Becoming an Art Critic

April 13th, 1978
The Shahnameh

In 1979, an 11th century Persian poem with 50,000 rhyming couplets, illu­mi­nated by tiny paintings in exquisite colors made from crushed jewels and insects’ wings, inspired my first story about art. For the next 20 years, I wrote, published, and broadcast hundreds of Stories about Art in Boston and beyond. This is how it all began.

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Claude Le Lorrain

April 1st, 1980
Claude Lorrain, Apollo And The Muses On Mt Helicon, 1628

CLAUDE LE LORRAIN depicts the moment just before trans­fig­u­ration — the moment just before women turn into goddesses, or girls turn into swans, or life turns into art. His light is dusk and twilight — the darkling light that washes the physical world in unearthly beauty and fills the heart with an intox­i­cating sense of possibility.

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Gabriele Munter: From Munich to Murnau

November 1st, 1980
Gabriele Munter, "Breakfast with Birds," 1934

A woman sits thinking, resting her head on her hand in a room filled with flowers and fruit. The room seems charged with meaning, filled with her extra­or­dinary presence. For GABRIELE MUNTER, art was not about appear­ances, but about real­ities lying behind appear­ances. Abstraction was a way of seeing into the heart of things.

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Ingres 1780 – 1980

December 1st, 1980
J.A.D. Ingres, "Odalisque avec Eslave," Fogg Art Museum

For a twentieth-century audience brought up on abstraction, INGRES’s greatness, his fasci­nation, lies in the abstract qual­ities of his line, its restless, obsessive movement across the page. Ingres’ line has power, grace, life; it’s bril­liant, dramatic, neurotic, even perverse. He told his students, “Drawing is every­thing; it is all of Art.”

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Frances Hamilton: Books and Painted Stories

February 1st, 1981
1001 Nights

FRANCES HAMILTON has refash­ioned much-loved images, memories, and dream­strans­forming them into a fully re-imagined universe. It is this trans­for­mation – the serious, difficult task of art – that gives her work its power to enchant.

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Work on Paper

February 1st, 1981
Philip Guston, Artist in his Studio 1969,

Each rectangle is like a picture of a picture, moving through a series of trans­for­ma­tions. The tremulous drawings are like jottings, hiero­glyphics, messages in bottles, unreadable post­cards, ideas coming into being, the first appear­ances of the not-yet-visible, the impal­pable images taking form before our eyes.

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The Dial: Arts and Letters in the 1920s

April 1st, 1981
Matisse, Nasturtiums and the Dance, 1912, Metropolitan Museum of Art

THE DIAL was a literary magazine that published T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, as well as repro­duc­tions of artworks collected by Schofield Thayer, a Henry Jamesian char­acter who went abroad in search of old knowledge and new art.

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Flora Natapoff

October 1st, 1981
Flora Natapoff, 1972.

The surface of a FLORA NATAPOFF painting is a place where battles have been fought, cities and temples built up and brought down, and on which there has been a wrestling with angels. The means of expression are abstract – marks on paper and scraps of paper that must always hold their own. But the energy to work comes from looking at some­thing that moves her.

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The Sketchbooks of Le Corbusier

December 1st, 1981
Fondation Le Corbusier, Paris

LE CORBUSIER created his own myth through the organic gener­ation of forms. His genius constantly renewed itself, pulling new phenomena into the orbit of his thought and recre­ating them in the purified, monu­mental yet human forms of his architecture.

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Kush: Lost Kingdom of the Nile

December 1st, 1981
Mask of Queen Malakaye, 6th century BC, MFA Boston

Red Sea shells and polished stones from the pyramid tomb of Queen Khensa — “great of charm, great of praise, possessor of grace, sweet of love” — and other trea­sures from KUSH, Lost Kingdom of the Nile. A medi­tation on Art, Time, and the ancient river.

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Sky Art Conference

January 1st, 1982
Steve Poleskie, smoke trails, 1983

Artists and scien­tists. working in neon, laser, steam, smoke, video, pyrotechnics, film, inflated and flying sculpture, and other celestial navi­ga­tions, cele­brate the sky as a medium of expression, trans­mission, and space.

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Otto Piene

May 1st, 1982
Otto Piene, Olympic Rainbow, Munich, 1972

As a very young man, OTTO PIENE saw the sky reflected in a sea at long last calm: “The feeling of being reborn has never left me.” Out of this rebirth came “a love for the sky, the desire to point at it, to show how beau­tiful it is, how it makes us live and feel alive.”

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The Drawings of Palladio

May 1st, 1982
Olympic The - The Stage, Vicenza

There is some­thing divine about his talent, some­thing compa­rable to the power of a great poet who, out of the worlds of truth and falsehood, creates a third whose borrowed exis­tence enchants us.”

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New Wave Painting

June 1st, 1982
psychedelic-furs-debut1

False masks of plastic beauty are among its moving targets. Desperate to survive the glis­sando of the word processor and the deadly lull of ordinary life, it rips to pieces the world’s fabric and its skin and puts it back together, obses­sively recre­ating from scraps and scrawls and marks and images the objects of its desire and its rage.

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Anne Neely/Robert Ferrandini

April 1st, 1983
Robert Ferrandini

Yet there is exhil­a­ration in the terror, the vertig­inous fall. These speedy, violent fantasies of destruction and chaos are tenderly, beau­ti­fully described. The drawings in graphite and linseed oil – the oil used wonder­fully as color – and the swirls of paint in eerie sea greens or fiery reds compose a balanced, painterly surface. The language of abstraction pulls us upward, as the images plunge us into the abyss.

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Michael Mazur

May 1st, 1983
Michael in his studio

In MICHAEL MAZUR’s hands, the Monotype was the perfect form to convey the multi­plicity of life in the natural world. The clearest, most lucid flowers are surrounded by a paler aura of other flowers, other summers, other inter­pre­ta­tions — a riot of reeds and flowers, organic growth, confusion, and decay. Revenants of images repeat like ghostly, half-remembered things.

