This week: Robert Otto Epstein, a new Justin Peck, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams & more from the world of culture.
Talking Art: The Culture of Practice & the Practice of Culture in MFA Education, by Gary Alan Fine (The University of Chicago Press): One of the most consequential changes in the art world in the past sixty or so years has been the proliferation of graduate-level Masters in Fine Arts programs across the United States. This marriage of art and academia has led to the promotion of talking over making, theorizing over looking, and institutionalism over independence. It has both transformed the collectors’ market and left thousands upon thousands of aspiring artists in crushing, career-defeating debt. In Talking Art, Gary Allan Fine, a Professor of Sociology at Northwestern, steps into “MFA culture” as an outsider, describing what he sees with a level of scientific objectivity rarely encountered in discussions of this strange milieu. At three second-tier MFA programs in the greater Chicago area, Fine wins the confidence of students and professors alike, traveling in their inner circles, weathering day-long studio critiques, and commenting upon the ways in which the ideals of the academy push up against the gloomy realities of life-as-artist. This work of ethnography is alternately engrossing, distressing, and hilarious—a must-read for anyone interested in learning more about the inner machinations of cultural production in the United States. —AS
“Robert Otto Epstein: This is Heavy,” at High Noon (through February 3): In a digital age, Robert Otto Epstein goes analog. With Bauhaus-quality painting inspired by eight-bit video games, he mixes inventiveness and humor with his own obsessive painterly abilities. Now in its final week at the Lower East Side gallery High Noon, “This is Heavy,” Epstein’s first solo exhibition in New York, applies his sense for pattern to the third dimension, with the silhouettes of vessels covered in bit-mapped whimsy. —JP
Principia (New Peck 1), at the David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center (January 31 through May 18): The wunderkind choreographer Justin Peck and the songwriter Sufjan Stevens have struck up a fruitful collaboration in recent years. Stevens’s music has been featured in three other Peck pieces: his 2012 breakout work Year of the Rabbit, Everywhere We Go (2014), and The Decalogue (2017). Principia (New Peck 1), set to Stevens’s score for full orchestra, draws its title and inspiration from Isaac Newton’s laws of motion set out in the Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. For more on Peck, look for James Panero’s essay in our February issue. —HN
“Two American Poets: Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams,” from the collection of Alan M. Klein, at the Grolier Club (through February 23): After long renovations, the Grolier Club, that bibliophile’s haunt, is open again and hosting exhibitions. Now on in the second-floor gallery, “Two American Poets: Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams” brings together roughly two hundred fifty items relating to these versifiers who, despite their dissimilar styles, were friends for more than forty years. —BR
From the archive: “Raymond Aron: last of the liberals,” by Allan Bloom (September 1985). On the French journalist, philosopher, and political scientist.
From the current issue: “Unsolvable problems,” by Kyle Smith. On The Hard Problem at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, The Waverly Gallery at the John Golden Theatre & American Son at the Booth Theatre.