Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Growing Charm of Dada

by Alfred Brendel

New York Review of Books

October 27, 2016

During World War I, Zurich, the largest city in neutral Switzerland, was a refuge for artists, writers, intellectuals, pacifists, and dodgers of military service from various countries. A handful of these decided in 1916 to create a new kind of evening entertainment. They called it Cabaret Voltaire and established it at Spiegelgasse 1, not far from the room that was occupied by an occasional visitor to the cabaret, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

The group, which became known as Dadaists, consisted of three Germans (Hugo Ball, Richard Huelsenbeck, Emmy Hennings), one Alsatian (Hans Arp), two Romanians (Marcel Janco and Tristan Tzara), and the Swiss Sophie Taeuber. They were soon joined by Walter Serner, an Austrian born in Bohemia. The youngest, Tzara, was twenty; Hennings was the oldest at thirty-one. All were united in their loathing of the war.

The initiator of the group appears to have been Hugo Ball. He was, like most Dadaists, a writer but had also worked in the theater and performed in cabarets. After having to leave Germany as a pacifist, he settled with Emmy Hennings in Zurich where, pale, tall, gaunt, and near starving, he was regarded as a dangerous foreigner. At the Voltaire, he declaimed his groundbreaking phonetic poem “Karawane” (Caravan)—written in nonsensical sounds—to the bewilderment of the public. After a few intense months of Dada activity he left the group, turned to a gnostic Catholicism, and died in the Swiss countryside, regarded as a kind of saint. His diary Die Flucht aus der Zeit (The Flight from Time) remains one of the principal accounts of Dadaism.

For Richard Huelsenbeck, noise seems to have been the most natural form of virility. Within Dada, he was the champion of provocation. A poet and journalist who subsequently traveled the world as a ship’s doctor and practiced as a psychoanalyst for a time in New York, Huelsenbeck remained with Dada and helped to establish in 1917 its very different Berlin branch.



The Chase

by Inigo Thomas

London Review of Books

October 20, 2016

J.M.W. Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed: The Great Western Railway hangs in a corner of Room 34 at the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. The painting remains close to where it was first exhibited in 1844 when the Royal Academy occupied the gallery’s east wing. ‘There comes a train down upon you,’ Thackeray wrote after seeing the painting. ‘The viewer had best make haste … lest it dash out of the picture and be away to Charing Cross through the wall opposite.’ The National Gallery has been refashioned, the RA has moved to Piccadilly, but the train in Rain, Steam and Speed is forever hurtling towards Charing Cross.

The only other painting at the National Gallery that comes close to its depiction of speed is Titian’s Death of Actaeon, which shows Diana, the goddess of hunting, running through woods to witness Actaeon’s death: she has already transformed him into a stag as punishment for coming across her and her nymphs bathing. His own hounds have caught up with him, they don’t recognise their master and they’re about to tear him apart – just as certainly as the train will destroy a hare in Rain, Steam and Speed.

‘Always take advantage of an accident,’ Turner once said. ‘A painter can only represent the instant of an action, and what is seen at first sight’ was another of his aphorisms, one that he borrowed from Gotthold Lessing or John Opie, magpie that he was. ‘Every glance is a glance for study,’ he also said. The scene in Rain, Steam and Speed is of an imminent death, the instant of an action caught by a glance. A train rushes across a bridge and is bearing down on a hare that’s running over the washed-brown bed of a railway track. The hare isn’t immediately obvious because it is partially obscured by the driving rain. The train will catch up with the hare and kill it: there’s no escape, the track is encased by walls. The hare’s typical act of self-defence, to turn back on itself so dramatically that it throws off its pursuers, marvelled at by hunters for centuries, isn’t available: the locomotive blocks its path. ‘Each outcry of the hunted hare/A fibre from the brain does tear,’ Blake said, but this hare’s death looks as if it will be instantaneous.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

‘Picasso Portraits’ Review: Face to Many Faces With a Modern Master

by Tom L. Freudenheim

Wall Street Journal

October 10, 2016

It’s likely that any Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) show will assure the exhibiting museum of high visitor numbers. Nevertheless, such a project requires the Sisyphean task of plowing through the work of one of art history’s most prolific and protean artists. So it’s a relief that the judicious selection of 87 works in “Picasso Portraits,” which recently opened at the National Portrait Gallery, is tighter and more focused than the 200-plus works in MoMA’s memorable 1996 Picasso portraiture survey. It’s a persuasive case for the “less is more” advice that NPG guest curator Elizabeth Cowling, a University of Edinburgh emeritus professor and Picasso authority, says she was given during the planning (and, presumably, winnowing) process. The resulting manageable, and even somewhat unexpected, Picasso survey includes works both familiar and previously unexhibited in a range of mediums, deftly organized in a chronological, yet also topical, installation.

