This week: ballparks, composers, Classicism & more.
Ballpark: Baseball in the American City, by Paul Goldberger (Knopf): There’s nothing quite like experiencing the grandeur and majesty of an open-air baseball park for the first time. Stepping into the stands of Baltimore’s Camden Yards at a young age and witnessing the stunning green of the field’s immaculate grass is one of my earliest memories, and it’s one to which many, I’m sure, can relate. But just why the American ballpark has taken on such singular significance within our society’s imagination is complicated. In his new volume, Ballpark: Baseball in the American City, the architecture critic Paul Goldberger points out that, by merging the open greenery of its playing field with the clustered population of its stands, the ballpark aptly symbolizes the tensions that have spanned rural and urban spaces since the industrial revolution. Goldberger’s is a well-illustrated and eminently readable history of this uniquely American structure, from its origins in the outer boroughs of New York City to the parks that proliferate across the country today. (It also correctly positions Camden Yards—which opened in 1992—as a radical and victorious return to the great city ballparks of the early twentieth century, away from the suburban “Concrete Doughnuts” that had marked much of the post-war era.) Enthusiasts of baseball, architecture, and urban history will all relish this fine book. —AS
“Alphonse Mucha: Art Nouveau/Nouvelle Femme,” at Poster House, (June 20–October 6): If the poster was the mass media of the Belle Époque, the works of Alphonse Mucha were prime time and must see. No artist captured the spirit of the fin de siècle quite like this Czech master of Symbolism and Art Nouveau. As the inaugural major exhibition at Poster House, a new museum dedicated to its eponymous subject on West Twenty-third Street, “Alphonse Mucha: Art Nouveau/Nouvelle Femme” brings together his work for the first time in New York since 1923. The exhibition focuses on how the artist’s depictions of the actress Sarah Bernhardt helped spread her public image. Mucha’s sinuous form communicated feeling as much as fact and, in doing so, revolutionized advertising and print design in the last century. —JP
The Indispensable Composers, by Anthony Tommasini (Penguin): With a topic as expansive and subjective as music, finding a historian to trust can feel daunting. By the merits of his latest book, Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times’s chief music critic, has proven a worthy contender. In The Indispensable Composers, Tommasini chronicles the lives and works of those who are, in his view, the most influential composers of all time. Tommasini focuses on seventeen composers, from Monteverdi to Bartók, shedding light on their musical careers and personal biographies. Through his telling, these masters feel relatable—and their musical feats are made all the more impressive. Tommasini weaves an engrossing narrative, one that musicians and non-musicians alike will enjoy. —DM
“Classicism and the Golden Age,” with Clive Aslet (June 18): Classical architecture is inherently backwards-looking, reaching for a time before the degeneration of our built world. But when exactly was the Golden Age of architecture which practicing classicists seek to emulate? The answer, according to Clive Aslet, the former editor of Country Life and a frequent New Criterion contributor, is that it depends on the practitioner. While Robert Adam sought the ruins of Dicoletian’s Palace at Spalatro (late third century A.D.), James “Athenian” Stuart was cribbing from Athens’s Tower of the Winds (ca. 50 B.C.). In the twentieth century, Edwin Lutyens cast his eyes towards Britain’s Tudor past to find models for his eminently livable country houses. Which is to say, the “Golden Age” is not a single age at all. Aslet will explore these themes for the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art at the General Society Library this Tuesday. —BR
From the archive: “Bloomsbury revisited: a ‘postmodern’ Roger Fry,” by Hilton Kramer (January 1997). On A Roger Fry Reader edited by Christopher Reed.
From the current issue: “Down by the Old Mill Stream,” by William Logan.