2011 in Review

A continuation, in slightly different form, of the “Annual Favorites” list I’ve been keeping for the past decade:

Favorite Books

  1. One With Others, by C.D. Wright

  2. Mao: The Unknown Story, by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday

  3. Beautiful Evidence, by Edward R. Tufte

  4. The Architecture of Happiness, by Alain de Botton

  5. The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace

  6. Havana, by Michael Eastman

  7. The Big Short, by Michael Lewis

  8. Why Mahler?, by Norman Lebrecht

  9. Beloved, by Toni Morrison

  10. Decoded, by JAY Z

  11. To End a War, by Richard Holbrooke

  12. The Hare With Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal

  13. The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. I

  14. The Pentagram Papers (anniversary collection)

  15. Saul Bellow: Letters

  16. Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan

  17. In the Plex, by Steven Levy

  18. A Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan

  19. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson

  20. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

  21. Butcher’s Crossing, by John Williams

  22. The Submission, by Amy Waldman

  23. Buddhism, by Donald W. Mitchell

  24. Out Stealing Horses, by Per Patterson

  25. At the Same Time, by Susan Sontag

  26. Solar, by Ian McEwan

  27. The Elements of Content Strategy, by Erin Kissane

  28. Content Strategy for the Web, by Kristina Halvorson

  29. Richard Serra: Sculpture: 40 Years, multiple authors

Other Book Notes: Meh on Life of Pi by Yann Martel and The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. Was impressed by the early portions I read of Hitch-22. Gave up early on Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje, Blue Nights by Joan Didion (despite really liking Magical Thinking), and The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (despite loving Middlesex way back when). Enjoyed paging through a handful of art books and catalogues, most especially Marina Abromivic: The Artist is Present. And about the Jobs bio: I’m a grateful and admiring Apple user, but it’s troubling how much time Jobs seemed to spend — and enjoy spending — belittling others.

Favorite Movies: 2011

  1. Tree of Life

  2. Midnight in Paris

  3. The Artist

  4. Beginners

  5. Cave of Forgotten Dreams

  6. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol

  7. Tabloid

  8. Drive

Other 2011 Movie Notes: So-so on Contagion. Disliked The Descendants.

Favorite Movies: Pre-2011

  1. Macbeth (BBCs’ 2010 version)

  2. The Mirror

  3. The Death of Yugoslavia (6-part BBC documentary)

  4. Blue Valentine

  5. Inside Job

  6. Another Year

  7. Rabbit Hole

  8. Of Gods and Men

  9. Toy Story 3

  10. True Grit

  11. Objectified

  12. The Other Guys

  13. The Fighter

  14. Casino

  15. The Secret in Their Eyes

  16. The Town

  17. Badlands

  18. Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Schulman

  19. Happy Go-Lucky

  20. The Spy Who Came In From the Cold

  21. Salt

  22. The King’s Speech

Other Pre-2011 Movie Notes: Meh on Separate LiesThe September Issue could have been a decent 30-minute TV segment.

Favorite TV Programs

  1. Parks & Rec

  2. Colbert & Stewart

  3. Modern Family

  4. Curb Your Enthusiasm

  5. 30 Rock

  6. Top Chef (Season 6)

  7. American Masters: Woody Allen

  8. The Buddha (PBS)

  9. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979 series)

  10. Downton Abbey

  11. The Hour

  12. American Masters: Charles & Ray Eames

Favorite Music: This was the year I turned to Rdio, paying $5/month for access to its terrific (though not complete [no Will Oldham, for example]) library. It’s not a perfect set up, but I love the chance to listen to a lot of new-to-me music (including classical and hip-hop) without committing to a complete purchase. I also like being led to artists and albums I wouldn’t have known to seek out (like the movie soundtrack below). And I certainly don’t miss weighing down my MacBook with mp3 after mp3 — traveling lightly has its advantages. Looking at my Rdio history, here’s an alpha-order look at some of my favorite music from the past year’s listening:

CDs that weren’t on Rdio that I actually bought (digitally) and like a lot: Bill Callahan, Sometimes I Wish I Were an Eagle; Radiohead, The King of Limbs; The Decemberists, The King Is Dead; and Gillian Welch, The Harrow & the Harvest (though I always end of skipping the banjo-heavy tunes).

