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Atomic Sublime: How Photography Shapes our View of Nuclear Warfare and Energy

The 70th anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will undoubtedly be accompanied by images of the “mushroom clouds” that rose over both cities. Terrible and sublime, these images burned themselves into the consciousness of “the greatest generation” and every generation since that’s lived with both the legacy of nuclear war and the reality of nuclear energy. A new exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario titled Camera Atomica looks deeply at the interrelated nature of photography and nuclear war and peace to come away with a fascinating glimpse of the calculatedly manufactured “atomic sublime” — the fascination with such terrible power at our command that simply won’t let us look away.

Between Two Worlds: The Unveiling of Yasuo Kuniyoshi

When the Whitney Museum of American Art decided to stage in 1948 their first exhibition of a living American artist, they chose someone who wasn’t even an American citizen, but only legally could become one just before his death. Painter Yasuo Kuniyoshi came to America as a teenager and immersed himself in American culture and art while rising to the top of his profession, all while facing discrimination based on his Japanese heritage.  The exhibition The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi, which runs through August 30, 2015 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, unveils an amazing story of an artist who lived between two worlds — East and West — while bridging them in his art that not only synthesized different traditions, but also mirrored the joys and cruelties of them.

Omnivore’s Dilemma: Rethinking John Singer Sargent

The standard line against painter John Singer Sargent goes like this: a very good painter of incredible technique, but little substance who flattered the rich and famous with decadently beautiful portraiture — a Victorian Andrea del Sarto of sorts whose reach rarely exceeded his considerable artistic grasp. A new exhibition of Sargent’s work and the accompanying catalogues argue that he was much more than a painter of pretty faces. Instead, the exhibition Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends and catalogues challenge us to see Sargent’s omnivorous mind, which swallowed up nascent modernist movements not just in painting, but also in literature, music, and theater. Sargent the omnivore’s dilemma thus lies in being too many things at once and tasking us to multitask with him.

The Gambler: How Paul Durand-Ruel Bet Big on Impressionism (and Won)

What would you do? Imagine you’re a politically conservative, devoutly religious art dealer fleeing your war-torn country when you suddenly see art radically unlike anything you’ve seen before. Do you stay the course or gamble on this next “big thing”? Now add the sudden death of your pregnant young wife, which leaves you with five children under the age of nine whose futures now depend entirely on your choices. Do you roll the dice with your life and theirs? If you’re Paul Durand-Ruel and that artist is Claude Monet, the original Impressionist, you don't just make that bet; you go “all in” — staking your family’s fortunes to those of a family of revolutionary artists. The exhibition Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting, currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, goes “all in” with Durand-Ruel’s gamble and pays off big with a stirring tale of personal courage and art history in the making.

The Disruptive Roots of African Art Studies in America

The Barnes Foundation’s current exhibition, Mark Dion, Judy Pfaff, Fred Wilson: The Order of Things, epitomizes the business buzz phrase “disruptive innovation” like few other museum shows (which I wrote about here). Disrupt or die, the thinking goes. Old orders must make way for new. Coincidentally, as the Barnes Foundation, home of Dr. Albert Barnes’ meticulously and idiosyncratically ordered collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces left just so since his death in 1951, invites outsider artists to question and challenge Dr. Barnes’ old order, it also publishes their own insider’s critical “warts and all” assessment of Dr. Barnes’ relationship to African art and African-Americans. In African Art in the Barnes Foundation: The Triumph of L’Art nègre and the Harlem Renaissance, scholar Christa Clarke reassesses Dr. Barnes intentions and results in his building of the first great African art collection in America. “More than just formal accents to modernist paintings and other Western art in the collection,” Clarke argues, “African art deserves to be seen as central to the aesthetic mission and progressive vision that was at the very heart of the Barnes Foundation.”

Disruptive Innovations: Reordering the Barnes Foundation

Few business buzzphrases draw as much interest (and ire) as “disruptive innovation.”  Disrupt or die, the thinking goes. Old orders must make way for new. At the Barnes Foundation, home of Dr. Albert Barnes’ meticulously and idiosyncratically ordered collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces left just so since his death in 1951, three artistic innovators aim at questioning and challenging Dr. Barnes’ old order.  Mark Dion, Judy Pfaff, Fred Wilson: The Order of Things invites three award-winning, contemporary installation artists to disrupt the existing paradigm at the Barnes and assist us in seeing Dr. Barnes and his collection in a whole new way.

How Peter Blume Painted His Personal Reality of Hope

On October 3, 1948, at 3:50 pm, Peter Blume finished his epic painting, years in the making, titled The Rock (shown above). “After a turbulent decade in which Peter Blume embarked on false starts, endured debilitating anxiety, experienced self-doubt, and found his faith in the creative process renewed,” Robert Cozzolino writes in the catalog to the new exhibition Peter Blume: Nature and Metamorphosis, finishing The Rock must have been a great relief. Blume recorded that date and time the way many record the birth of their children, for The Rock was his precious baby, but completing it marked a rebirth of sorts for Blume as a different kind of artist. Shaped by political and artistic currents of the first half of the 20th century, Blume emerges as a difficult to categorize artist, but also as a fascinating visionary who struggled to paint a personal reality clinging to the foundation of hope.

William Glackens: Forgotten Father of American Modernism?

With a $20,000 check and instructions to bring back “some good paintings” from friend and financier Dr. Albert C. Barnes, American artist William Glackens set off for Paris in 1912 with carte blanche to buy the very best modern art he could find. Long a champion and connoisseur of European and American modernism, Glackens sent back to Barnes 33 works by now-renowned artists such as Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent Van Gogh that helped shape the collection that eventually became The Barnes Foundation.

“Starf@#king”?: Björk at the MoMA

It’s hard to remember a major show at a major American museum generating so much angst as Björk at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Some arts sites quickly began aggregating art critics’ aggravation over almost every detail of the show. What began as art criticism evolved into a media lynching of the MoMA, American museums, and pandering-to-the-public curators (in this case, Klaus Biesenbach). New York art world critics, and husband-and-wife team, Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith hated the show in different ways, but both connected to their love of Björk and her music. ArtNews’ M.H. Miller wins the poison pen prize, however, for coining the new critical term “starf@#king” to describe the MoMA’s treatment of Björk as much as its treatment of the viewing public. The question of whether Björk is good or not might really be a question of what Björk is really about.

The Inconstant Moon

Supermoons are both super and common, but they’re only a tiny slice of our nearest neighbor’s magnificent journey. Image credit: ESA / NASA and the International Space Station. “O, swear […]

What If The Price Was Never Right?

Prices are the magic in free-market stories. But what if prices were never right? Then free markets wouldn’t work as their fans claim. The ‘markets in everything’ crowd don’t tackle […]

Beware The One Trick Hedgehog

When it comes to making predictions, thinkers who are hedgehogs barely beat “dart-throwing chimps.” Despite that, hedgehogs hog the spotlight.