Museum Culture

The Obamas' Portraits & Identity Politics

At the end of each presidency the Smithsonian commissions an official portrait of the outgoing royals for the National Portrait Gallery. Museum curators advise, suggesting names to suit the sensibility and self-image of the couple. Barack and Michelle Obama have each selected their individual immortalizers. Kehinde Wiley will collaborate with the former president on his own iconography. Amy Sherald will work with the former first lady on hers. Final commentary awaits delivery of the finished products. Meantime, there are things to be learned by looking at the signature styles that brought Mr. Continue Reading
The Morgan, the Moon, and the Eucharist

I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements. —Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, describing the 1969 moon landing in Guidepost Magazine (October 1970)
Master of the Rio Frio. Altarpiece of St. Martin (Spanish; c. 1500). Musée de Cluny, Paris. Continue Reading
Olympia's Heirs

IF WE CONFUSE CULTURE WITH THE CULT OF THE ARTS, then, yes, Manet, together with all his art historical brethren, is of primary importance. But if we take culture to mean the entire web of aspirations, goals, achievements, and values of a people—their conscience; their taste in ethics—penicillin counts for more than any artist. I was reminded of this by Tracy Quan’s recent article in The Daily. Ms. Quan, author of Diary of a Jetsetting Call Girl [“available on your Kindle in under a minute”] is the doyenne of the half-hooker economy. Continue Reading
Three Faiths, One Hymnal

THREE FAITHS: JUDAISM, CHRISTIANITY, ISLAM is two things at once. To the eye, it is a stunning exhibition of historic manuscripts, incunabula and printed texts of great rarity and beauty. On that level, it is nothing short of breathtaking. This is an uncommon opportunity to greet antiquities of incomparable scholarly and aesthetic value. Unhappily, the rarities on show, all from the New York Public Library’s permanent collection, are not displayed for their own sakes. Nor are they here to instruct us in the necessity for civilizational stewardship, the true purpose of a magnificent library. Continue Reading
Dodging the Sacred

MODERNITY OFFERS SECULARISTS TWO SEDUCTIVE HEDGES: aestheticism and Buddhism. New York’s Rubin Museum yokes them together in a pictorial fantasia on the New Age-y theme of universal spirituality. No divisive truth claims mar the view from the $100 million monument to Multi-Plan founder Donald Rubin’s own purchasing power and those acquisitive cravings that Buddhist doctrine decries. All contradictions and irreconcilable differences disperse in the solvent of art appreciation, that distinctly Western ideology at the heart of museum culture. Embodying the Holy: Icons in Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism is a visually splendid, conceptually shallow, exhibition. Continue Reading