July 15, 2015 | What has been lost… The only thing more American than sentimentalizing the past is our habit of discarding it. And so when it comes to the dolls shown in this issue, stunning examples of an African-American folk art, questions abound: who were their makers and for whom were they made? How can they be dated and where did they originate? So much has been lost, but the dolls survive thanks to Deborah Neff, who brought them together and has sent them into the world to ask questions that need to be answered. We don’t need to ask why so much African-American material culture has been mislaid. We know the answer to that. I am aware of it every time we publish research like Alyce Perry Englund’s article on two folk art desks, one made by William Howard, a former slave, and I ponder all that is out there waiting for the light.
What has been found… Our admiration for the folk art miniaturist Mary Way is deepened by Brian Ehrlich’s discovery that one of her finest works, a signed portrai…» More
March 31, 2015 | The divide between “pure” art (painting and sculpture mostly) and functional art (lighting, ceramics, furniture, and so much else) comes and goes in history depending on who has the power to enforce its shaky distinctions. Just now the contemporary art market tilts toward the healthy side of the issue: a table by Urs Fischer, for instance, is a work of art that functions as a table. No questions asked.
It was not always so, and I like to think that the rising appreciation of the arts and crafts movement did more than its share to reunite artist and craftsman in our eyes. But it took a while. When I happened upon Robert Judson Clark’s exhibition of American arts and crafts objects in 1972 at Princeton University it was a surprise and a revelation. Abstract expressionism and pop art were art. Craft was not. A certain sniffiness about the latter lingered in the decades to come. We are long past that point now, as you will see in Rachel Delphia’s superb article on a private collec…» More
January 12, 2015 | When he was designing the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth the great American architect Louis Kahn said that he wanted it to resemble “a friendly home.” That might surprise anyone familiar with Kahn’s museums—the Kimbell, the Yale Center for British Art, or the Yale University Art Gallery—but I think he was simply saying that he wanted his building to wall out cultural intimidation. What he, or any museum these days, might want to wall in is another story.
At the newly reopened Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum—described in these pages by Frank Rose, who is always on the cutting edge of everything—they want visitors to come in and create their own twenty-first-century design experience. At Harvard where the art museums have also just reopened after six years, Ethan Lasser says they want visitors to listen in as the masterpieces talk to each other across continents and centuries, and they have arranged them to do just that.
And then there is the Newark Museum, subjec…» More
November 14, 2014 | In the nineteenth century there was an oft-repeated tale about the young Thomas Coleentering New York from the far reaches of rural Pennsylvania and being met with hosannasfrom the city's artists. Like most oft-told tales this one turned fact toward myth (to beginwith, Cole had arrived from nowhere more obscure than Philadelphia), and yet it suggests somethingintriguing and durable about the artist: clouds of transcendent glory do seem to clingto him. Alexander Nemerov, in one of his aerial feats of art historical criticism that we are luckyenough to publish in this magazine, suggests why this should be so. "Thomas Cole's hat, or What is it to be an artist?" looks beneath the hat on display at the Thomas Cole house in Catskill, New York, to consider what we can and cannot know about a creative mind attuned to a different world while living in this one. The article is, if I may be oxymoronic for a moment, an effortless tour de force, so hang on to your hat and take the ride. It …» More
September 21, 2014 | On our cover, the cacophonous world in which we live--digital and artisanal, ephemeral and timeless--is rendered, ironically, in the disciplined quiet of limewood by the master carver (and prose master) David Esterly. Carving, Esterly has observed in his book The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making, is a metaphor for many things. I'd count among them the energetic meeting of past and present that you will find in his article on the centuries long tradition of letter-rack paintings that inspired his own creations shown here.
I hope Esterly's article will lead you to his book, where you will find in addition to his account of restoring a masterwork by Grinling Gibbons lost to fire at Hampton Court Palace, a dramatic meditation on physical skill, creativity, and beauty that will excite anyone who has ever, for instance, admired a great cartouche, wondered at the invidious distinction between craft and art, or pondered the fashions of the art world, where the word disci…» 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