L’Affaire to Remember
April 21, 2010

Paris The impish headlines in Le Canard enchaîné, the satirical weekly that happens to be the most informative newspaper in France, rarely translate well. An exception might be the recent front-page lead: “SARKO EST D’UNE RUMEUR MASSACRANTE.” This play on the expression être d’une humeur massacrante—roughly, “angry enough to kill”—concerns the distemper of Nicolas Sarkozy over a certain rumeur massacrante (“foul rumor”) swirling around the French president’s two-year marriage to former supermodel Carla Bruni.

Between the Potency and the Existence
April 20, 2010

The Letters of T.S. Eliot: Volume 1 (1898–1922) Edited by Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton (Faber and Faber, 871 pp., £35) The Letters of T.S. Eliot: Volume 2 (1923–25) Edited by Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton (Faber and Faber, 878 pp., £35)  In these two volumes we find more than 1,600 pages of letters and T.S. Eliot is not yet forty.

THE PICTURE: Balthus Fantasy
April 13, 2010

I stumbled into a secret the other day. Or at least I think I did. I cannot be absolutely sure. I had gone to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, to look at “Giovanni Boldini in Impressionist Paris,” the first American retrospective in 20 years of an artist who was almost 90 when he died in 1931. I’ve always been mildly curious about Boldini, a specialist in chic portraiture with a sideline in avant-gardist attitudinizing, but the show was mostly sugarcoated bombast.

The Madness of Bud Powell
April 02, 2010

Every artist has a story, or so we in the audience for art like to believe. In music, certainly—particularly in styles of music rich in abstraction, such as the avant-garde and jazz­—it’s easier for us to make something of challenging work if we can conceive of the composer or performer in easy-to-grasp narrative terms. If we imagine John Coltrane as a sojourning mystic, we can process his difficult late work as mystical sojourning.

THE PICTURE: Time in Milwaukee
March 31, 2010

Richard and Erna Flagg were married in Frankfurt, Germany in 1932. Richard was Jewish, the son of a wealthy businessman. Erna was Protestant; her father, Bernhard Zubrod, was an architect. I had not heard of the Flaggs until a couple of years ago, when I first visited the Milwaukee Art Museum, and found myself lingering over a display of sixteenth and seventeenth-century clocks, fantastically intricate creations, which the Flaggs gave to the museum in the early 1990s.

Glorious Misfits
March 30, 2010

Joaquín Torres-García: Constructing Abstraction with Wood San Diego Museum of Art Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective Tate Modern   Anne Truitt: Perception and Reflection Hirshhorn Museum   Formal values are personal values. What holds us in a painting or a sculpture is not art history but an individual’s history, some inner necessity or imperative that has been expressed through the forms available at a particular time. There are classicists and there are expressionists in every age, and the twentieth century was no exception.

A Responding Sensibility
March 03, 2010

Meyer Schapiro Abroad: Letters to Lillian and Travel Notebooks Edited by Daniel Esterman (Getty Research Institute, 243 pp., $39.95)   I. Meyer Schapiro Abroad is an astonishing book. It consists of seemingly commonplace materials--the love letters that a graduate student wrote while traveling to work on his dissertation, plus a selection of sheets from his research notebooks. Yet taken together these pages present something extraordinary and nearly unique: an intensely evocative account of the process and the experience of historical discovery.

The Talker
March 03, 2010

The details of his story aren’t the point, nor is the listener, who looked as bored as we, two accidental eavesdroppers in a London restaurant. The point is, well, his point, which after ten long minutes he came to abruptly, and with a flourish, saying slowly and in perfect seriousness, “All we are is dust in the wind. All we are. Is dust.

Controversy in Paris Makes Regionalism Newsworthy
February 26, 2010

If you live in a city or suburb, chances are your regional government has tried to get your attention. Did you notice? Many of the issues your regional government is grappling with are actually important to you: the quality of the air you breathe, the quality of public transportation, the availability of green open space, and more. As important as these issues are, I can almost guarantee that planners from your region have had to work extra hard to convince the press -- not to mention the citizens that live and work there -- to pay attention.

The Mousavi Mission
February 17, 2010

Traditional Iranian husbands, the sort found in the highest ranks of the Islamic Republic, sometimes refer to their wives as “the house.” For them, this is not just an expression of their understanding of gender relations. It is viewed as a necessary euphemism, vital protection for a woman’s honor. The mere uttering of her name, after all, might compromise her chastity. It is telling, therefore, that Mir Hossein Mousavi courted and eventually married Zahra Rahnavard.