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Henry Hobson Richardson

July 1st, 1983
HH Richardson portrait by Hubert von Herkomer

HENRY HOBSON RICHARDSON used the colors of the earth like paint, and handled stones and trees with a giant’s strength and a sculptor’s grace. The poetry of his archi­tecture makes the stones sing.

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More Than Drawing

March 1st, 1984
J.A.D. Ingres, Study for Portrait, 1847, Fogg Art Museum

Drawings as a picture making, story telling, dream machine. Drawings that dance, stretch, yearn, arch, and glide across the page. The plea­sures of looking emerge here not from what is observed but from how it is rendered; not the image but the artifice.

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Jean-Francois Millet: Seeds of Impressionism

June 1st, 1984
Millet, The Sower, 1850, MFA Boston

Jean-Francois MILLET saw a timeless beauty and sadness in life, in evenings dark and filled with color. “What I know of happiness is the quiet, the silence, that you can savor so deli­ciously, either in the forests, or in the fields,” he wrote.

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Renoir: A Lesson in Happiness

December 1st, 1984
Young Girl Reading. 1886. Oil on canvas. Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie, Frankfurt, Germany.

His hands were terribly deformed. Rheumatism had cracked the joints, bending the thumb toward the palm and the other fingers toward the wrist. Visitors who weren’t used to it couldn’t take their eyes off this muti­lation. Their reaction, which they didn’t dare express, was: ‘It’s not possible. With those hands, he can’t paint these pictures. There’s a mystery!’ The mystery was Renoir himself.”

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Robert Ferrandini

December 1st, 1984
The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951

ROBERT FERRANDINI’s early work featured flying saucers and monsters, imagery drawn from a 1950’s childhood spent watching science-fiction movies like When Worlds Collide and The Thing. In his new paintings of imag­inary land­scapes and seascapes, he has come to some kind of terms with his past and is ready to move on. His spaceship has finally landed in a world of his own making.

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Animal as Metaphor

April 1st, 1985
Lascaux Cave drawings

Artists look at animals: the romantic fantasy animal, the prim­itive art animal, the hidden drives animal, the whim­sical animal, the elemental animal, and other mythical beasts. As Walt Whitman wrote,
“I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long.”

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Radio Days

October 13th, 1985
Rebecca and Alexander, 1985

Some­thing magical happened when the micro­phone was turned on: all my doubts disap­peared. I developed the habit of reading every­thing out loud, so my writing became more natural and tuned into my voice. I had a huge audience. For the first time in my life, people were listening to what I had to say, and I loved it.

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Images of the Mind

May 19th, 1986
Daoji, Autumn landscape, 1671, Musee Guimet

Tao Chi was a prince who became a wandering Buddhist monk. His “Melan­choly Thoughts on the Hsiao and Hsiang Rivers,” captures the mood of the end of autumn. A lonely fishing hut is half-hidden by a few sparse trees; a flock of wild geese flies over a river. The callig­raphy echoes the flight of the birds and the quiver of the leaves. Without under­standing a word, we can feel the poetry.

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John Udvardy

November 2nd, 1987
udvardy bittersweeet memories 1987

Sculptor JOHN UDVARDY sees the aesthetic possi­bil­ities in an old whittled paddle or a forked birch branch, and he knows how to make a curve from a green sapling. But most of all, he brings to his mate­rials a feeling that every mark matters: every stick, every thread, every shell, every bone.

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Frances Hamilton: Pieces of Time

May 22nd, 1988
France Hamilton, Beastwood Trilogy, 1980

FRANCES HAMILTON’s art doesn’t come from the head; it comes from the hand and the heart. And that’s why a show of her work is always so rewarding. Her images stay with you, growing richer and deeper, as time goes by. They trigger memories. Major or minor, they touch a chord.

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Contemporary New England Furniture

June 1st, 1988
Judy McKie, Monkey Chair 1994

New England is now the center of an extra­or­dinary flour­ishing of tradi­tional crafts, espe­cially furniture, because some very talented artists have turned to crafts as a way out of the cynical and cerebral “endgame” that so much contem­porary art is playing today.

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Ritsuko Taho

December 14th, 1988
Ritsuko Taho, Duet, Permanent Sculpture Installation, Tokushima, Japan 1996

RITSUKO TAHO’s ever-changing instal­lation is a spare but elegant invi­tation to partic­ipate in a work of art, both literally and metaphor­i­cally – by bringing more leaves, and by making a leap of imag­i­nation that trans­forms a heap of trash on a vacant lot into a poem in silver and brown.

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The Situationists

January 28th, 1989
Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle

The Situ­a­tionists called for an art of excess, delirium, outrage, and social change. They believed that capi­talism had turned contem­porary life into a society of “spec­tacle” that its inhab­i­tants could only passively watch and consume. Situ­a­tionism would bring art out of the museums and into the streets, and sabotage the society of spec­tacle by creating situ­a­tions in which people could turn their own lives into a creative experience.

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Jesseca Ferguson: Distant Views and Forgotten Dreams

February 1st, 1989
Jesseca Ferguson

JESSECA FERGUSON’s construc­tions often contain old post­cards, which seem to have been sent from places that have long since disap­peared. Lost, ruined, or forgotten, they have left behind only pale and ghostly traces. Enshrined in little boxes, like the bones of saints in medieval reli­quaries, her work cele­brates the some­times mirac­ulous power of memory to transform the pain and complexity of real life into the stuff of dreams, and art.

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Anselm Kiefer

February 1st, 1989
Anselm Kiefer, Brunnhilde Sleeps, 1983, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Anselm Kiefer uses the language of modern art to rewrite the kind of grandiose nineteenth-century history painting that modern art rejected. He paints a raging elegy for the failure of reason and civi­lization to overcome the evil that is part of human nature. Yet for Kiefer, only the magic of art can build some­thing beau­tiful out of the wreck of reason and the failure of history.

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Simon Schama’s CITIZENS

March 7th, 1989
J.L.David, Madame Recamier, 1800, Louvre

CITIZENS, Simon Schama’s wonderful new book about the French Revo­lution, is espe­cially fasci­nating to people who care about Art, because it is in many ways a book about the power of images to transform the world.

