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Articles in fine art

Book Review: Cartoon County

November 10th, 2017
valiant bridge

In “Cartoon County,” Vanity Fair editor Cullen Murphy recounts his famous cartoonist father’s adventures during the heyday of the American pop art industry.

Book Review: Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts

November 9th, 2017
remarkable manu

The life stories of twelve incredible medieval manuscripts.

Faience and Light

November 1st, 2017
Faience and Light

Vermeer is the name we all know, but a new exhibition demonstrates the charm and beauty of his contemporaries in 17th-century Dutch genre painting.

From the Archives: The Atrium Effect: Museums Under Glass

November 1st, 2017
From the Archives: The Atrium Effect: Museums Under Glass

Big slabs of glass may look impressive, but they have a serious effect on our interaction with art. Museums are changing, and it isn’t always a good thing.

Book Review: The Collector of Lives

October 26th, 2017
thecollector of lives

Giorgio Vasari, the author of a fundamental and beloved collection of the lives of Renaissance artists, here gets a lively and readable biography of his own.

Book Review: Calder

October 17th, 2017

The legendary avant-garde sculptor Alexander Calder gets his very first biography, written by art critic Jed Perl

Book Review: Hamlet Globe to Globe

April 21st, 2017

A terrific new book tells the story of what happens when a hardy company takes the world’s most famous play to every country on Earth.

Book Review: John Singer Sargent – Figures and Landscapes

January 9th, 2017

The magnificent catalogue from Yale University Press of the paintings and drawing of John Singer Sargent comes to its conclusion with volume IX

Looking Back: Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, and Robert Frank in New York City

August 1st, 2016
Looking Back:  Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, and Robert Frank in New York City

Diane Arbus’s photographs are weird. Their subjects are weird. She herself was weird. A new exhibit takes us back to the origins of that strangeness –and asks what it says to us now.

Another Way To See

March 1st, 2016
Another Way To See

John Berger’s writing on art often feels more dramatic than analytic, a passionate study of the unspoken transaction between artist and viewer. Robert Minto looks at Portraits.


January 1st, 2016

The only reverse-canonization ever performed was by Pius II in 1462, against his hated enemy Sigismondo Malatesta. A new book tells the fascinating story of this “precursor of the Antichrist.”

Banksy’s World

November 1st, 2015
Banksy’s World

An insurgent graffiti artist becomes an art house favorite and recognized brand; Jared Pollen explores the many-layered ironies of Banksy’s world.

Book Review: Keeping An Eye On Art

October 22nd, 2015
keeping an eye on art

Novelist Julian Barnes takes readers on a tour of some of his favorite French artists

Turning Points: Jane Avril in Paris

October 1st, 2015
Turning Points: Jane Avril in Paris

For the woman who became dancer Jane Avril, life was transformed when she realized that what had been called mental illness she could claim for herself as art.

An Impressionistic Outlier

September 1st, 2015
An Impressionistic Outlier

Lesser-known – and perhaps just plain lesser? – French Impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte gets his first major American retrospective.

Caved-in and Chopfallen

July 1st, 2015
Caved-in and Chopfallen

The brutal realities of the urban landscape are both indicted and illuminated in the paintings of Jerome Witkin. Brett Busang examines the life and work of this inner city Canaletto.

One Encounter: John Koch’s Figure on a Bed

April 1st, 2015
One Encounter: John Koch’s Figure on a Bed

In his painting “Figure on a Bed,” John Koch immortalizes the kind of private moment that’s usually lost in an instant – Brett Busang muses on one arresting piece of art.

The Art of Socialist America

March 1st, 2015
The Art of Socialist America

The Works Progress Administration did more than set thousand of Americans to building bridges and roads in the 1930s; it also fostered art, as an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Art Gallery lavishly illustrates.

Flowers of Prison

March 1st, 2015
Flowers of Prison

Controversial Chinese artist and activist Ai WeiWei set an art installation inside the walls of America’s most notorious prisons – with surreal and sometimes beautiful results.

Après moi, le déluge

February 1st, 2015
Après moi, le déluge

Charles Marville’s extraordinary photographs of 19th-century Paris are like a cautionary tale, urging us to preserve the best of what is left in our own cities.

I Am Almost a Camera

January 1st, 2015
I Am Almost a Camera

As the Smithsonian’s new exhibit confirms, Richard Estes is the preeminent photo-realist painter of our time or–most likely–of any time. But to what extent is photo-realism an art worth practicing? And what does it do?