While we enjoyed some great St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concerts this fall (Rachmaninoff, Chopin, and Elgar; Stravinsky), the personal music highlight this year was seeing the Fruit Bats in concert in St. Louis. Tamara and I chose “Seaweed” as our wedding song back in 2007, and I’d requested, via Twitter and Facebook, that the songwriter play it during his St. Louis show. He ended the evening with a phenomenal, slightly altered version, solo, in a dead-quiet Off Broadway.

Favorite Museums & Exhibitions

  1. Permanent Collection, Neues Museum, Berlin

  2. “Dreamscapes,” The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, St. Louis

  3. Permanent Collection, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin

  4. Permanent Collection, The Joan Miró Foundation, Barcelona

  5. “Laszlo Moholy-Nagy: Kunst des Lichts (Painting with Light),” Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

  6. “Robert Mapplethorpe Retrospective,” C / O Gallery, Berlin

  7. Permanent Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona

  8. Permanent Collection, New National Gallery, Berlin

  9. “Italiens Junge Kunst in der Botschaft,” Italian Embassy, Berlin

The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts hired me to edit its print and web catalogue for “Reflections of the Buddha,” so my opinion isn’t terribly subjective; but it’s a tremendous show.

Favorite Articles & Essays: Yes, it’s New Yorker-heavy.

  1. “The Aquarium,” by Aleksandar Hemon, The New Yorker

  2. “A Murder Foretold,” by David Grann, The New Yorker

  3. “Revolt of the Elites,” by The Editors, n+1

  4. “Coming Apart:” by George Packer, The New Yorker

  5. “The Apostate,” by Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker

  6. “The Gulf War,” by Raffi Khatchadqurian, The New Yorker

  7. “Behind the Curtain” and “Exit Bin Laden,” by David Remnick, The New Yorker

  8. “The Broken Contract,” by George Packer, Foreign Affairs

  9. “The Joy of Vex,” by James Parker, The Atlantic

  10. “Post-Artifact,” by Craig Mod, Craigmod.com

  11. “Are You Ready for More?” by Sharon Begley, Newsweek

  12. “State for Sale,” by Jane Mayer, The New Yorker

  13. “Franzen’s Ugly Americans Abroad,” by Tim Parks, NYR Blog

  14. “Story’s End,” by Meghan O'Rourke, The New Yorker

  15. “Inside David Foster Wallace’s Private Self-Help Library,” by Maria Bustillos, The Awl

  16. “Personal Best,” by Atul Gawande, The New Yorker

  17. “The Book on Publishing,” by Chad Harbach, Vanity Fair

  18. “Mapping Home,” by Aleksandar Hemon

  19. “The Disposable Woman,” by Anna Holmes, The New York Times

  20. “Today, Muslims; tomorrow, you,” by Roger Simon, Politico

  21. “Dubai on Empty,” by A. A. Gill, Vanity Fair

  22. “Universe Dented, Grass Underfoot,” by John Gruber, Daring Fireball

  23. “Fear of Missing Out,” by Caterina Fake, Caterina.net (link’s currently broken)

  24. “Don’t Release the Photos,” by Philip Gourevitch, NewYorker.com

  25. “Fact-Free Science,” by Judith Warner, The New York Times Magazine

  26. “The Future of Books,” by James Warner, McSweeneys.net

  27. “No Depression,” by Sasha Frere-Jones, The New Yorker

  28. “My Job Pt. 1 — I have no idea what I’m doing,” by Ben Pieratt, Pieratt.tumblr.com

  29. “Karen Green: Interview,” by Tim Adams, The Observer

  30. “Bruce Springsteen Releases New Concept Album About Struggles of Poor Miners Working on Mars,” The Onion

  31. “Mitt Romney Haunted By Past of Trying to Help Uninsured Sick People,” The Onion