A perceptive teenage self-portrait of 1896, executed while Picasso was studying art in Barcelona, asserts the maturity of his juvenilia. This, in turn, prepares us for the constant shifting of depictive modes with which the artist, over the course of his lifetime, shocked and delighted viewers while concurrently confounding curators and scholars. A large and familiar, completely different, self-portrait of 1906 not only channels Cézanne but also prepares us for Picasso’s lifelong dialogue with other artists, seen throughout the show, even while he was being very self-consciously inventive.

By the time of his 1910 Cubist portrait of noted art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, the artist has forcefully challenged our understanding of portraiture’s possibilities. Reportedly the outcome of 20 to 30 sittings, the Kahnweiler image fuses an assemblage of tonal geometric forms in so-called Analytic Cubism, the most radical painting of the day, with the most conventional pose of a gentleman in waistcoat with watch chain, hands clasped, sitting for his portrait. It’s astonishing to note how far Picasso has moved from the several 1901 portraits on view, which range from suggestions of Toulouse-Lautrec to the brilliantly colored smirking image of Bibi-la-Purée, the “King of Bohemia” in artistic Paris.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

‘Abstract Expressionism’ Review: Some Americans Abroad

by Tom L. Freudenheim

Wall Street Journal

October 4, 2016

It’s a spine-tingling experience for an American visitor to encounter the spectacular Abstract Expressionism exhibition at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. The truly patriotic may also see it as a confirmation of, as art historian and critic Irving Sandler put it in the title of his 1970 book on the movement, The Triumph of American Painting. Perhaps that’s why, on entering the RA’s courtyard, one can’t help but chuckle at the life-size bronze of the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), first president of the Royal Academy, apparently looking away from the imposing group of David Smith (1906-1965) abstract metal sculptures installed as an introduction to the show.

As the heir to various modes of European abstract painting, American Abstract Expressionism was understood to be a home-grown approach to art that exercised a powerful force from the 1940s into the 1960s. This first major U.K. exhibition in almost six decades on a subject so central to American art history—163 works in a splendid sequential visual package with beginning, middle and end—is meant to present these works as “informed by new thinking.” But it mostly confirms the canonical and heroic mythology of an art world commandeered by a small group of macho guys that’s long been the primary way in which this historical yarn has been spun.

So the London show may disappoint those who want to reset the inclusiveness button in regard to gender equity, despite several paintings by Lee Krasner, and single works by Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Janet Sobel and Louise Nevelson (strangely, the only sculptor of any gender other than Smith to merit inclusion). A far greater number of artists and their variant styles—especially the inclusion of more sculpture than only the splendid Smiths here—would have presented a more complete and complex view of what comes off as a fairly neat and familiar package.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

He Made It American

by Sanford Schwartz

New York Review of Books

October 13, 2015

If there is a message in the Whitney’s large gathering of the work of Stuart Davis, it may be simply that time hasn’t dented the power of the painter’s work. While some of the pictures breathe merely a period air, a great many continue to give pleasure, and, as an added attraction—as the artist with his love for everyday turns of phrase might have said—it isn’t easy to say why.

In his day, and perhaps for viewers first coming to him now, Davis—who died in 1964, at seventy-one—was a Cubist of sorts whose special contribution was to give the style an American look. Into his Cubist-type arrangements of so many flat, interlocking shapes he incorporated details that conjured up an American world at its most generic: gasoline pumps and barbershop poles, New York City subway entrances and street lamps, and the masts of boats visible just beyond the warehouses in New England fishing towns. Bringing into his pictures words and phrases—whether from advertising, or a line from a Duke Ellington hit of 1931, or single words such as “now” and “cat” and “else”—Davis brought to Cubism as well an American sound and voice.

A populist and a man who was much given to propounding theories, Davis saw his Americanisms as part of his plan. He was convinced that a modern painter needed to give a sense of his or her time and place and to convey somehow what was novel and urgent about it. He would probably have liked knowing that the last major show of his art in New York, which was at the Metropolitan Museum twenty-five years ago, was called “Stuart Davis: American Painter.”

