John Elderfield

The Abstract Imperfect
October 12, 2011

de Kooning: A Retrospective Museum of Modern Art Willem de Kooning emerges, in the panoramic retrospective now at the Museum of Modern Art, as the archetypal modern urban man. He is by turns swaggering and sensitive. He is neurotic, self-assured, vehement, mercurial. He is a seeker, a striver, a comedian, a seducer, a dreamer. This quick-change personality comes through first of all in the splendid variety of de Kooning’s brushwork, which in a single painting can range from the elegant to the offhand, from delicate traceries to slashing strokes.

August 14, 2010

Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917 Museum of Modern Art Renoir in the 20th Century Philadelphia Museum of Art The astonishing variety of modern art, by turns bewitching and confounding, has been brought into the sharpest imaginable relief by exhibitions this summer in New York and Philadelphia. At the Museum of Modern Art, “Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917” highlights the audacious asceticism that the painter whom many regard as the greatest artist of modern times was pursuing immediately before and during World War I.

Arrivederci MoMA
February 06, 2006

 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

Hash of the Titans
March 03, 2003

"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.