  32. “Josh Hartnett Returns To Pearl Harbor For First Time Since Film,” The Onion

  33. “David Chipperfield: A master of permanence comes home,” by Rowan Moore, The Observer

  34. “How long does it take to ‘get’ an album?” by Steven Hyden, The Onion AV Club

  35. A good number of posts by Andrew Sullivan, Amy Davidson, and Shawn Blanc.

Favorite Audio & Podcasts: Love The New Yorker’s Political Scene podcast. My find this year was Slate’s The Culture Gabfest. The BBC’s Arts and Ideas podcast is consistently great. Planet Money’s “Inside the Mind of a Financial Criminal” was a terrific and entertaining individual episode. The BBC’s “Europe’s New Politics” was troubling and important (though I’m happy to say it looks as if this trend has slowed in northern Europe). I greatly enjoyed On Being’s episode called “A Wild Love for the World.”

Favorite Technology: iPad 2. Remarkable. And we love our PanasonicGF-1.

Personal Highlights: Spending half the year living with Tamara in Berlin, spending 10 days with her family in Bosnia, visiting friends in Spain, and reunioning with family in Oregon. Back here at home: Joining TOKY and buying a house we dig.

A Stalk from Manet

From Edmund de Waal’s quite impressive The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss:

And [Charles Ephrussi] was a friend of the artists. ‘It is now Thursday,’ writes Manet to Charles, 'and I still haven’t heard from you. You are evidently enthralled by your host’s wit … Come on, take up your very best pen and get on with it.’

Charles bought a picture of some asparagus from Manet, one of his extraordinary small still lifes, where a lemon or rose is lambent in the dark. It was a bundle of twenty stalks bound in straw. Manet wanted 800 francs for it, a substantial sum, and Charles, thrilled, sent 1,000. A week later Charles received a small canvas signed with a simple M in return. It was a single asparagus stalk laid across a table with an accompanying note: 'This seems to have slipped from the bundle.’

Serra's Verbs

From Richard Serra’s 2006 interview with Kynaston McShine, published in MOMA’s Richard Serra Sculpture: 40 Years:

One of the first things I did when I started working in New York was to write down a list of verbs — to splash, to tear, to roll, to cut, and so on. I then enacted those verbs in the studio with rubber and lead in relation to time and place. The residues of the activities didn’t always qualify as art. I was primarily interested in the process and it was important that whatever was finally made reveal its making. Some of the residues were so replete in their exploration of material and the simplicity and singularity of the process that they would go unquestioned. Anyone could reconstruct their making. Some of them took on what I thought was sculptural form. For instance, enacting the verb “to lift” I took a rectilinear sheet of rubber lying flat on the floor, grabbed it from its edge on one side in the center, and lifted it up. When you lift the rubber sheet, it free-stands and makes an interior and an exterior space with a continuous topological surface. To simply have lifted a sheet of rubber and made a sculptural form was satisfying in and of itself. Of course I also worked through a lot of verbs that remained activities and nothing more. The verb list allowed me to experiment without any preconceived idea about what I was going to make and not worry about the history of the sculpture. I wasn’t burdened by any pre-scripted definition of material, process, or end product.

Slate on Art and 9/11

Slate’s editors asked a group of novelists, artists, journalists and other creatives what work of art helped them make sense of 9/11. Among the responses:

Christopher Benfey, Slate art critic
I was spooked to find in Gravity’s Rainbow so many anticipations of 9/11, from its familiar opening words (“A screaming comes across the sky”) to stray details (“But then last September the rockets came”), and, on the last page, a reference to “the Light that brought the Towers low.” Back in 1973, Pynchon gave us our great paranoid dream of a world ruled by “The Firm,” where “there is a Pearl Harbor every morning, smashing invisibly from the sky.” But he also offers some refuge in the quiet precincts of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, invoked more than once, and in the sheer imaginative arc of his onrushing book.

Harold Bloom, author

I’ve seen absolutely nothing adequate to the event. It may be another sign that our culture has grown numb.

Continue reading for replies from Francine Prose, George Saunders, Jane Smiley, Robert Pinsky and others.

