December 2006

NOTES & COMMENTS

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!
To all our readers, we send warmest wishes for the holiday season and for a new year chock-full of art and other good things.

The Aristos Awards
We add three new names to our list of Aristos Award winners: critic and art historian John Canaday; professor of art and education Kenneth M. Lansing; and painter, teacher, and author Richard Lack, who is also cited elsewhere in this issue in various contexts.

Have an Opinion or Comment? Tell Us About It. . . .
This issue covers a lot of ground, some of it controversial. We would like to hear from you. If you want your letter to be considered for publication, put "To the Editors" in the subject line. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity, but will notify the writer of all but minor changes prior to publication. (To read previously published letters, see "Letters" in the archives.)

Support Aristos!
If you enjoy this issue, and look forward to more of our unique perspective on the arts, please support our work by sending a contribution to the Aristos Foundation. You can also help us at no cost to yourself by doing your holiday shopping through iGive.com and designating the foundation as your cause. New readers, be sure to peruse our archives--including the Notes & Comments for each issue--to see what you've missed.

Light Music Is. . . .
No, light music is not "elevator music"--or "muzak." In "The Joys of Light Music" Jesse Knight takes the reader on a delightful and informative music-filled tour of the genre, past and present. The world of light music, akin to Romanticism in the classical music field, is a lot richer and more varied than we ever imagined. Happy listening!

THEATER: Shaw Lives at the Pearl
The Pearl Theatre Company in New York got off to a flying start for its 23rd season with a thoroughly engaging production of George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man (alternating with a lively production of Molière's School for Wives, through December 23). Many who have seen other stagings of the play are unanimous in the view that this one is superior. In the hands of this skilled troupe of actors, ably directed by Gus Kaikkonen, Shaw's playful debunking of romantic notions about war becomes something more than mere farce. Bradford Cover's delectable chocolate cream soldier has his feet planted firmly on the ground. Rachel Botchan, as the starry-eyed young woman whose bedroom he invades, and Hana Moon, as her maidservant, are spirited forebears of Shaw's later heroines, from Major Barbara to Liza Doolittle. If you love good theater, you won't want to miss this production. (For more on the Pearl, see Notes & Comments, January 2006.) -- M.M.K.

Three American Painters--the Catalogue
Triad: Three American Painters, at the Newington-Cropsey Foundation in Hastings-on-Hudson, N. Y., closed on October 27, but we have a few copies of the catalogue on hand for the mere cost of postage and a self-addressed envelope. The 52-page catalogue includes excellent full-color reproductions, informative biographical essays, and notes on selected works. Highlights include Stephen Gjertson's The Café Singer and After the Bath, Kirk Richards's The Sculptor and Copper Pot and Pampas Grass, and A Tuscan Hillside and The Pathway, Emilia Romagna, by Steve Armes--plus many other fine landscapes by Armes, whose work we had not previously known. Readers interested in obtaining a copy of the catalogue should contact us by e-mail as soon as possible.

Not Just for Collectors
Fine Art Connoisseur bills itself as "The Premier Magazine for Informed Collectors." But it is much more than that. For anyone interested in realist art, there is much to enjoy in this gorgeously illustrated quarterly--which introduces readers to accomplished contemporary work as well as to that by neglected earlier artists. The September/October issue, for example, features "American Women Painters in Paris, 1860-1900" (on the exhibition Americans in Paris, 1860-1900) and "Jacob Collins: A Classical Realist Who Thinks Ahead" (see "Painting the Nude"). The gallery and exhibition advertisements throughout the magazine are also a rich source of pleasure and information.

According to the magazine's website, its publisher, B. Eric Rhoads, is "a highly passionate advocate for realistic representational art." The editor, Peter Trippi, is the former director of the Dahesh Museum of Art in New York City, which specializes in European academic art of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and has often been cited by us. We have added the Fine Art Connoisseur website to our recommended Other Sites. Some of the items in the "Artist Resources" section of the magazine's Resource Center are of interest to non-artists as well.

WORTH READING: Long-Overdue Recognition
"Rejects d'Art: Why Won't the Art World Embrace the State's Classical Realist Artists?" (Minnesota Monthly, December 2006)--a tribute to Richard Lack, his former student Stephen Gjertson, and the Classical Realist movement in painting.

