The praise for the recent Museum of Modern Art exhibition, boldly but simply entitled Picasso Sculpture, contained one superlative after another. Roberta Smith, writing in the New York Times, asserted of the show that “Many exhibitions are good, some are great and a very few are tantamount to works of art in their own right — for their clarity, lyricism and accumulative wisdom.” Peter Schjeldahl told his New Yorker readers that he felt Picasso was likely “more naturally a sculptor than a painter,” though “all his “training and early experience, and by far most of his prodigious energy, went into painting.” Such claims as these mean that their subject occupies an immense place in the canon of great artists, and a pivotal position in the long stretch of art history. Though known for his nearly stupefying reputation as the master modernist painter, and now also as Picasso the genius sculptor, we need not let his repute become the be all and end all of our ways of looking at, and measuring the weight of, this complex individual (I almost said phenomenon). There have been negative assessments before this; John Berger’s The Success and Failure of Picasso (1965), for example, remains a book well-worth reading. But the amount of laudatory print on the subject, in popular and academic idioms, grows a bit more daunting every year.

More… “Measuring Genius”

Charles Molesworth has published a number of books on modern literature. His most recent book is The Capitalist and the Critic: J.P. Morgan, Roger Fry and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (U. of Texas).


The Bronx Zoo’s historic Lion House is no more. The 1903 Beaux-Arts building still stands, but the felines long ago moved on to greener pastures beyond the zoo’s original Astor Court; their expulsion was recently made permanent with the opening of Madagascar! in the great cats’ former haunts.

Madagascar! represents everything a modern zoo aspires to be. The new exhibit celebrates biodiversity and trumpets a message of conservation and scientific leadership, from the zoo’s role in establishing nature reserves on the island nation to “eco-friendly building features such as hi-tech skylights and water recycling.” It was able to get Bank of America to pony up financial support for the month-long opening celebration. And with that official explanation point, it may have doomed quaint but less evocative exhibit titles like World of Reptiles, Sea Bird Aviary, and Mouse House.


“A man goes to a psychiatrist. The doctor says ‘you’re crazy’. So the man says, ‘I want a second opinion’. ‘OK, you’re ugly too’.”

This is the text found on one of Richard Prince’s paintings. Prince has painted a lot of jokes, hundreds and hundreds of jokes. The question, of course, is why.

It is surely not for the reasons most often attributed to Mr. Prince by his commentators in the art world. In general, those in the art world who actually like Richard Prince tend to consider him something of a turd polisher. Prince goes out into the America beyond the boundaries of the two sides of Central Park and the two Villages and brings back fascinating and disturbing material. As Lisa Dennison, the Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, which is currently exhibiting a major retrospective of Prince’s work, puts it: “Prince has continued to be one… More…

Wander through the 11th arrondissement of Paris toward the dead celebrities of Pere Lachaise Cemetery, and there’s a decent chance you’ll stumble across a small gallery called “Le Musée du Fumeur.” Unlike the hallowed halls of the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, there is no tyranny of expectation in this tiny, smoking-themed museum. No smiling Mona Lisa or reclining Olympia dictates where the random tourist should focus his attention. Thus left to meander, the drop-in visitor may well overlook the more earnest exhibits here — such as Egyptian sheeshas or Chinese opium pipes — and note the small, red-circle-and-slash signs reminding guests that, in no uncertain terms, smoking is strictly forbidden in the Museum of Smoking.

In spite of this startling contradiction, there is a notable lack of irony in Le Musée du Fumeur, which crams an eclectic array of international smoking-culture relics into a 650-square-foot storefront near Rue de… More…