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Courtly Splendor: Twelve Centuries of Treasures from Japan

March 21st, 1989
Calligraphy by Ono no Michikaze, Tokyo National Museum

The silvery glow of the moon and the flow of an under­ground river are reflected in sinuous callig­raphy that swoons down a page from 12th century book of poems, strewn with shim­mering silver roses: “True, I say nothing/ but the longing in my heart/ reaches out to you,/ secret as the constant flow of an under­ground river.”

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Roger Kizik

April 19th, 1989
Roger Kizik, The Boathouse, East Anglia, 1998, New Bedford Art Museum

ROGER KIZIK’s loopy, staccato line describes fishing boats with names like Frolic or Finast Kind, houses on the beach, the book he is reading or the tool he is using for fixing up his house or boat. The things in his drawings press in on him; they cluster around him, rich with hidden corre­spon­dences and secret messages, composing his life.

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Earth Day

May 7th, 1989
Robert Ferrandini, In Between a Corrosive State and a Disappearing Soul, 1989

It’s all coming from memory,” says ROBERT FERRANDINI. “From fairy tales, from childhood — from imag­ining. The way I see it, it’s the land­scape of the mind. Lots of land­scapes came to me from the movies. Fort Apache. Red River. Cheyenne Autumn. The Searchers. The idea of the search — which is what I do as a painter. I go into it. I search.”

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American Photography: 1839 – 1900

June 2nd, 1989
Marcus Aurelius Root, Edgar Allan Poe, 1848

The people in the portraits present anxious faces to the camera; having your picture taken was a serious business. The camera was enormous, bulky, and expensive; the process was time-consuming and myste­rious. Silvery and almost trans­parent, their delicate faces float on the shim­mering silver plates like ghosts.

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Adolph von Menzel

July 11th, 1989
Adolph Menzel - Clara Schumann and  Joseph Joachim

MENZEL’s drawings often show people and things as if they were turning into shadow, turning into smoke, dissolving into a cloud; just about to disappear. He said, “I early culti­vated the habit of drawing things as though I were never to see them again.”

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Mary Cassatt

July 14th, 1989
mary cassatt letter

In many of the prints, a woman’s face is partially obscured, either because of the way she has turned her head, or because she is holding some­thing in front of her face ‑‑ a hand, a letter, a child. This conveys a sense of mystery, a feeling that there are secret meanings and moments of tragedy and what Virginia Woolf called “ecstasy” — hidden in the texture of a woman’s daily life.

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Imperial Taste

July 24th, 1989
Imperial Taste

In the 12th century, the Emperor Quianlong, who was a also a poet, said, “I want color”. He got color: exquisite pale blues and greens that seem to float on the surface of the bowls’ smooth surfaces like clouds; purple splashes called “the sky at dusk”; and a pale cobalt blue that seems distilled from a serene and cloudless summer sky.

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Ed Ruscha

September 8th, 1989
Ed Ruscha, Hollywood, 1968

From the window of the studio ED RUSCHA had in the 1960’s, he could see a sign reading HOLLYWOOD. The big white letters are as flat an fake as an old, aban­doned movie set, crumpled and peeling, with some of the letters falling down. But Ruscha’s many images of that sign make it a real sign, luminous and charged with light.

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American Screenprints

September 26th, 1989
Andy Warhol, from 10 Marilyns

Many of the most memo­rable images of the sixties were silkscreen prints: Andy Warhol’s soupcans, Marilyns, and Jackies, Roy Lichtensteins’s day-glo brush­strokes on Ben-Day dots, Sister Corita’s Flower Power messages, Robert Indiana’s LOVE, and Ed Ruscha’s dazzling 1966 Standard Station, radiant and gleaming in the Cali­fornia light.

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My Day Without Art

December 4th, 1989
Day Without Art, photo Joe Wrinn

Standing at the center of the spiral, I see the backs of all the chairs facing away from me, and feel a tremendous shock of lone­liness and loss. Looking down from the balcony, I see that the chairs are the beginning of a spiral that could go on forever.

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Ruins at the Rose

December 8th, 1989
Meryl Brater, Form of Language, Rose SArt Museum 1994

The 80’s began with big, shiny, self-confident paintings, but they are ending with of shreds and tatters, and anxious premo­ni­tions of a ruined world. They reminded me of the ending of William Gibson’s science fiction novel Count Zero, when a bril­liant computer distills the few remaining frag­ments of a ruined civi­lization into exquisite little construc­tions. Or these lines from a Shake­speare sonnet; “bare, ruined choirs, where late the sweet bird sang”.

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Minor White

December 18th, 1989
Barn and Clouds, in the Vicinity of Naples and Dansville, New York 1955

MINOR WHITE’s photographs convey a sense that behind the visible world is another world — a world filled with meaning and magic. He was fasci­nated by photography’s ability to show what he called “things for what else they are.” He liked to quote the thirteenth-century German mystic Meister Eckhart: “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.”

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Yoko Ono

January 7th, 1990
Yoko Ono

Every viewer who chooses to partic­ipate will have a different expe­rience. For me, it was a moving medi­tation on loss, change, and getting a second chance. As one of the char­acters in William Faulkner’s novel The Wild Palms says, “Between grief and nothing, I will take grief.”

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Robert Whitman

January 14th, 1990
Laurie Anderson, Strange Angels

The canvas curled back like a white wave. The light turned red. Silhou­ettes of dancers moved through the white space like brush­strokes moving across a picture plane. The light turned white. The ceiling rippled and billowed. Silence. White light. I was taking notes, and the only sound I could hear was the sound of my own writing. It was over.

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Weston’s Weston: Portraits and Nudes

January 21st, 1990
Tina Modotti, Edward Weston, 1923

WESTON’s portraits of friends and lovers are so intense that their souls seem to flicker through their sensitive faces and expressive hands. But Weston’s Nudes are seen in nameless frag­ments, as cool and smooth as marble. You see their bodies, but their faces are turned away.

