Francisco Goya was felled by a mysterious illness in 1792. He didn’t die, he just fell. The illness made him dizzy and disoriented. Goya stumbled; he teetered. He was nauseous. Voices sounded in his head. He was frequently in terror. His hearing began to fail. Soon, he was completely deaf. By all accounts, he was temporarily insane at points. Then he recovered, though he would never regain his hearing.

“Goya and the Altamira Family” Through August 3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Before the illness, Goya had been a successful painter for the Spanish court. He was good, but unremarkable. After the illness, Goya became the extraordinary artist whose paintings — like The Third Of May 1808 — are among the most celebrated works in the history of art. In the late 1790s, Goya began working on a series of prints… More…

Jasper Johns has a way of making a flip thing into a deep thing. Take his current show at the Museum of Modern Art. It is called “Regrets.” The title comes from a rubber stamp. Johns uses the stamp as a quick and painless form of R.S.V.P. When people send him letters or cards asking him to do things he doesn’t want to do, he stamps the offending item with his “regrets” and then sends it back. Onerous obligation avoided. Problem solved.

“Regrets” Through September 1. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Used this way, the word “regrets” doesn’t have any regrets. There are no bad feelings involved. Not really. Johns wasn’t torn up about saying “no” to these requests. He didn’t have any deeper regrets. “Regret,” in this context, simply means, “a polite, usually formal refusal of an… More…

My wife, the over-observant Shuffy, noticed a group of children playing with geometric shapes cut from pieces of black paper. The children were arranging these shapes on larger sheets of construction paper. The construction paper was lying on the floor of the Guggenheim Museum and the Guggenheim Museum was in the midst of its exhibit of Italian Futurism.

“Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe.” Through September 1. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. 

One wonders what Filippo Tommaso Marinetti would have thought about these children. Marinetti (1876-1944) was the founder of Futurism. In 1909, he wrote a document that has since become the most famous testament of Futurism. It is known as The Futurist Manifesto. The fourth “principle” of Futurism states, infamously: “We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the… More…

They are among the most mysterious paintings. But it is very hard to say why. Nothing much happens in the paintings. People engage in simple tasks. A man and a woman sit at a table and speak. A woman smiles. A woman reads a letter. A girl looks at us over her left shoulder. A woman sews. A woman pours some milk out of a jug. That’s it. One task, one episode, one moment in each painting.

Vermeer used various painterly tricks to make these moments — these mundane tasks — look special. He expended a great deal of time and energy capturing the effects of light. He studied the way light comes in through a window, bathing a room. He seems to have painted most of his pictures in one or two rooms in his own home. He knew that light well. He analyzed that light, meditated on it…. More…

Fifty years ago a show of male nude art at a small gallery in Long Island, New York provoked the confusion and disdain of the critics. The poet and art critic John Ashbery complained in New York Magazine, “Nude women seem to be in their natural state; men, for some reason, merely look undressed.” (Ashbery’s concern here might have been masking his own homosexuality.) In a more sympathetic response, Vicky Goldberg noted that the homoeroticism that many of the works provoked cast such art “from its traditions and in search of some niche to call its home.” But it was Gene Thompson at the New York Times who pointed to the deeper concerns of this show when he wrote, “there is something disconcerting about the site of a man’s naked body being presented as a sexual object.” We have thankfully moved beyond such acute prejudices. But even today looking at… More…

Poor Fernand Léger. He is a man trapped in sociology. His paintings aren’t looked at for their own sake anymore but for what they show us about city life in the early 20th century.

“Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis.” Through January 5, 2014. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

You can see why Léger’s art is approached sociologically when you look at his most famous painting “The City,” painted in 1919. “The City” is owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The current exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum, “Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis,” features “The City” as its central work. It is because of this painting that Léger is often called “the painter of the modern city.”

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written… More…

Have you ever felt odd? Perhaps an odd feeling came upon you one morning at the market. You saw the piles of vegetables and the cuts of meats covered in clear plastic. You noticed, with particular attention, the little signs above the individual fruits giving their names and prices. Suddenly, it seemed unaccountably odd that any of this should make any sense to anyone. How very strange that these numbers and words and pictures and physical objects are all related, you thought. It was a warm morning and you walked out into the sunlight with a beating heart and a sheen of sweat on the palms of your hands. For a few more moments you trusted neither sun, nor earth, nor sky. All aspects of reality seemed as arbitrary to you as those signs above the fruit in the market. And then the feeling faded and you were back in the… More…

What is so American about Edward Hopper?

This is the question I pondered at this huge retrospective of his work in the heart of Paris. There seems to be a Hopper retrospective ever few years or so in the United States. His images have become so familiar, so iconic in their simple compositions and their isolated characters sitting silently in public and private spaces. His most famous painting, “Nighthawks” (1942), has been reproduced and caricatured so often you are surprised when you actually stand in front of it, the dramatic contrasting light between the diner’s inner, yellow hues and the shadowy street never match a reproduction. The painting practically glows from the interior outward, the light indistinct in source. It seems as if the whole canvas must be illuminated from behind. “Nighthawks,” like many of his works of the era, have become iconic of the mid-century era, their compositions inspiring… More…

It wasn’t like I hadn’t seen this woman before. Anyone with the slightest introduction to Renaissance art knows Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Venus. With her spiraled hair, her sly look, her curved belly and hips, she is, in many ways, an iconic representation of the goddess of love and beauty.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. 240 pages. Plume. $15. Hidden in the Shadow of the Master: The Model-Wives of Cezanne, Money, and Rodin by Ruth Butler. 376 pages. Yale University Press. $35. Lucas Cranach the Elder: Painting Materials, Techniques and Workshop Practice by Gunnar Heydenreich. 462 pages. Amsterdam University Press. $69.50. The Real Real Thing: The Model in the Mirror of Art by Wendy Steiner. 232 pages. University of Chicago Press. $32.50.

 

But there was something about this visit to see the Cranach paintings, when… More…

Caravaggio was a son of a bitch. He killed people. He drank and brawled and painted and died. We love him for that, for being the difficult genius, for giving us stories. It’s 400 years since he died and the Caravaggio buzz is up to fever pitch. Everybody wants to talk about Caravaggio.

There is no denying that Caravaggio was every bit as bold a painter as he was a fighter. When you look at a Caravaggio — say, a famous one like “Boy Bitten by a Lizard” (c. 1594) — you feel the impact. The painting shows, undeniably, a boy in the immediate aftermath of have been bitten by a lizard. His face is lit up, his shoulder heaves in upward contortion. The immediacy of the painting — the light, the action, the gestures — makes one feel as if the history of previous painting is being blasted apart…. More…