March 2015


Thank You!
To each member of that small but loyal band of Aristos readers who responded yet again to our annual appeal for support, we extend our heartfelt thanks. All who read these pages are in your debt. - The Editors

An Urgent Appeal
Care about the arts? Value our unique perspective? If the answer to both is yes, and you haven't already done so, please join that "small but loyal band of Aristos readers" who support our work by contributing to the Aristos Foundation at whatever level you can afford, via PayPal or by check. You won't regret it.

Viewing Images Online
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Celebrating the Birthday of Winslow Homer
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Facebook post on Homer's birthday included a link to a brief bio and slide show of 12 paintings, as well as to information about the featured painting (The Studio) of a cellist and violinist making music together. In our entry at the end of the comments section, we included this link to hundreds more images of Homer's paintings and drawings. For much more about him, see his illustrated Wikipedia page.

An Avant-Gardist's Take on Mr. Turner (the Movie)
Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight is an advocate par excellence of the artworld principle "anything goes." In a review of the exhibition J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free now at the J. Paul Getty Museum, he raves about the recent movie Mr. Turner (on which, see our January Notes & Comments). According to Knight, the film is "the most convincing cinematic portrayal of an artist since 'Basquiat' nearly 20 years ago" (see Basquiat's "art"). Knight continues: "[Director Mike] Leigh, like the earlier film's director, artist Julian Schnabel [see his "art," too], understands that when it comes to making worthwhile art, the only workable attitude is: Do whatever it takes" (emphasis ours). Comments by Louis Torres follow a Facebook post on Knight's review.

Cubism Mythologized at the Met
On its page for the recent exhibition Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection, the Metropolitan Museum of Art proclaims:

Cubism, the most influential art movement of the early twentieth century, still resonates today. It destroyed traditional illusionism in painting and radically changed the way we see the world.

Hardly. While Cubism may have changed the way the Met's director and its modern and "contemporary" curators see the world, the pretentious "we" does surely not include the many living practitioners and admirers of "traditional illusionism," past and present. See, for example, "Classical Realism: A Living Artistic Tradition" by Stephen Gjertson and the Mission Statement of the Florence Academy of Art--not to mention the pages of Aristos (search for "classical realism").

"Puzzling Out" Cubism
Truth be told, even avowed "devotees" of Cubism have their problems with it. In comments on the Met's recent exhibition (see above note), critic Lee Rosenbaum, aka "CultureGrrl," writes:

Anyone (including devotees of Analytic Cubism's complexities, like me) who spent considerable time with Lauder's textbook collection [consisting of eighty-one works of painting, collage, drawing, and sculpture] . . . was probably staggered by a sense of Cubist overload from trying to puzzle out so many dense, challenging compositions in one uninterrupted session.

"Even veteran critic Peter Schjeldahl," she adds, "found scrutinizing the collection in its entirety a somewhat arduous task"--and quotes him as follows:

"If you're not tired after seeing the show, you weren't trying. . . . You may find that after an hour spent in the avant-garde boot camp of Cubism, looking at almost any other art will seem a breeze."

As for us, we made no attempt to "puzzle out" the Cubist works on view, for we understand all too well that the fragmentation of objects in Cubism [more] flouts the requirements of human perception. So we weren't "tired" after seeing the show, just bored and irritated.

Assessing the Legacy of Gardner Museum Director
In Arts Beat, a weblog of the New York Times, critic Randy Kennedy has nothing but praise for Anne Hawley, the director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, who is retiring after 25 years at its helm. As observed in a comment by Louis Torres on Kennedy's weblog post, however, Hawley's signature accomplishment was opening the doors of the museum---not of the original building, but of the new modernist wing grafted onto Mrs. Gardner's Venetian-inspired mansion)---to "contemporary art."

Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) was a famed collector of Renaissance art, as well as of work from nineteenth-century France and America, among other cultures and eras. She was also "a patron and friend of leading artists . . . of her time," as her museum's website notes. But the artists she befriended and supported most notably included John Singer Sargent [see her portrait by him]--not the leading modernists of the day, whom she disliked.

As emphasized by Boston Globe art critic Sebastian Smee, Gardner had "a hostile relationship with modernity," held "anti-modern convictions," and was "committed to preserving the past" ("New Look Rewrites Museum Founder's Vision for Her Guests," January 21, 2010). But that didn't stop Hawley from brazenly turning Gardner's museum into a haven for avant-gardists--most recently, for Jean-Michel Othoniel (see his Entry of Apollo, a "fountain-sculpture" awaiting installation on, of all places, the magnificent grounds of Versailles, France). Moreover, she completely ignored contemporary Classical Realist painters who carry on Sargent's legacy.

Books a Choreographer Reads
ArtsJournal (an online digest of links to articles) recently cited an interview with Cuban-born Boston-based choreographer José Mateo [more] in the Books section of the Boston Globe. The subject was what he reads in his spare time, when not creating dances or directing his ballet company and school, the José Mateo Dance Theatre [more].

"I'm always reading a number of books," Mateo says, "but, though I'm a well-intended reader, I just don't get through a lot of books."

Does he read many books on dance? "[D]ance books tend to be about fitness or glamorize one company or one dancer," he explains. "I like to read about trends so I look at writers like Selma Jeanne Cohen, who wrote Dance as a Theatre Art, about the history of dance, and the New Yorker dance critic Arlene Croce."

We found of particular interest "what else" Mateo (who had earned a degree in art history from Princeton University) reads. "I read about the philosophy of art and beauty," he replied, adding: "I recently got a copy of What Art Is by Louis Torres about the esthetic theory of Ayn Rand." Nearly 15 years after our book's publication, we're happy to know it still finds discriminating readers like Mateo, so we'll gladly forgive him for not remembering at the instant the name of its co-author (and Aristos co-editor), Michelle Kamhi.

Is This Political Activist also an Artist?
Search for the name "Ai Weiwei" on the web and you'll no doubt find this famous Chinese dissident characterized as, among other things, a "contemporary artist." His official website biography says simply: "Ai Weiwei is an artist." Born in 1957, Ai is undoubtedly contemporary. But is he an artist? For Michelle Kamhi's answer, see the recent weblog post on her website.

Misplacing the Bard in a Brooklyn Brownstone
In the past, Aristos has enthusiastically praised the generally excellent Pearl Theatre Company. But its current staging of Shakespeare's Winter's Tale, in a contemporary setting, prompted Michelle Kamhi to post the following remarks on the company's Facebook page--in response to a review lauding the "clever, rejuvenating staging":

As one of the Pearl's devoted fans, I beg to differ. To my dismay, I found the updated conception of this production jarringly inappropriate, especially in the profoundly dramatic and often moving early scenes. Why, I kept wondering, would a director choose to have Shakespeare's elevated diction spoken by actors portraying royalty in banal contemporary dress in a brownstone-like setting [more] that conjured up a scene from The Godfather? If he was afraid we otherwise wouldn't "get" the family relationships, he gives neither Shakespeare nor us enough credit. Better to have no setting at all than one at war with the text. The Pearl has been admirably free of such gratuitous updatings until now, and I earnestly hope that such an approach won't be repeated.

Updatings of this kind have been all too common these days, especially in the realm of opera. As a first-rate repertory company devoted to intelligent production of the classics, the Pearl should eschew this now-fashionable but misguided practice.

Must Reading
In case you missed it, our January 2005 issue featured an amply illustrated article on the noteworthy twentieth-century American sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, the first poem we've published, and much more of interest. Be sure to read it!

Let Us Know What You Think
We invite readers to comment on any of the items on this or other pages. See information on Letters to the Editors, as well as archived letters [look for "LETTERS" in all caps].