The Pulitzer & Foer

Back in St. Louis this week, T. and I headed to the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts for the new exhibition Hiroshi Sugimoto: Photographs of Joe. I remember seeing my first Sugimoto photograph a few years ago in the Cleveland Museum of Art, when I was visiting that city for a wedding. “Joe” is the 125-ton Richard Serra sculpture pictured above. If you want to see my own recent photos of the piece (the above is one), you can go here. I recommend Sugimoto’s, though, as he’s Sugimoto and I’m me. His black-and-white images have an amazing delicacy about them, considering how hulking the Serra sculpture really is. For the big-spenders among us, the Pulitzer is selling an $80 exhibition catalog, which won’t officially be out until late fall. The catalog features the beautiful work by Sugimoto, with text by Jonathan Safran Foer. (I was told that JSF was on site around the time of the opening last week. This blog post mentions the photographer’s visit, but not JSF’s.) An email announcement from the Pulitzer describes the catalog this way:

Foer’s deep interest in the juxtaposition of the visual arts and poetic language predestined him to be part of the project. He composed a text in relation to the sculpture and the photographs without describing or defining them.

The book looks absolutely delicious. If you’d like to PayPal me $80, I’ll happily buy it, then describe it page by page.

David Hickey in Madison

On Thursday, we caught another offering from UW’s Center for the Humanities. David Hickey, freelance writer, cultural critic and professor of modern letters at UNLV, riffed colorfully for 90 minutes or so on politics and the art world. The talk was titled “Neocon/ceptualism: What the New Right Owes the New Left.” It was very entertaining, at times enjoyably so. Grains of salt were taken all around. Among Hickey’s statements: Get the government (and, for example, its NEA) out of the world of art and culture. Minority artists seeking grants must, to gain the interest of committee members, be making art that is actually about their minority status. An unfortunate amount of power is now with art collectors, who are the ones who shouldn’t have it. Being fair has become more important than making critical judgments and staking out opinions. Curators now select shows, from year to year to year, so that they may never be fired for ignoring a certain group; newspaper and magazine editors cover the art world for the same reason. And the more the cultural world is driven by fairness and inclusiveness, the stupider everyone gets.

This last bit reminded me of Francine Prose’s polemic “I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read: How American High School Students Learn to Loathe Literature” from the September 1999 Harper’s. Part of Prose’s attack was aimed at those educators building curricula with more emphasis on fairness and less on quality. She writes: “The question is no longer what the writer has written but rather who the writer is – specifically, what ethnic group or gender identity an author represents … Meanwhile, aesthetic beauty – felicitous or accurate language, images, rhythm, wit, the satisfaction of recognizing something in fiction that seems fresh and true – is simply too frivolous, suspect, and elitist even to mention.”

13 Ways of Looking At Guernica

Over the weekend I finished Gijs van Hensbergen’s Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon. Very interesting. PBS.org provides some background on what it calls “modern art’s most powerful antiwar statement”:

On April 27th, 1937, unprecedented atrocities are perpetrated on behalf of Franco against the civilian population of a little Basque village in northern Spain. Chosen for bombing practice by Hitler’s burgeoning war machine, the hamlet is pounded with high-explosive and incendiary bombs for over three hours. Townspeople are cut down as they run from the crumbling buildings. Guernica burns for three days. Sixteen hundred civilians are killed or wounded.

Picasso’s Guernica was a response to that bombing, and it was produced to serve as the centerpiece for the Spanish Pavilion of the 1937 World’s Fair. From Hensbergen’s book (whose endnotes often left me wanting), here are 13 responses to the painting itself:

1. Max Aub, speaking to the pavilion’s construction workers gathered to celebrate their achievement: “It is possible that this art be accused of being too abstract or difficult for a pavilion like ours which seeks to be above all, and before everything else, popular manifestation. This is not the moment to justify ourselves, but I am certain that with a little good will, everybody will perceive the rage, the desperation, and the terrible protest that this canvas signifies … If the picture by Picasso has any defect it is that it is too real, too terribly true, atrociously true.”

