August 2012


Marking Our 30th
Thirty years? Yes, indeed! June was the thirtieth anniversary of our founding, which prompts us to reflect, belatedly, on our past. In the late 1980s Library Journal called us "unique . . . controversial, and combative." We still are. In both the mid and late '90s Magazines for Libraries deemed us "a scholarly but gutsy little periodical," adding that our feature articles carried "more weight than those found in more substantial periodicals." They still do. Around the same time, Jacques Barzun, America's preeminent cultural historian, wrote to tell us that "reading Aristos [had] given [him] much pleasure and instruction." Fast forward to 2006 (our fourth year as an online journal)--Barzun, then 98, said this:

I [am] glad to hear that Aristos continues in existence and that you and it remain pillars in the edifice of art education and appreciation in this country. I agree with you that much put forward as art these days is a product of either charlatanism or invincible ignorance.

Now, six years later, we continue to ply our uniquely controversial point of view, combating the destructive tendencies of the contemporary artworld and championing 20th- and 21st-century artists of all kinds--from painters and sculptors to playwrights and composers--who carry on the time-honored traditions of the past.

Barzun and Berlioz
Still active at 104, Jacques Barzun attended a concert in his honor [article and photos] by the San Antonio Symphony in May. The program, chosen by Barzun, was devoted to work by his favorite composer, Hector Berlioz (1803-1869). Barzun's monumental two-volume study Berlioz and the Romantic Century (1950) [review] is now available in an abridged version as Berlioz and His Century: An Introduction to the Age of Romanticism (1982). See "Worth Listening To" on our home page for links to the composer's Romeo and Juliet choral symphony, excerpts from which were performed at the San Antonio concert.

Find Us on Facebook!
With the help of our new Internet Assistant, Linnie Leavines (Louisiana State University '12), Aristos recently established its own page on Facebook, albeit as yet a spare one. In the coming weeks and months we will flesh it out by posting material supplementing in various ways what you see in Aristos. If you are a Facebook member and value both the journal and its Facebook page, by all means find us there and "Like" us! You will be among the first to know when we've added new items of interest and when a new issue of Aristos has been posted. Connect with us now.

Aristos Awards: For Critiques of Frank Gehry's Eisenhower Memorial Design
This month we present two awards--to the National Civic Art Society in Washington, D.C., and to Andrew Ferguson, a senior editor of The Weekly Standard, for their unmasking of Frank Gehry--the charlatan-architect who won the commission to design the memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander [more] of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II and 34th president [more] of the United States.

As stated in our introduction to the Awards, they are given "for objectivity in arts criticism, scholarship, or commentary. Such objectivity involves the recognition (usually implicit) that art has a particular nature, and that the art of the present necessarily bears a fundamental similarity to the art of the past." Both winners this month have met that standard.

The Eisenhower Memorial
It is not too late to prevent Frank Gehry from defacing the nation's capital with his patchwork design for this long-overdue memorial. Congress should insist that the Eisenhower Memorial Commission scrap it, start from scratch, and sponsor a new competition for a memorial that would fittingly honor the dignity and achievements of Eisenhower and would stand in harmony with other D.C. memorials. (Better yet, the Commission itself ought to be scrapped and a new one authorized by Congress to take its place.) The new competition should be open to all architects, not just those working in a classical style, but should exclude postmodern deconstructionists such as Gehry (see this typical work by him: the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles). Once the overall memorial design is selected, a separate competition, open only to traditional sculptors, should follow.

The "sculptor" Gehry originally chose was Charles Ray, who is cut from the same postmodernist cloth as himself. Ray's often bizarre figures, actually fabricated by others, tend to be hyperrealistic but sometimes attempt to mimic classical sculpture. We shudder to think whom Gehry might select next if he gets another chance. In Gehry's original design, Ray's sculpture was to represent Eisenhower as "a barefoot boy from Abilene," sitting in the shadow of vast woven metal "tapestries" purporting to depict the Kansas landscape where he grew up. As the former president's granddaughter Susan Eisenhower has suggested, however, this is hardly "the best way to capture Dwight Eisenhower's contribution to his nation--the very reason he is being memorialized in the first place."

EXHIBITION: FDNY 9.11.01 Memorial Wall
"May We Never Forget," Newington-Cropsey Foundation, Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., June 25 - July 29, 2012. Models and designs used by sculptor Joseph Petrovics to create a mural-sized bas-relief commemorating firefighters in the World Trade Center disaster were on view here. Dedicated to firefighters worldwide, Petrovics's forthrightly realist Memorial Wall [more] is a bronze bas-relief (56' x 6') installed in 2006 at Firehouse No. 10, 124 Liberty Street, New York City, directly across from the Trade Center site. In contrast with the 9/11 Memorial on the site itself--which is completely abstract and impersonal except for the names of the dead, whom each viewer must bring to life privately in his own thoughts--the sculpture by Petrovics vividly embodies for all to see the human dimension of the tragedy.