December 1st, 2014

What would you do if your artistic survival suddenly depended on the whims of a brutal dictatorship? How far would you compromise? How much would you risk? A new book studies artists in the Third Reich.

Grosz Anatomy

October 1st, 2014
Grosz Anatomy

In his latest collection of essays, Theater of Cruelty, Ian Buruma launches a series of expert investigations into the springs of cruelty and the perils of victomhood.

The Other John Cage

October 1st, 2014
The Other John Cage

John Cage’s controversial music is his best-known legacy, but his voluminous writings and artwork, equally inventive, have been unfairly neglected. It’s time to right this wrong.

An Ignorant Highbrow

August 1st, 2014
An Ignorant Highbrow

If you think distinctions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art are stuffy Victorian relics, our beleagured Stephen Akey says, you’re just not paying enough attention. So are you a highbrow? And should you be? And should everybody be?

A Picture Book

August 1st, 2014
A Picture Book

Cover art from Omni, the new-age science mag of yore, is now a coffee table book: Giger, Frazetta, and Grant Wood are all here, but something crucial has been left out.

Giddy Discomfort

August 1st, 2014
Giddy Discomfort

How ought we to read the reactions of viewers to a piece of provocative art? What if that piece, like Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” is entirely to do with race?

Title Menu: 7 Books on Art Crime

March 1st, 2014
Title Menu: 7 Books on Art Crime

Art crimes aren’t really sexy: they are an offense against humanity. Leah Triplett offers up a catalog of recent studies that explain the criminal attraction to art.

Marc Chagall: Between Paris and Vitebsk

December 1st, 2013
Marc Chagall: Between Paris and Vitebsk

Perhaps the strangest things about the paintings of Marc Chagall is how frequently they feature Christian iconography. But the habit speaks less to a tension in Chagall’s Judaism, Ivan Kenneally suggests, than his attempt to universalize his people’s suffering.

Resisting the Modern

November 1st, 2013
Resisting the Modern

John Singer Sargent is often simplistically dismissed as a picture-postcard portraitist. A new exhibition of his watercolors is a reminder of how strange and subversive–not to say beautiful–his work could be.

Stalled on the Verge

September 1st, 2013
Stalled on the Verge

The Modernist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker was Immortalized (and insulted) in Rilke’s “Requiem for a Friend,” yet who today knows her art? A new monograph returns it to the public eye.

God, the Janitor, and the Psychic Hermaphrodites

September 1st, 2013
God, the Janitor, and the Psychic Hermaphrodites

Henry Darger, icon of Outsider Art, created unnerving scenes of naked, tortured children. A new biography sets out to clear his name from would-be charges of pedophilia–but is it a reputation that really needs saving?

Meanwhile, On the Top Shelf

August 1st, 2013
Lee Ozymandias

Alan Moore’s Watchmen is widely regarded as the best graphic novel of them all, and Moore has been outspoken in his condemnation of sequels and spin-offs, refusing to sanction DC Comics’ recent “Before Watchmen” string of mini-series. Was Moore right? Or is there creative life after his masterpiece? Justin Hickey explores.

Sleazy Inner Tubes

May 1st, 2013
Sleazy Inner Tubes

Artist Laura Carton does not surf pornography for the usual reasons, By digitally removing the ‘actors’ from their backgrounds, she creates strangely suggestive landscapes. In this interview she addresses both her process and her plan.

American Aristocracy: Gods of Copley Square – Magic 1

May 1st, 2013
American Aristocracy: Gods of Copley Square – Magic 1

A startling triptych illuminates the crossroads of social, racial, and sexual identity in the Copley Square of a century ago, as “The Gods of Copley Square” continues

Second Glance: A Virgil or Two

March 1st, 2013
Second Glance: A Virgil or Two

He may not have anything new to tell us today, but as Spencer Lenfield demonstrates, Gilbert Highet’s friendly, engaging pedagogy is still rare enough to keep him relevant.

Troppo Sottile

March 1st, 2013
Loving Venice

Venice has traded flinty commercial acumen and world-weary merchant princes for an ennui worthy of M. John Harrison’s science fiction; her profession has now become the art of insubstantiality. For centuries authors have tried and failed to capture her. Steve Donoghue surveys the glorious wreckage.

How Pictures Comes to Life

March 1st, 2013

Sviatoslav Richter called Pictures at an Exhibition the “best Russian work for piano, amen”; many know it best through Ravel’s lush orchestration, which Richter considered “an abomination.” This beloved piece becomes even more resonant when you know its genesis in Mussorgsky’s friendship with the architect-artist Viktor Hartmann.