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Sophie Calle

January 24th, 1990
Sophie Calle

SOPHIE CALLE borrows elements from detective novels, philo­sophical inves­ti­ga­tions, the film noir, the nouveau roman, docu­mentary photog­raphy, love letters, art movies, B-movies, John Cage’s theories of randomness, and Joseph Beuys’s actions. She combines them in star­tling ways, as medi­ta­tions on the myste­rious spaces between self and other.

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The Cone Collection

January 28th, 1990
Henri Matisse. Purple Robe and Anemones. 1937. The Baltimore Museum of Art

The CONE sisters collected art because they loved it and wanted to live with it. Their art collection became an emblem of their secret selves — a vision of the richness of their inner lives. Many of the images here show women the same expression on their face — a look of contentment, completeness, and self-fulfillment.

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The Grand Tour

January 28th, 1990

Light as a whisper, these elegant images, in the delicate style known as ROCOCO, convey the “sweetness of life” before the Revo­lution. Some­thing of the warmth of the artist’s hand still lingers in all the little jabs and touches of chalk or ink that make up these deli­cious little 18th century drawings and prints.

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Textile Masterpieces

February 8th, 1990
John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Boit, 1882, MFA Boston

Rugs and blankets, shrouds and shawls: textiles touched the lives of the people who lived with them. Slum­bering in store­rooms, rolled up and protected from light, these textile master­pieces have kept their vibrant colors and some­thing of their human warmth. Now, unfurled, they look like magic carpets, poised to rise.

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The Starn Twins

February 18th, 1990
Mike and Doug Starn

It can be fright­ening, but that’s life,” said Doug. “Art is part of life,” said Mike. “It’s a real part — it’s the essence of life,” said Doug. “There’s no reason to make it perfect,” says Doug. “We want to show the physical nature,” said Mike. “The physical nature,” said Doug. “Of every­thing, but in particular, Art,” said Mike.

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Gyorgy Kepes

March 10th, 1990
Kepes, Untitled, Oil and Sand, 1989

GYORGY KEPES paints with a mixture of oil paint and sand, which gives his work a rough, earthy texture. He likes to tell the story of Antaeus, a hero who was the son of Mother Earth and could never be defeated as long as he touched the earth. Painting with sand is Kepes’s way of touching the earth.

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Lou Jones: Sojourner’s Daughters

March 23rd, 1990
Lou Jones

LOU JONES’s portrait of a musician shows a beau­tiful old woman with strong hands and a clear, untroubled face. You can feel that she’s listening to music; there’s a visionary gleam in her eyes. Her portrait is juxta­posed with a faded daguer­rotype of a 19th century singer known as the Black Swan.

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Farewell Concert

March 29th, 1990
The Concert by Jan Vermeer

I loved THE CONCERT, the beau­tiful little painting by VERMEER. Each time I looked at it, I saw some­thing new. Now it’s gone. I try to remember every line, every shadow, every gleam of light, every sweet cadence of its silent music, but I can already feel it fading. As time goes by, it will darken and grow dim.

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David Salle/Imitation of Life

March 29th, 1990
Imitation of Life

One of DAVID SALLE’s favorite movies is Douglas Sirk’s IMITATION OF LIFE. In one scene, all the char­acters are jammed into a taxi, watching a funeral through the windows. In Salle’s paintings, too, many different things are happening at once, every­thing is crammed together, nothing seems finished, every­thing is seen in reflection or juxta­po­sition or through a filter or a pane of glass, and all of the contra­dic­tions are left unresolved.

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Gene Kelly

April 24th, 1990
Singin' in the Rain, 1952, MGM

GENE KELLY was a great dancer because his dancing seemed to be an overflow of his superb vitality — a natural extension of his person­ality. In all his movies, the tran­si­tions to dance are incredibly smooth, because even when he’s not dancing he’s thinking about dancing – his athletic body is flexed and limber– and he’s ready to roll, even on an empty set with 500,000 kilo­watts of electric light mimicking stardust and a giant fan creating the sensation of a moon­light breeze.

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Monet in the ’90’s: The Series Paintings

April 30th, 1990
Monet in the 90's

In painting after painting, the earth moves and the water swoons and the sky tumbles and all the blues and pinks and purples and reds and oranges dissolve into one. Earth and water come together, again and again, and explode in a symphony of light and color and air.

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Shaker Spirit Drawings

May 1st, 1990
Hannah Cohoon, Tree of Light

In the nine­teenth century, women in Shaker commu­nities recorded their visions of heavenly gardens in “spirit” or “gift” drawings — simple gifts that speak to the heart. The words, written in tiny, spidery hand­writing, are faded and almost illegible, but the little birds and hearts and flowers make the feelings clear.

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A California Dream

May 15th, 1990
Palisades Park jpeg

The places we have known do not belong only to the world of space on which we map them for our own conve­nience. None of them was ever more than a thin slice, held between the contiguous impres­sions that composed our life at the time; the memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.”

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Robert Rauschenberg

May 22nd, 1990
Rauschenberg- Scenarios

Great art cheats death of its victory by trans­forming memory’s fragile frag­ments into some­thing lasting, precious, and incor­ruptible. The ghostly white porch is a window to a world beyond flesh and paint — a world without sorrow or substance, color or weight. It is cool, pale, and white as a bone.

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Jean Arthur

May 30th, 1990
Jean Arthur

On film, JEAN ARTHUR is impulsive, but truthful ‑‑ true to the moment, while the moment lasts. She is chaste, but not prudish; she truly inhabits her small, athletic body, and she moves like a dancer with an easy natural volup­tuousness. Her soft, gravelly voice is aston­ishly expressive. And some of her greatest lines aren’t words at all, but an aston­ishing reper­toire of whimpers, sighs, sobs, giggles, and moans.

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Madame de Pompadour

June 1st, 1990
Francois Boucher, Madame de Pompadour, National Gallery of Art,Scotland

Madame de Pompadour always managed to look graceful, even in the most constricting clothes — corsets, bustles, and stays. Like Madonna, she created a Look that was supremely arti­ficial — the powdered hair, the heavily applied make-up, the elab­orate gowns. Like Madonna in her John-Paul Gaultier bustiers, La Pompadour in her negligée proudly displayed her sexu­ality as the source of her power.

