Author Archives: Philip Kennicott

Bartholomeus Spranger’s wild, weird and voluptuous art at the Met

The court of Rudolf II, the Habsburg king and Holy Roman emperor for more than 35 years, was rich in intellectual and artistic exotica. Astronomers and astrologers flocked there, as did serious scholars and silver-tongued hacks. The emperor, who never married but was widely renowned as a libertine, was deeply interested in alchemy, too, and in the catalogue to an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that interest is posited as fundamental to understanding the wild, weird and voluptuous art characteristic of his reign.

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An art loan from Bill Cosby draws the Smithsonian into a national debate

Bill Cosby’s interview with an Associated Press reporter, filmed Nov. 6 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, shows power and privilege in operation. After reporter Brett Zongker asked the comedian about allegations that he had raped or sexually abused women, Cosby suggested that such questions were irresponsible. He and his wife had chosen to sit down with the AP, he said, because they thought the AP was a reputable news organization and would not dig into those unpleasant accusations.

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An art loan from Bill Cosby draws the Smithsonian into a national debate

Bill Cosby’s interview with an Associated Press reporter, filmed Nov. 6 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, shows power and privilege in operation. After reporter Brett Zongker asked the comedian about allegations that he had raped or sexually abused women, Cosby suggested that such questions were irresponsible. He and his wife had chosen to sit down with the AP, he said, because they thought the AP was a reputable news organization and wouldn’t dig into those unpleasant accusations.

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Sturtevant retrospective at MoMA is double trouble indeed

NEW YORK — The Museum of Modern Art is calling its survey show devoted to Elaine Sturtevant “Double Trouble,” which is a clever way to avoid a complicated semantic problem. Beginning in 1964 and for much of her career, Sturtevant made “replicas” of the work of other artists, appropriating stencils from Andy Warhol to produce convincing knockoffs of his silk screens and meticulously reproducing the target paintings of Jasper Johns, the geometries of Frank Stella and the cartoon Benday dots of Roy Lichtenstein.

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Is architect Bjarke Ingels’s bold remake of the Smithsonian Castle grounds mere folly?

At Thursday’s news conference announcing a $2 billion reconfiguration of the Smithsonian Castle, architect Bjarke Ingels indulged a subtle sleight of hand. As he walked the audience through plans to connect the Castle with nearby museums and create a canted plaza with curving, upturned corners beckoning to visitors on the Mall, he showed a slide that also radically reconfigured a neighborhood that isn’t part of his design.

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‘Conversations’: Museum’s African art outshines Cosby’s African American art

Bill Cosby is grumpy, not angry. Grumpy is what happens when you get old and the world changes, and suddenly no one seems to like the music you like, or the clothes you wear, or the rules of etiquette and grammar that you consider fundamental. Angry is different. Anger is passionate and engaged and political, and it can change the world. Grumpy people tend to eat themselves up on the inside, while angry people take to the streets, tear down walls and topple governments.

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El Greco is focus of two U.S. shows on 400th anniversary of his death

It has been 400 years since Domenikos Theotokopoulos died, in 1614, and in Spain there have been major celebrations of his work. In the United States, the anniversary of the artist known as El Greco has been treated less lavishly. The two phenomena are related: Both the National Gallery and New York’s Metropolitan Museum lent important works to Spanish exhibitions, which meant that neither could mount a major show on its own.

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See art from the collection of Bill Cosby (yes, that Bill Cosby) at the National Museum of African Art

Before it was located on the National Mall and was still an independent museum on Capitol Hill, the Museum of African Art included both African and African-American art in its collection. That changed in 1979, when it became the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, focused on Africa, not the American diaspora. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the museum, and to celebrate it the museum has returned to its roots, supplementing its own collection with works by African-American artists in the collection of Camille and William Cosby, Jr.

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Sculpture shows by Emilie Brzezinski, Bernardi Roig diverge sharply in theme

Emilie Brzezinski works with wood, and no matter how many chain saw and chisel marks she leaves on her rough-hewn sculptures, they never lose their connection to the living forest. Bernardi Roig works with polyester-resin casts of the human body and fluorescent lights, and his sculptures live in an entirely human dystopia, encumbered, exhausted and alienated. It’s hard to imagine two exhibitions as different in their materials and messages as Brzezinski’s show at the Kreeger Museum and Roig’s installation at the Phillips Collection.

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‘Days of Endless Time’ at the Hirshhorn examines our need for nature to soothe us

If you believe you have a soul, then likely you believe that Nature is a balm for all that ails it. But both are fictional constructs, drawing on ideas borrowed from religion, philosophy, poetry and the arts. Many of the works on view in the Hirshhorn Museum’s exhibition “Days of Endless Time” reflect the sadness and anxiety we feel when we face up to these facts dispassionately and honestly.

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