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CONTENTS, October 16, 2000
Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
[01] Treasures from Ancient Ukraine at the Brooklyn Museum
[02] Scythian & Sarmatian Treasures at the Met
[03] Russian Amazons of the Avant-Garde at the Guggenheim
[04] The Gere Collection of Landscape Oil Sketches at the Frick
[05] Edward Steichen at the Whitney
[06] Barbara Kruger at the Whitney
[07] Orientalist works at the Dahesh
[08] Hip Hop Nation at the Brooklyn Museum
[09] Chinese Calligraphy at the Met
[10] Egyptian Art from Eton College
[11] The Year One at the Met
[12] Art & the Empire City
[13] Queen Victoria & Thomas Sully
[14] "La Divine Comtesse"
[15] New Arthur Ross Terrace at Natural History Museum

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Copyright © 2000 Glenn Loney.

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Outstanding Fall Exhibitions:

Note: Your Curators' Choice correspondent is filing this brief report between planes. He's just spent 19 days on a tour of China and Tibet—with report and pictures to follow in early November. Now he's on his way again, this time to Ireland and the Wexford Opera Festival, the Rock of Cashel, and the Ring of Kerry. More later! GML

At the Brooklyn Museum—

Scythian Treasures from the Ancient Ukraine

[Closing January 21, 2001]
SCYTHIAN HUNT--Symbolic Scythian Golden Stag in hunting scene from 4th Century BC, on loan from Ukraine & on view at Brooklyn Museum. See: "Outstanding Fall Exhibitions."
It is remarkable to have two major exhibitions of Scythian Gold at New York's two major art museums, opening in just 24 hours of each other. What is even more remarkable is the fact that no apparent effort was made to link these excellent displays, urging the public to visit both shows to compare the splendid golden objects recovered from ancient nomadic Scythian burial mounds.

All of the 170 finely wrought treasures on view in Brooklyn are from three major institutions in the Ukraine. Even though many of these magnificent artifacts are some 2,500 years old—or more—some of the most impressive have only been excavated in the past decade, after the Ukraine became free of the former Soviet Union.

Highly stylized ritual animal images distinguish many of the artworks. Evidences of Greek inspiration and workmanship are apparent, but there are distinctive Scythian details as well.

One of the finest artifacts is a golden helmet, depicting Scythian battle-scenes in relief.

All of the objects have been recovered from Scythian Kurhans, or burial mounds, some of them as large as small hills. In these ceremonial tombs, great chiefs were buried in rich adornments, prepared for life in the next world. Wives, servants, and animals were sacrificed to accompany them. Horsemen were impaled on their horses in a ring surrounding the tombs.

There are still some 40,000 unexcavated burial mounds in the Ukraine, promising even more astonishing treasures.

At the Metropolitan Museum—

Scythian & Sarmatian Treasures
From the Russian Steppes

[Closing February 4, 2001]
GOLDEN ANTLERS-- Symbolic Scythian Golden Stag from ancient burial mound, on loan from Hermitage & now on view at Met Museum.
The Met Museum's Scythian gold is not from Ukrainian museums. Instead, it is on loan from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and other Russian research centers. Some of the treasures surely were found in the Ukraine, but most were discovered in the steppes farther east, extending into Asia.

This dazzling show would not have been possible, however, had it not been for the foresight of Peter the Great in the 18th century. When precious objects of ancient gold appeared on the market, this visionary Russian ruler decided that such treasures should be preserved by the state. And that further excavations of burial sites be conducted under imperial auspices.

As a result, even 250 years ago fledgling Russian archeologists were complaining about the depredations of grave-robbers who had got into the tombs before they did.

Apparently, then as now, the difference between grave-robbery and scientific excavation & investigation is a matter of both the systems used to recover the art-objects and their ultimate destination: private collectors or art museums.

There is a plethora of Golden Stags with immense golden antlers in the current show. These impressive cult objects have amazingly survived over two millennia in the earth of the steppes.

The image of the antlered stag is found in a number of artworks, notably in golden plates which used as jewelry, applied to arrow-cases, and sewn onto clothing.

The most remarkable object in this large exhibition is in fact very small. It is a golden comb with amazingly detailed modeling of the faces of some ancient combatants on its crest.

Brooklyn Museum staffers who checked out the Met's show noted that the maps used to indicate sites where Scythian Gold has been recovered did not even once refer to the Ukraine!

At the Guggenheim Museum—

[Russian] Amazons of the Avant-Garde

[Closing January 7, 2001] Before Stalin's demands for Socialist Realism in Soviet Art crushed the free spirits and wild imaginations of Russian artists, a group of innovative women artists were in the forefront of stylistic experiment—even before the 1917 Revolution.

The current Guggenheim exhibition celebrates the achievements and fantasies of Alexandra Exter, Natalia Goncharova, Liubov Popova, Olga Rozanova, Varvara Stepanova, and Nadezhda Udaltsova.