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Censorship and the Arts

June 9th, 1990
Goya, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

It takes a lot of courage to be an artist. All kinds of things get in the way, but the thing that gets in the way the most is fear. That’s why the threat of censorship is so dangerous to Art. Art helps us to see the beau­tiful — and also to face the ugliness in life. Artists need to be free to show us the world as they see it — to tell it like it is.

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Judy Kensley McKie and Todd McKie

June 15th, 1990
Judy McKie, American Craft Magazine

In 1969, TODD and JUDY MCKIE painted banners with the signs of the Zodiac for Wood­stock, which people pulled down to use as tents and blankets in the rain. Judy began making furniture in the early 70s to furnish their apartment. One day she impul­sively carved two crouching figures into the arms of a butcherblock couch.

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Louis Cartier

June 22nd, 1990
Ginger Rogers

LOUIS CARTIER used precious metals and jewels in a highly polished, sparkling, and yet almost casual way way — the way Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced. The shimmer of dozens of tiny diamonds on a cool platinum surface is the essence of sophis­ti­cation –- like a Cole Porter song.

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Matt Mullican

July 6th, 1990
Matt Mullican, A Drawing Translates the Way of Thinking

Being inside MATT MULLICAN’s instal­lation is like being inside Matt Mullican’s mind — a dizzying expe­rience. He’s constantly clas­si­fying and re-ordering every­thing. “It’s the first time I’ve arranged my meaning as objects in space depicting my meaning,” he says.

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Martin Puryear

July 9th, 1990
Martin Puryear, Catalogue, MOMA

His falcons are elegant objects, yet they are also birds of prey. They are chained to a perch, dreaming of flight; perfectly at rest, yet poised to spread their wings and reach for the sky. His art conveys a sense of scraping away and discarding every­thing that is not essential — of trav­elling light, like a nomad, and soaring high, like a bird.

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Pierre Bonnard: Prints

September 1st, 1990
Bonnard, Verlaine, Parallelement

BONNARD’s art is an art of nuance and suggestion. His friend, the Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine, wrote:
“You must have music first of all,
and for that a rhythm uneven is best,
vague in the air and soluble
with nothing heavy and nothing at rest.”

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Barbizon

October 1st, 1990
Millet, The Gleaners, Musee d'Orsay

Barbizon was a place and a style — and also a feeling — a mood — a time of day — dusk, when the forms of things soften and the edges blur, and a kind of hush falls over the world. The earth is solemn, soft, and tender, like a bed — and some­times like a grave.

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Chuck Holtzman

November 7th, 1990
Chuck Holtzman, Untitled 2010

His sculpture is like a very sophis­ti­cated game of musical chairs, where all the pieces come together for a moment of perfect, precarious balance. In his drawings, the charcoal keeps on dancing, long after the music stops.

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Linda Connor

November 7th, 1990
Linda Connor, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, 2005

In LINDA CONNOR’s camera’s mystical eye, the world is filled with ancient sacred things. The same images repeat and recur in her body of work — spirals, veils, beams of light shining into a dark place, open doors, closed eyes, hands — but each time you see them, they mean some­thing different. Each time you see them, they mean some­thing more.

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A Tribute to Kojiro Tomita

November 8th, 1990
Chu Ta, 1626-1705

It is said that CHU TA never spoke — but he laughed, cried, waved his hands, and drank rice wine most expres­sively while he painted. Every single touch of Chu Ta’s brush means some­thing. Every mark still matters. Hundreds of years later, you can still almost feel the movement of his hand — the bold drunken touch of his brush.

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The Unique Print

December 9th, 1990
Mary Frank, Fern,1986, MFA Boston

In monotype, there is no fixed image on the printing surface. The artist paints or draws on a printing plate, makes changes, and prints again; the final proof is an accu­mu­lation of all the changes that have been made. Pale, faded images of past impres­sions often cling to mono­types like shadows; they are called “ghosts.”

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Love and Death

December 14th, 1990
Ingres, Raphael and the Fornarina, 1812, Fogg Art Museum

The prayers were long, thin strips of paper or canvas, newsprint, photographs, or tinsel, embell­ished with drawings, paint, cut‑outs, dried roses, gold leaf, buttons, beads. Some were abstract; some had words; others had musical nota­tions written on them. One prayer was made from a piece of old, paint‑splattered blue jeans, with a peace symbol and love beads.

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Ilya Kabakov/Soviet Conceptual Art

January 6th, 1991
Ilya Kabakov , Phaidon

When you look up, all those frag­ments convey a vertig­inous sense of disin­te­gration, and decay. But when you look down, every­thing is compressed onto a single shiny surface, and it’s beau­tiful. All that debris — all that waste and pain — is trans­formed into art.

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Robert Wilson’s Vision

January 17th, 1991
Robert Wilson

ROBERT WILSON’S VISION is struc­tured like a journey — a journey that moves from morning to night — from white to black — from the past to the future — from birth to death. A journey that has no beginning and no end, but all takes place in a timeless, endless present.

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The Sound Artist: Hans Peter Kuhn

February 18th, 1991
Hans Peter Kuhn at the Mattress Factory

Sound art is more open and much closer to life than music. Music is a filtered expe­rience. I’m not a composer. I don’t want the emotional view bound or directed in any one direction. I want to keep it open. I’m always trying things out. I hear some­thing and I can pick it up and react in minutes. I’m inter­ested in every­thing that makes a noise.”

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When We Dead Awaken

February 21st, 1991
When We Dead Awaken at the ART

A neon blue river of light crosses the stage on a diagonal. A black mountain looms beyond, pierced by a stark white waterfall. The sculptor sits brooding on a rocky throne; an egg-shaped stone is pierced with a spear. Two Irenes enter, and lie on the ground, like stones. “You have killed my soul,” they cry. “I am an artist!” cries the sculptor. One Irene sits on the rock, like a statue. “I was a human being too.”

