Jan Vanriet’s “Closing Time” show is about exactly that. The Koninklijk Museum in Antwerp, Belgium is closing for a few years to undergo major renovations. Antwerp is a smallish city that can easily be overlooked, in art as in other things, in favor of nearby cities like Brussels and Amsterdam. But as a fine arts museum, the Koninklijk is a heavy hitter. Antwerp was home to Peter Paul Rubens, for instance, and a number of his more famous baroque canvases hang at the museum. Indeed, they have one of my favorites, “The Adoration of the Magi,” in which the Magi seem genuinely freaked out by the appearance of the Christ Child. You can also, at the Koninklijk, see paintings like Jean Fouquet’s Madonna surrounded by Seraphim and Cherubim from the mid-15th century. It is a painting so strange and intriguing I hesitate to describe it. Suffice it to… More…

I like little books. Actually, I like little things of all kinds, miniatures. But tiny books are a special delight. Northern Europe in the 15th and early 16th centuries was a good time for little books. I’m thinking in particular of the work of Simon Bening. He was the last great Flemish miniaturist. You can see one of his miniature Books of Hours at the Morgan Library right now in their “Flemish Illumination in the Era of Catherine of Cleves” exhibit.

 

In these days of the release of the iPad, it is amusing to think that the miniature book was, in a way, the first attempt to deal with the problem of books and portability. Books of Hours were devotional books containing daily prayers. Their smallness made them easier to carry around. As is so often the case,… More…

In my previous column I ruminated on logo-ed merchandise and confessed that I coveted a Louis Vuitton handbag (Artsy GM — $1,630, as advertised on the Louis Vuitton site). I realized that the thing was made of laminated canvas, stamped with muddy LV monograms, and had the unprepossessing shape of a beach tote. I understood that it was an expression of what Marx would call “exchange value” — its worth purely imaginary, with no connection to its usefulness. Yet I desired it, and desire, as any good Third-Wave feminist will tell you, ought not to be dismissed out of hand.

 

The issue becomes clearer — or perhaps more foggy — if one moves from consumer goods to fine art. Here, the idea of authenticity suddenly seems more elevated and inspires more reverence. The difference, one might argue, is… More…

 

Clement Greenberg was not a shy man. He was convinced that his taste was impeccable and that his gift of judgment was close to unerring. He would look at a painting and decide whether it was good or bad in an instant. With little pity, he dismissed the vast majority of the art he viewed. “Superior art continues to be something more or less exceptional,” he wrote. “And this, this rather stable quantitative relation between the superior and inferior, offers as fundamentally relevant a kind of artistic order as you could wish.”

But his chutzpah went even further. Greenberg believed that Kant had been the first critic to recognize that esthetic judgments, decisions about the quality of individual works of art, can’t be proved. Here’s how Greenberg put it in his essay, “Esthetic Judgment:”

I don’t think it’s… More…

 

I remember seeing a reproduction of Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World” when I was a child. It disturbed me. I felt that something horrible had happened to Christina and that she was left out there in the field, maybe to die. And what was happening in that lonely house up at the top of the hill?

There is, perhaps, no other American painting as recognizable and as loved as “Christina’s World.” The only other painting that comes to mind is “American Gothic” by Grant Wood. But for all his popularity (or because of it), Wyeth has generally been scorned by the critics. He has been called a cheap sentimentalist applying painterly tricks in the service of an empty nostalgia. New Criterion founder Hilton Kramer said simply, “he can’t paint.” Dave Hickey said Wyeth’s palette was “mud and baby… More…