Yet what makes a larger impression on viewers now, I believe, is less Cubism, which is in itself a far less vital or pressing style for us, or Davis’s American note, which, certainly in his best pictures, is something we don’t take all that seriously. (It helps that he also had a long-running affair with things French, and mixed Paris in with New York.) What counts more is the way that over four decades he kept reimagining, and making more imposing, his art of form and color. Davis stands to the side of painters of his own era, such as Marsden Hartley and Edward Hopper—and of the next, such as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock—in that his work seems hardly touched by psychology, or by any sense of mysteriousness, poignance, or raw tensions. At the same time, for all his evident gifts as a designer of abstract forms, his painting isn’t analytical or measured in spirit.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

‘American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals’ Review

by Lance Esplund

Wall Street Journal

August 16, 2016

Six miles off the Atlantic coastline, where New Hampshire abuts Maine, is the archipelago known as the Isles of Shoals. The largest of its nine landmasses is Maine’s Appledore Island—95 weather-beaten acres of rocky coves, tidal pools and knobby shrubbery, all anchored by nature-cleaved mounds of white-and-gray granite. From 1848 to 1914, its western shores were the site of Appledore House, a grand, rambling hotel owned and operated by the family of the poet, artist and naturalist Celia Thaxter (1835-1894).

Thaxter, Appledore’s resident cultural luminary, lived in an adjacent cottage. Vacationers craned to spy, through Thaxter’s vine-cloaked, wraparound porch, the celebrities at her summer soirées, including writers Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson and painters William Morris Hunt and Frederick Childe Hassam.

But like the artists who frequented Appledore, resort guests were probably more transfixed by the views from their own porches: surf driving against rocky shores; active, New England skies; the surrounding smaller islands and distant, hazy mainland horizon; glorious sunsets.

These sweeping vistas entranced Hassam (1859-1935), who nearly every summer visited and painted Appledore between 1886 and 1916. And those pictures are the subject of American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals, a handsome exhibition of more than 40 marine oils and watercolors at Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum. Curated at PEM by Austen Barron Bailly, the museum’s curator of American art, the show was co-organized with the North Carolina Museum of Art in cooperation with the Shoals Marine Laboratory.


Monday, August 15, 2016

Showtime at the Musée d’Orsay: Watching Varnish Dry

by Doreen Carvajalaug

New York Times

August 15, 2016

It’s showtime at the Musée d’Orsay — the electric moment when visitors pause in the grand public art galleries here, all to watch varnish dry.

They gather in silence to gawk at the paint whisperers — small teams of conservators poised on scaffolding and encased in two glass cubes. From these makeshift stages, they swipe away centuries-old dark grime on precious works — from Gustave Courbet’s enormous oil painting of his crowded studio to Auguste-Barthélemy Glaize’s violent battle of a stone-throwing female revolt against Roman invaders, “The Women of Gaul.”

Ordinarily such a delicate task is carried out in the tranquillity of a laboratory. But the once mysterious craft is increasingly turning into a high-end reality show — long-running spectacles that appeal to donors who lavish money on makeovers, but trouble some conservators accustomed to quiet and absolute concentration.

In Cincinnati, the city’s public museum featured its chief conservator, Serena Urry, last winter in a three-month exhibition, “Conservation on View: Zaragoza’s Retablo of St. Peter.” She worked in a white lab coat in the middle of a public gallery across from a cafe — her work table spread with tools and swabs to remove varnish and overpaint from a gilded, 600-year-old Spanish altarpiece.

“People were really enjoying it, but it’s not something I would do again, Ms. Urry said. “Conservation is not performance art.”


Thursday, August 11, 2016

One Helluva Fella: The Horrifically Contemporary World of Hieronymus Bosch

by Ulrike Knöfel


August 11, 2016

Impaled heads and burning bodies: Hieronymus Bosch, the great Dutch painter whose images depicted the horrors and terror of the past, present and future, died 500 years ago. In the era of Abu Ghraib and Islamic State, his work feels as contemporary as ever.