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The Future of Art

March 1st, 1991
Marion Parry, gouache for cover, Radcliffe Quarterly, 1991, Collection of Rebecca Nemser

It is art that acknowl­edges the struggle of its own making, and conveys a sense of life as composed of frag­ments, where not every­thing is legible, and some things are irrev­o­cably ruined or lost. The past haunts and enriches the present. Memory and imag­i­nation are inter­twined. It is a mirror of the soul.

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Guercino

March 14th, 1991
Guercino, Master Draftsman

GUERCINO drew like an angel — his gorgeous line curls across the page; his brush forms shadows that suggest a sense of the roundness and fullness of life. His best drawings are more than drawings — they are blessings, exquisite expres­sions of those moments when Art and Faith are one.

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Photography at the Boston Athenaeum

March 28th, 1991
The Boston Athenaeum

The Boston Athenaeum, a Library with gracious high-ceilinged rooms adorned with columns and all kinds of Graeco-Roman archi­tec­tural details, and filled with books and pictures, was built by 19th century Bosto­nians as a modern temple to Athena, Goddess of Wisdom.

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12th Annual Boston Drawing Show

April 13th, 1991
Gerry Bergstein, Entropy #3, 1992

GERRY BERGSTEIN’s drawings show scribbles, scrawls, crossings-out, angry re-workings, markings of struggle and doubt. From this chaos of marks on paper emerge luminous little still lives, marked by the process of decay: visions of a world in flux, where every­thing is changing, growing, living, dying, and being reborn.

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Rosemarie Trockel

May 25th, 1991
Rosemarie Trockel

All these images are oblit­erated, defaced, lost. It’s about those marginal, mundane expe­ri­ences that are for some reason signif­icant to her. There are certain things about her work that are myste­rious. They remain myste­rious. And she trea­sures that mysteriousness.”

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Fragments of Antiquity

June 21st, 1991
Standing Draped Woman from Myrina in the later 3rd century B.C

All that we know of Greece has come to us in ruins – armless, headless, faded, fallen, broken, battered, lost in trans­lation. What we have are frag­ments, frag­ments that have lost almost every­thing – except their poetry. But, gener­ation after gener­ation, that poetry has never lost its thrilling, visionary gleam.

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Dream Lovers

July 12th, 1991
Berthe Morisot by Edouard Manet, 1872, private collection, Paris

When Berthe Morisot met Édouard Manet at the Louvre in 1867, he was 36 years old and married; she was ten years younger and still living with her parents at home. She was lively, intel­ligent, charming, talented. He was bril­liant, difficult, fickle, famous, fasci­nating. She had long admired him from a distance; he imme­di­ately wanted to paint her portrait.

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Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun

July 19th, 1991
Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun

Madame Vigee-Lebrun revo­lu­tionized the portrait. She despised the powder and stiff clothes that women wore; she let their hair down, and draped them in soft, flowing shawls and painted them looking soft, dreamy, natural, alive. Her paintings helped to create a new look, a new style, a new attitude to life in pre-revolutionary Paris.

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John Singer Sargent’s EL JALEO

August 28th, 1991
J.S. Saargent, El Jaleo, 1882, ISGM

In a dark, smoky room, a solitary dancer raises up her arm in a tense, ecstatic movement of inspi­ration; her other hand clutches the skirt of her dress — a flash of white light gleaming in the dark. You can almost hear the rhythmic weeping of the guitars; you can almost feel beating of the dancer’s tumul­tuous heart.

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Pleasures of Paris

September 6th, 1991
Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt at the Louvre, 1879, MFA Boston

in a moment, the door will swing back shut, and the cafe will disappear, and then the street singer will vanish, into the street, into the night, never to be seen again. Only here, in this painting, where she is forever caught in the golden net of the Paris night at the moment when she stepped out through the swinging door, onto the street, and into our dreams.

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Busch-Reisinger Museum

September 14th, 1991
Max Beckmann, The Actors, 1942, HUAM

A crowded stage, and all the players on it. A king, wearing a crown, stabs himself in the heart. A woman looks at her reflection in a mirror, next to a statue of a Greek god. Modern men and women read the news­paper, talk, flirt, and fight with real knives. MAX BECKMANN’s The Actors aims to encompass all of Art and Life in thick, sure slashes of paint.

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Lazlo Moholy-Nagy’s Light-Space Modulator

October 4th, 1991
Lazlo Moholy Nagy, LIght Space Modulator, 1922

When the “light prop” was set in motion for the first time in a small mechanics shop in 1930, I felt like the sorcerer’s apprentice. The mobile was so star­tling in its coor­di­nated motions and space artic­u­la­tions of light and shadow sequences that I almost believed in magic.”

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El Corazon Sangrante/The Bleeding Heart

November 1st, 1991
Frida Kahlo with Hummingbird Necklace

FRIDA KAHLO’s Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird shows her in a jungle with butter­flies in her hair and a hummingbird dangling from a thorn necklace that pierces her neck, drawing small red drops of blood. “I never painted dreams,” she said. “I painted my own reality.”

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Paper Prayers/In the Spirit

December 19th, 1991
Jesseca Ferguson, Paper Prayer

Many of the artists here are of a gener­ation who rejected the conven­tional comforts of orga­nized religion — and now they find them­selves facing the inevitable mystery of death alone. They are re-inventing rituals that feel authentic to them and finding new ways to satisfy their spir­itual needs. Paper Prayers has become one such contem­porary healing ritual — a small congre­gation of artists gathered together In the Spirit.

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Bernd and Hilla Becher

December 21st, 1991
Berndt and Hilla Becher

Bernd and Hilla Becher photographed blast furnaces, water towers, power stations, and other indus­trial struc­tures, which they called “anonymous sculpture.” I thought of this show again when I first read W.G. Sebald’s books — myste­rious, elusive, and strangely moving.

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Camille Paglia

May 4th, 1992
camille

Moment by moment, night flickers in the imag­i­nation, in eroticism, subverting our strivings for virtue and order, giving an uncanny aura to objects and persons, revealed to us by artists.” “The sea, Dionysian liquid nature, is the master image in Shakespeare’s plays. It is the wave-motion within Shake­spearean speech which trans­fixes the audience even when we don’t under­stand a word of it.”

