative journal The Public Interest was ending its decades-long run in American culture, we took special note. As Brooks observed in his column (reprinted in Philadelphia's Neshoba Democrat), "the magazine has never had more than 10,000 subscribers. But over the past 40 years, [it] has had more influence on domestic policy than any other journal in the country--by far." We had particular reason to be grateful to this influential quarterly, for it was the only periodical of its stature to have reviewed What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand. Given that its policy was to run only occasional reviews, "by the best in their field of current must-read books," and that it rarely covered the arts, its decision to review a book by two relative unknowns dealing with an aspect of Rand's philosophy was no small cause for appreciation--notwithstanding the reservations of the reviewer, Roger Kimball, who nonetheless found it a "rich, opinionated mélange" (see his review and our response). Farewell columns by Kristol and his long-time co-editor were published in the journal's final issue.

Ann Long Fine Art
With this issue we inaugurate a new category of recommended websites--Galleries--by linking to Ann Long Fine Art, which specializes in the work of contemporary classical realist painters and sculptors. We recently had the pleasure of visiting the gallery, in Charleston, S. C., where we spent nearly two hours viewing the art on hand and chatting with the engaging and knowledgeable proprietor and with Jory Glazener, one of the more talented of the younger artists she represents, who happened to drop in at the time--and whose drawings [scroll past the brief artist's statement to the drawings, and click on thumbnails to enlarge]--such as Charleston and John the Baptist--we found especially striking. Among other works we admired were Charcoal Portrait (Daniela Astone), Portrait of Zoe (Charles Cecil), and Copper Pot (Daniel Graves), as well as some very fine sculptural busts, including Woman (Lotta Blokker) and The Judgment (Robert Bodem). Anyone interested in classical realist art who can travel to the delightful, historic city of Charleston would do well to visit this gallery.

Once a Teacher. . .
After nearly a quarter century's absence from the classroom, Louis Torres returned for a day in June, at the Daly Day Academy--a small, private elementary school located in Harlem, in New York City--to talk about art history and appreciation with a group of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders. His focus was primarily on works of art in classical or academic styles by some of the greatest artists of the past and present (both white and black painters and sculptors), depicting mostly black subjects and ranging from twelfth-century Africa and sixteenth-century Europe to present-day America. Some highlights: Dürer, Head of a Negro, 1508; Artist unknown, Head of an Oba, c. 1550; Rubens, Head of a Negro, c. 1620; Saint-Gaudens, Shaw Memorial (detail), 1884-1901; Steven Assael, Head II, 1998; and Meredith Bergmann, Phillis Wheatley (detail of Boston Women's Memorial), 2003. A related article is forthcoming. (For more on the Daly Day Academy, see Notes & Comments, April 2005.)

EXHIBITION: More Than Just Land
Jacob van Ruisdael: Dutch Master of Landscape (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, through September 10). ArtLex, the online art dictionary, defines landscape as a painting that depicts "scenery such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers and forests"--nature, in a word. But the man-made is an equal partner in the dramatic landscapes of van Ruisdael, whose paintings are filled with such structures as castles, water mills, civic buildings, churches, and windmills. Often there are people, too--tiny figures walking or riding or fishing or working the land or just enjoying each other's company--and domesticated animals as well. (A sampling of this Dutch master's work may be seen at the Web Gallery of Art.)

EXHIBITION: Master Illustrator
Maxfield Parrish, Master of Make-Believe (San Diego Museum of Art, through September 11). Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) was primarily an illustrator (someone whose work promotes the products or enhances the work of others), not a "fine artist," but does anyone who loves his work really care? Also of interest to exhibition visitors (as well as to those who cannot attend but would like to) is the Art Renewal Center's collection of more than a hundred images of Parrish's work.