2. Critic Anthony Blunt, writing in the Spectator in August 1937: “The painting is disillusioning. Fundamentally it is the same as Picasso’s bull-fight scenes. It is not an act of public mourning, but the expression of a private brain-storm which gives no evidence that Picasso has realised the political significance of Guernica.”

3. Critic Myfanwy Evans, writing in the collection The Painter’s Object in 1937: “It is a terrible picture of atrocities that would turn one’s hair white if one met them in real life. It is not gently composed to soften the blow, either; not a Laocoon picture. Nor is it the wild testament of a man distracted by the thought of his tortured country, and least of all is it a ‘Red Government’ poster screaming horrors to a panic-stricken intelligentsia. It is a passionate recognition of the facts, so purged as to become almost detached statement, and ultimately so unrealistic as to be almost as abstract as his most abstract painting.”

4. Virginia Whitehill, writing in Parnassus in 1939: “For the average gallery-goer Guernica must remain unpleasantly incomprehensible, and the purpose of the present editorial is merely to deplore the dishonesty of the American art public when confronted with work which it can neither understand nor appreciate but which it feels nevertheless obligated to accept.”

5. Critic, painter and collector George L.K. Morris, writing in the Partisan Review soon after: “There are striking passages, and the emotion fits the form completely, but unity of spirit cannot conceal disunity of structure.”

6. Someone writing in The Herald Express in 1939: “CUCKOO.”

7. Someone writing in the Los Angeles Examiner in 1939: “…revolting…ugly…bunk…”

8. Curator Charles Lindstrom, in a statement to exhibition visitors in 1939: “This is the Last Judgment of our age, with a damnation of human manufacture, and nowhere the promise of paradise.”

9. Artist William Baziotes, after seeing the painting around that time: “Picasso had uncovered a feverishness in himself and is painting it – a feverishness of death and beauty.”

10. Willem de Kooning: “…staggering…”

11. Lee Krasner: “Picasso’s Guernica floored me. When I saw it first at the Dudensing Gallery, I rushed out, walked about the block three times before coming back to look at it.”

12. Clement Greenberg, writing in Picasso at Seventy-Five in 1957: “Guernica is the last major turning point in the evolution of Picasso’s art. Bulging and buckling as it does, this huge painting reminds one of a battle scene from a pediment that has been flattened under a defective steam-roller.”

13. Inigo Cavero, Spain’s Minister of Culture, welcoming the painting to its new permanent home (from MOMA) in 1981: “Guernica is a scream against violence, against barbarism, against the horrors of war, against the denials of civil liberties that an armed insurrection implies.”

What Money Can Buy

The New Yorker’s ‘Style’ issue has two especially interesting pieces. The first is “The Alchemist: Tobias Meyer and the art of the auction,” about this 43-year-old Sotheby’s wunderkind. The article’s author is with Meyer as he meets a loaded (but low-key and wrinkled) collector who’s interested in a large, abstract Anthony Caro sculpture that was set to be on the block later that evening.

Meyer and the collector shook hands and drifted toward the Caro, an eleven-foot-long, seven-foot-high assemblage of construction-site girders bolted and welded together and painted army green. Meyer, gazing at the sculpture, said, in a low rumble, 'It’s amazing.’

A long paragraph later:

The collector’s wife entered the gallery and approached the sculpture. Meyer kissed the woman’s cheek. Then he receded a few paces and leaned against a doorjamb, crossing his legs at the angle.

'It’s amazing,’ the man said to his wife.

Perfectly told. The issue’s second highlight is Ben McGrath’s “The Utopians: Yaddo meets Club Med,” about the spirited attempts of a loaded and relatively young couple – Boykin Curry and Celerie Kemble – to “turn a Dominican retreat into a creative Eden.” It’s called Playa Grande, and it cost Curry just $50 million. There are other investors, Moby and Charlie Rose among them. I can’t locate the New Yorker piece online, but here’s the New York Post following up. As it mentions, one of Curry’s first three capital investments was the purchase of the complete Penguin Classics Library Collection ($8,000; free shipping). Should the lucky couple be unable to visit their paradise on a given a weekend, they’ll just have to do with their ridiculous view of Central Park.

