Author Archives: Philip Kennicott

Paul Durand-Ruel, the champion of the Impressionists

It’s okay to indulge that queasy feeling as you walk through the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s ­engaging new exhibition “Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting.” The show, organized with the National Gallery in London and the Reunion des Musees Nationaux-Grand Palais and Musée d’Orsay in Paris, is an attempt to explain the outsize, even heroic role of the gallerist and art dealer Durand-Ruel in the promotion of the Impressionist painters in the latter decades of the 19th century. It is an archaeology of the early years of the financial, organizational and cultural forces that made art a particularly prized commodity, so even as one admires the acumen and passion of the man at the center of the movement, you can’t help but think: Here is where it all started, the nascence of the art world we know today, with all its excesses, its $100 million paintings, its fanatical worship of prices and record-setting auctions and its devolution into triviality and vulgarity.Read full article >>


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New director of Hirshhorn snubs D.C. to hold 40th-anniversary gala in New York

The decision to hold the Hirshhorn’s 40th-anniversary gala in New York is deeply troubling and raises concern about where the museum’s new director, Melissa Chiu, is taking the organization. According to the New York Times, the Nov. 9 gala will include 400 invited guests and honor 40 living artists whom the museum considers essential to its identity. But despite Chiu’s statement in the Times story announcing the event — that she intends no snub to the Washington arts crowd — it is a snub, and a distressing indication that she doesn’t understand the purpose, the history or the identity of the museum she now leads.Read full article >>


Posted in Art

Smithsonian African Art director breaks silence on Cosby exhibition controversy

Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, has made her first substantial public comment on the controversy surrounding the museum’s controversial exhibition of art from the collection of Bill and Camille Cosby. Writing on the Web site The Root, Cole defended keeping the collection on view, even as allegations of sexual abuse against Cosby have mounted and other institutions have severed ties with the comedian.Read full article >>


Posted in Art

Turning the lens on photos

It seems odd for a medium that is more than a century and a half old, but photography is still celebrating its newness.Three exhibitions in Washington recall how recently major museums got into the business of seriously collecting, studying and displaying the photographed image: “American Moments” at the Phillips Collection is billed as the first exhibition to draw exclusively on the museum’s photographic holdings, while “In the Light of the Past” and “The Memory of Time” at the National Gallery of Art are mounted on the 25th anniversary of the formation of the museum’s photography department in 1990.Read full article >>


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Why the Cosby exhibit is still a bad idea

Inside the Castle, it looks as if Smithsonian officials are standing on principle: An exhibition of art owned by Bill and Camille Cosby, on display at the National Museum of African Art, is not an endorsement of Cosby’s character, behavior or reputation. This is about the art, and the artists, not the collector, who is accused of sexually assaulting more than 40 women and who acknowledged in a 2005 legal deposition that he intended to give drugs to women he wanted to have sex with. Read full article >>


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For this Dutch master, a cigar is rarely just a cigar

The first major exhibition devoted to the Dutch mannerist painter Joachim Wtewael is full of works that “just do not look Dutch,” admits Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., curator of northern baroque paintings at the National Gallery of Art. That’s the challenge he and the gallery confronted when introducing Wtewael — a fascinating, versatile and virtuosic artist — to the broader public. But the 50 some works gathered together in “Pleasure and Piety: The Art of Joachim Wtewael” are absolutely part of a Dutch artistic history that is richer, and more bizarre, than we usually credit. Read full article >>


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At the National Gallery, Caillebotte’s intersection with greatness

You see it from the moment you enter the exhibition, Gustave Caillebotte’s masterpiece and one of the most famous paintings of the past 150 years. “Paris Street, Rainy Day,” borrowed from the Art Institute of Chicago, is placed at the end of a short enfilade of three galleries, documenting the impressionist painter’s best work, most of it made while he was an urban animal, a wealthy dandy, a self-styled flâneur, an impressionist impresario with the means and the energy to shape a movement. Read full article >>


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MoMA and the architects of a Latin American design revolution

Critical opinion was pretty much unanimous earlier this spring when New York’s Museum of Modern Art unveiled an ill-considered, badly executed and intellectually trivial exhibition showcasing the career of the Icelandic singer Bjork. This was carnival stuff, empty spectacle, trashy hagiography and, after earlier shows devoted to figures such as Tim Burton and a one-off derivative performance piece in which Tilda Swinton slept in a glass box, yet more proof that MoMA under its longtime director, Glenn Lowry, has lost its way. It is now merely a colonial outpost of the entertainment industry, which levels culture not in the interests of democracy, education or access, but with an unthinking, reflexive animus to anything resistant to commercial exploitation.Read full article >>


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A new front door opens up an insular enclave at State Department

The U.S. State Department may be the official public face we put to the world, but for years the face it has put to Washington has been an architectural mess. More than a decade after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, concrete security barriers still bestrew the east side of 23rd Street NW. Visitors to the diplomatic reception rooms are screened in an ugly modular structure on C Street. There is no clear public entrance to the building, which is composed of an early-1940s stripped-down classical structure that was, in the 1960s, dwarfed by an “addition” in the international modern style. And the entire complex feels like a giant black hole, sucking the life out of what should be a vibrant district, bounded by a major arts center, an urban university and the Mall. Read full article >>


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A new front door opens up an insular enclave at State Department

The U.S. State Department may be the official public face we put to the world, but for years the face it has put to Washington has been an architectural mess. More than a decade after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, concrete security barriers still bestrew the east side of 23rd Street NW. Visitors to the diplomatic reception rooms are screened in an ugly modular structure on C Street. There is no clear public entrance to the building, which is composed of an early-1940s stripped-down classical structure that was, in the 1960s, dwarfed by an “addition” in the international modern style. And the entire complex feels like a giant black hole, sucking the life out of what should be a vibrant district, bounded by a major arts center, an urban university and the Mall. Read full article >>


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