The artist Hieronymus Bosch probably had the most prodigious imagination of his day. He was the great surrealist of the waning Middle Ages. His paintings were both a promise and a threat, intended to convey an idea of what would happen in paradise and, even more so, in hell. He created labyrinths of atrocities and a vocabulary of the bestial. He depicted devils and monsters, but also people being tortured, naked people whose throats were being slit, almost as if they were part of a scene in the latest propaganda video from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). And then there are images and motifs that seem comedic in their sheer absurdity.

Bosch, this mysterious painter whose motives were unclear, died 500 years ago, in August 1516. One thing is certain: The Dutchman from the Duchy of Brabant did not spare his audience. He painted what no one had painted before him. And he must have had his own dark humor. In one painting, he depicts a dwarflike being with an upper body that resembles an egg, while the lower body is reminiscent of a lizard. But the gaunt face is that of a human being, with glasses perched on his nose. It is often speculated that this may have been the face of Bosch himself.

He painted this curious being in the corner of a plate, next to Saint Mark the Evangelist foreseeing the End of Time. Did Bosch also perceive himself as a visionary? As someone who wanted to make mankind squirm as it learned of its future? Are his paintings a painted version of gallows humor?


Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Mystery of Hieronymus Bosch

by Ingrid D. Rowland

New York Review of Books

August 18, 2016

There has never been a painter quite like Jheronimus van Aken, the Flemish master who signed his works as Jheronimus Bosch. His imagination ranged from a place beyond the spheres of Heaven to the uttermost depths of Hell, but for many of his earliest admirers the most striking aspect of his art was what they described as its “truth to nature.” The five hundredth anniversary of his death in 1516 has inspired two comprehensive exhibitions, at the Noordbrabants Museum in his hometown of ’s-Hertogenbosch and at Madrid’s Museo Nacional del Prado, as well as an ambitious project to analyze all of his surviving work, drawn, painted, and printed, according to the latest scientific techniques (the Bosch Research and Conservation Project). Yet despite all we have learned through these undertakings—and it is a great deal—the man his neighbors knew as “Joen the painter” remains as mysterious as ever.

How could it be otherwise with so strange and masterful an artist? His early admirers celebrated the boundless ingenuity of his work, but they also recognized the sureness of his hand and his unerringly observant eye. In the precision of his draftsmanship, his sensitivity to landscape, his fascination with animals, he shows some surprising affinities with his contemporary from Florence, Leonardo da Vinci—who else but Leonardo would have noticed, and recorded, as Bosch does, the way that evening light can turn the waters of a distant river into a radiant mirror? Both artists were fascinated by grotesque human faces, but Bosch also detailed grotesque human behavior with a bawdy abandon all his own. No matter how closely we look at his minutely particular works, there is always something more to see.

The earthly life of Jheronimus van Aken is sparsely documented; the clues to his inner life are fewer still. He grew up on the northernmost border of the Flemish-speaking, Burgundian-ruled Duchy of Brabant, in a city whose name means “the duke’s forest”: Silva Ducis in Latin, s’-Hertogenbosch in Flemish, Bois-le-Duc in French, Herzogenbusch in German, Bolduque in Spanish—all languages in common use in his times and in his region. The forest itself was probably an ancient memory by the time of his birth around 1450, replaced by an emporium that ranked only behind Brussels and Antwerp for size and importance within its area, famous for its steel knives and its cloth market.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Botticelli: Love, Wisdom, Terror

by Andrew Butterfield

New York Review of Books

May 26, 2016

Sometime around 1490 Sandro Botticelli set out to make a book unlike any ever seen before. Prompted by a patron, and inspired by his own deep love of Dante, the artist planned the first fully illustrated edition of the Divine Comedy. Almost since the poem was completed around 1321, painters had decorated manuscripts of it with illuminations of selected scenes. But the very qualities that drew so many readers to the poem—its vivid accounts of the horrors of Hell and the splendors of Heaven, its sprawling narrative, its penetrating descriptions of emotion, its philosophical gravity, and its unequaled mix of realism and what Dante called alta fantasia—were all far beyond the skills of earlier painters to convey. Even the most elaborate illuminated manuscripts of the book, including those made for humanist rulers such as Alfonso V of Aragon, king of Naples, were illustrated with comparatively naif and rudimentary images. Botticelli was determined to be the first painter to do justice to the great poem.

An exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery in London allows us to see what he hoped to achieve. It features thirty of the surviving ninety-two parchment sheets he made for the book. The sheets are relatively large—about 12 1/2 by 18 1/2 inches—and they are arranged in what is commonly called landscape format. Each sheet bears on its back Botticelli’s illustration for a canto, and on its front the text of the following canto, written in the neat lettering of a Florentine scribe. Most scholars agree the plan was to bind the sheets together in a codex, with its spine on the top, like a modern-day calendar. When opened to a spread it would present Botticelli’s picture of a canto on the upper page, and the text of the same canto on the lower page. In all earlier illustrated versions of the Divine Comedy most of the images are small and tucked among the blocks of script, or placed at the foot of the page. By contrast, in Botticelli’s the pictures and the text were to be given equal space, and the pictures were to go above the writing. This format was unprecedented in Italian book design.

Three of the illustrations—although none in the London show—are at least partially colored, and it is generally thought that Botticelli had originally meant to paint all the illustrations in the book. In the event, however, he never completed the drawings for the project, stopping while at work on Canto 32 of the Paradiso, seemingly defeated by the challenge of depicting the utmost reaches of Heaven, which by Dante’s own account are outside the capacity of human representation. It is perhaps fortunate for us that he did not finish. Made with pen and brown ink over faint preliminary sketches, Botticelli’s drawings for the Divine Comedy are among the most lively, tender, and psychologically searching works he ever created.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Degas Invents a New World

by Anka Muhlstein

New York Review of Books

May 12, 2016

Edgar Degas was a paradoxical man, disconcerting in both his actions and his appearance. “With his silk hat on his head, his blue spectacles over his eyes—not to forget the umbrella—he is the image of a notary, a bourgeois of the time of Louis-Philippe,” according to Paul Gauguin. A notary, really? Not to the eyes of Paul Valéry, who describes him opening the door of his atelier, “shuffling about in slippers, dressed like a pauper, his trousers hanging, never buttoned.” The portrait painter Jacques-Émile Blanche saw him as neither a bourgeois nor an artist, but as

a platoon commander on a drill field; if he makes a gesture, that gesture is imperious, as expressive as his hand in drawing; but he quickly retreats to a pose as defensive as that of a woman concealing her nakedness, the habit of a solitary soul who veils or protects his personality.

Degas himself, toward the end of his life, nearly blind, painted a self-portrait and said that he looked like an old dog, while his friend the sculptor Bartholomé found him to be “more beautiful than ever, like an old Homer with his eyes fixed on eternity.”

He never had one quality without having its opposite:

Degas could be charming or unpleasant. He possessed—and affected—the worst possible disposition; yet there were days when he was quite unpredictably delightful.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Look Into the Life of Henry James, in His Own Unsimple Words

by Dwight Garner

New York Times

February 16, 2016

“I hate American simplicity,” Henry James (1843-1916) said to his niece Peggy, who had the sense to write his comment down. “I glory in the piling up of complications of every sort. If I could pronounce the name James in any different or more elaborate way I should be in favor of doing it.”

James’s most elaborate books were his late novels, “The Wings of the Dove” (1902) and “The Golden Bowl” (1904) among them. He stacked clause upon clause in their sentences, constructing towering and often opaque chains of thought and feeling. These books don’t merely abstain from American simplicity; they poke it in the sternum.

James’s autobiographical books — “A Small Boy and Others” (1913), “Notes of a Son and Brother” (1914) and the uncompleted and posthumously published “The Middle Years” — are among his final works, and they too are prime examples of his radically unsimple late style.

The Library of America has now, on the 100th anniversary of James’s death, gathered together these three books, and added a selection of his other personal writing, to create the most comprehensive and the handsomest one-volume edition of his autobiographical work we have.

This is not easy reading. James’s prose here is so ornate you often feel you are groping in a giant box of wrapping tissue into which no gift has been placed. You hike backward along his snaking sentences, searching for antecedents to distant pronouns, while experiencing vague terrors, as if you should leave a trail of breadcrumbs. How else will you get safely home?


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Street Life In London

Spitalfields Life
February 6, 2016

In Brick Lane these days, almost everyone carries a camera to capture the street life, whether traders, buskers, street art or hipsters parading fancy outfits. At every corner in Spitalfields, people are snapping. Casual shutterbugs and professional photoshoots abound in a phantasmagoric frenzy of photographic activity.

