latest reviews and articles

Defying Categories

28 November 2017 ~ Wall Street Journal
Screen Shot 2017-11-28 at 11.41.02 PM
detail of Chen Honshu’s “Su Wu and Li Ling with Attendants ” (1635) in BAMPFA’s collection.

In Chinese painting, art historians have long thought in terms of prized works made by scholar-artists—refined and cultivated minds expressing themselves—and commercial works made by professional painters for money. We have 17th-century art theorist and painter Dong Qichang (1555-1636) to thank for this hierarchy and painters like Chen Hongshou (1599-1652) for defying it. Unsuccessful at passing civil-service exams that would lead to a high-ranking court position, Chen supported a large extended family through commissions, workshop production and designs for prints. He was, as the influential art historian James Cahill (1926-2014) once said, “a thoroughgoing professional artist—and if you think a painter of this sort couldn’t really produce great paintings, think again.”  (read review)

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



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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