Works Cited in "The New Dawn of Painting"
Among the many works cited by Louis Torres in "The New Dawn of Painting"--a review of Realism in Revolution: The Art of the Boston School (edited by Richard Lack)--are, on page 1: (middle) Nude with Red Robe, Richard Lack; and (right) The Recorder Lesson, Stephen Gjertson. On pages 4-5: #2 - Maryann Graziano, Mark Balma; #5 - Self Portrait, Richard Whitney; #8 - April Evening , Don Koestner.

Bouguereau Painting Cited in "On Responsible Arts Criticism"
The work discussed in Louis Torres's letter to the New York Times regarding critic Grace Glueck's review of a major Bouguereau retrospective is A Soul Brought to Heaven (1878).

EXHIBITION: Bouguereau
In the Studios of Paris: William Bouguereau and His American Students (Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Okla., through December 31; Appleton Museum of Art [more], Central Florida Community College, Ocala, Fla., February 10 - May 27, 2007). See Richard Lack's "Bouguereau's Legacy" (Aristos, September 1982), which discusses Nymphs and Satyr (Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, Williamstown, Mass.) and Homer and His Guide (Milwaukee Art Museum).

EXHIBITION: Landscapes Bathed in Light
Luminist Horizons: The Art and Collection of James Suydam (National Academy Museum, New York City, through December 31). This splendid little exhibition, beautifully installed in the National Academy's elegant Fifth Avenue townhouse, offers a welcome overview of the life and work of the American landscapist James Augustus Suydam (1819-1865). Though less well known than such fellow painters as Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt, Suydam was an accomplished master in his own right. His landscapes--termed "luminist" for their emphasis on light and atmosphere--are highly evocative of the spirit of their locales, ranging from North Conway, New Hampshire (see Conway Meadows), to the gentle coast of New York's Long Island. One of the many eminently appealing paintings on view is Twilight with Windmill (also referred to simply as Twilight), which is in the museum's collection. Like any true artist, Suydam did not simply record the scenes he observed but distilled them through numerous alterations of topographic and atmospheric features. Nearly two-thirds of the exhibition consists of his personal collection of paintings by other artists (he bequeathed the collection to the Academy)--among them Church and John F. Kensett. Suydam's tastes as a collector were broad, offering further indication of the richness of nineteenth-century painting and reminding us, once more, of the relative impoverishment of the art of our own time. A catalogue of the exhibition is available in both hardcover and paperback editions.

Background and Checklist. We were especially delighted to discover that detailed information regarding the Suydam exhibition, with images of four paintings, is available on the website of the Traditional Fine Arts Organization. Included is an annotated checklist of all the works, arranged alphabetically by the painter's last name--a helpful item usually available only to members of the press. If you print it out prior to visiting the show, our usual suggestion applies: take time to look at each painting before reading its wall label (or the corresponding text on the checklist).

Related Lecture. "The Work of James Suydam and the Question of Luminism" [click on Public Programs, Upcoming Events], Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Curator of American Art at Harvard University's Fogg Art Museum. December 14, 6:30 pm, at the National Academy Museum. Reservations are required: 212-369-4880.

Tracking the Artworld
Still more examples in our ever-growing lists of Invented Art Forms, Artworld Buzzwords, and the promiscuous use of the term art at the New York Times--"The Arts" and "Arts, Briefly." Except for the last category, these lists were inaugurated as Appendixes in What Art Is in 2000. Guaranteed to give you a laugh or make your shake your head in dismay.

EXHIBITION: Lessons Learned in Paris
Americans in Paris, 1860-1900 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, through January 28, 2007). In the decades following the Civil War, American artists flocked to Paris--seeking to hone their skills and establish their reputations in the cultural mecca of the Western world. This exhibition (previously shown at the National Gallery [see related links], London, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), offers a window into their rich experience and its influence on later American art. From our perspective, a particularly interesting aspect of the show--apart from the considerable pleasure afforded by the works themselves, of course--is the light that it sheds on the important role that academic ateliers played in the development of even the more adventuresome painters. (As always, we recommend a quick walk through the galleries for an overview, before going back to the start for a closer look. In any case, always begin by looking at the work before you read any accompanying texts--and, we beg you, avoid the audio guides!)

A special feature on the Met's website offers an online tour of the entire exhibition (except for several sculptures), gallery by gallery! Some of the highlights follow:

1 - "Picturing Paris": Three by Childe Hassam [click on these thumbnails from an earlier Hassam retrospective]--Along the Seine, Winter, Grand Prix Day, and April Showers, Champs Elysees, Paris.

