Current & Coming | By James Gardner

Suida-Manning Collection at the Blanton Museum

November 1, 2014  |  For art lovers, the most interesting thing in Austin, Texas, is not the LBJ Presidential Library or the grandiose State House--impressive as both of them are--but the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Texas. A fine example of a university or college museum, it has strong collections of American and Latin American art, as well modern and contemporary. But what raises the Blanton far above most good university museums is its collection of Old Master paintings. What is so special about these works is that they come almost entirely from a single source, the famed Suida-Manning Collection, which the university acquired nearly intact in 1998 and around which it built the stylish Blanton Museum, which opened its doors in 2004.

Above: Saint Cecilia by Simon Vouet, c. 1626. Oil on canvas. The Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, the Suida-Manning Collection, 1999.

What is so special about the Suida-Manning Collection, relative to most o…» More

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Current & Coming | By James Gardner

Salon style at the New-York Historical Society

September 25, 2014  |  There is an excellent reason why we no longer hang paintings as they have now done in an odd but worthy exhibition at the New-York Historical Society. Indeed, even at the N-YHS, that hanging would be inexcusable, were it not for the fact that the whole point of The Works: Salon Style at the New-York Historical Society, (on view through February 8, 2015) is to recreate the museum experience of nineteenth-century New York.

"Salon Style" refers to a way of exhibiting paintings that was common in the Salons of the 18th and 19th Centuries and that is antithetical to all the ingrained habits of modern museology. Rather than allowing the sacred object to be contemplated in isolation and at eye level, where its virtues can be best appreciated, the Salon Style stacks them up all the way to the ceiling.

In the great central gallery on the second floor of the New York Historical Society, that ceiling is about twenty feet high and the paintings are stacked in rows of thre…» More

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Current & Coming | By James Gardner

Smelling the flowers: A closer look at permanent collections

August 12, 2014  |  In this, the quietest season of the year for the New York art world, when most of the commercial galleries are shuttered and the museums have been abandoned to the tourists, it behooves the critic to slow down for a few weeks and smell the flowers. By that I mean returning to the permanent collections and observing the recent addition of several significant objects. I refer in specific to two seventeenth-century paintings that have just entered the collections of the Metropolitan Museum: Saint Francis in Ecstasy by the Genoese master Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione and The Sacrifice of Polyxena by Charles Le Brun.

These are not exactly blockbuster acquisitions and have not even been done the honor of a press release. Rather, when no one was looking, they quietly appeared out of nowhere, assuming their places among the immortals of the collection. One will not love the Old Master tradition because of these two works: rather one will love these two works because they form part o…» More

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Current & Coming | By James Gardner

Current and coming: Books at the Morgan

July 30, 2014  |  Whatever my other sins might be, envy is not usually among them. And yet, I recently felt that unwelcome emotion as I leafed through a coffee table book devoted to, of all things, the private library of Carl Gustav Jung. To turn from those rows of solemn volumes to the calamitous misalliance of dust jackets and trade paperbacks that make up my library was to form no very flattering notion of the modern book business. What was so charming about Jung's collection was that, in addition to its sixteenth- and seventeenth-century volumes, it was made up chiefly of those austerely elegant German, French, and English editions that formed the bedrock of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century publishing.

As it happens, my own library may resemble Jung's a little more than do most of my contemporaries': for reasons of predilection and economy, I have been acquiring old books from the earliest moment when I had the money to do so. In younger years I haunted New York's great and ve…» More

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Current & Coming | By James Gardner

No Growing Pains at the Frick Collection

June 24, 2014  |  Recently, an ill-considered op-ed in the New York Times, written by David Masello, took issue with the Frick Collection's plans for an ambitious expansion. Yes, there is something formulaic, almost knee-jerk in the way in which, these days, every museum seems to feel that it must expand and debase itself to embrace bigger audiences. But there is something equally formulaic, almost knee-jerk, in supposing that the Frick Collection is animated by no wiser impulse than simply to follow the trend, that it is "doing" a  MoMA or a Whitney. If ever a museum were justified in expanding, it is the Frick, especially in expanding exactly as the Frick intends to do.

Mr. Masello's argument can be reduced to the fear that this expansion will destroy the sense one now has, in visiting the Frick, of entering one of the great private residences of the Gilded Age, that the expansion will ruin this effect through the introduction of stridently modern forms like those of Renzo Piano at the Morg…» More

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NYG 2013

by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

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