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Working Proof: Experimental Etching Studio

November 21st, 1992
working proof

Ten years ago, I spent a very happy summer working at Exper­i­mental Etching Studio, so I was delighted when the Boston Public Library invited me to help shape a conver­sation among a group of artists from this extra­or­dinary print­making cooperative.

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Goddesses, Empresses, and Femmes Fatales

October 31st, 1993
Sappho, photo Nicmi Erol

For the ancient Greeks, theater was a Dionysian ritual, and in the amphitheater of Pergamon, you can still feel that mythical intensity. The steep incline of the stone seats creates a tremendous focus of energy on the stage. When I stood at the center and sang, I felt my voice amplified, sound waves vibrating in the air.

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The Inferno of Dante

January 1st, 1995
Michael Mazur, Limbo, for Inferno, FSG

Dante’s vision of Hell is filled with terri­fying images of trans­for­mation, yet its ultimate horror is its change­lessness — the unre­pentant sinners whose punishment is to embody, forever, their sins. Centuries after its obscure Florentine villains have been forgotten, the poem still rings true as a drama of the inner life, because the heart of the poem is the hope that we can still be changed.

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Dialogue: John Wilson/ Joseph Norman

September 1st, 1995
John Wilson,  Martin Luther King, Jr., 2002  Courtesy of the artist and  Center Street Studio

JOHN WILSON is a clas­si­cally trained artist whose life’s work has been a search for enduring, spir­i­tually charged images of African-Americans. JOSEPH NORMAN weaves together all kinds of imagery into elab­orate compo­si­tions that are elegant, yet full of feeling. “For both of these artists, art remains an important way to think about what it means to be human and to have an inner life.”

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Judy Kensley McKie

December 2nd, 1995
Judy McKie, Ibis Ascending

Working in bronze, that most ancient and enduring of mate­rials, JUDY MCKIE’s work reveals the power of art to console and heal. Her Bird Fountain has the silent, soaring presence of great mourning monu­ments. “The water makes you feel calm and peaceful,” she says. “It’s nour­ishing. A life force.”

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Emma

January 1st, 1996
Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma

Hollywood has fallen in love with JANE AUSTEN. Her scripts feature snappy dialogue; her plots follow the classic formula of girl meets boy; girl loses boy; girl gets boy; her story lines move deli­ciously from chaos and confusion to harmony and delight. The latest is EMMA, played to perfection by GWYNETH PALTROW in Wedgwood colors, Empire dresses and pearl-drop earrings.

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Basquiat

January 2nd, 1996
basquiat

BASQUIAT captures the artist’s yearning and anguish, moments of bliss and the sheer physical pleasure of making art. His later descent into drugs, lone­liness, confusion and despair is truly tragic — you feel him pursued by the Furies of greed, racism, and disease, tracking him inex­orably down.

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Julian Schnabel

January 10th, 1996
Charlie Parker

The scene when BASQUIAT is painting — the Charlie Parker and Max Roach riff is from his record collection. It’s very heady at that moment…Success is when you’re making the work of art. The moment of perfect sonorous bliss.”

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Richard Linklater

February 1st, 1996
Suburbia

It’s unful­filled longing. It’s being young. Meet me at 20. I don’t know what I want to do. I kind of want to write. You want to be a artist, to express what’s going on in your life. It’s a way to lose yourself in your discontent. Otherwise you’d just go out and shoot and vandalize. Art is more internal.”

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Stephen McCauley

February 2nd, 1996
The man of the house

I suppose I read so many biogra­phies because I was trying to under­stand how people stumbled through their days and their failures and spun their miseries and despair into great art or path­breaking science or profound enlightenment.”

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Winslow Homer

March 2nd, 1996
Winslow Homer, Northeaster

WINSLOW HOMER spent most of his life fishing and painting, reeling in the deep, unfath­omable mystery of the sea. His pictures often show somebody gazing out to sea, concen­trating on some­thing no one else can see. Maybe it’s the light on the water, or the wind in the sails, or a boat coming home to shore, or just the flicker of a dream.

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Herman Melville

April 1st, 1996
Moby Dick, Rockwell Kent

Give me a condor’s quill! Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms! For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me, and make me faint with their out-reaching compre­hen­siveness of sweep, as if to include the whole circle of the sciences, and all the gener­a­tions of whales, and men, and mastodons, past, present, and to come, with all the revolving panoramas of empire on earth, and throughout the whole universe.”

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Mark Morris/Orfeo

April 11th, 1996
Corot, Orpheus leading Eurydice through the Underworld

It begins with a funereal chorus in the antique style, with cornetto and trom­bones. And then Orpheus comes in, lamenting his lost love, and sings one single word. Eurydice. He sings it three times. He doesn’t say much, but he says every­thing he needs to say, and the third time he sings it, it sends chills up your spine.””

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Beth Soll / Richard Cornell

April 29th, 1996
Beth Soll, photo Richard Grabbert, 1985

Dancer Beth Soll and Composer Richard Cornell are working together on a dance inspired by a book by West African poet Amadou Hampate Ba. “It’s a long tale, an initiatory allegory, a triumph of knowledge over fortune and power,” says Cornell. “A quest for God and wisdom,” says Soll.

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The Fire of Hephaistos

May 1st, 1996
bronzes

These ancient bronzes, which have long since lost their golden gleam, are still numinous frag­ments of a vanished world. One statue of young man was recently pulled out of a river; his pale sea-green body is scratched and scarred; but he is still a lovely apparition, reminding me of some lines from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”:
“Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea change
Into some­thing rich and strange.”

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Object as Insight: Japanese Buddhist Art and Ritual

June 1st, 1996
Amida Buddha, 11th century, San Francisco Asian Art Museum

Bodhisattvas with serene, all-embracing smiles; golden flower baskets for carrying lotus petals to purify a sacred space; ritual bronze chimes adorned with peacocks. “Each article is incredibly beau­tiful, but it’s only when all the articles come together, evoking the presence of the Buddha, that you can under­stand Buddhist art.”

