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In the fall 2017 season, the National Gallery in London mounted a show entitled “Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael around 1500.” Here were three of the greatest artists of any period, with several masterpieces on display, and each work breathtaking and all tied nimbly together. The point was to illustrate a moderate argument — namely that Michelangelo learned from Leonardo about capturing the expressive relation between the Madonna and the Infant — but more importantly, the show made clear what genius and skill can achieve.

The seven works included one marble sculpture by Michelangelo, the “Taddei Tondo” (ca. 1504-1505); one drawing by Leonardo, the “Burlington House Cartoon” (ca. 1499-1500); and five paintings in oil or tempera. These latter were depictions of the Madonna and Child, four of which included John the Baptist, and one exception, Raphael’s “Saint Catherine of Alexandria” (ca. 1507). Chief among the Madonnas were the drawing, Leonardo’s “Virgin of the Rocks” (ca. 1491-1499 and 1506-1508), and Michelangelo’s unfinished “Manchester Madonna” (ca. 1497). The three Raphaels included his “Ansidei Madonna” (1505), the “Madonna of the Pinks” (1507), and “Saint Catherine of Alexandria,” the only one without the Madonna. The spirit of the exhibit was captured by the contrast between the three great names and the almost off-handed reference to “around 1500.” This conveys the notion that the works of monumental genius are ratified, as it were, by an approximate point of time. All artists, perhaps the greatest ones most of all, work and exist in time even as they shape and suffer that perfidious and relentless medium. Art history casts the net that helps — or nearly so — bring the issues into a knowable frame. More… “Masters and Madonnas”

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).
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Kader Attia is a multi-form French visual artist, recipient of the Prize Marcel Duchamp, a prestigious national honor for contemporary artists awarded in France. The following essay is based on a French-language interview between Attia and Thomas Baumgartner on Radio Nova in October 2016. In it, Attia investigates the many layers of fracture that underpin social crises in Western Europe — and a hope for dialogue. All quotes are translations of the writer.

Explaining what motivates his work as an artist, Kader Attia speaks in his native French of réparation. He does not simply mean “fixing” as we might be tempted to translate into English. Instead, réparation can be thought of as transformation. You get a semblance of the original, but in the process of mending an object is always made new.
More… “An Artist’s Search for Cultural Reparation in France”

Jared Spears is a writer based in Brooklyn. His work has recently appeared in Philosophy Now and on Jacobin, Lit Hub, and elsewhere on the web.
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Can an artistic form have a nationality? In one sense, of course not. Strictly speaking there is no Italian circle, nor any Romanian triangle. But we can see our art, and comprehend its strivings, in national terms. Lincoln Kirstein, a cultural impresario of great wealth and taste in the 1920s, once remarked that there was  “a national tradition stemming from Europe, but nationally dependent.” He referred most immediately to the work of some of his friends who were intent on developing a national sense of sculpture. One of the sculptors involved in this avant-garde was Gaston Lachaise (1882-1935), whose 1933 “Head,” a bronze bust of Kirstein, depicts a powerful will, embodied in a portrait of a devout supporter of modernism. (He helped George Balanchine father modern ballet.) Lachaise had come to America from Paris to be with the woman whom he would eventually marry, Isabel Nagle. Artists from various places came to flourish in America for many different reasons, intent on a collective approach to new beginnings. Before long, Lachaise had befriended, influenced, and been influenced by three of his contemporaries, all of whom contributed to the American sense of sculpture identified by Kirstein. These three were William Zorach (1887-1966), Elie Nadelman (1882-1946), and Robert Laurent (1890-1970). The four innovative artists are the focus for a revelatory exhibit mounted at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine.

