You can always count on the anti-traditionalists to come up with their own cockamamie traditions. And The Painting Factory: Abstraction After Warhol—which I caught at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles just before it closed the other day—is about as nutty as they come.
Nobody can deny that “Century of the Child: Growing By Design 1900-2000,” at the Museum of Modern Art, is a great looking show. The ambience in the galleries is cool and bright, with scores of children’s books, toys, furnishings, and baubles, many by the legendary movers and shakers of twentieth-century art and design, boldly arranged in big, white rooms. The darker themes explored here—including the toll that war and poverty have taken on the lives of children—do little to disrupt the general sense that museumgoers are being invited to have a jolly good time.
Hilton Kramer, who died on March 27 at the age of 84, was a much more complicated man than is sometimes acknowledged. He was both a neoconservative cultural warrior who liked nothing better than plunging into a noisy, nasty battle and an exacting aesthete for whom life would have been impossible without the sustenance of art and literature. I certainly saw both sides of Hilton during the decade that I wrote for The New Criterion, beginning in the mid-1980s.
For months the publicity drums have been beating for the Cindy Sherman retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Mounted in the museum’s sixth floor galleries, where contemporary artists are sent once the powers that be have declared them classics, the show has all the trappings of a coronation. Empress Sherman is ready for her close-up. And there are a great many middle-aged critics, collectors, curators, and gallerygoers who regard this artist, who has spent a generation photographing herself as a tramp or a tragedienne, as their hometown heroine.
Is it possible to report honestly on troubling developments in the arts without becoming a prophet of doom? I’ve found myself wondering about this in the past week or so, as I prepared to say a few words on a panel with the title: “The Decline of the Arts?” Having published more than my fair share of takedowns of various artists and art world institutions, I was in no doubt as to why I’d been invited to participate. And yet I felt more than a little uncomfortable about being associated with the word decline.
Going through “The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini,” a survey of fifteenth-century Italian paintings, sculptures, and drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, visitors are likely to feel they are in the hands of an inspired storyteller. They are. The storyteller is Keith Christiansen, who heads the European painting department at the Metropolitan, and who organized the exhibition together with Stefan Weppelmann of the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin.