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The New Criterion

Quite simply, the best cultural review in the world
- John O’Sullivan



In case you missed it

by Benjamin Riley

Posted: Sep 25, 2015 12:58 PM

Eustache Le Sueur, Caligula Depositing the Ashes of his Mother and Brother in the Tomb of his Ancestors, 1647/ Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015


Recent links of note:

Beneath Chicago’s Gloss
Aaron Renn, City Journal
Walk around downtown Chicago, the gleaming lake on one side and stunning skyscrapers on the other, and one is likely to think he stands in a city that has got it all figured out. If only that were the case. Behind Chicago’s luminous façade is a city in turmoil facing a massive budget shortfall and turning to increasingly baroque financial maneuvers to attempt to overcome the lingering issues. This week Aaron Renn explores how the city and state of Illinois have gotten the economics of the city so wrong, concluding that continual buck-passing and the abeyance of responsibility are to blame.

Monuments to Liberty
Jonathan Clarke, The Times Literary Supplement
As the TLS, that formidable home for English literary criticism, said of itself, “we don’t often do scoops, and a History Editor is used to being teased that his idea of a scoop is a story about something that happened more than 200 years ago.” But this week may prove an exception to that rule, with the publication of Jonathan Clark’s findings that Thomas Paine may not have written the whole of the Rights of Man. If that is the case, does our understanding of the French Revolution change? Head over to the TLS to find out.

Jeremy Corbyn isn’t like Caligula’s horse—he’s like Caligula
Tom Holland, The Spectator
As mentioned last week, we’re still trying to sort out what exactly happened in England to occasion the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition. But historical parallels sometimes help to illuminate our current age and in that vein, Tom Holland thinks there’s much to be learned about Mr. Corbyn through the study of mad Caligula. One choice example is Caligula’s original version of Corbyn’s “people’s quantitative easing”—standing on a basilica rooftop showering the people below with coins. As Holland sagely puts it, “Truly, talk of a new politics is one of the oldest things under the sun.”

In Belgium, Mayonnaise Makers Want a New Recipe
Tom Fairless, The Wall Street Journal
Is there nothing sacred? Apparently in Belgium the answer is no. Mayonnaise, which is required by Belgian law to contain at least 80% fat and 7.5% egg yolk, is under attack. In the rest of Europe, the condiment may be sold with only 70% fat and 5% yolk, making it cheaper to produce. But these continental rivals lack the tradition and quality of their Belgian counterparts. Just ask Philippe Lartique, chef at Brasseries Georges, one of Brussels’s best restaurants. To him, “It’s like comparing a chicken raised by a farmer with a factory hen.” Well said, and please, pass the frites.

From our pages:

The untold story of Reconstruction
Gene Dattel
The South is largely blamed for the failure of Reconstruction, but what of the North’s responsibility?


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Intro to Luto

by Jay Nordlinger

Posted: Sep 24, 2015 01:45 PM

The composer, Witold Lutoslawski, via


Witold Lutoslawski, the Polish composer, lived from 1913 to 1994. In other words, he was born just before World War I and died three years after the collapse of the Soviet empire. Comes now a CD comprising two of his works: the Piano Concerto and the Symphony No. 2.

The concerto is one of the more popular piano concertos in the modern repertory. You may say that this is not a large claim. You would be right. In any event, Leif Ove Andsnes played this work with the New York Philharmonic in the 2001–02 season. In my “New York Chronicle” for the magazine, I said, “The Lutoslawski is a clever and exciting work,” which may well be “here to stay.”

Lutoslawski wrote it, or completed it, in 1988. It is dedicated to the pianist Krystian Zimerman, the composer’s fellow Pole, who premiered it at the Salzburg Festival. Later, he recorded it, with the composer on the podium. Zimerman has been the work’s champion—and it’s he who is the soloist on the new CD.

This CD, from Deutsche Grammophon, comes from a live performance, or performances, in September 2013. The orchestra is the Berlin Philharmonic, and the conductor is its music director, Sir Simon Rattle.

The concerto is in four movements, and requires virtuosity on the part of both soloist and orchestra. Nimbleness is the order of the day. As in Tchaikovsky, the woodwinds have a particular chance to show off. Sometimes the music is shimmering and French. Sometimes it is aggressive, quasi-violent. The concerto is crafted with care and skill.

In my above-mentioned chronicle, I called the work “clever and exciting,” and it is. But I sometimes wonder whether Lutoslawski is playing around with composition rather than really composing. To me, the concerto gets a little busy. The motto of contemporary music could be “Busy busy busy.” On some pages, the Lutoslawski concerto strikes me as an exercise by a very smart man, who, in fact, started out in math.

But I will stick with “clever and exciting,” and also “precise and refined.” And “impassioned and beautiful.” The forces on this CD do the concerto full justice. They have all the virtuosity, understanding, and commitment required.

Lutoslawski’s Symphony No. 2 predates the concerto by twenty years. He completed it in 1967. It is in just two movements, but fairly long movements. And those movements bear interesting, even charming, markings: “Hésitant” and “Direct.” Lutoslawski employs a method that he dubbed “limited aleatoricism,” that second word meaning “the incorporation of chance into the process of creation.” (I have quoted trusty Wikipedia.)

I will be brief. The first movement, “Hésitant,” is to my ears something of a math test. I do not doubt its brilliance. I have some doubts about its musical worth. “Direct” brings more math, but also much excitement, or certainly noise—rhythmically arresting noise. “Noise,” I hasten to say, is not (necessarily) a putdown. It’s sometimes hard to have music without it.

Obviously, I’m not quite committed to the Symphony No. 2. But Sir Simon and the Berliners are. And you may be too, on hearing it. The new CD can serve as an introduction to Lutoslawski, presented by people who love and appreciate him.


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A new low in the climate debate

by Bruce Everett

Posted: Sep 24, 2015 09:00 AM

Professor Snyder's latest book, via

It’s de rigueur on college campuses to pledge allegiance to the climate agenda, denouncing Luddites who impede progress on the climate policies that all right-thinking people support. Those of us who work in academia are used to this ritual, but every once in a while an academic decides to distinguish himself by making his denunciation louder and more strident than the rest of the crowd. A good example is the Yale Professor Timothy Snyder’s op-ed “The Next Genocide” in the September 13th edition of The New York Times. Prof. Snyder compares those who disagree with him on climate change to a Nazi Einsatzgruppe commander slaughtering a Jewish baby. The appropriate reaction to this metaphor is an eye roll, but Professor Snyder’s vicious diatribe has some utility, since it incorporates all the basic climate change fallacies in one neat, nasty package. A refutation is in order.

Professor Snyder’s analysis of World War II is quite misleading. In his view, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union to secure food. Germany’s problem was not feeding its people, which they had done quite nicely before World War I. Food was readily available on the world market at distressed prices during the 1930s, and many countries, including Britain, relied on imports to meet their food needs. The problem was that, during World War I, the British had blockaded Germany, leading to widespread misery and even starvation. Hitler had no trouble feeding his people during peacetime, but needed to secure food supplies for his genocidal war for the supremacy of the Master Race. The war was not needed for food. The food was needed for the war.

Professor Snyder claims that “Climate change threatens to provoke a new ecological panic,” and proceeds to offer the Rwandan and Sudanese civil wars as examples of fighting over scarce food resources, a circumstance he attributes to man-made climate change. He goes on to claim, “Climate change has also brought uncertainties about food supply back to the center of great power politics.” In reality, the modest increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide experienced in recent decades has been a major factor in the growth of food supplies. Carbon dioxide is, after all, plant food. According to the World Bank, over the past 50 years, world population has doubled, but food production has increased by a factor of 3½, allowing a substantial share of the world’s poor to achieve food security. In Rwanda, food production more than doubled between 1965 and the onset of the civil war in the early 1990s. After falling precipitously during the fighting, Rwandan crop output recovered dramatically after the war, more than doubling since 1995. It seems more reasonable to conclude that the Rwandan Civil War caused the food shortage, not the other way around. China’s food production, which causes Professor Snyder so much worry, has grown by a factor of nearly 6 in the last 50 years, while its population has doubled. Chinese food output is still outpacing its population.

Like many climate activists, Professor Snyder sees climate change as an argument between scientists and “certain political and business elites.” In his view, “These deniers tend to present the empirical findings of scientists as a conspiracy and question the validity of science—an intellectual stance that is uncomfortably close to Hitler’s.” Catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is not a fact, but rather a hypothesis to be tested against observations. In reality, the catastrophic climate hypothesis is based on a series of assumptions about the way the climate system works and is supported neither by theory nor by empirical evidence. Climate activists have predicted for years that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide would cause an alarming rise in temperature, reaching levels later this century that would bring widespread global disruption and misery. Atmospheric temperatures, however, have remained flat for the last 15 years or so. Since the predicted catastrophe has not actually occurred, activists have worked hard to substitute the notion of consensus for that of science. The catastrophic climate hypothesis must be true, they argue, since so many prominent people, both scientists and others, support it. Many scientists with opposing views have been unable to get funding or have simply been intimidated into silence. It’s the climate activists’ view that represents the true denial of science, harking back to the Middle Ages when the Church insisted that all questions be resolved not by empirical evidence but by committees of experts reading scripture, with dissenters burned at the stake. I agree with Professor Snyder that denying science is dangerous for modern societies, but climate activists are on the wrong side of this issue.

Professor Snyder makes the odd claim that “So far, poor people in Africa and the Middle East have borne the brunt of the suffering [caused by climate change].” Everyone agrees that global temperatures have increased a little bit over the last century, but the essence of the climate hypothesis is not the modest warming of the past but the predicted accelerated warming in the future with it catastrophic effects. How exactly are these effects already manifest when the temperature acceleration has not yet occurred? In our universe, effect cannot precede cause. Climate activists offer Hurricane Sandy, the California drought and wildfires, the severe winter in the Northeast, melting glaciers, the drought in Sudan, and every other weather variation as support for the climate hypothesis. In reality, we have no reason to believe that these events are outside the normal range of climate variability. These occurrences may be beyond our personal experience, but climate varies not just over decades but over centuries and millennia. In one particularly strange assertion, Prof. Snyder worries about extremism in the “parched Middle East.” I may be wrong, but I don’t believe the desertification of the Middle East and North Africa is a twentieth-century phenomenon. Recent satellite observations show that many areas of the Earth are actually greening up, partly as a result of the fertilization effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

We can all agree that the plight of world’s poor should be of concern to everyone. The climate policies currently under debate in the United States and Europe, however, have virtually no impact on atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and thus no climate impact. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the font of all wisdom for the Climate Community, calls for a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions of 30–60% by the year 2050. President Obama’s pledge to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 26–28% by 2025 would contribute only a 3–4% reduction, no more than a rounding error. Climate policies do, however, raise energy prices, which disproportionately hurts the poor. Professor Snyder’s misunderstanding of the climate issue leads him to call for actions that would reduce the access of the world’s poor to fossil fuels, which are a primary source of mobility, productivity, and growth. Caring is no substitute for understanding.

Yale University policy states, “It is the hope of the University that all members of the community act with civility and respect.” Professor Snyder shows an extraordinary lack of understanding of the climate issue, yet calls those who disagree with him genocidal Nazi baby killers. Is that what Yale means by “civil”?

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A "mere whiff of turpentine"

by Daniel Grant

Posted: Sep 23, 2015 10:21 AM

Paul Klee, Greek and two Barbarians, 1920. An example of "entartete Kunst" from the Gurlitt Collection via.


These days, the subject of art comes up more often in the context of law-breaking than any other time, save for (perhaps) the subject of art as investment. From the destruction of ancient artifacts in the Middle East by the so-called Islamic State (crimes against humanity?), to art thefts as leverage to bargain down criminal charges, to fakes, copyright infringement, frauds by art dealers, lawsuits (by collectors against dealers, by collectors against auction houses, by artists against dealers and dealers against artists), and the ongoing headache of sorting out what is called Holocaust art, we now associate art not with aspirations toward a higher understanding of life or the world, but with sordid activities and disreputable people. Wickedness and money is an easier topic for most of us than art itself, and more delicious, which probably explains why Dante’s Inferno has far more readers than his Paradiso.

Much easier to read than Dante is Susan Ronald’s Hitler’s Art Thief, which describes a German art dealer, Hildebrand Gurlitt (1895-1956), a get-along-by-going-along sort with pretensions to art historical scholarship, who was part of a team of similar scoundrels that wrested artwork from museums and (often Jewish) individuals for the benefit of the Nazi hierarchy.1 Ronald regularly refers to him as “unctuous,” but his principal talents were the ability to detect when artworks of some note were ripe for the taking and how to keep himself free of war crime charges.

Hildebrand Gurlitt was unknown to all but a few historians until 2012, when the Munich apartment his son, Cornelius, lived alone in was raided by German police raided on the basis of the assumed failure of the son to pay income taxes. How did Cornelius have so much cash? Within this small apartment, police found 121 framed oil paintings and another 1,258 drawings, prints and watercolors by such artists as Marc Chagall, Edgar Degas, Honoré Daumier, Otto Dix, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Cornelius claimed that he had been left this artwork by his father, but immediately the questions arose: how did Hildebrand Gurlitt acquire all this art, and does some or all of it more rightfully belong to the families of victims of the Nazis? Cornelius himself died in 2014, leaving the fate of this cache of artwork to the courts to sort out.

Gurlitt’s approach to modern art came to be modified by the growing power of the Nazis, Ronald writes. He became, by the early 1930s, “flexible in his opinions . . . outwardly charming, and to appear to act without guile.” The dealer found that European Modern art, particularly the German Expressionists, was available at bargain prices—the result of Nazi disdain with what was called “degenerate” art—and could be sold to Americans at high prices. Never let a good crisis go to waste.

Among the Nazi policies toward culture in general and fine art in particular was that certain artists, among them Nazi sympathizer Emil Nolde, were forbidden to paint at all. “An infraction could be determined by the mere whiff of turpentine . . . during a surprise visit by the Gestapo,” Ronald writes, and both regional and national museums were emptied of their offending Modern artworks and non-obedient directors. The highlight of this purge was the 1937 “Degenerate Art” exhibition in Munich of 600 or so appropriated paintings and sculptures that were intended to be publicly mocked.

Gurlitt became, by 1937, one of the regime’s four principal art dealers, who were charged with locating offensive art—or even non-offending art owned by Jews—that could be used to raise hard currency through trade with the West. (The Soviets looted their own national museums in the 1920s and 1930s for the same reason.) “In all, there were 101 [German] public collections that were stripped of modern art,” adding up to thousands of artworks. Within a short period of time, they moved to private collections. American collectors, dealers and museums, most notably the Museum of Modern Art, acquired—and, thereby, saved—numerous works of art, but Ronald notes the moral traps these acquisitions held, reinforcing the appropriations of private collectors’ property and providing financial support for the Third Reich. As one can predict, not every confiscated artwork was sold abroad or sold at all, but kept by the dealers, which is how Gurlitt’s personal collection grew. He stole from the victims of Nazi abuse and, eventually, from the Nazi regime itself in terms of artwork and taxes on unreported income.

Why did Hildebrand Gurlitt partake in this venture and not just refuse or emigrate? Ronald doesn’t offer an explanation, save for claiming that his father’s death in 1937 shut down the only “moral compass” in his life. More likely, the dealer followed the herd, as did so many other Germans, and assumed he could protect himself and make money at the same time. The book’s title, Hitler’s Art Thief, reveals the author’s own verdict on the dealer: he was a criminal. “He’d allowed himself to be contaminated by the regime’s lawlessness, brutalizing others, and had no idea that he, too, had become one of the army perpetrating Nazi criminality.”

Gurlitt was investigated by agents of the U.S. government after the war, but the Truman Administration was more interested in war crimes involving genocide and slave labor than in the theft of artwork and its use in financing the Nazi war machine, so he was never put on trial or jailed. Gurlitt had covered his tracks, holding onto almost all of the art he had amassed and resuming his career as an art dealer. It wasn’t until that raid by German police in 2012 that the story began to unravel. Turning back the clock to discern how owns what is an ongoing problem that will perhaps never be resolved, as is the case with much Holocaust art.

The narrative suffers from a lack of information—or lack of research by Ronald?—on Gurlitt’s life, and the author repeatedly relies on suppositions. He certainly was secretive. Did Gurlitt attend a public meeting where Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels both spoke in Saxony in 1925? “There is no surviving public record whether he went to hear the Nazi leaders speak,” she writes. “[H]owever, given the publicity Hitler generated, it would have been in keeping with Hildebrand’s curiosity to go along to hear the man. . . .” The book’s chapters are divided into parallel narratives of Gurlitt’s life (upbringing, finding himself, career) and Hitler’s (and, by extension, Germany’s). With so many studies of Hitler and twentieth century Germany available, readers of Hitler’s Art Thief probably don’t need a recap of what led Europe into the First World War, the social and political unrest following the end of that war in Germany, anger at the Treaty of Versailles, the burning of the Reichstag, how well the Nazis did in succeeding parliamentary elections up to 1933, and major battles. Gurlitt didn’t seem to pay much attention to the politics of the time, concentrating on trying to get and keep an art museum job, and Ronald relies exclusively on secondary sources for her discussion of Germany and Hitler. However, without all the space devoted to what was going on in Germany, this might have been just an extended magazine article.

Hitler’s Art Thief has company in the discussion of bad things bad men do with art. Anthony M. Amore’s The Art of the Con is a breezy overview of recent examples of duplicity in the art trade, filled with instances of fakes and frauds committed by artists, artists’ assistants, and dealers.2 All the crooks described here are lured by a combination of deadly sins—greed, vanity, laziness—and others in the art trade who are taken in by them seem blinded by many of those same weaknesses. Ann Friedman, president of Knoedler Gallery, who sold tens of millions of dollars of faked Abstract Expressionist paintings, ultimately leading to her dismissal, the closing of the venerable gallery in 2011, and myriad lawsuits, is described by Amore as “no criminal. . . . Instead, it seems far more probable that she was intoxicated by the prospect of being part of the unleashing of a heretofore unknown collection on the world.” A different seller of fakes, a confidence man named Luigi Cugini, “avoided major auction houses and art dealers and preyed on people less knowledgeable about fine art.”

There are a dozen tales of recent bad behavior. The Art of the Con is fun to read, with anecdotes just right for dinner party conversation. Amore appears to have done little in the way of original research or interviews, instead relying on published articles on the subject in newspapers and magazines, and his overview of the problems of fakes and frauds in the art world is neither new or consistent. At times, he credits scientific physical analysis for uncovering fakes, chiding experts and connoisseurs for being duped. Elsewhere, he credits experts and connoisseurs with identifying forgeries. The courts go up and down in Amore’s esteem, but the author does maintain an ongoing respect for law enforcement.


1 Hitler’s Art Thief: Hildebrand Gurlitt, the Nazis, and the Looting of Europe's Art Treasures, by Susan Ronald; St. Martin's, 400 pages, $27.99.

2 The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds, and Forgeries in the Art World, by Anthony M. Amore; St. Martin's, 272 pages. $26.


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Listen to Eric Simpson and Jay Nordlinger's Classical Music Season Preview

by Benjamin Riley

Posted: Sep 22, 2015 02:54 PM

With last night marking opening night at the Met, the start of the fall music season is finally upon us.

No one is more excited than our assistant editor Eric Simpson, who last week sat down with our music critic Jay Nordlinger to discuss the impending season. Listen below or head over to our SoundCloud page to hear their recommendations for what to see this autumn.


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The Critic's Notebook for September 21, 2015

by Benjamin Riley

Posted: Sep 22, 2015 10:18 AM

Pablo Picasso, Bull. Cannes, c. 1958. Plywood, tree branch, nails, and screws, 46 1/8 x 56 3/4 x 4 1/8″ (117.2 x 144.1 x 10.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Jacqueline Picasso in honor of the Museum’s continuous commitment to Pablo Picasso’s art. © 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Sign up to receive “Critic's Notebook” in your inbox every week—it only takes a few seconds and it's completely free! “Critic's Notebook” is a weekly preview of the best to read, see, and hear in New York and beyond, compiled by the editors of The New Criterion.


This week: Shortlists, STEM, and a Classical Music Season Preview.

FictionThe Man Booker Prize Shortlist: This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the Man Booker Prize and I can’t promise it will be the last, either. Despite the essentially arbitrary nature of the judging process, the Prize’s shortlist consistently includes those books about which the entire literary world will be talking in the months to come. This year’s crop includes the early favorite A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara, an American. Formerly the Prize was to be awarded only to citizens of the Commonwealth, but since 2013 the Prize has been open to writers in English regardless of nationality. If A Little Life is to win—and eminent British bookmaker Ladbrokes currently has it as the 6/4 favorite—it will mark the first time the prize has been awarded to a non-Commonwealth citizen. One of the strange delights of the UK is that a would-be punter may bet openly on things like the Booker Prize in licensed parlors. Even more delightful is that there’s a betting market for literary prizes at all. —BR

Nonfiction: The Educated Imagination, by Northrup Frye (Midland Books): Here is something really up-to-date: The Educated Imagination, by the late, great Canadian critic Northrop Frye. Frye was best known for his pioneering work on William Blake—his book Fearful Symmetry (1947) rescued Blake from the dustbin of children’s verse and helped spark a new interest in the English Romantics—and Anatomy of Criticism (1957), a learned exploration of certain myths that recur and organize our literary experience. There followed many collections of essays and lectures, of which The Educated Imagination (1964) is a brief and light-hearted example.

Though concise, and written in terms an intelligent high school freshman can get outside, The Educated Imagination is a deep book. The question it poses is the question that all disciplines in the humanities must answer: what is the use of something that is useless? Why, for example, study literature? It doesn’t help with the GDP. It cures no illnesses, solves no equations, builds no bridges. In an age in which STEM is king of the educational acronyms, what is the purpose of the humanities? They are not Science or Technology, neither are they Engineering or Math. Why bother with them? Perhaps the plummeting enrollments in such courses—and the flight of males from such tutelage—is a good thing, or at least nothing to worry about. Who cares about Milton when you have quantum mechanics, Dante when you have nano-technology, Shakespeare when you have space travel? Literature might teach you about irony, but we have the internet. Case closed.

Or is it? In the compass of six breezy essays—originally, they were radio broadcasts—Frye suggests that the case remains open so long as human nature, with its human, all-too-human questions, prevails. I said that the book was up-to-date. It was published in 1964. But human nature was the same then as it was when Homer wrote, or Aeschylus, or Plato, or Augustine, or Cervantes, Jane Austen, Chekov, or Thomas Mann. Have we superseded the concerns of those observers of mankind? It would take a brave man, or a foolish one, to answer “Yes.” —RK

Poetry: Now Accepting Submissions for the New Criterion Poetry Prize: There’s still time to submit for the sixteenth annual New Criterion Poetry Prize. The Prize is awarded for a book-length manuscript of poems that pay close attention to form with the winner receiving $3,000 and the winning manuscript to be published by St. Augustine’s Press. Praised by Booklist as “a more reliable indicator of high readability than most other poetry prizes,” this year’s prize will be judged by Adam Kirsch, Roger Kimball, and David Yezzi. Submissions must be postmarked by September 30. For further details on how to enter, please refer to this link. —DY

Art: Picasso Sculpture (Through February 7, 2016): Pablo Picasso was a painter who sculpted. At least that's been the conventional wisdom. After seeing the brilliant "Picasso Sculpture" at the Museum of Modern Art, you might just come away thinking Picasso was a sculptor who painted. Organized by MOMA curators Ann Temkin and Anne Umland, along with Virginie Perdrisot from the Musée national Picasso–Paris, "Picasso Sculpture" is the sort of eye-opening, narrative-challenging exhibition that only MOMA can pull together. Look for a feature on "Picasso Sculpture" in a forthcoming issue of The New Criterion—JP

Music: Classical Music Season Preview and Anna Bolena, by Donizetti, at the Metropolitan Opera (September 26, 2015–January 9, 2016): It's opening week at the Metropolitan Opera, which means that the musical season will soon be in full gear. Last week, I sat down with The New Criterion's music critic, Jay Nordlinger, to discuss our thoughts and highlights from the coming fall. Listen to the whole podcast at The New Criterion's SoundCloud page.

For one more item not covered in our conversation, the American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky begins her season-long tour of Donizetti's "Three Queens" this Saturday afternoon, singing the title role in Anna Bolena. Marco Armiliato leads a strong cast that includes Jamie Barton as Jane ("Giovanna") Seymour and Ildar Abdrazakov as Henry VIII. —ECS

From the archive: At the Picasso Museum, by Hilton Kramer: Our founder, Hilton Kramer, on the opening of the Musée Picasso, from the January 1986 issue.

From our latest issue: Gallery Chronicle, by James Panero: On “Stanley Whitney: Dance the Orange,” at the Studio Museum in Harlem.


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Two of a kind

by Jay Nordlinger

Posted: Sep 21, 2015 03:11 PM

A few years ago, I basically stopped reviewing Joyce DiDonato. Some other critics have done the same. You find yourself saying “Great,” “Great,” “Not as great as usual, but still great,” “Great” . . .

The mezzo-soprano from Kansas is an extraordinary combination of voice, technique, head, and heart.

I will not quite review her latest CD, but I will write about it a little. It’s called Joyce & Tony, Live at Wigmore Hall. Tony is Sir Antonio Pappano, the music director of the Royal Opera House. Wigmore Hall, or “the Wigmore Hall,” as Brits tend to say, is a hallowed venue in London. It’s especially prized for chamber music and recitals. DiDonato and Pappano performed there in September 2014.

Incidentally, this CD has a fabulous illustration or cartoon on the cover, by another Antonio, as it happens: Antonio Lapone. It’s like an extra-jazzy, extra-fizzy Al Hirschfeld number.

For as long as anyone can remember, conductors have liked to sit at the piano and accompany star singers—even if they are not particularly up to it. I think of Wilhelm Furtwängler and Bruno Walter. Then there are conductors who are real pianists, if you will. I think of André Previn and Christoph Eschenbach.

Is Pappano a real pianist? I think he is. I remember a recording that he made of the Shostakovich Cello Sonata with Han-na Chang. Should he quit his day job (or night job, maybe we should say)? I don’t know about that, but he handles himself very well at the piano.

I might add that, for the last 15 years or so, I have been expressing the hope that he will succeed James Levine as music director of the Metropolitan Opera, when the time comes. But London will probably rise up in a kind of reverse revolution.

(Levine, by the way, is another “real pianist” who is very much a real conductor.)

The new CD is actually two CDs—a little set. And CD 1 begins with Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos. Yes, before there was Strauss’s opera Ariadne auf Naxos, there was this cantata. I said I don’t review Joyce DiDonato anymore, but I’ll say a few words about her Arianna. It is lyrical, incisive, gutsy, and intelligent. This is not delicate Haydn, but rather dramatic, operatic Haydn.

DiDonato continues with a couple of Rossini numbers, including “La danza.” I don’t recall hearing a woman sing this before—mainly tenors—but Joyce has a right, and Rossini would love it, I feel.

We next have four songs by an Italian composer with a beautiful name: Francesco Santoliquido (1883-1971). These are the Canti della sera (“Songs of the Evening”), and they reflect a lingering Romanticism. They are lovely and kind. And DiDonato sings them just that way.

CD 1 ends with a Neapolitan song, or another one, I should probably say, given “La danza.” Also, Santoliquido was a Neapolitan. Anyway, I’m talking about “Non ti scordar di me,” which, believe it or not, was written by someone: Ernesto De Curtis. “O sole mio” was written by someone, too: Eduardo di Capua. Don’t these songs seem out of the air, written by no one, and existing forever?

In any case, Joyce sings “Non ti scordar” consummately.

On the second CD, we have, in effect, a pops recital. (I can’t swear I coined the term, but I believe I did, and I’m taking credit for it regardless.) The CD begins with Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer,” reminding me that Marilyn Horne once made an album of American songs titled, in fact, Beautiful Dreamer. I happen not to care for the arrangement that Joyce and Tony use: it’s too busy for me, robbing the song of its simplicity and timelessness. But this is a matter of taste.

Joyce sings five songs by Jerome Kern (not in a row), including “Life upon the Wicked Stage,” from Show Boat. She sounds so American in this song. Of course, you’re supposed to.

One of William Bolcom’s most popular songs is here, namely “Amor.” Between Jackie (Marilyn Horne) and Joyce came Flicka—the American mezzo Frederica von Stade. She, too, sang “Amor,” and scored big with it. It’s an absolute charmer.

Cover your ears, children, because I’m going to talk politics for a second. “Amor” paints a picture of a wonderful, magical day. The words are by Bolcom’s frequent collaborator, the late Arnold Weinstein. His poem includes one of my favorite examples of economic illiteracy (no offense). It is a kindergarten Marxism, which I learned, and which almost everyone learns, I gather.

“The poor stopped taking less./ The rich stopped needing more.”

Most of us outgrow this kind of thinking. But others become poets, musicians, theater directors, leaders of the Labour Party . . . At any rate, “Amor” is a wonderful song, in its words and music.

DiDonato sings three encores, the first of which is “All the Things You Are,” from a Kern-Hammerstein musical, but not Show Boat: Very Warm for May. DiDonato sings this song purely, radiating what I can only call goodness. She then turns to Irving Berlin, his “I Love a Piano.” In this song, Berlin talks about Paderewski, a great virtuoso of the time. But Joyce sings, “And with the pedal I love to meddle/ When Maestro Tony comes to play./ I’m so delighted that he decided/ To put that old baton away.” Pappano, for his part, interpolates some piano pieces into his accompaniment. He is very deft.

To close, Joyce sings “Over the Rainbow,” as she often does to say goodbye. Let me quote from a 2011 review of mine:

DiDonato sang three encores, the last of which was “Over the Rainbow,” that Harold Arlen masterpiece. Before she sang, DiDonato explained that her father didn’t care for Judy Garland, practically forbidding her in the home. Quipped DiDonato, “Who would have known that I would grow up to have so many Friends of Dorothy?” The crowd hooted in appreciation. Then DiDonato sang “Over the Rainbow” as purely and beautifully as possible. A recital by her is not merely a clinic in singing; it is a lifter-up.

On the two CDs of Joyce & Tony, we have two top musicians having fun, loving music, loving their own talent, and loving their collaboration. I’m so glad their time at Wigmore Hall was recorded.


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Authentic trumps rude

by James Bowman

Posted: Sep 21, 2015 10:27 AM

Donald Trump's Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame via


The invitation list to the White House for the welcoming ceremony ostensibly in honor of the Pope’s visit to America this week is yet another example, if one were needed, of the breakdown of civility in America. Or rather, it was not so much the invitations to avowed opponents of the Church’s doctrine and teachings as the assumption on President Obama’s part that neither he nor his party would pay any political price for such rudeness to a guest and a respected figure in an even more respected office who is also a foreign head of state. One must suppose him right in this assumption, too, in the absence of any reproof to his bad manners from anyone not already numbered among the President’s political enemies. The Vatican itself, though unofficially and anonymously expressing a certain chagrin at the Pope’s treatment, has not so far shown any disposition to lodge an official protest.

You may also have noticed, as I did, the absence of any protests elsewhere in the media against the manners of the journalistic inquisitors of the Republican candidates at Wednesday evening’s “debate” in California—even though CNN made no bones about its purpose to provoke them into angry and insulting behavior. Why should it? People no longer expect good manners, either from journalists or from politicians or even, it seems, from a politician holding the office of head of state of the United States and thus, among other things, the chief diplomat representing our nation to the world. Diplomacy itself, in other words, along with good manners, is now seen as being as much of a back number as the Church’s teachings regarding sexual morality.

Both have had to yield to the emotional authenticity of those imbued with the political purpose of redefining what decency means. The academic left pioneered this self-exemption from the demands of ordinary politeness at the time of the Vietnam War, when it first became acceptable in public to treat those with whom one disagreed politically as evil and contemptible and therefore not entitled to even the most basic decencies, including the right to speak for themselves, and to be heard, without being shouted down. But giving free rein to one’s feelings of hatred and contempt soon became a habit with the paladins of the left, a kind of entitlement owed, as they saw it, to their own superior political morality. The media, equally given to self-righteousness and largely in sympathy with left-wing beliefs, soon learned to claim the same privilege, which media-consumers have by now long-since resigned themselves to granting them.

It is not so in Britain. Or at least not so to the same extent. When the newly-elected republican (and Marxist and pacifist and terrorist-sympathizing) leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, ostentatiously declined to sing along with “God Save the Queen,” his country’s national anthem, at a 75th anniversary commemoration service for the Battle of Britain last week, there were numerous commentators in the media who took him to task for his bad manners. Even the left-wing Guardian ran a piece headed: “The national anthem may stick in Corbyn’s craw, but it is his job to sing it”—though admittedly it ran alongside another one insisting that “Corbyn was right not to sing the national anthem. Authenticity is all he has.”

That last sentence sounds rather like an epitaph. Authenticity, you could argue, is all that Donald Trump has too—which is why he has so far proven himself immune to the media’s attempts to take advantage of their own privileged position in order to try to embarrass and shame him. He’s managed to turn the tables on them by demanding the same privilege for his own authentically ill-mannered self as they demand for theirs, and they don’t like it one little bit. One could hardly wish the Pope to go and do likewise, thus creating what they used to call a “diplomatic incident” over the President’s rude treatment. The meek shall inherit the earth and all that. But if he did, I can imagine feeling the same sense of satisfaction I feel, in spite of my strong preference for good manners, every time Mr. Trump forgets his place and talks back to the media.


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In case you missed it

by Benjamin Riley

Posted: Sep 18, 2015 09:15 AM

Jeremy Corbyn, in a drawing from Standpoint, via

Recent links of note:

Why I’ve finally given up on the Left
Nick Cohen, The Spectator
How to understand the seemingly inexplicable rise of Leftist bogeyman Jeremy “Jez” Corbyn? More on that from Jeremy Black in a forthcoming issue of The New Criterion. In the meantime, Nick Cohen writes why he’s now, finally, done with the Left. As Cohen puts it, “Jeremy Corbyn did not become Labour leader because his friends in the Socialist Workers party organised a Leninist coup . . . He won with the hearty and freely given support of ‘decent’ Labour members.” When the Left supports “movements it would once have denounced as racist, imperialist and fascistic,” it’s high time to cut and run. Welcome aboard the good ship, Nick.

In Theory
Christine Emba, The Washington Post
Congratulations are in order for Christine Emba, my predecessor in the role of Hilton Kramer Fellow. Last week marked the birth of Christine’s new blog for The Washington Post, “In Theory,” which hopes to “spark intelligent debate around a wide range of topics.” Cheers, Christine.

Discord Breaks Out at Carnegie Hall
Gregory Zuckerman and Jennifer Smith, The Wall Street Journal
That noise you hear at the corner of 57th and 7th? It’s not a fine strings arrangement; rather, it’s a boardroom quarrel. Carnegie Hall is in turmoil, with new chairman of the board of trustees, Ronald Perelman “serv[ing] notice that he may be prepared to bring the bare-knuckle tactics of a corporate raider into the genteel precinct of one of America’s most august cultural institutions.” Accusing the Hall’s director, Clive Gillinson, of “improprieties” and “poor oversight,” Perelman is certainly making his presence felt. We’ll be watching this one closely.

The Art of the Broad: A Consensus Collection
Eric Gibson, The Wall Street Journal
This week frequent New Criterion contributor Eric Gibson weighs in on the newly opened Los Angeles museum, The Broad. The opening of a new museum should be cause for celebration but that is not the case here. While “the great American collectors of modern art . . . compel our attention today because each possessed an aesthetic outlook unique unto themselves,” the Broad’s collection is “familiar . . . numbingly so,” with “no artist or movement here that hasn’t already had abundant exposure.” Head over to the Journal for Eric’s full take.

From our pages:

Beach bums
Bruce Cole
On “BEACH” at the National Building Museum, the Eisenhower Memorial, and the end of James Billington’s tenure as Librarian of Congress.


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"Folk Art and American Modernism" at the American Folk Art Museum

by Carina Hahn

Posted: Sep 17, 2015 11:51 AM

Bernard Karfiol (1886–1952), Making Music, Ogunquit, Maine, 1938, oil on canvas, 32 x 40″, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, promised gift of Bunty and Tom Armstrong, 2000.TA.1 (L). Ex coll. Robert Laurent, Edith Halpert.


For an exhibit entitled “Folk Art and American Modernism,” one would expect a strong emphasis on both folk art and modernism. The declared purpose of Elizabeth Stillinger and Ruth Wolfe, the co-curators of the exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum, is to show that the featured collectors and artists “led their generation in preserving a continuous American artistic tradition of which they considered themselves a living part.” Given the curators’ intention, one would expect ample modernist pieces demonstrating an appreciable influence of folk art on modernism. Such examples are lacking. In fact, there are few modernist pieces at all.

Several pieces of modernist art are scattered throughout the exhibit. One of the more provocative pairings of folk art and modernism is the juxtaposition of two hooked rugs, one by an unidentified artist and the other by Marguerite Zorach (1887-1968), both having belonged to the Zorach collection. The unidentified artist depicts a pale lion, its mane and facial features constituted by stark black lines of fabric, framed by potted plants with white, pink, and red blossoms enshrouding the central beastly figure. Above this simple lion is the corresponding hooked rug by Zorach, a pleasing blend of Fauvist modernism and antique American style. Exposed in France in 1910 to the bold stylistic spirit of Fauves like Matisse and Derain, Zorach takes this color and zest from the easel to the textile arts. Striving to “paint [her] pictures in wool,” she uses saturated colors and bright abstractions to depict a pig among fruit and leaves through the classically American folk mediums of wool and linen.

The relationship between these two American forms of art, however, is most clearly illustrated in modernist Bernard Karfiol’s (1886–1952) oil-on-canvas painting, Making Music (1938). The quaint scene depicts the sitting room of Robert and Mimi Laurent’s farmhouse in Ogunquit, Maine. Seated in the center of the painting, their two sons play their instruments serenely, a banjo and an accordion. Behind the boys are two framed folk art portraits, crucial to the message of the exhibit: a simple portrait of a boy with his dog, and a portrait of a baby. On the wall next to Karfiol’s modernist piece are the very folk art portraits that are featured within his painting. The visual effect on the viewer is instantaneous, the connection unmistakable: in this early example, folk art has been elevated from its former position as mere house decoration to an influential art form. All three works had belonged to the collection of Robert Laurent, a member of the Ogunquit Modernists, a group of artists and collectors who attended the Summer School of Graphic Arts established by the artist and teacher Hamilton Easter Field in Ogunquit, Maine. Laurent and others often frequented the surrounding countryside, scouting for folk art to add to their collections, oftentimes returning to their daily lives in the fall with their bags full of antique tidbits, thereby exposing their colleagues back home to the new form of collecting.


Charles Sheeler (1883–1965), Interior, South Salem, New York, 1926, oil and fabricated chalk on linen, 33 1/8 × 22 1/8″, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, gift of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, 31.344. Digital Image © Whitney Museum, N.Y.


Alas, the other comparisons are not so successful. Elie Nadelman’s (1882-1946) Woman at the Piano (ca. 1917)—which features exactly that, a woman at a piano—was placed beside a row of chalkware animals, petite antique chests, and a stoneware jug, all created by unidentified artists and collected by Viola and Elie Nadelman. Two paintings by the Precisionist Charles Sheeler (1883–1965) from his American Interior series (1926) depict the Sheelers’s living room from different viewpoints; a chair and table that are similar to those featured in Sheeler’s work are pushed up against the wall near the paintings for comparison. William Zorach’s (1886–1966) granite Seated Cat (1937) is placed next to the chalkware cat of an unknown artist, with the opening sentence of the wall-label description reading: “The similarity between William Zorach’s granite cat and this chalkware example is close enough to seem significant.” On numerous occasions, the wall-label description of the displayed folk art refer to pieces of modernist work without physically showing them, with labels pointing out the similarity of the shown indigenous work with a print by Jim Dine (b. 1935) and alluding to quotes from French modernist Fernand Léger (1881–1955) and pop artist Andy Warhol (1928–1987).

Granted, the exhibit gives some interesting specifics about the lives of the early patrons of American folk art. It brims with myriad antique rugs, chalkware animals painted with colors that used to be bright, chests adorned with abstract floral patterns, paintings, sculptures, and whirligigs, which were all created by unknown artists and collected by folk art enthusiasts. These were charming, yet the lack of modernist counterparts rendered the overall flow of the exhibit rather directionless.

Nevertheless, after wandering the exhibit a while longer and thoroughly poring over the numerous long descriptions of the artist-collectors and the individual pieces, I finally began to realize the impact and pervasiveness of folk art in American art history. The exhibit’s lack of visual drama makes reading the wall labels unfortunately imperative to understanding its overall significance. Rather than showing the links to modernism by physically displaying a myriad of modernist and folk art examples side-by-side, the show mainly relies on its lengthy wall-labels to detail this intriguing relationship. This exhibit is only for those with the time and patience to do a large amount of reading tiny print. 


"Folk Art and American Modernism" is on view at the American Folk Art Museum, New York, through September 27, 2015.

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About ArmaVirumque


( AHR-mah wih-ROOM-kweh)


In the Aeneid, the Roman poet Virgil sang of "arms and a man" (Arma virumque cano). Month in and month out, The New Criterion expounds with great clarity and wit on the art, culture, and political controversies of our times. With postings of reviews, essays, links, recs, and news, Armavirumque seeks to continue this mission in accordance with the timetable of the digital age.


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