The Creative Subject

January 1st, 2013
The Creative Subject

A conversation with cover artist Aaron Angello

Most Sovereign Master

November 1st, 2012
Most Sovereign Master

“Although virtually all subjects were still religious, their humanity was brought to the fore, emphasizing that God, in the form of Jesus Christ, was made man and that He, and the Virgin Mary, and saints, like us, had human features”

Photographic Fictions

August 1st, 2012

“A few years ago I started sleepwalking, and (while inconvenient) this is kind of exciting to me, because it’s pretty much exactly the mood I’m going for in anything I create.” — a chat with cover artist Adrianne Mathiowetz

American Aristocracy – Beethoven In Granite: The Boston Brahmin Aesthetic

June 1st, 2012
dst – 2

Intertwining through Boston history: the rich, implacable music of Beethoven and the flinty austerity of the Boston Granite style of architecture – trace the connections, as American Aristocracy continues.

“highly contrived and stylized”

April 1st, 2012

“Spending a summer night alone in Hannibal, watching the Mississippi River, staying in a rundown motel, and getting drunk by yourself … that’s a solid way to spend a day.” — A conversation with poet and cover artist Joshua Ware

Flexible and Ephemeral

February 1st, 2012

” Paper is a ubiquitous material but it also can be alarmingly elegant. It has religious (holy books, Joss paper) and socio-political (money, contracts), and quotidienne (butcher paper, toilet paper) connotations.” — a conversation with cover artist Megan Heeres


January 1st, 2012
Me with Patriot

“I’ve never been terribly attracted to pretty things in general. Pretty and bland seem synonymous to me, and there’s certainly a lot of that in the art world already.” — a conversation with Bill Amundson

Controlled Chaos

December 1st, 2011

A Conversation with Cover Artist Pattie Lee Becker

Lee Miller’s Eye

November 1st, 2011

Lee Miller, known for a hundred years as Man Ray’s muse, comes into her own in a new book and exhibit. What’s she like?

Real Illusions

November 1st, 2011
John Cotter and John Bonath, October 2011

“You’ve got to learn the language of art to be able to appreciate it. And then, where you go with it, what you see with it, is only limited to your own imagination.”– A conversation with cover artist John Bonath

One Encounter: El Jaleo

October 1st, 2011
One Encounter: <i>El Jaleo</i>

What good are reproductions and what do we lose in keeping them? Our writer returns to a famous painting after a dozen years and finds more than he’d imagined

Do what the clouds do…

September 1st, 2011

A talk about touching light with cover artist Charles Matson Lume

Immaterial Architecture

August 1st, 2011

a talk on architecture and art with cover artist Quynh Vantu

The Greenhouse in the Anvil

July 1st, 2011
Tool Studies

A conversation with cover artist Elizabeth Alexander

Sane and Insane

June 1st, 2011

“In fact, many religions use the mandala type form to represent “Controlled Chaos.” Stained glass windows are an example I have a closer relationship to … they intrigued me for hours.”

Bohemia Rundown

May 1st, 2011

Semiotext(e) is famous for theory and provocation. So what happens when its co-founder takes on the art world in the latest installment of their manifesto series? To begin with, she doesn’t write a manifesto…

laying down record player

May 1st, 2011

A conversation with cover artist Julie Schustack about LA, worlds under glass, Frankenstein devices, and building a house just to take it apart.

tumultuous atmospheric spaces

April 1st, 2011

“I learned about ‘letting go’, painting over areas in a piece that I might have loved at first (which often happens in my process, some of my first marks are my most adored), but which no longer worked.” A conversation with Carol Browning and Karen Roehl

Out of Sorts

March 1st, 2011

Books have been with us for thousands of years, and books about books for very nearly that long. The world of books teems with themes, and in the latest massive Oxford Companion, that world receives a bestiary with hopes of being definitive.

Open to Love

March 1st, 2011

“I find that you can get someone to do something outlandish that they would never normally do if you ask them in public as if it’s the most normal request ever.” — a talk with cover artist Rebecca Vaughan

Dross of a Passing Dream

February 1st, 2011
Jaime Carrejo, Denver – Reconstruction Time Again

A conversation with Open Letters’ new curator, Katie Caron, and an exploration of her upcoming show, “Displaced”

The Light in Their Eyes

January 1st, 2011
philadelphia hannah, 1st viscountess Cremorne

Thomas Lawrence was the rising young star painter of the politicians, soldiers, rakes, and mistresses of Regency London, but his work had a life and intelligence that transcended the trendy. A new book looks at a forgotten master.

