This week: John Law, Glass meets Handel, the Gilder Lehrman Military History Prize & more from the world of culture.
John Law: A Scottish Adventurer of the Eighteenth Century, by James Buchan (MacLehose Press): “It’s a shame really that he did not once place limits on his boundless imagination for he has something great about him. He has perished for too grand a conception of himself.” So said Eleanor de Mézières, née Oglethorpe—a Jacobite and relation of the founder of the English colony of Georgia—of John Law, one of the finest financial minds ever to appear. As James Buchan tells in his new biography of Law, it was the financier’s inexhaustible energy that eventually sunk him—briefly the toast of Regency France, Law was eventually run out of Paris when his fiat currency schemes, tied up in the colonization of Mississippi and Louisiana, failed. What were once fantastical financial instruments are now commonplace; indeed, Law lived too early. Buchan’s entertaining and sympathetic biography is a delight, even for those, like me, whose grasp of matters of high finance could best be described as tenuous. Readers should keep an eye out for Andrew Stuttaford’s review of the book, forthcoming in a future issue of The New Criterion. —BR
“The Masters: Art Students League Teachers and their Students,” at Hirschl & Adler (through December 1): Since its founding in 1875, the Art Students League of New York has served as a training ground and home base for painters and sculptors hoping to hone their practice through rigorous exercise of the eye and the hand. Now at Hirschl & Adler Gallery, “The Masters: Art Students League Teachers and Their Students” gives visitors the opportunity to see for themselves how the League’s atelier-style training has benefitted some of our nation’s greatest artists over the past 140 years. Including more than ninety works, “The Masters” is remarkable for both its size and its breadth of styles and periods. With works by Milton Avery, Romare Bearden, George Bellows, Thomas Hart Benton, William Merritt Chase, Burgoyne Diller, Helen Frankenthaler, Philip Guston, Robert Henri, Hans Hofmann, Louisa Matthiasdottir, Jackson Pollock, Fairfield Porter, Mark Rothko, John Sloan, Cy Twombly, and many more, the exhibition is not to be missed. —AS
“Glass Handel,” at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine (November 26 & 27): In the age of distraction, how do you make art that captures the attention? Make the senses an offer they can’t refuse, Anthony Roth Costanzo proposes, and overwhelm them with as many aesthetic pleasures as they can handle. In “Glass Handel,” Costanzo, a countertenor, actor, and producer, promises to deliver the mash-up of mash-ups: the artist George Condo will paint live, the dance superstar Justin Peck will premiere new choreography, Opera Philadelphia will appear in video installations, The Knights orchestra will play a mix of George Frideric Handel and Philip Glass, and the major players will all be costumed in Calvin Klein. Immersive, multimedia art installations have been rising in popularity in recent years, with performance arts mingling with more static ones, and Costanzo plans to offer the grandest one yet. It remains to be seen whether this collaboration enriches the artistic attention or distracts from it. Viewers can answer that for themselves next Monday and Tuesday in hour-long performances at 7:00 and 9:30 p.m. at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan. —HN
“The 2017 Gilder Lehrman Prize for Military History,” at the New-York Historical Society (November 26): First there was Sun Tzu, then Carl von Clausewitz, and now Cathal J. Nolan has come along to change the way we think about war with his new book The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost. Nolan asks us a simple question: how are wars actually won? It is tempting to inflate the importance of such grand battles as Marathon, Tours, Austerlitz, or Stalingrad. But, as Nolan shows, the relationship between individual battles and the larger conflict in which they are situated is complicated, and a “decisive” battle victory may often have little impact in determining the ultimate victor in war. Rarely ever a sprint, most wars are long-distance races, in which endurance and resources are the greatest advantages. Nolan, an associate professor of history and the Executive Director of the International History Institute at Boston University, will discuss The Allure of Battle, which recently won the Gilder Lehrman Prize for Military History, with Andrew Roberts at 6:30 p.m. next Monday at the New-York Historical Society. —RH
From the archive: “Herman Melville,” by Walker Percy (November 1983). On what contemporary Southern writers should make of Melville.
From the current issue: “Ethnic bonds & the appeals of tradition,” by Paul Hollander. On travels in Romania, past and present.