Since the beginning of 2009, the Tower Gallery of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., high in the East Wing, has been home to a series of long-running solo exhibitions that are small but revealing and dedicated, we are told, to “developments in art since mid-century.” Initiated on the watch of Harry Cooper, the museum’s curator and head of modern art, the first five exhibitions of the “In the Tower” program focused on the work of Philip Guston, Mark Rothko, Mel Bochner, Nam June Paik, and Barnett Newman. Not surprisingly, given this idiosyncratic, diverse list, each of the shows was slightly different, now emphasizing a particular group of works, now examining a particular moment in an artist’s evolution, now circling around a particular motif or obsession, but always taking a narrow slice of the material under review. Some exhibitions have been drawn almost entirely from the National...


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