You may have noticed that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City contains strange rooms. They are tucked away in the European Interiors section or back in the American Wing. These rooms do not display simply art or artifacts; they display other rooms. Or you could say that the rooms themselves are the display. In the American wing, you can see the interior of an old colonial house, or something tasteful from the  Edwardian era. There is an entire living room designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, originally part of the Little House in Wayzata, Minnesota. In the European section of the museum, the interiors give you a glimpse of palace life in the 17th century and the salons of the 18th century.

Sometimes a floor is just a floor. That might be the case with this floor, which also happens to be mosaic and Roman. It is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. The floor was discovered a few years ago in Lod, Israel during construction of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. The floor was most likely part of a wealthy person’s private home from around 300 A.D.

“The Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel” Through April 3. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

For a 1,700-year-old floor, it is in excellent condition. Somewhere along the line, the rest of the house collapsed onto the floor and the mud-brick walls did a great job of preserving what they had buried. So goes history: The destruction of one thing is the unintended preservation of another. When… More…

In her book Motion Studies: Time, Space and Eadweard Muybridge, Rebecca Solnit writes that one of the most common phrases of the late 19th century was “the annihilation of time and space.” The steamship, the telegraph, the railroad — what Emerson called “one web” of a “thousand various threads” — and the photograph each played a role in destroying older notions of time and place. But as Solnit suggests, at heart of this annihilation was a conviction that viewed “the terms of our bodily existence as burdensome,” and that believed technology could do for us what our bodies couldn’t.

“Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change” February 26 through June 7. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

You can’t get better evidence for this burdensome body than the photographs that Muybridge made of… More…

It isn’t hard to understand the “abstract” part of Abstract Expressionism. It’s the “Expressionism” part that is more obscure. Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko defined the movement in the 1940s and ’50s (Their work can be viewed at the current MoMA show “Abstract Expressionist New York”). No one thinks that Pollock’s splatters or Rothko’s hovering squares of color are supposed to depict anything else. They are just shapes and colors and splatters of paint. The abstract nature of the paintings is obvious. But what do they express?

“Abstract Expressionist New York.” Through April 25. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Pollock spoke about his paintings as “expressing an inner world — in other words — expressing the energy, the motion, and other inner forces.” I suppose we can conclude that Pollock’s inner… More…

Is he a cliché? That’s the question you keep coming back to when you look at the paintings of Edward Hopper. On the face of it, the current show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, “Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time,” doesn’t help answer the question. The show gives us paintings like “Soir Bleu” from 1914. We’re at a café in France somewhere. Patrons sit at the tables. Right there in the middle, facing us, is a clown. He is wearing a white, frilly get-up and his face is painted white, too, with red lips and a couple of red stripes down the eyes. He is smoking a cigarette. This may, in fact, be the sad clown we’ve all heard so much about. I’ve toyed with the idea that “Soir Bleu” is making fun of itself. Or maybe it is making fun of us, the viewer? But, no…. More…

So 271 “new” Picassos have been discovered. They were living with a former electrician of Picasso’s, who claimed that, near the end of his life, the artist gave the works to him as gifts and as payment. Picasso’s heirs, of course, are suing and charging the man with theft.

Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft, and the Quest for Justice by Melissa Müller and Monika Tatzkow. 256 pages. Vendome Press. $40. The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal. 368 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $26.

Two hundred seventy-one new works by Pablo Picasso, ranging from 1900 to 1932. New works from his blue period, a new portrait of his first wife, Olga. You can hear the auction houses warming up their gavels, can’t you? Scholars lining up… More…

Soon after I began reading Sharon Wilkerson’s new book, The Warmth of Other Suns, which uses ethnography to explore the great migration of African-Americans from the South to Northern cities during the first half of the 20th century, I came face to face with another treatment of this subject during a visit to Washington, D.C. Wandering into the new addition to the Phillips Collection, I was confronted in the first gallery with a set of paintings by Jacob Lawrence entitled “The Migration of the Negro.” I had heard about these paintings, which chronicle the first wave of African-American migration to the North from 1916 to 1919. Stumbling upon them on the wall of this museum, I was dazzled by their expressiveness and power.

 

But I was also confused. I had read that the Migration paintings were in the… More…

As Jonathon Richman of the proto-punk band the Modern Lovers elegantly put it, “Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole” — although the genius’ girlfriend Fernande Olivier must have been sorely tempted in the late summer of 1908, when she learned that Picasso had invited half of Montmartre to their squalid garret and given the food caterer the wrong date. Actually, everything turned out for the best: The resulting “Rousseau Banquet” was a resounding success, an all-night extravaganza whose details have been lovingly told and retold for the last hundred years. Today, it is regarded as the symbolic highlight of the Parisian Belle Époque. The key to its success, historians agree, was its giddy spontaneity, a fact that provides an object lesson to many of today’s practicing hosts. As far as we can ascertain, even allowing for nostalgia and self-serving exaggeration in the guests’ memoirs, the event really was a… More…

The people who put together 30,000 Years of Art: The story of human creativity across time and space were no fools. They realized that the preface, introduction, and justification would either have to be infinite or non-existent. They chose the void. Two pages into the book and you’re already looking at art. No discussion about what art is, what characteristics the works share, who chose the works, why they are representative. Nothing. There’s one brief statement running in a narrow column on the first full page. It says: “From the time when human beings can first be called human, they have felt compelled to depict themselves and their world — as gods, mortals, animals or abstractions.” It’s so broad as to say everything and therefore nothing at all.

Modernism first began to die in the 1960s. There was serious talk. People were getting fed up. A new sensibility was beginning to emerge, if only at the margins. That discussion heated up in the `70s and it was super-trend, can’t-have-a-conference-without-it material by the `80s. As Jean-François Lyotard wrote in his epochal The Postmodern Condition (1979), “Our working hypothesis is that the status of knowledge is altered as societies enter what is known as the postindustrial age and cultures enter what is known as the postmodern age.”

Alteration was all the rage. We were altering. This was either the ground for a new optimism, wild and exuberant in its embrace of the new terrain, or deeply pessimistic in the face of the collapse of every possibility for genuine critique. Someone like Jean Baudrillard could proclaim, “Modernity has never happened. There has never really been any modernity, never any real progress,… More…