The time has come to take a fresh look at the achievement of Roger Shattuck, who died in 2005 at the age of eighty-two. From his first book, The Banquet Years, published exactly half a century ago, to his last major work, Forbidden Knowledge, Shattuck was one of America's most adventuresome students of modernity, at once a celebrant of some of the wildest reaches of artistic experiment and a critic of the twentieth century's dream of unlimited, ever- expanding horizons.
Alfred Kazin: A Biography By Richard M. Cook (Yale University Press, 452 pp., $35) I. Alfred Kazin had one great, abiding subject. He wanted to tell the world what it felt like to become a writer in mid-century America. In three autobiographical volumes published over a period of a quartercentury, he dug so deep into his own life story, which had begun in hardscrabble Brooklyn and climaxed in the glamorous Manhattan of the 1960s, that he managed to tell the story of an entire generation.
The Language of Forms: Lectures on Insular Manuscript Art By Meyer Schapiro (Pierpont Morgan Library) Romanesque Architectural Sculpture By Meyer Schapiro (University of Chicago Press) I. When Meyer Schapiro died ten years ago, at the age of ninety-one, he had a place in American intellectual life that was extraordinarily large and also rather mysterious. Quite a few of the people who mentioned his name with a quickening excitement, a catch in their voices, had probably not read a single one of the exacting essays about medieval art on which his scholarly reputation rested.
I. THERE IS A PARADOX AT THE heart of any cultural institution. It is that the men and women who dedicate themselves to these essential enterprises exert a fiscal and administrative discipline that has nothing whatsoever to do with the discipline of art, which is a disciplined abandon. I imagine that for anybody who founds or sustains or rescues or re-invents a museum, an orchestra, or a dance company, this tension between the institution and the art comes to feel like a natural paradox. There is always a balancing act involved, which helps to explain why the very greatest institution-builder
The decorative arts have always been art history's attractive orphans. While many people have a great affection for certain textiles or ceramics, the scholarly world embraces such objects only fitfully, as if they were really somebody else's responsibility. And much of the attention that is given to the decorative arts—in the shelter magazines, in the auction catalogues, and in specialized studies of rococo hardware or medieval ceramic tiles—has an edge about it, a feverishness that can suggest overcompensation and even overkill.
I. SEURAT AND THE MAKING OF LA GRANDE JATTE (Art Institute of Chicago) We do not need an artist to show us the intensity of a color, the grace of a line, or the vehement contrast between a light form and a dark form. There are powers that are inherent in color, line, and form--powers that we register immediately, almost unthinkingly, as we regard the world around us. Great painters and sculptors tap into these pre-artistic experiences of sight.
I. “TRASH” ACCORDING TO Sabine Folie, chief curator at the Kunsthalle in Vienna, “has become a transc end ental necessity.” Folie, about whom I know nothing other than her absolutely perfect name, is writing in the catalogue of “‘Dear Painter, Paint me...,’” an exhibition that recently toured Europe and included work by John Currin, the fly speck of a painter who has been stuck in many a New Yorker’s eye since his mid-career retrospective opened at the Whitney Museum in November.
Elie Nadelman: Sculptor of Modern Life, Whitney Museum of American Art In the art of Elie Nadelman, sobriety and enchantment are strangely, wonderfully entangled. Nadelman, who died in 1946 at the age of sixty-four, gave sculpture’s ancient mandate to turn real space into dream space a modern vehemence and an adamantine logic, but also a flash of what-the-hell insouciance.
Èdouard Vuillard: Post-Impressionist Master (National Gallery of Art; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) Symbolism, an apotheosis of personal expression that swept through all the arts at the end of the nineteenth century, marked Europe’s final break with the classical humanism of the Renaissance. The struggles for romantic independence that had animated artists, writers, and musicians in France, Germany, and England for more than a hundred years emboldened the Symbolists to follow their sensations wherever they might lead.
"Matisse Picasso," the exhibition that has now arrived at the Museum of Modern Art after packing in the crowds at Tate Modern in London and the Grand Palais in Paris, begins as a sort of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for culture vultures, a study in male bonding in the artistic stratosphere that features the somewhat older, more formal Matisse and the younger, unabashedly bohemian Picasso. Later on, when the show really gets going, museumgoers are supposed to be agog at what amounts to a clash of the titans with avant-gardist sparks flying, a High Modernist love-hate-love kind of thing.