2 - "Artists in Paris": Ellen Day Hale's assertively unconventional Self Portrait; John Singer Sargent's Portrait of Carolus-Duran, a tribute to the academic master with whom he studied; Anna Elizabeth Klumpke's fine portrait of her renowned teacher, Rosa Bonheur; Mary Cassatt's Portrait of Alexander J. Cassatt and his Son Robert Kelso Cassatt (notwithstanding the poor quality of this image, the painting is one of Cassatt's best, palpably conveying the bond between her brother and nephew); Charles Sprague Pearce's striking portrait of the sculptor Paul Wayland Bartlett; and Bouguereau's Atelier at the Académie Julian, Paris, by the little-known Jefferson D. Chalfant, a work of mainly historical interest.

4 - "Paris as Proving Ground" (first gallery): Mary Cassatt, Lydia Crocheting in the Garden at Marly; Thomas Eakins, The Writing Master (a portrait of the artist's father--see Thomas Eakins: Painting Pure Thought in our August 2003 issue); Winslow Homer, A Summer Night [scroll down, click on thumbnail, then click again to enlarge further]; John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (this ingenious quadruple portrait is a far better work in our view than Sargent's notorious portrait Madame X, which he supposed was "the best thing" he had ever done and which is used as the exhibition's poster image); Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Victory, seen here in different casts: [more] [more ].

5 - "Paris as Proving Ground" (second gallery): Cecilia Beaux, Ernesta (Child with Nurse); Elizabeth Nourse, La mère (Mother and Child) [more]; Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Young Sabot Maker; and Bessie Potter [Vonnoh], A Young Mother, a work small in size but not in effect.

Further Viewing and Reading. See the National Gallery's excellent online materials, the illustrated article published by the Traditional Fine Arts Organization, and the exhibition catalogue.

EXHIBITION: Art Dealer to Renoir, van Gogh, Cassatt, Gauguin, et al.
Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, through January 7, 2007; Art Institute of Chicago, February 17 - May 13, 2007; and the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, June 18 - September 16, 2007).

This well-organized exhibition offers a fascinating and informative survey (the first of its kind) of the pivotal role played, for better or for worse, by the Parisian dealer who helped to put what was once considered "avant-garde" art on the map in the decades around the turn of the twentieth century.

Among the highlights of the exhibition are Gauguin's monumental Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (see Notes & Comments, May 2004), as well as his Manao Tupapau (Spirit of the Dead Watching) and Breton Women (Two Peasants on a Road). In the gallery devoted to van Gogh, Sunflowers and L'Arlésienne (both in the Met's collection), and Starry Night over the Rhone (a work we had not seen before, on loan from the Musée d'Orsay, Paris) should not be missed.

Of the many portraits of Vollard painted by admiring and grateful artists, we were delighted to discover Renoir's diminutive yet affecting Ambroise Vollard with a Red Scarf (1906), one of the finest small portraits we have seen--from the collection of the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Among other exemplary works by Renoir is Seated Bather in a Landscape (1895-1900). Also a pleasure to see was an early masterly sketch of Vollard by Picasso--compare that incisive portrait with his later Cubist concoction Ambroise Vollard. (Other painters in the exhibition include Cassatt, Cézanne, Degas, and Matisse.)

Should Art Museums Charge Admission?
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's recent decision to increase its recommended fee for adults to $20 (see announcement) has met with well-deserved objections. Critics of the new policy range from Jen Chung--editor of Gothamist, a website about New York)--to New York Times art critic Roberta Smith. As Chung ("Metropolitan Museum of Art Suggests You Pay More" [don't miss the aerial view of the museum]) and others have pointed out, the fee is only "recommended," though you must pay something (read the small print as you approach the admissions booth). This because the Met belongs to the Cultural Institutions Group, along with thirty-three other institutions owned and partly financed by New York City. (The city provides 11 percent of the Met's total budget, which in the past fiscal year contributed nearly $25 million toward operating expenses.) In "Should Art Museums Always Be Free? There's Room for Debate" (July 22), Smith offers a compelling argument for free admission:

[As public institutions,] museums are . . . comparable to libraries. Like libraries, they are repositories of knowledge. Like books, artworks are tools for lifelong self-education; it is through them that we discover and explore important aspects of our humanness. They should be equally available to all, for the good of the individual and society as a whole. Most Americans would be appalled if public libraries charged entrance fees.

