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Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. Published in hard copy 2-4 times a year. New shows: "events;" hard copy rates & how to support the online edition: "works."



Anishinaabe artist, possibly Mississauga Ojibwa.Shoulder Bag (missing strap) Ontario, Michigan, or Wisconsin, ca. 1800. Native-tanned leather, porcupine quills, dye, glass beads, silk ribbon, metal cones, and deer hair, 12 × 9 in. (30.5 × 22.9 cm)The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of Native American Art, Promised Gift of Charles and Valerie Diker (L.2018.35.6)



The Metropolitan Museum of Art wants to re-open for five days a week starting August 29. Whether New York State's governor and New York City's mayor will allow this to happen is still up in the air.  Assuming that this re-opening takes place in 2020, visitors will still be able to see a delicious little long-term installation that I saw in 2018 but that remains on view until at least January 26, 2021.  It is "Art of Native America: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection," and features more than 100 works dating from the 2nd to the early 20th centuries. Represented are more than 50 indigenous traditions from across North America (Canada and the U.S.). Read More 

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Pablo Picasso, "Head of a woman (Fernande)," Horta de Ebro, summer, 1909. Conté crayon and charcoal on wove paper, 62.8 x 48 cm.  Musée national Picasso-Paris, Pablo Picasso Gift in Lieu, 1979, MP 642. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris)/Art Resource, NY, Matthieu Rabeau © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The NY Times has also tried to fill its columns with book reviews of current exhibition catalogues.  But the two I've seen (in its May 22 issue), don't in my opinion measure up to the one I've chosen. The Times evidently felt obligated to review the catalogue for the Gerhard Richter show at the Met's Breuer annex (a space now to be taken over by the Frick), plus a Jean-Michel Basquiat show at the MFA Boston.  I decided to leave the fashion-conscious East Coast and head inland to the Cleveland Museum of Art, which knows a true giant when it sees one. It had scheduled a mammoth show of "Picasso and Paper" for May, postponed its opening to September -- and now (alas!) has been forced to postpone its opening indefinitely as European restrictions on travel to and from our plague-ridden republic have made it impossible to bring the show from the U.K. at the present time.. 


Earlier this year (before the lockdown began) this same show opened at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and they still have a virtual tour of it online but for reasons I shall be discussing in the course of this review,I found the large and elegant Picasso catalogue more illuminating and am herewith spending most of this review discussing it (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2020; 325 pp., 376 illus.)  What a joy it is!


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John Finley Walk (in winter)

Like every other publication in town trying to cover the art scene, The New York Times  has been hard-pressed for copy during the pandemic.  I'm unimpressed by most of the solutions it's found, but was very impressed by a weekly series on the city's architectural wonders, chosen by Michael Kimmelman, the paper's architectural critic (and formerly one of its art critics, when he sometimes managed to choose right as well). Read More 

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Kent Monkman, (Canadian, b. 1965). Welcoming The Newcomers, 2019. 132" x 264". Acrylic on Canvas. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Joseph Hartman


As I write, this country has been undergoing a major ordeal on two fronts.  Not only have we had four months of a pandemic making more than two million people sick, and claiming more than 200,000 lives.


On top of that, we have since had four weeks of massive protests against police brutality and in favor of better treatment for African Americans- all around the country -- initially sparked by the murder of an African American man by a white police officer in Minneapolis, a supposedly liberal community.


Tying the two together is the fact that Americans of color have been falling ill & dying of Covid-19 at a far higher rate than Caucasians. 


On the one hand, this is the sad legacy of substandard living conditions in communities where too many people are inadequately educated about diet and/or can't afford proper food and medical care -- hence a superfluity of underlying health issues (diabetes, obesity & hypertension especially) that make people especially vulnerable to the virus. 


And, on the other hand is the equally sad fact that African Americans are far more likely than are Caucasians to be employed at jobs that they cannot afford to relinquish, but that expose them to the virus at a far higher rate than is suffered by Caucasians….


Under these conditions, it may seem frivolous to write about the visual arts, unless we want to write about political art – and praise it for its passionate commitment to the issues.


But merely because art is political doesn't to me anyway necessarily make it good as art, let alone succeed in what it sets out to do.


 And although I am afraid it may make me desperately unpopular, I feel obliged to point out that the biggest single commission of this past art season, sponsored by the city's most venerated museum, and celebrated by the journal of record, may have been intended to be highly noble & political but winds up a bit silly instead. Read More 

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Eric R. Kandel, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures. New York: Columbia University Press, ©2016 Eric R. Kandel.