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Florence Ladd

June 13th, 1996
Florence Ladd

The sea is a metaphor for trans­for­mation, the possi­bility of crossing over, for becoming someone else, for change,” says FLORENCE LADD. “Every time Sarah crosses the sea, it changes her. I believe in the uncon­scious and the way the uncon­scious enriches our inter­pre­ta­tions of life.”

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Larissa Ponomarenko

July 1st, 1996
Larissa Ponomarkenko, photo Guido Vitti

Ballet is all artifice; but she makes even the Snow Queen’s dazzling, delicate swirls seem easy and natural. From a distance, she seems fragile, ethereal. But up close, you can see the muscles in her limbs, her graceful neck, her flexible spine. The years of dedi­cation and disci­pline are sculpted onto her slender frame.

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Brain Opera

July 2nd, 1996
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, photo Richard Avedon, 2003

The beau­tiful, beloved voice of LORRAINE HUNT began to rise and spread out through the room, in sweet, sad layers of sound, accom­panied by a visual chorus of flashing colored lights, magi­cally trans­forming the empty, mechanical space into a few moments of unearthly beauty.

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Aretha Franklin/ Diana Ross

August 2nd, 1996
Aretha Franklin

When I was young, ARETHA FRANKLIN and DIANA ROSS repre­sented the two poles of women’s expe­rience. Diana’s sweet, lyrical voice cele­brated a woman’s capacity to abandon herself completely to love. Aretha’s “Respect” was the ultimate expression of a woman’s righteous anger and self-respect. Now I see them both as present-day embod­i­ments of ancient Goddesses, projecting dazzling images of beauty, power, glamour, self-possession, and grace.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

September 12th, 1996
Commonwealth Shakespeare Company

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is about a royal wedding, lovers lost in an enchanted forest, magic spells, and fairy sprites. But mostly it is about imag­i­nation. In the course of the play, as the char­acters move in and out of the world of dreams, certain words repeat over and over again: Fancy. Imag­i­nation. Dream. Vision. Trans­ported. Trans­figured. Transformed.

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The Eliminator

November 1st, 1996
The Eliminator

THE ELIMINATOR begins as a cop thriller, then turns into a spy movie, then a horror movie with flesh-eating zombies, then a mythical epic, and finally achieves tran­scen­dence with an ironic evocation of William Butler Yeats’ great line of poetry, “A terrible beauty is born.”

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Christopher Hogwood

December 1st, 1996
Portrait of Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck

CHRISTOPHER HOGWOOD has stopped conducting in the tradi­tional “stuffed shirt” tails and white tie; he now wears a black silk shirt. It gives him the air of an artist — or a monk. The Maestro’s new clothes are a metaphor for his approach to music: not a dusty, lifeless tradition, but some­thing authentic, full of meaning, and alive.

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Helen Pond and Herbert Senn

December 1st, 1996
Nutcracker Suite

Boston Ballet’s new Nutcracker sets are the work of a designing couple, Helen Pond and Herbert Senn, who live in a Gothic house in Yarmouthport which they have fully restored with Gothic carving, painted ceilings and “lots and lots of quadri­foils,” says Herbert. “We designed the house and the Nutcracker at the same time. Nutcracker is my life.”

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Boston Baroque: Abduction from the Seraglio

May 21st, 1998
Martin Pearlman conducts Boston Baroque

Mozart’s early opera, ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO starts out light and comic, grad­ually grows deeper, more melodic, and more profound, and ends in perfect harmony. He wrote in 1781, at the age of 25, bringing together elements of high art and melo­drama into a new form that tran­scends them both. “It was a break­though for Mozart,” says Martin Pearlman, conductor and director of the Boston Baroque.

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Paula Josa-Jones

August 1st, 1998
Paula Josa Jones, photo Pam White

It’s as if they were taking a journey through a land­scape and their eyes were caught by some­thing — a memory, or the fragment of a memory, or the memory of a past life — and that pulls them into the movement,” says PAULA JOSA-JONES of her new dance, GHOSTDANCE.

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John Singer Sargent

June 29th, 1999
Sargent, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, 1895, Tate Gallery

He was the preem­inent portrait painter of his day, and he gave it all up to paint land­scapes. His private life is a mystery. His brushwork is still dazzling. JOHN SINGER SARGENT seems to have walked out of the pages of a novel by Henry James, who wrote of him: “Yes, I have always thought of Sargent as a great painter. He would be greater still if he had done one or two little things he hasn’t — but he will do.”

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Vanity Fair

May 18th, 2004
Vanity Fair

Thackeray endows Rebecca Sharp — “that artful little minx — with all the qual­ities which make his own writing so delightful. He portrays Rebecca as an artist — the lost, bril­liant child of a singer and a painter, singing and dancing, scheming and dreaming her way though life.

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Tony Harrison/Fram

September 30th, 2008
Dr Fridtjof Nansen [Norwegian Polar Explorer]

Fram does rise up from the frozen world, uncrushed. The ship, the play, the “craft,” which is both the ship and poetry, sails on, forward, into the sacred space, where inspi­ration and despair — the song and the scream — can come together, and embrace.

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Hans Wegner/ The Bear Chair

October 20th, 2008
Hans Wegner's Bear Chair

Hans Wegner, the legendary Danish furniture-maker, always worked with natural mate­rials like wood and wool, and his furniture reflects both the natural world and abstract art; you can see traces of Brancusi and Picasso in it, as well as animals and trees. He designed more than five hundred chairs during his long and illus­trious career. One of them belongs to me.

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Meryl at the Rose

April 28th, 2009
Rose Art Museum

Hundreds of people came to MERYL BRATER’s Memorial Exhi­bition at the Rose Art Museum. We all believed that Meryl would live on at the Rose, and that many gener­a­tions to come would have the chance to know her through her art. To close the museum now would be a terrible blow to everyone who loved her – to everyone who trusted their treasure to the Rose.

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Postscript

May 15th, 2011
Rebecca on the Island

Thanks to all the Artists and Friends who inspired me along the Way.

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