This week, I’m casting the pod with a congeries of crack art critics from The New Criterion: James Panero, Benjamin Riley and Andrew Shea. In the background, instead of sleigh bells and carol singers, you can dimly hear the smashing of plates and the roar of laughter as The New Criterion’s Christmas party gets under way. Meanwhile, the Three Scrooges of art criticism, warmed by the heat of single microphone, say ‘Bah! Humbug!’ to critical fashion. Like all critics, these three have their convictions, but they can plead extenuating circumstances. For this was a vintage year for great drawing and painting.
2018 began with two excellent shows at the Met in New York, Michelangelo’s drawings and the first Delacroix exhibition in decades. As James Panero notes, Michelangelo is ‘sculptural’ on paper. James also explains what that means, and how you don’t know Delacroix until you’ve seen his paint up close. Andy Shea, meanwhile, makes the case for another artist of the flesh, Chaim Soutine, whose flayed animals were shown at the Jewish Museum at the same time as his studies of the human animal were shown at the Courtauld in London.
Ben Riley has been following the auctions, and notes that while ‘Corot’s Women’ was a success at the National Gallery in Washington DC, a Corot went for only $60,000 at auction earlier this month, while a portrait of horse flesh by Sir Alfred Munnings went for $307,000, ten times its reserve price. Our tipster reckons it’s a racing cert to put your smart money into Munnings.
By midway through the podcast, the banter is flying faster than the paint in Jackson Pollock’s barn. Is Jerry Saltz, recently featured on the cover of New York magazine, a failed artist but a successful critic, or is it the other way round? Is Panero coughing because he has TB, or was it induced by the prospect of the Boston MFA’s Toulouse-Lautrec show? Who was in and who was out in the major museums this year? And is Andy Shea really caught using his cellphone in the middle of a podcast?
Our survey of 2018 ends, and 2019 begins, with Tintoretto, whose 500th anniversary fell in 2018. A pair of advance parties are already here — a drawings show at the Morgan Library and a small exhibition of portraits at the Met — but the main body arrives in the spring, with the first major American exhibition of Tintoretto. By this point in proceedings, the noise of bohemian revels from next door was becoming unbearable. You can hear the critics getting thirsty as they prepare to join that stratum of literary society described by Anthony Powell as ‘professional topers, itinerant bores, near-criminals’. It is a testament to the high critical standards of The New Criterion that my guests waited for the outro music to play, to cover the noise as they bolted for the door.