This week: On Piero della Francesca, the National Arts Club, Beethoven’s sonatas & more.

Kyle Staver, Susanna’s Hammock, 2020, Oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist and Zürcher Gallery, now on view at the National Arts Club. 

Nonfiction:

Piero della Francesca and the Invention of the Artist, by Machtelt Brüggen Israëls (Reaktion Books): Painting was a “real science” for Piero della Francesca, as Machtelt Brüggen Israëls recounts in the introduction to her monograph on the Italian Renaissance artist, published at the end of last year for Reaktion Books. The painter and mathematician’s unmatched understanding of perspective and optical light was crucial to the development of Western painting towards ever-greater naturalistic heights. But to reduce his work to clinical, impersonal experimentation, as is sometimes done by art historians, is to neglect the strange mystery contained within Piero’s clarity—of form, space, and luminous color. Israëls’s book “focuses on the works of Piero and uses close looking as its method. It tries to understand the intention of the artist in the hope that, if he were to read the book, he might actually realize that it is his works that are being discussed. Still, while Piero’s paintings need to be understood in their time, they also resound in ours.”  Incorporating new documentary, technical, and archival information, the monograph makes good on these promises. It is a concise and eminently readable account of Piero’s fascinating life and far-reaching legacy. —AS

Art:

Installation view of “Painting the Narrative,” at the National Arts Club.

“Painting the Narrative,” at the National Arts Club (through June 26): Summer is the time for group shows, and that means finding affinities among artists and works. In an age of creative differences, the challenge can be finding the similarities across styles. With “Painting the Narrative,” now on view at New York’s National Arts Club, the artist Dee Shapiro has curated a selection of six painters who have more in common than not. Jennifer Coates, Kyle Staver, Ernesto Renda, Laura Karetzky, Judith Linhares, and George Towne all take on the figure, often nude, often in repose, all in different ways. What connects them are their interests in paint and what its handling conveys, from Staver’s dream-like atmosphere to Towne’s matter-of-fact precision, Renda’s surface reliefs to Karetzky’s picture-in-picture compositions. The exhibition, on view through June 26, also offers a chance to see the Club’s renovated public galleries, with four shows now on view. —JP

Music:

Adam Golka at Saint Thomas Church.

“The Complete Beethoven Sonatas VIII,” by Adam Golka at Saint Thomas Church (June 19): If you’re like me, you’ve been scratching your head at the dearth of live music available to the duly vaccinated in New York City. Luckily, Saint Thomas Church in midtown Manhattan has been showing how it should be done with an in-person concert series this spring. This series concludes (though more is to come in the fall) with the eighth and final concert in the pianist Adam Golka’s cycle of Beethoven sonatas this Saturday. On the program are five sonatas, including Sonata No. 8 in C minor, “Pathétique,” and Beethoven’s last sonata, No. 32 in C minor. Read my review for Dispatch of Golka’s last performance for more on this ambitious young pianist’s Beethoven cycle. —IS

Dance:

Leah Baylin and Cameron McCune in Soireé Nocturne by Melvin Lawovi.

ABT Incubator: Soireé Nocturne by Melvin Lawovi: The ABT Incubator (formerly the Innovation Initiative) was created in 2010 to provide young choreographers with the resources to develop new work; past participants include Gemma Bond and James Whiteside. This year, six choreographers worked in “bubbles” across the country and beyond to produce filmed performances released online over the last couple of months. The last is Soireé Nocturne, choreographed by the French-born ABT apprentice Melvin Lawovi for the dancers Leah Baylin and Cameron McCune. This five-minute pas de deux, set to Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp minor, is a quiet, coolly balanced piece made up of gentle backbends, slow turning lifts, and smooth promenades. The pair appears to breathe as one, dancing for each other rather than for an audience; under Pierce Jackson’s direction, the camera circles almost imperceptibly around the two dancers, erasing our sense of “upstage” and “downstage.” Lawovi wants the audience to “experience the feeling of peace and serenity that you get when you connect with your partner on stage,” and in this film, he succeeded. It will be interesting to see how this and his future work translate to a live stage, however, when audience members must stay fixed in their seats. —JC

From the archive:

“Nudes from the Prado at the Clark,” by Karen Wilkin (September 2016). On “Splendor, Myth, and Vision: Nudes from the Prado” at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.

Podcasts:

“Music for a While #45: Spring, sprung, sung.” Jay Nordlinger, The New Criterion’s music critic, talks music—but, more important, plays music.

Dispatch:

“A mezzo-soprano in her glory,” by Jay Nordlinger. On a recital by Marianne Crebassa and Alphonse Cemin at La Scala.

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