"George Tooker: A Retrospective"
The National Academy, New York
October 2, 2008–January 4, 2009

Every painting, whether figurative or abstract, is an image, but not every image is a painting. The primary challenge for anyone pursuing the art form is in locating the equilibrium between aesthetic imperative and imagistic fidelity. The oeuvre of the American artist George Tooker (born in 1920), the subject of a concentrated retrospective at the National Academy Museum, exemplifies the precariousness of this pursuit.

Subway (1950) is Tooker’s masterpiece. A woman, wearing a red dress, a blue coat, and an apprehensive expression, walks through the station. The ceilings are oppressive and low; the corridors zoom. Zombie-like men in overcoats skulk about. The environs are sterile and the atmosphere airless. It’s a place resolutely bereft of human contact. As an allegory of urban...


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