Dr. Eric Kandel, whose most intriguing book I am going to discuss, is a tremendously distinguished neuroscientist.  He is known in particular for his "discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system," to quote his citation upon winning a Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 2000. 


When he won this award, he was already a member of a half-dozen learned societies, had won 20 other prizes and awards, and been the recipient of nine honorary degrees from universities in the U.S. and abroad.


"Reductionism in Art and Brain Science" is his seventh published book, in addition to which there must be who-knows-how-many published scientific articles. Read More 

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Installation View: The Fullness of Color; December 18, 2019–August 2020
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Photo: David Heald, © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

 It's all shut up now, but "The Fullness of Color: 1960s Painting" at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is scheduled to remain on view until August 2.  And, although it has only nine paintings, four are gold-standard quality, and the five others at least offer a pretty background to those four. Read More 

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Louise P. Sloane, Honey Moon Rising, 2019. Acrylic paint and pastes on linen, 40 x 36 inches. Signed titled and dated on the verso.  Courtesy Spanierman Modern.

One of the last shows I was able to see this spring, before the curtain dictated by COVID-19 descended on the New York art scene, was "Louise Sloane:  New Horizons" at Spanierman Modern (through March 28).  I am so glad I did.  For the formula Sloane has been employing ever since I first encountered her painting has finally altered, at least a bit!  Hurrah! Read More 

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John Marin (1870–1953), Little Fir Tree, Deer Isle, 1921. Watercolor on paper, 16¾ x 13¼ inches. Signed and dated at lower right: Marin 21. Courtesy Menconi +Schoelkopf.




Three days later, and a lot more irritated, I report that in the Big Apple, all restaurants and even fast-food outlets like Dunkin' Donuts are now no longer allowed to serve eat-in customers.  If I want to go out & do the walking my knee surgeon recommends I am hard-pressed to find someplace to sit down – even if I am toting a takeout cup of coffee.  Still, I suppose I should be grateful that I have not yet been struck down by COVID-19, and am still able to report on my visit on Friday, February 29, to "The Art Show," as sponsored by The Art Dealers Association of America and held at the Park Avenue Armory.

I always enjoy "The Art Show" more than The Armory Show, and not only because their attitude toward the press is a lot more civilized than that of the Armory Show.  From what I can tell, The Armory Show has recently decided that only sycophants are entitled to press passes, whereas "The Art Show" welcomes all members of the working media.  True, because the ADAA show is composed exclusively of U.S. dealers, it customarily displays less art by foreign artists.  On the other hand, it is far more open to "historical" art, both European and American, so the percentage of gallery displays that I really want to talk about is higher.

Finally, because this year's edition showcased only about 70 galleries, it was a lot more manageable than the Armory Show – not least, because it was far more generously supplied with seating for visitors.   All in all, it was a most pleasurable experience.


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Adolph Gottlieb, Black on White, 1967.  Oil on linen, 60 x 72 in. (152.4 x 182.9 cm.)  Courtesy of Helwaser Gallery, New York. Photo: Hadi Fallahpisheh

Well, the big news of the moment is, of course, the world-wide spread of COVID-19, and it affects everything else.  Here on a Saturday in the Big Apple, auto traffic is light and buses are nearly empty, but almost anyplace that sells reasonably-priced food, from supermarkets to coffee-and-bagel shops, is doing capacity business. For New Yorkers (and maybe all Americans) the solution to every problem, it would appear, is EAT!


As almost all museums in New York, and most of the galleries, are closed, I don't know how long I will be able to continue my reviewing activities in this column, but I did manage to visit The Armory Show, on Piers 90 and 94, and "The Art Show," at the Park Avenue Armory.  Attendance was on the light side when I was there, especially at the Armory Show, but I prefer to think that this was due to the fear of contracting COVID-19 as opposed to any lessening of interest in the art scene per se. Read More 

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Yaghjian, Edmund, 8th Avenue El, 1940. Oil on canvas,  16 x 20 in.  Courtesy ACA Galleries.


If, like me, you're a passionate New Yorker, you'll relish this latest & very worthwhile excursion into the life & times of Big Apple transport.  It's "Track Work: One Hundred Years of New York City's Subway" at ACA in Chelsea, with nearly 60 drawings, watercolors, prints, oils and images in other media, all bringing history – right up to the present – vividly alive (through March 14). Read More 

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