latest reviews and articles

Cosmopolitan Creativity

2 October 2017 ~ Wall Street Journal

20170911_145501After four years of renovations, the Brooklyn Museum is gradually reintroducing its Asian and Islamic art collections to the public, starting with “The Arts of Korea.” It draws on some 600 Korean holdings, considered one of the largest and most varied museum collections of its kind in the U.S. And it is finally getting its due. Thanks to grants from the National Museum of Korea (part of a longstanding effort by South Korea’s government to showcase the country’s cultural heritage), the museum has more than tripled the size of its Korean installation and assigned it a prominent location: at the top of an open staircase with glass risers that connects the Great Hall off the main entrance to what will be, once completed, the new suite of Asian galleries.  (read review)

An Exalted Personnage Made Wholly Accessible

8 September 2017 ~ Wall Street Journal
Guanyin from about 1200, Jin dynasty

It seems absurd to marvel at a statue’s immobility. But in a larger-than-life figure at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, stillness comes across as a deliberate action. Reinstalled in 2016 after undergoing conservation, the sculpture portrays the bodhisattva of compassion, an enlightened being known as Avalokitesvara in India, where Buddhism originated, and in China as Guanyin. He appears, bejeweled, sitting as though at water’s edge with one leg dangling, the other drawn up, foot planted on the ground. Golden-skinned, he wears a crown, a red skirt that curls at the hem, and a green stole that encircles his shoulders and winds down his arms like a trailing vine. Originally surrounded by attendees, the sculpture now sits alone, the focal point in a dark-walled gallery showcasing works from China’s artistically influential Song dynasty (960-1279). (read review)

A Celebral Art Form That Went Delightfully Astray

28 August 2017 ~ Wall Street Journal


For some 200 years, Korean kings broadcast their heavenly mandate by sitting before a painted screen showing five mountains flanked by a red sun and a white moon. But King Jeongjo, who reigned from 1776 to 1800, invoked another source of authority: books. Besides amassing a large library and overseeing the publication of more than 4,000 books, he commissioned screens depicting bookcases brimming with tomes. Rising behind the throne, they reinforced an oft-expressed concern: People, he believed, should read Confucian and other classics; avoid romance novels, Catholic writings, and other corrupting texts flowing in from China; and eschew using “Chinese objects to show off their highbrow culture.”

None of Jeongjo’s screens survive, but they spurred a vibrant genre that evolved in ways the king could never have imagined nor, for that matter, condoned….  read review

Bernard Berenson’s Brief Detour

19 July 2017 ~ Wall Street Journal
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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

3 July 2017 ~ Wall Street Journal
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Zhu Wei, late 19th-early 20th C (detail)

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 were 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


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 reviews and articles

  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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