This week: Riemenschneider, Paul Klee’s Luther, animal spirits, garden tours, a floating concert & more from the world of culture.
Animal Spirits: The American Pursuit of Vitality from Camp Meeting to Wall Street, by Jackson Lears (Farrar, Straus and Giroux): Set off any bootleg fireworks this Fourth of July? Serve any undercooked hamburgers, washed down with something more potent than Bud Light? In celebrating independence, you may have also partaken in a more recondite but nonetheless essential American tradition, treated by the historian Jackson Lears in his new book Animal Spirits. (The title borrows a phrase championed by John Maynard Keynes, who well understood why an Independence Day reveler is not likely to act in his economic self-interest.) Lears teases out the latent strains of animism in our enlightened world, specifically exploring the intellectual history of “vitalism” in the Anglo-American sphere, an idea he describes as “the philosophical successor” to animism. Ranging from Keynes and Adam Smith to Whitman and Donne, Henry Adams to Daniel Defoe, this capacious survey posits “an alternative way of thinking and being” amid today’s “dominant ethos devoted to managerial mastery.” (Guess which one frowns on your undercooked meat?) Look for a full review by Dominic Green in the fall. —RE
Riemenschneider and Late Medieval Alabaster, edited by Gerhard Lutz (the Cleveland Museum of Art in association with D Giles Limited): The German sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider (ca. 1460–1531) was the original animator, breathing life into astonishing, intricately carved figures. While most well known for working in limewood, he also carved in alabaster, the soft marble-like stone that became ubiquitous in late medieval and early Renaissance Europe. Tied to an exhibition on view through July 23, a new catalogue published by the Cleveland Museum of Art in association with D Giles Limited compares Riemenschneider’s Saint Jerome (1495), the alabaster masterpiece in the museum’s collection, with works on loan, in particular the Louvre’s Virgin of the Annunciation (1495). The book and exhibition go deep into the qualities and uses of alabaster, bringing to light other remarkable period sculptors, including Claus de Werve (1380–1439), Jean de la Huerta (1431–62), and the Master of the Rimini Altarpiece (1410–40). —JP
Behind the Angel of History: The “Angelus Novus” and Its Interleaf, by Annie Bourneuf (University of Chicago): Paul Klee was a very modern man, but a modern man with an occasionally medievalist mood. Take, for example, his preoccupation with angels. The artist depicted angels in many forms; some he called “poor,” others “blind,” others still “ugly.” But none is more famous than his “New Angel,” Angelus Novus (1920). Walter Benjamin’s fixation with this bug-eyed cherub made it famous in the twentieth century, but hiding behind the strange figure is a connection to a German far more interesting: a 2015 X-ray discovered that Klee had painted Novus over an engraving of Martin Luther. Was this an act of iconoclasm? A shrouded tribute? In her new book Behind the Angel of History: The “Angelus Novus” and Its Interleaf, Annie Bourneuf addresses the complicated questions of interpretation arising from this revelation. Bourneuf’s work brings us face-to-face with this mysterious, mute angel, in unexpected ways. —LL
Masterworks Series: Jeffrey Solow performs Bach’s Complete Cello Suites at Bargemusic, Brooklyn (July 7): Faced with New York City’s summer doldrums, the savvy concertgoer knows to embark on Brooklyn’s Bargemusic, a floating stage in the East River that maintains its thrice-weekly schedule throughout the offseason. This Friday, Jeffrey Solow will perform the first installment in a complete series of J. S. Bach’s Cello Suites, BMW 1007–1012, an annual tradition on the Bargemusic stage. Other upcoming offerings this week and the next include pieces for piano solo and chamber ensemble by Samuel Barber, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and William Grant Still. —IS
Garden Tour at the Met Cloisters (daily through September 30): Who knew the subway also allowed for time travel? A trip to Upper Manhattan can be a trip back in time at the Met Cloisters, which this week begins daily garden tours of its Fort Tryon Park grounds. Visitors can “learn how medieval plants and gardens served medicinal, artistic, and even magical purposes” in a setting that is very far, both physically and temporally, from New York City’s glass-and-steel environment. Each tour begins at 11 a.m. and is first come, first served. —BR
From the Archives:
“An agenda for Congress,” by Gail Heriot (October 2022). On fixing affirmative action in college admissions.
“Misinformed comparisons,” by Arvin Bahl. On Eurotrash: Why America Must Reject the Failed Ideas of a Dying Continent by David Harsanyi