Smith reports that many major art museums have either "recently 'gone free' or have been free, or almost free, to the public for quite some time"--among others, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walters Art Museum, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. One form of support enabling such institutions to open their doors to the public is city and county tax revenue, which we do not favor. The other--which we heartily applaud--is private sources: corporations, private foundations, wealthy individuals. Such private philanthropy has long sustained our major cultural institutions, as well it should.

To give the Met's $20 recommended fee a real-life perspective: we know of a young couple of modest means who visit the Met Friday evenings on a regular basis, with their toddler son in tow. Of necessity, they pay only a nominal amount, while risking a disapproving look on the part of the Met's cashiers. Would the museum like to shame such visitors into not coming at all? Have such cases even entered the mind of the Met's patrician director, Philippe de Montebello, or been considered by the museum's wealthy board of trustees? And what of the individual who would like to pop into the museum to see just a few works? Can such a brief visit warrant parting with $20? Hardly.

Happy 400th, Rembrandt!
In celebration of the Dutch master's quattrocentennial, Rembrandt and His Circle: Drawings and Prints at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art called attention to his masterly graphic art. Among the works cited are Christ Preaching (c.1652), The Last Supper, after Leonardo da Vinci [more] (1633-35), and Cottage Among Trees (c.1650). Works on paper by Rembrandt were also featured in the Art Institute of Chicago's 2004 Rembrandt's Journey: Painter, Draftsman, Etcher [click on "selected works"]. Regarding Rembrandt's mastery of etching, in particular, see "The Rembrandt Copper Plates" [scroll down] and the note on "Negress" Lying Down on the Met's website. See also "Rembrandt's Late Religious Portraits," a recent exhibition of the master's paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

Is Furniture Art?
Among the many who say yes to that question these days is Alexander Payne, director of the Design department at the international auction house Phillips, de Pury & Company. Yet apparently the term "furniture art" just doesn't sound right to Payne and his peers, who have taken to referring to the wares they peddle as "Design Art," which (according to P, de P & C) "represents conceptual work that focuses on radical form-driven work from the most important designers working today and is rapidly developing as an exciting new category for the serious art collector." Payne finds that this area "is exceedingly exciting [there's that word again] because there is a blurring between the contemporary art market and the design market." Interesting the way money has a way of blurring distinctions.

As the New York Times antiques columnist Wendy Moonan reports, however, "calling modern furniture 'art' is nothing new." It all began around 1926, she notes, and by 1928 Women's Wear Daily had inaugurated a new column entitled "Home Furnishings = Modern Art." (We can safely surmise that the equation had more than a little to do with the abstract wing of "modern art.") Moonan's column, "Where Modern Art and Furniture Profitably Meet" (June 2, 2006), was accompanied by a photograph from Phillips, de Pury of the 1971 original of this chair. After citing hefty sales estimates for furniture pieces from the 1920s soon to be put on the block by the auction house--prices ranging from $100,000 to nearly three quarters of a million dollars--Moonan remarks: "With estimates like these, it is easy to consider this furniture 'art.'" Easy for some, that is.

Attn: College and Grad Students
Aristos is seeking a volunteer intern interested in the arts who finds our editorial philosophy appealing, has strong writing skills, and would like to gain valuable experience while contributing to the growth of the journal. Some knowledge of web design would be a plus. Write to the editors, specifying "Intern" in the subject line. Tell us about yourself and why the prospect of working for Aristos appeals to you, and send (or link to) at least one writing sample--preferably on the arts.

Policy Journal Reprints Aristos Article
Michelle Marder Kamhi's "Modernism, Postmodernism, or Neither?" (August 2005) has been reprinted, with the addition of source notes, in the May/June 2006 issue of Arts Education Policy Review. Other articles by Kamhi previously reprinted in AEPR are "Where's the Art in Today's Art Education?" (What Art Is Online, November 2002) and "Rescuing Art from 'Visual Culture Studies'" (Aristos, January 2004).

Recommended Links
We have added three art galleries to our Other Sites page--each specializing in Classical Realist (or academic) painters and sculptors.

What Art Is--at Bargain Prices
The major online booksellers no longer discount the trade paperback edition of What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand, and have never done so with the hardcover edition. Readers here and abroad can now purchase both at steep discounts directly from the publisher, however. See the book's page on the Open Court website.

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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