To the Editors:
Jed Perl continues to amaze with his critical ability to split the difference with “plague on both their houses” criticism that inevitably (and tiresomely) devolves into narcissistic incoherence. (He recently went to Whitman’s home in Camden? Whoop-de-damn do!) His dithering “art for art’s sake” formalism engages nothing but its own reactionary yearnings; one wonders if he wears rubber gloves when he types, the better to prissily avoid the messiness of lived history.
“Hide/Seek” is deliberately a “thesis” show that seeks to add a long ignored—not to say censored—dimension to the museum world’s presentation of American art. Far from being reductionist, it challenges us to expand our vision of how modern portraiture—from Eakins to Glenn Ligon—was created. The furor that has erupted from the right in its hysterical attacks on the exhibition are convincing evidence that the themes explored in “Hide/Seek” are as salient and as explosive as they have always been. We welcome these attacks, to which Perl has added his name, as evidence of the correctness of our approach to American art and culture. We regret that critics like Jed Perl prefer hand-wringing to genuine critical engagement.
David C. Ward
The National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian Institution
Jonathan D. Katz
The University of Buffalo