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Picturing Mary

The new exhibit at Washington D.C.’s National Museum of Women in the Arts, “Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea,” conceived even before the museum’s birth in 1987, opened this year at long last, just in time for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The exhibit, which will continue until Easter, is under the curatorship of Msgr. Timothy Verdon, director of the Cathedral Museum of Florence, Italy and a leading scholar of Marian art. Continue Reading »

The Five Stages of Grieving the Art of Jeff Koons

It is Sunday night, and the Whitney Museum of American Art has been open for thirty-some hours straight. The line for this last chance to see the Jeff Koons retrospective wraps around the block. Fittingly, these are also the last hours of the Whitney Museum itself, at least in its upper East Side manifestation (their new building opens in Chelsea next year). Visiting the hideous structure one last time is like reaching out to pet the old family dog before he gets put to sleep—only to have your hand bitten. The inverted ziggurat architecture has always been an exercise in anti-effort with the art to match. A longstanding top floor feature was Marcel Duchamp’s In Advance of the Broken Arma snow shovel the artist purchased and declared art by fiat. Once elusive, the meaning is now clear. Here is the tool that has authorized the Whitney to pile it high. Koons’s towering mound of polychrome aluminum Play-Doh, the highlight of the show, is the simply the crest of the heap. Continue Reading »

Protestantism in the Desert

I admit to having experienced perverse enjoyment when first hearing the story Episcopal Bishop James Pike. The cautionary tale is featured in Joan Didion’s The White Album, and more recently, in two sobering chronicles of Protestant decline, Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion and Joseph Bottum’s AnAnxious Age. Following an impressive revisionist binge, Pike finally cast off Christianity completely. In pursuit of some kind of Gnosis, he drove into the Jordanian desert in a Ford Cortina with two Cokes and his third wife, where he lost his way and died. Such a fitting illustration of the Protestant condition, I once thought: an ill-equipped Ford Cortina hurtling to desert doom. Continue Reading »

“The Art of the Beautiful” Lecture Series

Announcing the the Art of the Beautiful Lecture Series. The Catholic Artists Society and the Thomistic Institute present a series of lectures on a Catholic understanding of the Arts. Eminent artists, theologians, and writers will be exploring the nature of art and its role in society. Continue Reading »

A Theory for Tattoos

The motives for tattoos are many, but they all have a common subtext. A tattoo can mark a group identity—sailors, soldiers, inmates, gangs, motorcyclists. It can memorialize a person or event, as in a virtual archive of snapshots of tattoos showing names and faces of deceased loved ones (I attended a presentation of the archive by two academics in Toronto last year). Sometimes they happen by blunt peer pressure, a set of 20-year-olds on Saturday night getting drunk, knowing not what to do until one of them blurts, “Let’s go get a tat and a ring!” (a good friend tells me of pulling out just as his turn came up). Continue Reading »

Taking Art Off the Street

“Street art—you mean vandalism? No, thank you.” That was the response of a friend when I invited him to join me at the Museum of the City of New York for their recent exhibit, “City as Canvas.” His scruple was understandable but a little out-of-date.” Continue Reading »

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