It all began with photographer John Thomson in 1876 with his monthly magazine Street Life in London, publishing his pictures accompanied by pen portraits by Adolphe Smith as an early attempt to use photojournalism to record the lives of common people. I like to contemplate the set of Thomson’s lucid pictures preserved in the Bishopsgate Institute – both as an antidote to the surfeit of contemporary imagery, and to grant me a perspective on how the street life of London and its photographic manifestation has changed in the intervening years.

For centuries, this subject had been the preserve of popular prints of the Cries of London and, in his photography, Thomson adopted compositions and content that had become familiar archetypes in this tradition – like the chairmender, the sweep and the strawberry seller. Yet although Thomson composed his photographs to create picturesque images, in many cases the subjects themselves take possession of the pictures through the quality of their human presence, aided by Adolphe Smith’s astute texts underlining the harsh social reality of their existence.

When I look at these pictures, I am always startled by the power of the gaze of those who look straight at the lens and connect with us directly, while there is a plangent sadness to those with eyes cast down in subservience, holding an internal focus and lost in time. The instant can be one of frozen enactment, like the billboard men above, demonstrating what they do for the camera, but more interesting to me are the equivocal moments, like the dealer in fancy ware, the porters at Covent Garden and the strawberry seller, where there is human exposure. There is an unresolved tension in these pictures and, even as the camera records a moment of hiatus, we know it is an interruption before a drama resumes – the lost life of more than one hundred and thirty years ago.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

David Bowie: Invisible New Yorker

by Steven Kurutz

New York Times

January 16, 2016

About 10 years ago, the playwright John Guare got a call asking if he wanted to meet David Bowie to discuss a theater project.

As Mr. Guare remembered it, Mr. Bowie was “in a very dark place” (it was shortly after he had had a heart attack onstage in Berlin), and a mutual friend, the English producer Robert Fox, was trying to coax him back to a creative life. Mr. Guare immediately said yes.

He and Mr. Bowie met at each other’s homes in New York to throw around ideas, and sometimes they went out. “We would take walks around the East Village,” Mr. Guare said. “And I was always praying somebody would run into us so I could say, ‘Do you know my friend David Bowie?’”

It never happened.

Mr. Guare was at first puzzled and then amazed at how Mr. Bowie — the stage creature, the persona, the guy he saw command an audience at Radio City Music Hall in 1973 with his spiky orange hair and snow-white tan — could walk the city streets unrecognized.

“He traveled with this cloak of invisibility — nobody saw him,” Mr. Guare said. “He just eradicated himself.”

People often forgot, but up until his death, on Sunday at age 69, Mr. Bowie was a New Yorker. He said so himself, emphatically. “I’m a New Yorker!” he declared to SOMA magazine in 2003, after he’d been here a decade.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Splendors of the Dead

by Garry Wills

New York Review of Books

December 10, 2015

Twenty-one Greek museums and four North American museums have cooperated to collect over five hundred artifacts from Ancient Greece in an extraordinary exhibition called “The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander the Great.” The show went first to Canada (Montreal, then Ottawa), where it had 280,000 visitors. It is now on view at the Field Museum in Chicago, in a series of superbly lit rooms, and will continue to Washington, D.C., in May. The Greek museums were able to make good choices of a variety of important items to lend to the exhibition, including many works that had never been outside Greece. Richard Lariviere, the president of the Field Museum, told me he was glad to see the Greeks coordinate their effort without a need for him to negotiate with twenty-one different institutions.

After a few fertility-goddess figurines from the Cyclades, the show begins with a bang from Heinrich Schliemann’s excavations of sixteenth-century BC Mycenae, and it ends with a bang in the fourth-century tomb of Alexander’s father Philip II of Macedon at Vergina. The finds revealed a spectacular prosperity in both periods—not only in the profusion of gold artifacts but in the training of large numbers of craftsmen executing intricate designs. An elaborately sculptural vessel for sacrificial libations from Mycenae is as full of interactive curves as a Frank Gehry building, but it is carved from one solid block of alabaster.

From the twelve centuries between the Mycenae and the Vergina findings, we are treated to well-selected vases, jewels, and statues. There are two kouroi from Boeotia—life-size nude statues of stylized young men, imitated from Egypt and teaching Greek sculptors how to carve large figures. There is also a kore—life-size young woman stylishly dressed. The vases include a black-figure lekythos that shows Achilles dragging the body of Hektor around the walls of Troy, and a red-figure kylix from Athens that shows Herakles defeating Antaeus by holding him away from his restorative earth.