Petrovics, who was born in Hungary, immigrated to the United States in 1988 and has served as the Studio Instructor at the Newington-Cropsey Foundation Academy of Art since 1993. Other work by him includes the National Iwo Jima Memorial Monument [more] [more] in New Britain, Connecticut--as well as surprisingly abstract pieces such as Untitled (Edge) (2010). We had not previously known of this important sculptor's work and are pleased to bring it to the attention of our readers.

Confessions of a Critic
Once in a rare while, in moments of unguarded candor, today's art critics reveal deep truths about the "contemporary art" they cover and about themselves as well. In an article reflecting on the career of the recently deceased painter Leroy Neiman (famed for his popular images of sports heroes), the New York Times's Ken Johnson fessed up:

It is one of the big lies of the serious art world that anything goes. That may be the case in regard to form, material and techniques, but when it comes to cultural politics, my art world leans decidedly leftward. In Chelsea galleries you are not going to find art made in the service of family values, patriotism or orthodox religion. Republican presidents may be satirically skewered, those who are Democrats hardly ever. You are unlikely ever to see anything condemning abortion or advocating looser gun control laws in a Whitney Biennial. ["Achieving Fame Without a Legacy," June 22, 2012]

As Johnson freely admits, the artworld's bias is esthetic as well as political. It not only favors the creation and exhibition of work reflecting "liberal" political and social views but also prompts critics to be contemptuous of contemporary artists whose work is popular as well as accessible. Those "marginalized by the cognoscenti," he notes, range from Neiman (whose facile images do not rise to the level of art in our view) to Andrew Wyeth, whose work we greatly esteem.

Though Johnson is himself among the artworld cognoscenti, he argues (to his credit) that "it is hard to deny the aesthetic and moral interest" of work by neglected artists. Considering Neiman and, by implication, others "who could galvanize . . . popular imagination," he suggests, might help the artworld to "expand [its] spiritual horizons" and might also "tell us something true about real life in the real world." And that, in his view, "is something to wish for."

Did Monet Prefigure Abstract Painting?
Browsing through the website of Madrid's Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza recently, we came upon a striking image of a young woman stealing a glance at paintings by Mark Rothko (on the left) and Claude Monet (on the right) as she strolled through an exhibition entitled Claude Monet and Abstraction. The exhibition, mounted in 2010, purported to offer a survey of the great French Impressionist painter's work from an "innovative" and unprecedented perspective--"namely the artist's relationship with the development of abstraction in the second half of the 20th century." According to one account,

the exhibition look[ed] at how Claude Monet's permanent obsession with capturing the instantaneous led him to break down pictorial representation to the point of reaching the threshold of abstraction. It also analyse[d] how, around the middle of the 20th century, the young generation of European and American abstract artists rediscovered his art and elevated the figure of Monet to the status of undisputed prophet of the material-based trends within abstraction. ["'Claude Monet and Abstraction' Opens at Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid [more]," Art Knowledge News, n.d.]

True, Monet's late work reached the "threshold" of total abstraction. The key point for us, however, is that he never crossed it--and for good reason, we suspect. Crossing it would have meant abandoning intelligibility. In this, Monet differed fundamentally from the mid-twentieth-century abstract painters. While they may claim to have been influenced by him, we doubt that he would have approved of what they made of his "influence."

New Buzzwords
Buzzword--"A word or phrase connected with a specialized field or group that usually sounds important or technical and is used primarily to impress laypersons." Buzzwords abound in the avant-garde artworld, and we've collected them for years. As we argued in our introduction to the subject, one can generally infer that when these terms are used in criticism and scholarship, the work in question is not art by any objective standard. Our list cites examples of their usage and provides links to the relevant texts. This month we've added two new buzzwords, and provided new instances of several old ones.

Of Interest Elsewhere
Be sure to sample the "Worth Reading/Viewing" and "Worth Listening To" items linked to on our home page.

Letters to the Editors
We invite you to comment on items published in this or past issues (see the Aristos archives for examples). Letters may be edited for length or clarity, but you will always be consulted prior to publication. Please include your city and state, as well as any relevant information such as academic affiliation or profession. If you are a student, please indicate your college, major, and year of graduation.

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