“Whodunit? Key Books in Detective Fiction,” at the Grolier Club (opens November 30): It’s no mystery why “Whodunit? Key Books in Detective Fiction,” opening this week at New York’s Grolier Club, is a page-turner. With more than ninety books from Jeffrey Johnson’s collection of early detective novels, the exhibition features standouts ranging from the first American edition of The Memoirs of Francois Vidocq (1834), to the first collection of Sherlock Holmes stories (1892), to Agatha Christie’s first novel (1920). Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Anna Katherine Green are among the list of accomplices in this thrilling show that would be criminal to miss. —JP
Ear Training: Literary Essays, by William H. Pritchard (Paul Dry Books): In the final essay of his new collection, William H. Pritchard, a critic and emeritus professor of English at Amherst, maintains that “as a potential reviewer I care not about the magazine’s politics, so if William Kristol’s Bomb Tehran Weekly Standard asks me, for some reason, to write about Robert Frost’s Notebooks, I accept.” This is exactly right, for, as Polonius said, “This above all: to thine own self be true.” The literary landscape has changed since that essay appeared in the Yale Review in 2010 (The Weekly Standard is of course now defunct), but Pritchard’s wide range and freedom from cant have endured (and he has even appeared in our pages). Those qualities, to be treasured in a book reviewer, are on display in Ear Training, out this month from Paul Dry Books. —BR
“Stephen Antonakos Drawings: Geometry and Space,” at the New York Studio School, curated by Karen Wilkin in collaboration with the Stephen Antonakos Studio (through January 7, 2024): My middle-school art teacher once gave a homework assignment to draw a picture without any lines. We fifth-graders largely missed the goal of the exercise, which was to show that a pencil can do more than delineate forms with discrete marks. (My quasi-pointillist landscape was filched by a classmate, who scored poorly anyway.) But I thought of that lesson on my latest visit to the New York Studio School, whose current exhibition makes clear that Stephen Antonakos (1926–2013) would have mastered the assignment and then some. “Stephen Antonakos Drawings: Geometry and Space” presents a spread of the Greek American artist’s precise yet exuberant works in colored pencil (and a few other media), dramatizing the relationship between line and plane, figure and ground. Curated by Karen Wilkin in collaboration with the Stephen Antonakos Studio, this collection of quietly ambitious pictures both instructs and delights. The use of multicolored pencil introduces a delicious wrinkle. —RE
The Embedded Portrait: Giotto, Giottino, Angelico, by Christopher S. Wood (Princeton University Press): A typical quattrocento masterpiece will often show Christ, Mary, the painting’s donors, and saints who lived centuries apart all occupying a single atemporal room, engaged in what art historians call a sacra conversazione. But according to Christopher S. Wood, these colloquies sometimes had an unnoticed eavesdropper: the artist. In The Embedded Portrait (now out from Princeton University Press), Wood argues that many proto-Renaissance and early Renaissance artists found subtle ways to insert their own likenesses among those of their more exalted company. The move represents an elevation of the artist’s position well before such elevation was the norm—artistry was still considered a low calling. Taking a special interest in Giotto, Fra Angelico, and the lesser-known Giottino, Wood spots these clever interlopers in paintings across Italy. —LL
Brahms’s four symphonies, at Carnegie Hall: In 2018, the conductor Daniel Barenboim etched a high-water mark with a cycle of Brahms’s four symphonies on Deutsche Grammophon, recorded with the Staatskapelle Berlin, an opera orchestra and one of the world’s oldest ensembles, helmed by Barenboim until earlier this year. Regrettably, Barenboim recently announced his withdrawal from his two-night, two-part engagement this week at Carnegie Hall leading the Berliners in Brahms. Health concerns have curtailed the eighty-one-year-old; in his place, the Metropolitan Opera’s Yannick Nézet-Séguin will step in to conduct Symphonies No. 1 and 2 this Thursday and No. 3 and 4 this Friday. An opportunity to hear one of Europe’s heritage ensembles in this core repertoire should not be missed. Surely Barenboim’s curatorship will be in evidence. —IS
“Book Gallery: Old House of Fear with James Panero & Adam Simon”
James Panero explores Russell Kirk’s Old House of Fear with the Russell Kirk Center.
“George Tscherny’s means of meaning,” by Joshua T. Katz. On the late designer’s style.
From the Archives:
“Studying the arts & humanities: what can be done?” by Hilton Kramer (February 1989). On the problem of humanities.