latest articles and reviews

Bernard Berenson’s Brief Detour

19 July 2017 ~ Wall Street Journal
Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 12.24.10 PM
detail of a painting in a 1427 anthology of treatises made for Prince Baysunghur –

In the early 1900s, Paris was suddenly abuzz over Persian paintings, jewel-like and exotic, ensconced like treasures inside manuscripts and albums. And thanks in part to the upheavals of the 1908-09 civil war in Iran, more and more were arriving in Europe, where dealers routinely sold them folio by painted folio. Even Bernard Berenson, the expert in Italian painting, was drawn to them, acquiring a small collection of Persian paintings and manuscripts mostly between 1910 and 1914. They have been lent by the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies at the Villa I Tatti, Berenson’s former home in Florence.  read more 

Finding Meaning in the Scraps

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detail of bapo painting by Zhu Wei, late 19th-early 20th century (MFA, Boston)
3 July 2017 ~ Wall Street Journal

When Nancy Berliner began to research the little-known genre of bapo painting, eyes rolled. It lasted from the mid-19th through the early 20th century and, to most scholars, it committed grievous sins. The paintings wer

e crassly commercial, as opposed to, say, works by scholar artists expressing erudition, wit and veiled commentary. The artists portrayed objects hyper-realistically, an approach dismissed as gimmickry by a tradition that valued distillation over representation. Not to mention their subject matter—bapo artists reproduced, quite literally, scraps.  read review

Come to See the Sound

15-16cent statue of saint and poet Milarepa listening
15th-16th century statue of poet and saint Milarepa
26 June 2017 ~ Wall Street Journal

We all know that music is sound and sound is vibration. But unless we’re at a rock concert getting our rib cages rattled by the percussion, most of us generally associate listening with the delicate mechanisms in our ears. By the same token, rarely do we engage with a statue or painting with more than our eyes. A bold and engaging show at the Rubin Museum of Art gives us the chance to broaden our understanding and experience of art.  read review

The Keir Collection of Islamic Art at the Dallas Museum of Art Review

3 May 2017 ~ Wall Street Journal

20170413_112311In the spring of 2014, crates arriving from London at the Dallas Museum of Art marked the start of a 15-year, renewable loan of almost 2,000 objects. Made between the seventh and the 19th centuries in Muslim societies from the Mediterranean to India, they include ceramics with glazes of deep blue-green and lustrous gold; illuminated manuscripts and miniature paintings; bronze vessels decorated with silver and copper inlay; flasks made of rock crystal as transparent as ice; and textiles rich with scenes and patterns. Assembled by Edmund de Unger (1918-2011), the trove is considered one of the world’s finest private collections of Islamic art.  read more

Whose Painting Is It Anyway?

13 April 2017 ~ Wall Street Journal
Blossoms 14
detail from “Cherry Blossoms at Yoshiwara”

Seldom does a show subvert expectations as subtly and deftly as “Inventing Utamaro: A Japanese Masterpiece Rediscovered” at the Smithsonian’s Freer-Sackler. The somewhat ambiguous title seems to herald definitive information about the three large-scale paintings filling the central gallery. Instead, the show highlights the controversy over their authorship, leaving us to ponder whether Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) himself might not be the masterly creation in question.  read review



Preservation Warriors

5 December 2016 ~ Christian Science Monitor

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-12-12-42-pm. . . .  Since humans first painted on cave walls and chipped stone into objects, they have seen their handiwork succumb to floods, earthquakes, and, in recent centuries, the incessant march of industrialization and modernity. Today, additional destructive elements are also rasping away at the past – from terrorists to global warming. In the first 10 years of this century, UNESCO added 17 cultural sites to its List of World Heritage in Danger. In the past six years, that number jumped to 27 and, for the past decade, the WMF has been so alarmed at the devastation wreaked by war and natural disasters that it has begun including entire countries, such as Iraq and Nepal, on its biennial watchlist of sites.

Experts agree that, as Randall Mason of the University of Pennsylvania puts it, preservation is “not just a kind of artistic interest of rich people.” All of us are preservationists, he says. We pass down family Bibles, an ancestor’s pocket watch, the letter a great-grandmother received from the old country. Social groups, too, have what scholars call a collective memory that is associated with their physical surroundings. The legacy of monuments, buildings, and old town squares informs our very identities. . .  read full article


2 thoughts on “latest articles and reviews

  1. For some reason I always found myself hanging out with minority students as an undergraduate. In the sixties there was not a lot of integration on the Lutheran college campuses Iattended and being a bit of an outcast myself I identified to a small degree with their apparent anxiety over the problems of assimilation on a white campus. The programs you wrote about would have made an incredible difference in their lives, I’m sure. When I was a graduate student, however, I noticed that one possible effect of a growing population of minorities in college in many courses was a “watering-down” of the material being taught. Those courses that retained a high level of academic expectation were deserted quickly by students who dropped out of such classes in droves. When I returned to school later to earn a secondary degree I found many such classes apparently eliminated from the course options altogether. I am sure that there were many factors behind these changes besides the changes in the student population, but I can not help but think from my personal experiences that our general curriculum might be slowly watered down to ensure student success. Western literature and culture seems to be slipping away, in my opinion, at an alarming rate. I fully acknowledge the need for all people of every ethnic heritage to receive a college education, Indeed, our nation depends on it.. I am also aware of the personal struggles that may plague students from different socio-economic backgrounds and applaud the steps being made to help them succeed in college programs. I also pray that our schools do not become mere training centers for specialized careers and that the liberal arts are not totally eliminated from college and university curriculums in order to made the road to a degree a little smoother for students who for various reasons are not sufficiently prepared academically to meet the abstract thinking skills such courses may require.

    1. Your concerns are shared by many and most valid. By all accounts, in Prof Hogan’s biology classs (the opening example I give in the piece) , the material stayed exactly the same; all that the professor changed were her teaching methods. It is of course easier to test for this in the sciences than it is for liberal arts classes where the quality of essays and discussions (breadth of knowledge, critical analysis, etc) is key. I am interested in seeing what a current study headed by Howard Gardner reveals about Liberal Arts programs (

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