There are more than 70 of their paintings and sketches on view.

At the Frick Collection—

A Brush with Nature:
The Gere Collection of Landscape Oil Sketches

CASCADE AT TIVOLI--One of the outstanding oil sketches now on view at the Frick Collection.
[Closing November 12, 2000] As early as the 17th century, artists abroad made quick oil sketches of landscapes, monuments, and city-scenes for later elaboration into finished studio paintings. Most of these were never intended for public exhibition or sale, serving only as aids to memory.

But the special freedom which such rapid sketching often occasioned gives such studies a vitality and impact not always to be found in the artists' formal academic renderings.

Art historians John & Charlotte Gere began collecting such studies in the 1950s. At the Frick, some sixty oil sketches from their collection are on view. Notably some by Corot and Degas.

At the Whitney Museum of American Art—


[Closing February 4, 2001]
LESLIE HOWARD--Edward Steichen's vintage portrait of the elegant English film-star, now on view at the Whitney Museum.
This is an immense survey of Steichen's work, not only as a photographer, but also as an original artist and a promoter of the work of fellow artists.

Almost 200 vintage photos are on view. This is the first full retrospective of his work since 1961.

Many of the images are little larger than a sheet of bond paper. As there are so many of them on display—set very closely to each other—there are crowds of people trying to get close enough to study each photo and digest its caption.

There are a number of Steichen's fashion photos on view, some of them now almost as famous photo-images as this innovative photographer's more stark documentary work.

His genius in compiling the Family of Man exhibition and book is also celebrated. Even though it was mounted at the Museum of Modern Art, not at the Whitney!


[Closing October 22, 2000]
YOUR BODY IS A BATTLEGROUND--One of Barbara Kruger's provocative posters, shown at the Whitney Museum.
By the time you read this, Barbara Kruger's high-powered installations at the Whitney Museum may already have been dismantled. But some of the public imagery she has created to complement the exhibition will still be on view around town.

Kruger's signature colors are black, white, and red. Using vintage photos, accompanied by often astoundingly simple phrases, Kruger subverts popular conceptions and trends.

A former graphics and advertising designer, she has brought the methods of the media over into the art world. But she also employs the buzz-words and slogans of the media to critique current social and cultural values.

Even if Kruger's red-white-black room-sized installations are gone from the Whitney, you can still get the dramatic catalogue and Kruger T-Shirts! How about: YOUR BODY IS A BATTLEGROUND?

At the Dahesh Museum of Art—

A Distant Muse: Orientalist Works

[Closing December 30, 2000]
CLEOPATRA--An American "Orientalist" vision of Egypt's Queen Cleopatra VII on the terrace at Philae, now on view at the Dahesh Museum.
Considering the current frantic concern about the Middle East and its contentious peoples, a visit to the Dahesh Museum may provide an interesting historical context sadly lacking among journalists and opinion-makers.

Although it's no longer PC to use the word Oriental, there was a time when it was definitely in vogue. But the term referred more precisely to the world of the Middle East in the declining decades of the Ottoman Empire. Rather than to China and Japan.

In conjunction with this small but powerful show, the Dahesh is also offering a series of lectures on the general theme: Influential Encounters: The Art & Politics of Orientalism.

At the Brooklyn Museum—


[Closing December 31, 2000] This strikingly designed and image-crammed exhibition is itself crammed with eager young Brooklynites. They may well have no interest in the artworks upstairs of Dead White European Males, but they obviously are having a terrific time following the development of Hip-Hop—and the careers of its leading exponents.

For those conservatives who last fall excoriated the Brooklyn Museum for its sensational "Sensation" show, this presentation may seem cut from the same cloth: Designed to Shock.

But that is not the way it is viewed by most spectators at all. It has found its audience, and, especially in Brooklyn, it's good that the majority of young people find something of real interest to them at the borough's major museum.

Roberta Smith, writing in the New York Times, found nothing to get excited about, let alone protest or censor. For Smith, this exploration of "one of the rougher sides of popular culture" was even "a tame, diluted show."

Her crushing judgment: "I have never seen a major museum exhibition that looks so nearly identical to the requisite gift shop at its end."

In fact, it was hard to tell where one left off and the other began.

No wonder Mayor Guiliani didn't try to shut the Brooklyn Museum down again!

At the Metropolitan Museum—

The Embodied Image:
Chinese Calligraphy from the Eliot Collection

[Closing January 7, 20001]
ONE PICTURE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS?--Chinese ideographs are images, as shown in this Huang Tingjian calligraphy at the Met Museum.
If you cannot read Mandarin Chinese—or even identify a single ideographic character—some of the calligraphies from the John B. Elliott Collection are still very impressive as designs or images.

In fact, this very special show is all about the images evoked by strong calligraphies. Thoughtful texts explain symbols and meanings for the uninitiated.

Chosen from the works of Chinese masters, some 55 calligraphies are now on display. They cover a range of a thousand years, up to the present.