MUSEUMS: Hero of the Enlightenment--and His Sculptor
Enlightenment buffs and sculpture lovers alike (often one and the same) may enjoy a visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to see its newly acquired Voltaire Seated (1779-1795), by Jean-Antoine Houdon. This greatest of all portrait sculptors created an extraordinary series of images of the Enlightenment philosopher, as well as portraits of many other intellectual and political luminaries of the day. Houdon was the subject of a stunning exhibition at the National Gallery of Art and the Getty Museum not long ago, and the catalogue of the exhibition, Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sculptor of the Enlightenment, is the definitive work on him. In addition to being beautifully illustrated, its authoritative essays offer well-documented insights into Houdon's working methods, his relations with his patrons, and the transformative era in which he lived. It is a book to own.

WORTH READING: The Arts and the Working Poor
The view that poor people, members of the working class, generally take little interest in classic literature, philosophy, and music is belied by Jonathan Rose's informative and inspiring essay "The Classics and the Slums," which surveys nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Great Britain on the subject and ends in American inner cities of today. Consider the example of Joseph Keating, a turn-of-the-century autodidact who "performed one of the toughest and worst-paid jobs in the mine: shoveling out tons of refuse" yet studied Greek philosophy at night. As Rose relates:

One day, he was stunned to hear a co-worker sigh, "Heaven from all creatures hides the book of fate." "You are quoting Pope," Keating exclaimed. "Ayh," replied his companion, "me and Pope do agree very well." Keating had himself been reading Pope, Fielding, Smollett, Goldsmith, and Richardson in poorly printed paperbacks. Later he acquired a violin for 18 shillings, took lessons, and formed a chamber-music quartet, playing Mozart, Corelli, Beethoven, and Schubert--not an uncommon hobby in the coalfields. And he never forgot the electric thrill of pursuing books and music: "Reading of all sorts--philosophy, history, politics, poetry, and novels--was mixed up with my music and other amusements. I was tremendously alive at this period. Everything interested me. Every hour, every minute was crammed with my activities in one direction or another. New, mysterious emotions and passions seemed to be breaking out like little flames from all parts of my body."

Those charged with planning the curricula of our public schools should take note.

Required Reading
Michelle Kamhi's "Where's the Art in Today's Art Education" (reprinted in Arts Education Policy Review from "What Art Is Online" on this website) is among the required readings for Contemporary Issues in Art Education, a course taught at Ohio University by Alison Colman, who posts the AEPR version of the article.

EXHIBITION: A Bastion of Culture Gets Postmodern
Tony Oursler at the Met: "Studio" and "Climaxed" (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, through September 18). Whenever you see the terms "mixed-media" or "installation," or a combination of the two, you can rest assured that the piece in question is not a work of art, for the only people who choose to work in this catch-all postmodernist genre are those who have not mastered a legitimate art form sufficiently to employ it creatively. Yet such work is now on exhibit at the Metropolitan. When interviewed about it by New York City's local news channel, NY1, the purported artist declared that the presence of his work at this great museum is "incredible." We could not agree more.

Buzzwords
Additions to our list of artworld buzzwords include yet another instance of cutting-edge, and the term innovative. (Note that we have changed our style for this term to "buzzwords," rather than "buzz words." If you search for instances of it on this website, therefore, enter both forms.)

"The Arts" at the New York Times
A review of The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat is one of ten new articles cited in Appendix C that were published on the front page of "The Arts" section of the Times although they have nothing to do with the arts.

"Arts, Briefly" at the New York Times
We have begun documenting, in Appendix D, just initiated, news items unrelated to the arts that appeared in the Times column entitled "Arts, Briefly"--such as one captioned "Stalin's Secret Hitler Book to Be Published."

Aristos Abroad
Our not-so-humble online review is recommended on websites from countries far afield, among them: England--Artifact: Best of the Web for the Arts ("Best of the West for the Arts"); Scotland--BUBL Link (about); Australia--St. Paul's Grammar School - Senior School Library; and New Zealand--Zeroland ("An Arts Directory [of] the World's Most Authoritative--and Otherwise Interesting--Art & Culture Websites").

Letters to the Editors
We invite readers to comment on matters related to items published in the current or past issues (see Archives).

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