Feeling Minnesota

T. and I just returned from a terrific weekend in Minneapolis, where my older brother and his family are happily planted. Highlights (excluding hanging with the kids, which is the coolest – two jr. hockey games in two days): the Walker Art Center, whose stellar collection (Rothko, Warhol, de Kooning, Close, Kline, Newman, plus newbies like Julie Mehretu) well outdid its talked-about renovation, and whose pre-fab exhibit let me learn even more about Missouri-based Rocio Romero’s LV house, which I’ve been looking longingly at for half a year; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which offered, among other things, Gustave Caillebotte’s Nude on a Couch, John Singer Sargent’s The Birthday Party, and Edouard Manet’s The Smoker, but whose Woman By The Sea (Picasso), Three Bathers (Matisse) and The Living Room(Balthus) were, sadly, not on view; and Bellanotte, a way hip and stylish fine-dining experience we’re not exactly treated to every day. For the drive home: Minnesota’s own Low, who are visiting Madison in April. (Speaking of: there’s an interview w/ Alan Sparhawk at today’s Pitchfork. He seems to be improving, life-wise, which is a good thing indeed.)

Random Offerings Upon Return

I’ve been lame in posting lately, so here’s an attempt at playing catch-up:

I recently watched “Tarnation,” which was tremendous (opening with Low’s “Laser Beam” didn’t hurt its chances of making an impression on me); “In Good Company,” which was decent; “The Upside of Anger,” which I didn’t finish; “Broken Flowers,” which hit its own minor notes with integrity but which I think is overrated; “Mondovino,” which was a bit jittery and amateurish but offered a compelling glimpse into the old-vs-new wine conflict; Ingmar Bergman's  “Saraband,” which was depressing but quite good; and “Jay Z: Fade to Black,” which was terrific. Man, he’s impressive.

My friend Anders Smith Lindall, a Chicago-based rock critic, has written a really nice piece on lyric-writing for The Loft Literary Center. His look at Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan is particularly interesting.

Last night I was interviewing the writer Stephen Grace, a former St. Louisan, and he brought up the writer (and former book editor) Tom Bissell. I remembered Bissell’s name from The Believer, but even more from a long essay he wrote for the Boston Review called “Unflowered Aloes: Why Literary Success Is a Matter of Chance, Not Destiny.” I highly recommend it. I haven’t yet read Grace’s novel, “Under Cottonwoods,” but I intend to. Anyone whose favorite novel is “Suttree” gets at least one gold star in my book.

I’ve spent almost no time at the somewhat new blog shared by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, but I dug these photographs of the installation of Richard Serra’s “Joe,” which I never tire of experiencing from the inside.

In an attempt to balance out my literary consumption with books on other subjects, I’m 100 pages into Brian Greene’s “The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality.” Some days it goes okay. Other days (“No one has ever directly seen a probability wave, and conventional quantum mechanical reasoning says that no one ever will”) are less promising.

The Exotic Midwest

Continuing on a theme touched on below, here’s a brief bit from an interview between Walker Arts Center curator Philippe Vergne and Minneapolis-based artist Todd Norsten, published in a recent issue of that institution’s magazine:

Todd Norsten: You once told me you thought Minneapolis was one of the most exotic places you could live. Why is that?

Philippe Vergne: When I moved from France, I only knew the West Coast and the East Coast. Arriving in Minneapolis, I was totally caught off guard by the culture, the weather, the way people live, the way an institution works here. I do believe the Midwest would also seem ‘exotic’ to a New Yorker. This is genuine America to me. New York still smells like Europe. Professionally, it was also very different from what I knew in Europe about publicly run institutions, notions of 'public service,’ and the social contract with audiences. I was also very impressed by the level of true curiosity people here have for culture, without being under any hipness phenomena. I have the feeling that people have real expectations for art and culture here, and not only is that expectation high, but there’s no patience for what seems surface-oriented.

I really need to get up there to see the new expansion.

