May 2018


EXHIBITION: Michelangelo--Sculptor, Painter, Architect, Poet
An exhibition that truly lived up to its "once-in-a-lifetime" billing was Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which closed on February 12. Encompassing more than two hundred works from an astonishing array of public and private collections, it illuminated the expansive genius of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) as painter, sculptor, architect, and poet--in relation both to his predecessors and to the followers he inspired. As the exhibition's title suggests, the focus was on the master's drawings, from the studies that reveal his creative thought processes to the stunning finished drawings he created as gifts for close friends (lucky them!). Among the exhibition's great coups was the complete series of such drawings he created for his young friend Tommaso de' Cavalieri. Also thrilling were some of the original studies for the Sistine Chapel ceiling underneath a modest yet spectacular illuminated reproduction of the ceiling itself. (On a little-known aspect of Il Divino's personality, see Michelle Kamhi's weblog post "Michelangelo's Humor.")

For an exclusive interview with the exhibition's curator, Carmen Bambach, see Milène Fernandez,"The Curator Who Humanized Michelangelo, 'Il Divino,'" Epoch Times, April 6, 2018.

Never Heard of Elizabeth Robins?
Neither had we until very recently. But Elizabeth Robins (1862-1952) is someone well worth knowing. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, in the midst of the Civil War, she went on to become one of the most accomplished women of her day. Having begun a successful acting career in the U. S. at the age of eighteen, she moved to England in 1888 after the suicide of her less successful actor husband, who "would not stand in [her] light any longer." There she remained for most of her adult life, gaining fame first as an actress, then as a writer and an advocate for women's rights. Her 1907 play Votes for Women! (full text), based on an earlier novel by her, was the first drama on the theme of suffrage and served as strong inspiration for the movement, as well as for other plays dealing with the subject. A spirited reading of the play by the Gingold Theatrical Group in New York last month demonstrated that it still has power to move. Most important, as Robins made clear in her play, she was an enlightened feminist, who understood that men must be allies in the struggle for women's rights, lest any victory prove hollow for society as a whole.

Bravo, Maestro Toscanini!
Among the greatest of all classical LP recordings is the 1952 RCA Victor performance of Arturo Toscanini (1867--1957) conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (the "Choral"). Considered by many to be the best interpretation of the work ever, it was an audio recording made in the studio, but you can view the maestro in action in an earlier televised performance of the Ninth.

We long knew that Toscanini was a consummate musician. What we didn't know was that he was also an ardent and courageous champion of liberty. Learning of a new biography entitled Toscanini: Musician of Conscience, by Harvey Sachs, has remedied that ignorance. As recounted by John Check in his review of the book ("The Maestro in the Living Room," The Weekly Standard, November 20, 2017), in 1936, with anti-Semitism on the rise in Europe, Toscanini traveled to Tel Aviv at his own expense to conduct the inaugural concerts of what was then the Palestine Orchestra, later to become the Israel Philharmonic. And in Fascist Italy, he repeatedly defied Mussolini by adamantly refusing to conduct the party's required anthem, "Giovinezza," before public concerts. Beethoven, who was himself an ardent lover of liberty, must have smiled down on Toscanini from on high for such acts of moral commitment and courage.

Misusing Art to Stir Sympathy for Terrorists
Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay, an exhibition at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York that closed early this year, displayed work by Guantánamo Bay prisoners. One of the curators, Erin Thompson, has written that it gives us "a chance to see that its makers are human beings." In a review entitled "Jihadi Art at John Jay," Peter Wood (president of the National Association of Scholars) notes that "the paintings and the models in the show are unremarkable as art. They display no special skill or aesthetic sensibility." (The models of boats, we would argue, were not art at all, but several of the paintings do have some merit.) Wood further observes that few people have "doubted that the detainees at Guantánamo are human beings. They just happen to be evil and dangerous human beings who show no remorse for their atrocities." A tragic irony of the locale for this exhibition, he points out, is that countless alumni of John Jay were victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks perpetrated by friends and allies of the detainees.

Radio Talk Show Host Features Who Says That's Art?
In a wide-ranging two-part interview on the Eric Metaxas Show in January, the host (author of the New York Times best-seller Martin Luther) spoke with Aristos co-editor Michelle Kamhi about her book's "courageous" challenge to the cultural "mandarins" who champion so-called art that members of the general public--himself included--largely detest.

Letters to the Editors
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