Egyptian Art at Eton College

[Closing January 21, 2001]
ORYX AS COSMETIC DISH--Ancient Egyptian beauty-aid from Eton College's Myers Museum current loans to Met Museum.
Compared with the Met Museum's already vast collections of Egyptian art, the small room devoted to the treasures of the Myers Museum on loan from Eton College may seem like more—or less—of the same.

But by the severe selectivity of the objects chosen—and their intrinsic beauty of design and execution—this show focuses attention on details often lost in large-scale stretches of exhibition cases crammed with scarabs and the like.

There are some 150 objects on display, all worth a close examination and a thorough reading of the accompanying texts.

Art of the Ancient World East & West

[Closing January 14, 2001] If you are still confused about the actual date of the beginning of the New Millennium, the Met Museum seems to favor the Year One as a good place to start counting.

Its imaginative new exhibition celebrates the art that was being created, both East and West, at the time that Jesus was born. That means there is no Christian art on view, as no one—except possibly the Three Wise Men—had any idea of what was to come.

Instead, the gods, potentates, and even ordinary men and women of the Ancient World were being depicted by artists and sculptors.

150 must be a Magic Number at the Met, for this show also offers some 150 art-objects—largely from the Met's collections—made a millennium ago. They do serve to put the Year One in some kind of stylistic/thematic context.

Long before 1492 or Lief Ericson, native artists were at work in the Americas, so some New World artworks from the Year One are also on view.

Art & the Empire City:
New York, 1825-1861

[Closing January 7, 20001]
MATTHEW BRADY PRESENTS--Collectible portrait by famous American photographer, representing mid-19th century emergence of distinctive taste and culture in New York, the Empire City, now at the Met.
With the completion of the Erie Canal in 1925, New York City—or at least its port—became the "Gateway to the West." This was to help make it the largest city in the New World, the center of foreign trade, commerce, culture, and the arts.

With a range of some 300 objects, artworks, graphics, and documents, this unusual survey of the development of New York's consciousness of itself as a center of culture provides some fascinating insights into what was admired and valued at that time.

Of course the emergence and achievements of American artists are celebrated. But there is also ample room in the show for the European and English art and artifacts which were so enthusiastically collected by prosperous New Yorkers.

Queen Victoria & Thomas Sully

[Closing December 31, 2000]
YOUNG VICTORIA--Thomas Sully's lovely sketch of the 18-year-old queen, now on view at the Met.
In case you forgot to mark it in your calendar, 2001 will be the centenary of Queen Victoria's Death. It also marks the beginning of the rather short Edwardian Era, with its 1911 closure.

The Met Museum is marking Victoria's passing with this charming exhibition, featuring Thomas Sully's lovely portrait of the 18-year-old queen. It shows her in her coronation robes, as if she were ascending the throne, looking over her right shoulder at the viewer.

This image was widely copied for engravings in many lands. Samples of the various copies are also on view, as well as other examples of this Philadelphia artist's experiences and work in England.

"La Divine Comtesse"
Photographs of the Countess de Castiglione

[Closing December 31, 2000]
LOGO IMAGE FOR "THE DIVINE COUNTESS"--Fascinating photo-portraits of mysterious Countess de Castiglione, who was obsessed with her own image in costume, now at the Met.
The array of fascinating costumed photographs of the self-absorbed Countess of Castiglione now on view at the Met Museum is a reduction of the show recently mounted at Paris's Musée d'Orsay.

I saw it there last November, but—even though it was more comprehensive than this Met mounting—the cramped, awkward spaces in which it was displayed dissipated its potential impact.

A great beauty and a mysterious mistress to Emperor Napoleon III—among others—the countess was sent to Paris by the great Italian liberator, Cavour, to secure the emperor's support for the cause of Italian unification.

Espionage and lobbying for the Rissorgimento didn't divert the countess from her mirror or her infatuation with her own image in photographs. She had herself photographed in various elaborate court and ball-gowns, as well as costumed as characters in fiction and drama.

Over a span of 40 years, court-photographer Pierre-Louis Pierson caught the beautiful countess' varied moods and disguises in some 400 photos. This was unique in its time, though moderns such as Cindy Sherman may well have exceeded the countess in the self-portrait sweepstakes.

Space Center External Extension—

New Arthur Ross Terrace
Opens at Natural History Museum

[Permanent Public Amenity]
NIGHT AT THE SPACE CENTER--New Arthur Ross Terrace after dark at the American Museum of Natural History.
Check out the handsome new terrace adjoining the Rose Space Center at the American Museum of Natural History. It profits especially from having the great globe of the new Planetarium as a dramatic day and night backdrop.

Constructed over a large new parking-facility, the terrace has new trees, set below paving stones laid on a metal grid, so burgeoning roots will never disrupt the pavement. Between the public areas and the Space Center is an ingeniously designed plateau with a number of water jets to soothe the eye, ear, and sinuses.

Bring your lunch! [Loney]

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