Spaces for Art

Those interested in both art and architecture are encouraged to check out the June/July Art in America, which includes the following article by Douglas Davis: “The Museum of the Third Kind: In which the author envisions new directions for the art museum as audiences change, architecture evolves, institutions subdivide and electronic resources expand our capabilities and expectations.” Davis’s primary statement is that “we should move ahead – toward structures that are cerebral, interactive, quick to change or modify their forms with every new show.” Modify how much?

“I will not be surprised to find rakish vanguard museums adopting the ‘mutable screen’ storefronts and walls already seen in Times Square, changing throughout the day, perhaps altering imagery or message to accord with the latest exhibition or performance inside, perhaps responding visually to faces and voices on the street.”

The “Third Kind” of the article’s title follows the “First Kind,” which meant the private collections of popes and kings, and the “Second Kind,” which Davis calls “the vigorously public museum,” from the Louvre and continuing to the Guggenheim. “Briefly put,” he states, “'Third Kind’ connotes a protean, de-centered museum that gives primacy to its program, not its material condition or geographical place.”

The article has a few interesting historical nuggets (“When the Louvre opened to the public, captions placed on the wall were revolutionary instruments of democracy”), and the tone is enthusiastic, not crotchety. I do have to wonder how much more difficult it’ll be to fund new $200-million museum buildings when they’re being described as “de-centered.”

Two of the author’s points – that access to art makes us hungry for more; and that more institutions will be devoted to the relationship between the art-makers and their public – made me think of an experience I had a few weeks ago. I’d been reading Alex Ross’s blog “The Rest Is Noise,” where the New Yorker critic was revisiting Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time,” which he wrote about last year and which my brother bought me a year before that. Ross was pointing his visitors to the site of pianist Jeremy Denk, who had just published a long and emotional post about playing the strange and beautiful work a night or so earlier. In this instance, both of Davis’s hoped-for scenarios for museums – more information; greater connection to the art-production – are happening, in a personal and insightful way, in this world of blogs. Just a thought.

Odds & Ends: Art From All Over

I think I’ve seen every Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis exhibition since the institution opened in 2003. My favorite so far is Yoshitomo Nara: Nothing Ever Happens, which I caught over the weekend. I flipped through a binder of reviews while I was there, and one critic described the artist’s work as “charmingly demonic.” Right on. The colors are soft and beautiful, the figures’ limbs all rounded, but the expressions on these little girls and dogs are all Up Yours and Yeah Right and Just Wait. It’s the most I’ve smiled at something so menacing.

The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, next door to the Contemporary, is still inspiring to walk through no matter how often you’ve been or what’s on view. I preferred last summer’s Art and the Spiritual to the current Brancusi and Serra In Dialogue show, but time spent there is always calming and affirming.

Movies: “Million Dollar Baby” was surprisingly moving. The Iranian film “Crimson Gold” was memorable if unexciting and without much emotion. “Heaven,” written by “Three Colors” co-writers Krzysztof Kieslowski (R.I.P.) and Krzysztof Piesiewicz and directed by the German Tom Tykwer, was exceptional. I wrote my grad-school thesis on the “Three Colors” trilogy and for some reason hadn’t gotten around to watching “Heaven,” which was the first part (and the only completed part) of a planned trilogy on Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. I can’t imagine admirers of Kieslowski’s films not deeply enjoying this one. Tykwer brings KK’s visual spirit to the screen, but he remains his own director. He’s aided by Estonian composer Arvo Part, whose “Alina” – which I first heard in Gus Van Zant’s “Gerry” – plays throughout.

I came across this nice bit of text reading “The National Gallery Review: April 1999 - March 2000.” The writer’s reporting on the exhibition “Rembrandt by Himself,” noting the press’s reaction:

At an even higher pitch, Adrian Searle in the Guardian turned his attention to the room in which the late self portraits were gathered, including paintings from Vienna, Washington, Cologne, Amsterdam and the great Self Portrait with Two Circles from Kenwood House: “I can think of no other room of paintings in the world at this moment … so moving and disquieting as the central gallery of the Rembrandt show, containing the self portraits of the last half of his career. Standing in this room, I realized that you can’t review Rembrandt. Rembrandt reviews you.”