Books and Arts

These are not bright times. We see the world in shades of gray. So gallerygoers may be especially interested in artists who work in mixtures of black and white—in what for centuries has been known as grisaille. Of course, I’m not so sure that gray times inspire a taste for gray paintings. Formal values are not necessarily so closely related to social experience. And yet the thought has crossed my mind as I contemplate “Grisaille,” a group show currently at Luxembourg and Dayan in New York.

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“Homeland” ended its first series on December 18 in a ninety-minute episode, as if it had so many loose ends to tie up, and so much to deliver before “the event of the TV season” closed. A couple of months ago, I welcomed the suspense, the plotting, and the human interest of “Homeland,” but I wondered even then if the series would go crazy with its own narrative.

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Last week I voiced a hope for morebright nonsense on the screen, and this week Miracle on 34th Street was previewed for early release. It is a charming film, in part about a budding romance between Macy’s and Gimbel’s, but mostly about Santa Claus. The old gentleman (named Kris Kringle) is completely real, though the state of New York tries in a fine, big, foolish trial to prove he doesn’t exist. The point, developed quite deftly, is that if a few maladjusted people were able to prove Kringle daffy enough to be committed, they would have to prove most of the world crazy along with him.

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Is there a god?

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The Invention of Space

Florence and Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science By Hans Belting Translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider (Belknap Press, 303 pp., $39.95) In many respects this is a bold book, first of all because of its premise: a veteran art historian dares, after half a century as an active scholar, to take another look at a classic art-historical problem—the formulation of linear perspective in fifteenth-century Florence.

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The Conquest Tomboy In Heaven, Underground: The Weissensee Jewish Cemetery “Politics is a stupid job done by smart men.” So says Nicolas Sarkozy in The Conquest, a French film about him that states it is not a documentary. At the start it asserts that, though it is based on real people and events, it is fiction.

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It’s that season again: time for the annual purge of my bookshelves. As usual, my ambition outstripped my reviewing appetite this year, and I’m left facing a shelf full of worthy titles that I somehow never got around to. So, as I did in this space last year, I’m making my year-end compilation not a greatest-hits list but a list of the books I regret not having written about. Among them are two novels (one a very impressive debut), the best collection of short fiction I’ve read in years, an essay collection, and a memoir. Open City, by Teju Cole (Random House).

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There are advertisements and reviews out there that tell you to expect comedy in Young Adult. You deserve a sterner warning. Yes, the picture is written by Diablo Cody* (of Juno and TV's “United States of Tara”) and it is directed by Jason Reitman (of Juno and Up in the Air). But, if you recall, Up in the Air had George Clooney as a cool, amiable flake whose job it is to tell people they are fired, and who is set back (to zero?) when Vera Farmiga’s colder character tells him that their love affair of convenience and intricate travel schedules is going nowhere.

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How many major black-and-white movies can you think of that have been made in the last five years? I can think of five: The Wild Child (1970), The Last Picture Show (1971), Paper Moon (1973), Lenny (1974) and Young Frankenstein (1974). In all five, the decision to use monochrome was both calculated and special. There was a time in the not-so-distant when using color was the choice that was calculated and special. What happened and why? For one thing, television.

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Matisse’s The Painter and His Model—in the exhibition devoted to his work at the Eykyn Maclean Gallery in New York—is a candy box of a composition, a hymn to rococo excess. Set in a room in Nice overlooking the Mediterranean, Matisse’s fairytale canvas is jam-packed with incident, a crowded interior rendered with oil colors thinned to the translucency of watercolor. The light is soft, suggesting honey or champagne.

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