More… “A New American Sculpture”

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).
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The Whitney Biennial, which was inaugurated in 1932, once again works by promising us what is new, challenging, and — with luck — of lasting interest. The promise involves finding the right frame and purpose, such as scientists find in the use of a cross-section. Slice into contemporary art and lay out what most rivets, without fear or favor, label it, study its energies, and try to bear accurate account of what it’s made of. Then it’s reviewed and talked about and disputed — a cross section of a cross section. A two-year survey of what is an impossibly various assortment of works and practitioners of the visual and plastic arts, from the jackanapes to the genius, from the ravishing object to the puzzling proposal. It can’t be taken in; it will be taken in.

This year’s version runs from mid-March to June 11th. Delayed a year and a half because of the opening of the museum’s downtown building, this biennial starts a new run, lulling us into memories of the previous shows and yet promising a new place where the art is somehow still aborning. Recovering from this small interruption of its run of 73 yearly or bi-yearly shows, the Whitney looks to make the 2017 issue an especially memorable one. As Jason Farago put it in The New York Times:

In a generational shift, the Whitney has chosen two young curators for this always anticipated exhibition: Christopher Y. Lew, 36, and Mia Locks, 34. It’s also the first time that the biennial’s curators are both people of color. After months on the road, they have boiled down the art of the last few years into a survey that, for all its energy, doesn’t overwhelm the museum.

More… “The Whitney Biennial of 2017”

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).
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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).
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Hilton Kramer, longtime chief art critic for the New York Times, was never a shy man, at least in print. He thought of art criticism as a battle. There was a war, as Kramer saw it, between good art and bad art or – maybe more crucially – between art and non-art. Kramer saw himself as a warrior on the side of Art and The Good. In this war, it did not pay to be nice.

Reviewing an exhibit at the Whitney Museum by the young artist Richard Tuttle in 1975, Hilton Kramer wrote, “To Mies van der Rohe’s famous dictum that less is more, the art of Richard Tuttle offers definitive refutation. For in Mr. Tuttle’s work, less is unmistakably less.”
More… “Art/Not”

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan's selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at morganmeis@gmail.com.
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If you are lucky, and if you happen to be on the Dutch shore of the North Sea, and if it is a windy day (a not-unusual occurrence), you just might see a new sort of creature walking down the beach. This creature will be walking in fits and starts, activated by gusts of wind, animated in one part of its “body” and then another. Atop the creature, you will see sheets of fabric that look like sails of a small ship. Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that the rest of the creature is made entirely of plastic tubing, what’s known as PVC. PVC stands for “polyvinyl chloride.” The white plastic tubing you’ve seen in thousands of bathrooms and kitchens is PVC. Upon even closer inspection, you’ll notice that the creature is made of PVC and nothing else. You’ll ponder that for a moment. Nothing but PVC. How does it move, then? Isn’t there a motor somewhere? Aren’t there electronics on the inside telling the creature when and how to move? You’ll become shocked and disoriented by the realization that the creature isn’t controlled from anywhere else or by anyone else. It is simply walking of its own accord, having a little stroll on a windy day along the beaches of the North Sea, as if it were alive.
More… “Still Alive”

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan's selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at morganmeis@gmail.com.
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Just past the front door, in the Atrium of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, are six “ideal” busts. The busts are installed near window ledges and against walls, high above the floor, so that everyone is guaranteed to walk right by them. The busts are female figures, carved in white marble. Their faces are posed in the neoclassical style – impassive, serene – with pupil-less eyes cast blindly down, or toward an invisible horizon. 

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.

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…

Sean Kenney makes life-size sculptures of endangered animals out of Lego bricks. Adam Reed Tucker reconstructs famous buildings throughout the world in Lego form. Beth Weis specializes in Lego as home décor. Some people grew up building with Legos, and then never stopped. Lego invaded their minds and now they view the world through a Lego prism. These people have made Lego into a full-time profession. So much so that Lego now has an officially recognized category of what they call “Certified Professionals.” There are nine of these Certified Professionals at present. They are good at making things with Lego.

“Brick by Brick: the LEGO Brick sculpture of Nathan Sawaya.” Through April 13. Agora Gallery, New York.

Certified Professional Nathan Sawaya got his start at the Legoland theme park in Southern… More…