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Karen Wilkin


September 01, 2002

Summer at the MET

Anyone who thought that the Metropolitan Museum’s tandem summer offerings, “Gauguin In New York Collections: The Lure of the Exotic” and “The Age of Impressionism: European Painting from the Ordrupgaard Collection, Copenhagen,”[1] would be crowd-pleasing confections for the vacation season had, as they say, another think coming. Both shows could be enjoyed simply as slightly random accumulations of sometimes wonderful, sometimes familiar works, but both turned out to include some real surprises, to raise interesting questions about the nature of collecting, the difference between American and European taste, and even, in a couple of instances, to make you reconsider your preconceptions about a couple of artists.

February 01, 2000

Two views of Caravaggio

It’s difficult to believe, given the current high reputation of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610), that he was ever considered to be anything but one of the great figures of Italian painting. To his contemporaries, his horrifying, voluptuous religious dramas—cinematic stagings of crucial instants in the lives of saints and martyrs, briefly illuminated for a rapt audience by shafts of dazzling light—seemed the most exciting work of the time; witness the numbers of painters who assiduously followed his lead.

November 01, 1999

Ingres at the Metropolitan

Like that other virtuoso of the rich and famous and their clothes, John Singer Sargent, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres hated painting portraits. It’s difficult, of course, to imagine two painters more different: the prodigiously facile, seductive Sargent, who could suggest the gleam of satin and pearls with slapdash, wristy flicks of the brush, and the severe, reserved Ingres, no less adept at conjuring up the trappings of luxury, but whose tense, evocative line and polished surfaces seem to materialize without any evidence of the hand.

April 01, 1996

Monsieur Pellerin’s collection: a footnote to 'Cézanne'

Among the most memorable paintings in the Museum of Modern Art’s great Matisse retrospective in 1992, an exhibition full of memorable paintings, was a solemn frontal image of a bearded man seated tensely erect, hands clasped in front of him. Painted in 1916 to 1917, the period of some of Matisse’s most compelling portraits, it was striking even in the company of the Beaubourg’s fetching vision of the actress Greta Prozor, seated in an armchair, and the Guggenheim’s stiffly upright Italian Woman, that strange picture in which the swooping plane of the background threatens to engulf the figure.

February 01, 1996

Vermeer in Washington

The International Art Critics’ Association, an organization most valuable for its widely accepted press pass, annually asks its members to choose the past year’s best exhibitions. Nineteen ninety-five had many contenders in the category of “painting or sculpture exhibit in a museum”: the retrospectives of Cézanne, Mondrian, Brancusi, and Monet, in this country and in Europe, for starters; Goya at the Met or the Anthony Caro retrospective at the new Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo.

November 01, 1991

New light on Corot

Those cultural dinosaurs among us who persist in believing that paintings and sculptures have something to offer other than politics, sociology, anthropology, or even sex, tend to be skeptical about revisionist enterprises. Nothing is more exciting than having one’s old habits of thought jolted loose by new observations and new information, but, all too often, self-proclaimed new approaches turn out to be predictable attempts to redeem the reputations of second- or third-rate figures, “marginalized,” we are told, because of race, sex, country of origin, class, and all the rest of it.

March 01, 1991

The young Old Master: Van Dyck in Washington

Not long ago, I paid my first visit to the Los Angeles-based Eli Broad Family Foundation collection, which, according to its handsome brochure, aims “to serve as a resource to foster the serious study and public understanding of contemporary art. ” Begun about a decade ago, the still-growing collection now numbers some three hundred works by more than seventy-five artists; about 20 percent of it is on view at any given time, in a wonderful, most un-California-like building—a former telephone switching station—a block from the ocean in Santa Monica.

November 01, 1990

Making sport of modern art

Any book announced as “an entirely new vision of modern art’s origins and its subsequent meanings” is bound to raise expectations, even hopes, all the more so when the author is the new director of the Department of Painting and Sculpture of the Museum of Modern Art. I confess I was doubly curious about Kirk Varnedoe’s A Fine Disregard because, despite the author’s considerable reputation, it has been difficult to assess his abilities from his track record of exhibitions and catalogue contributions so far.

A review of A Fine Disregard: What Makes Modern Art Modern by Kirk Varnedoe