March 2013


Welcome Sweet Springtime!
What better way to usher in the new season, after a long and often gray winter, than with the lovely bouquets of flowers in Laura Coombs Hills: Flowers from My Garden! Devoted to the floral pastels of Hills (1859-1952), an artist celebrated in her time but little-known now, this catalogue pays tribute to her life and work.

Ten Years! Can You Believe?
As a quick glance at our Archives will show, our "gutsy little journal" (that's what Magazines for Libraries called the old print version) was re-born online ten years ago in January. Ten years!

EXHIBITION: The Pleasures of Orientalist Art
Encountering the Orient: Masterworks from the Dahesh Museum of Art, at Christie's, 20 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, March 27-April 15, 2013. All too brief in duration, this fine little exhibition (the first in partnership with Christie's New York auction house) offers a welcome overview of nineteenth-century Western art inspired by the exotic landscape and cultures of the Middle East and North Africa. Many of these works, by academic artists whose names are familiar only to specialists, astonish by their sheer technical virtuosity. In the best examples--such as the Spanish painter Jose Tapiró y Baró's brilliant watercolor Tangerian Beauty [more] (aptly featured on the exhibition's web page)--that skill is matched by great sensitivity of perception as well. The subject's wistful face is as unforgettable as her lavish native costume.

Also memorable is A Sudanese in Algerian Costume [more] (ca. 1857), a small silvered bronze by the French artist Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier. Nor does the small scale of the British painter Frederick Goodall's beautifully lit scene of Egyptian Pilgrims Arriving at an Inn [more] keep him from rendering with particular delicacy each of the diverse travelers--from a young woman veiling her face to an old blind man being led by a youth. As these few works attest, such artists deserve to be better known.

EXHIBITION: Figure Painting in America
You wouldn't guess it from the work featured on its website page, but The Figure in American Art, on view through April 20th at the Eleanor Ettinger Gallery in New York City, includes some praiseworthy examples of contemporary realist painting. One of the most striking works in the show was the self-portrait--ironically entitled Surviver of Abstract Art--by Daniel Graves, the founding director of the Florence Academy of Art.

Of the four works by Glenn Harrington, we found his lovely Tinicum Field and Feathered Headdress particularly appealing (see the illustrated article on him on the Fine Art Connoisseur website). Steve Huston contributed three dramatic interpretations of Shakespearean characters [top row], of which Malcolm: War was the best realized in our view, the others being unfortunately marred by a rough handling of the flesh on hands and arms. Gregg Kreutz--who teaches painting and drawing at New York's Art Student's League and elsewhere--provided welcome variety with more complex figure groups in several lively genre scenes [bottom row], of an Art Class, Backstage, and In the Wings.

Musical Ode
Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' (from Symphony No. 9), as heard and seen in this "flashmob" performance in an urban plaza in Spain, is especially inspiring, for it allows us to observe the effect of the music on people, including children, gradually drawn to it. (Click on the "full screen" icon at the lower right of your computer screen, and turn up the volume!) More about the event here: "Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' Movingly Flashmobbed in Spain," Open Culture, July 16, 2012.

A Jesuit's Praise of Rand's Theory of Art
The unprecedented election of a Jesuit to the papacy earlier this month reminded us of the kind and wise words we received two decades ago from the Jesuit philosopher W. Norris Clarke (1915-2008). Father Clarke's remarks were in response to the series of articles on Ayn Rand's philosophy of art that we had published in Aristos in 1991 and 1992, out of which What Art Is later grew. At the suggestion of a mutual friend, philosopher Tibor Machan, we had sent the articles to him asking for his thoughts. After graciously thanking us for sending them, he wrote:

Although there is much that I disagree with in Ayn Rand's general philosophy [Father Clarke did not specify, but Rand's atheist views are well known], there is much that I am in sympathy with in her philosophy of art. I found especially interesting the essay "Philosophy and Sense of Life" and the general thesis that art is a kind of concretization of metaphysics. Much truth in all that. She is indeed a powerful and clear thinker.

Father Clarke then went on to gently admonish us for "lean[ing] over backward a little" in our effort to be "objective and critical" and for perhaps being overly critical. Such "constant critical interjection," he warned, might "give the impression that Ayn Rand is a careless thinker, that her thought is shot full of holes"--which was certainly not our intention. Nor did it seem to be his own judgment. While praising our "combination of appreciation and rigorous criticism" as "admirable--and rare," he argued that there might be more to Rand's idea that one's sense of life greatly influences one's moral decisions than we had credited.

Kamhi Weighs In to Times "Dialogue"
Responding to a New York Times "Invitation to a Dialogue" on the contemporary art market, Aristos co-editor Michelle Kamhi pulled no punches. In the shortest letter published by the Times in its "Sunday Dialogue: What Is That Art Worth?" (January 5, 2013), she wholeheartedly agreed with the opening thesis that the skyrocketing prices for "contemporary art" have nothing to do with esthetic value or connoisseurship, and everything to do with hype. What's more, she added, "the media are deplorably complicit in the game."

As she argued, however, the question to be asked in this state of affairs should not be whether work by the likes of Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Damien Hirst is any good but "whether it qualifies as art by any meaningful standard." Regular readers of Aristos should have no difficulty guessing what her answer to that question was. The dialogue participants included, among others, the director of the Andy Warhol Museum, the vice president for Postwar and Contemporary Art at Christie's, and a professor emeritus of art and art history from the University of Illinois. Needless to say, none of those artworld experts shared the view expressed by Kamhi--though some ordinary art lovers who wrote in clearly did.

A Jacques Barzun Compendium: Select Links to Online References
If you haven't yet perused our re-formatted and updated page on the late cultural historian, don't miss it now. Of particular interest are the remembrances by friends and admirers following his death in October at the age of 104. His life and work were an inspiration to many, not least to us.

"Open Air" or Hot Air?
Thanks to an "interactive art installation" entitled Open Air, commissioned by Philadelphia's Association for Public Art, recorded messages left by some 6,000 people from countries around the world last fall controlled the direction and brightness of 24 giant robotic searchlights over the city's Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It's all too complicated for us to explain. But you can read about it online and even listen to some of the brief messages. It does seem to have been fun for participants. But was it art?

Best of Aristos
Michelle Kamhi's article "The Misreading of Literature," reprinted here, first appeared in Vol. 3 No. 2 (October 1986) of the print edition of Aristos, but its subject remains timeless. As it shows, works of fiction often fall victim to misinterpretation, by readers at both ends of the political spectrum, and the resulting controversies have had unfortunate consequences for public education.

Letters to the Editors
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