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Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. New shows: "events;" how to support the online edition: "works."



Jackson Pollock, Mural, 1943. Oil and casein on canvas, 242.9 x 603.9 cm. University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, Gift of Peggy Guggenheim, 1959.6 © 2020 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

…..And so the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan has re-opened, though you need to be virus-free, reserve a ticket in advance,  wear a mask, and observe social distancing.  I did all this (or at least I think I did) for the media preview on October 3.  Principally, I came to see "Mural" (1943), the first painting by Jackson Pollock that convinced Clement Greenberg that the artist was truly great.  On the way in and out, however, I got brief glimpses of three other shows, so I will mention them in passing before zeroing in on my visit's real raison d'être.


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Edward Avedisian, Untitled, c. 1965, Acrylic on canvas, 79 x 80 inches.
© Estate of Edward Avedisian. Courtesy, Berry Campbell

Edward Avedisian (1936-2007) wasn't in "Post-Painterly Abstraction," the landmark show organized by Clement Greenberg in 1962.  He is, however, included in "Clement Greenberg: A Critic's Collection," the catalogue of work owned by the late critic and acquired by the Portland Art Museum in 2000. And, like other, better-known color-field painters, Avedisian evidently understood the importance of making beautiful art that can offer balm to the wounded soul even –or perhaps especially -- in the most trying times. Read More 

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Installation view of Making The Met, 1870–2020, on view August 29, 2020–January 3, 2021 at The Met. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Introductory gallery--Kouros by  Isamu Noguchi, center.

Well, and so The Metropolitan Museum of Art has finally reopened, after being closed for five months because of the pandemic and leaving  a gaping hole in the city's body esthetic. I attended the media preview re-opening the museum on August 26, and sashayed through the biggest of its new shows, "Making the Met: 1870-2020" (through January 3).  How nice it was to be back!   Read More 

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Eveline Luppi, Grey Talk To Me, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12 inches.  Courtesy Lichtundfire Gallery.

Another gallery open to live visitors is Lichtundfire, on the Lower East Side.   Its show is "Covert 19, Part I – The Quantum Paradox" (through September 13). This consists of abstract work done earlier this year, at the local height of the pandemic.  Like the last show at this gallery that I reviewed (on February 8) it has small- to medium-sized works heavily into blacks, greys and browns.  However, at least one artist, Eveline Luppi, breaks with the dusk by painting on white fields. Even better, she tosses wit into the mix. Read More 

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Installation view of Noland: Flares. 540 West 25th Street.  March 8 -August 14, 2020.
Left to right: "Flares: A Secret," "Flares: Sunday" and "Flares: Homage to Matisse."
Photography courtesy Pace Gallery.

Well, and so I ventured out to a real live gallery, Pace in Chelsea, which has opened for limited viewing (you reserve a time in advance).  But it was worth it, to get away from my neighborhood, and see work by the great Kenneth Noland (1924-2010).   The show is "Noland: Flares" (through August 14).  It has 18 works made of 2, 3 or even 4 shaped canvases painted different colors and sutured together to form new wholes. They were made between 1990 and 1995. Noland's late work can be problematic. But in this case, I'm happy to report, much and maybe even most if not all of it sings. Read More 

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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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