The PICTURE: Outsmarted
November 10, 2010

If Walter Benjamin were alive today, would he be writing a little essay about “Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen,” the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art? It is easy to imagine Benjamin crafting a few intricate, elegant pages, combining a collector’s ardent admiration, an intellectual’s theoretical flights, and a novelist’s sensitivity to the pop-chic ambience at MoMA.

The PICTURE: Classic Catastrophe
October 27, 2010

I am deeply disturbed by “Chaos and Classicism,” a survey of the arts in Europe from the end of World War I to the beginning of World War II that is currently at the Guggenheim. I know many people have been excited by this exploration of classical tendencies in France, Germany, and Italy between the wars. The subject matter has been treated in major shows in Europe—such as “Les Réalismes” in Paris in 1980 and “On Classic Ground” in London in 1990—but is not so well known over here.

The PICTURE: Kids' Play
October 13, 2010

Is it true that children’s picture books are going out of fashion? “Parents are saying, ‘My kid doesn’t need books with pictures anymore.’ ” That’s what Justin Chanda, publisher of children’s books at Simon & Schuster, explained to a New York Times reporter the other day. Whatever the kids may be thinking, the thinking of their parents is all too easy to understand. In our test-score crazed culture, pictures are seen as a waste. Why linger over a farmland vista or a knight in shining armor or one of Richard Scarry’s crazy traffic jams when there’s real work to be done?

The PICTURE: Ab Ex Nixed
September 29, 2010

“Abstract Expressionist New York,” the huge new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, is three-quarters brain dead. That is better than entirely brain dead. My advice is to begin with the strongest material, which you will find in galleries on the second and third floors at MoMA. Walking through “Rock Paper Scissors” and “’Ideas Not Theories’: Artists and The Club, 1942–1962”—with their excitable mix of works in multiple media by midcentury painters, sculptors, and architects—you can feel the gritty romantic spirit of downtown Manhattan in the years during and after World War II.

The PICTURE: Midcult Revisited
August 03, 2010

Nobody talks about “midcult” anymore. I wonder how many people are even aware of this nifty coinage. I like the clipped sound of those two syllables locked together, the efficiency with which “middle” and “culture” have been shortened, abbreviated, then spliced together. Dwight Macdonald tossed midcult into the intellectual playground with his 1961 essay, “Masscult and Midcult,” originally published as a pamphlet by Partisan Review. And whatever the strengths and the weaknesses of that long, elaborate essay, the word has its own kind of mid-twentieth-century fascination.

The Modern High-Wire
June 18, 2010

Circus: The Photographs of Frederick W. Glasier is one of the most beautiful art books of recent years. The reproductions—large and lucid and presente

January 20, 2010

The most enduring myth about the Abstract Expressionists is that they were dumb geniuses, instinctual beings, know-nothings who somehow stumbled into

The Smartest Thing I've Read Today
September 16, 2009

Comes from the NYT's Mike Hale: The extended reaction to Mr. West’s deed certainly had something to do with a continuing national conversation about rudeness, whether to presidents, line judges or irritatingly successful country singers.

Wound in the Heart: Yet Another Casualty of the Spanish Civil War
August 20, 2009

 The Spanish Civil War was the iconic international struggle of the thirties. Franco and "los cuatro generales" were the villains. And the Spanish people were the victims. Their songs were our songs, Pete Seeger our medium. We did not travel to Spain; we boycotted Spain. We paid homage to Guernica by visiting Picasso's gruesome mural of that name at MoMA (and hanging posters of the painting in our dorm rooms.) We choked up whenever we saw Robert Capa's famous photograph "Falling Soldier." This was the first war against fascism, and democracy was defeated.