This week: Modernists and mavericks, “Marianne and Walt” & more from the world of culture.
Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney & the London Painters, by Martin Gayford (Thames & Hudson): When it comes to interpreting art, among the least reliable sources one can seek for help is often the artist himself. If not deliberately reticent or opaque, an artist might mislead or otherwise overemphasize underimportant aspects of his work. At the same time, however, developing close relationships with artists can serve a critic or scholar tremendously, giving him the inside scoop on an artist’s studio practices, aesthetic motivations, and other relevant matters. Healthy skepticism is the name of the game—like Reagan in his talks with the Soviets, a critic should “trust, but verify” what an artist says against the material fact of the work itself. For the past thirty years, Martin Gayford has involved himself in such a way—perhaps more than any other critic—with the painters of the post-war London art world. In his most recent book, Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney & the London Painters, Gayford tells the story of this world, stitching together personal conversations and private vignettes with broader art-historical analysis and aesthetic criticism to create a compelling biography. The world of post-war English painting, we learn, was endlessly varied, and Gayford’s pluralistic, artist-focused approach to his history does much to shatter constricting notions of the importance of movements and schools. Previous books by Gayford (the chief art critic for The Spectator) include Man with a Blue Scarf (his account of sitting for a portrait by Lucian Freud), A Bigger Message (conversations with David Hockney), and Rendez-vouz with Art (which he co-authored with Philippe de Montebello). —AS
“Marianne and Walt: The Fort Greene and Clinton Hill of Walt Whitman and Marianne Moore,” with Francis Morrone, presented by the Municipal Art Society of New York (June 17): “Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,” Walt Whitman declared in his poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” which describes the short boat trip from Brooklyn across the East River to Manhattan. In the next century, when New Yorkers were no longer dependent on ferry travel, Marianne Moore would look up to the Brooklyn Bridge and proclaim: “romantic passageway/ first seen by the eye of the mind,/ then by the eye. O steel! O stone!/ Climactic ornament, a double rainbow.” Though each poet knew significantly different versions of the borough, Brooklyn was home to both for important periods of their lives. In fact, both of their Brooklyn houses, as well as many other significant places of interest to them, still exist today. A guided tour on Sunday of their neighborhoods, led by the New Criterion contributor and author of Fort Greene/Clinton Hill Neighborhood & Architectural History Guide, Francis Morrone, will illuminate as much about these poets as about the city that harbored them. To make the day complete, one can recreate Whitman’s river crossing from Brooklyn to Manhattan—thanks to the newly reinstated ferry service between the boroughs—and reflect on his words: “It avails not, time nor place—distance avails not,/ I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,/ Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,/ Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,/ Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d,/ Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried.” —RH
“Amy Lincoln: Sun, Moon, Stars,” at Morgan Lehman, New York (through June 23): The painter Amy Lincoln looks not only to plant life but also to what might be considered the inner life of plants. Drawing on the animism of Charles Burchfield and the precisionism of Henri Rousseau, Lincoln incorporates an outsider-artist sensibility for symmetry, overgrowth, and oversaturated color. Now at Morgan Lehman Gallery in Chelsea, she is showing a new selection of her acrylics on panel with increasingly amped-up compositions that capture nature in the strange and variegated light of “sun, moon, stars.” Into this mix of lily and jade vine are new images of sea and sand—some of her most compelling yet—that call to mind the legacy of Japanese ukiyo-e. —JP
Lucas Debargue plays Chopin, Beethoven, and Bach, via medici.tv (June 17): Some competitions have such an enormous profile, you don’t even have to win in order to reap a benefit for your career. Since finishing fourth in the piano field in the last Tchaikovsky Competition, Lucas Debargue has shot to international fame. This Sunday, catch his Moscow recital live on medici.tv, as he plays music by Chopin, Beethoven, and Bach. —ECS
Ice Cream Garden Social at the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden (June 16): For a taste of the country without leaving the city, it’s hard to top the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden, an eighteenth-century, six-bay stone carriage house on East Sixty-first Street between First and York Avenues. Originally sitting on a twenty-three-acre estate, the house became a nineteenth-century hotel, before being sold to the forerunner of Con Ed, and finally to the Colonial Dames of America in 1924. The Museum will open its garden for an old-fashioned ice cream social this Saturday with period music, ice cream making, and games. For another perspective on historical preservation, see Genevieve Wheeler Brown’s piece from our June issue on the work of the National Society of Colonial Dames of America. —BR
From the archive: “The Heraclitus of New Hampshire,” by Eric Ormsby (June 2007). A review of The Notebooks of Robert Frost, edited by Robert Faggen.
From the current issue: “Mom and Dada,” by Kyle Smith. On Travesties at the American Airlines Theatre and Three Tall Women at the John Golden Theatre.