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
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
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
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
June 12, 2014 | One of my earliest memories is from half a century ago and relates to something that I saw, and that astonished me, in the darkened halls of the American Museum of Natural History. I was four and my nanny was taking me-not for the first time, as I clearly recall-to the museum, a few blocks from where I grew up. On one of the upper floors, where you now see the dinosaurs, the museum displayed its gemstone and mineral collection, which was moved, about a decade later, to the ground floor. It must have been a weekday, because there was no one else in the cavernous hall. Suddenly I saw a man in a motorized wheel-chair glide by, "swifter than thought," along the terrazzo floors and disappear out a distant exit as quickly as he had come. Back then, unlike today, motorized wheelchairs were so rare that I would almost imagine they didn't exist, except that I saw one with my own eyes and have replayed the memory in my mind many times since.
Above: Mammal Hall, 1900. AMNH Digital Specia…» More
[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi» View All