The Lovable Abject

January 1st, 2011

The tyranny of “supersized” sculpture is dealt a blow by Charles LeDray’s hand-crafted miniatures, on display now at the Whitney Museum

A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance

January 1st, 2011
After Usuyuki 5

“I think about how the self might be simply a series of curatorial choices, that it’s fluid, that the poetic ‘voice’ is something to play with rather than solidify.” — a conversation with cover artist Anne Gorrick

Literature is Dead, Long Live Literature

January 1st, 2011

Is the death of literature finally dead? If not, it’s been dealt a healthy blow by Gregory Jusdanis’ Fiction Agonistes, even it art does have to “justify itself in a way not necessary before.”

“An Unerring Eye for the Charmless”

December 1st, 2010
Skate park-9

“Ultimately I’m not trying to say much with most of my photography, or my writing either. I am just trying to capture things that interest me, often for very obscure reasons.”

Fairytales in Fragments

November 1st, 2010

“I want to escape within the work. Or maybe it’s just that that’s the world of the childhood fairy tales, carrying over into my adult creations?”

An Authorless Chorus

October 1st, 2010

“I wanted to emphasize the creation of new space as something, rather than just an absence.” — a conversation with our cover artist Skye Gilkerson

The Thin, Clear, Happy Call

August 1st, 2010

The sunlit aesthetics of the Edwardian era have been given a new look in this essay collection, and the consensus leans decidedly toward the darker meanings belying those lovely surfaces

Emotional Contagion

July 1st, 2010

A Conversation with Carissa Halston and Randolph Pfaff about his images for their short play “Patsy”

Cat’s Owls

May 1st, 2010

“Owls are majestic creatures. Their stolid quality is exactly what attracts me to them. I purposefully chose those images based on the ability that this animal has to move with such grace and poise, as if always in perfect control.”

Stephanie Diamond’s Social Practice

April 1st, 2010

“Images are entryways. Into memories, into someone’s world, into someone’s story.” And Diamond keeps every one of those images.

The Man of Steel Revealed?

March 1st, 2010

The most famous fictional creation this side of Tarzan has undergone innumerable changes over the years, and author Tom DeHaven tries to chart them all in his new book on the Man of Steel.

Sunday in the Park with Dramaturgical Heueristics

March 1st, 2010

Giambattista Tiepolo spent a lifetime fulfilling contracts and covering walls with glowing celebrations of light and life. In Tiepolo Pink, Roberto Calasso delves into those bright works.

Katie Caron on Dominium

February 1st, 2010

“It is so easy to create illusions with film, but how can you create an engrossing visual experience with an object? I am obsessed with human nature’s interest in being fooled.”

The Why of the Beholder

January 1st, 2010
progenitas – jaime jones – photoshop

Can Fantagraphics’ Spectrum series of contemporary fantasy art yield the same sort of enjoyment as a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Steve Donoghue looks into the newest collection.

The Word Made Full-Figured

November 1st, 2009

Counter-culture icon R. Crumb has produced an illustrated version of the Book of Genesis—sincere tribute, or sacrilege? Brad Jones adjudicates.

Photography Album and Q&A with Michael George

September 1st, 2009

Open Letters talks shop with cover photographer Michael George

Son Retour?

May 1st, 2009

In 1911, the unthinkable happened: the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre. R. A. Scotti tells the story in The Vanished Smile, and Jan van Doop has some ideas of his own.

Lightning Strikes and Pen Strokes

May 1st, 2009

Veteran comics illustrator David Mazzucchelli takes center stage writing and drawing his first full-length graphic novel, Asterios Polyp, and Sharon Fulton takes a look at the result.

It Is What It Is

March 2nd, 2009

Coming out of Bowery rain into downtown New York’s New Museum last Friday, I didn’t expect more than to spend an an hour or so with some installations and some video art, — I’d just …

Worth the Risk

March 1st, 2009
Worth the Risk

Almost twenty-five years ago, thieves entered Boston’s venerable Gardner Museum by night and stole several priceless works of art; the crime remains unsolved, and the artwork has never re-surfaced. Theories, of course, abound.

Frame by Frame

December 1st, 2008

When life and art overlap, the results are always complex – and that’s certainly true of autobiographical graphic novelist Art Spiegelman, creator of Maus. Sharon Fulton takes a look at a tricked-out new reprint of his earliest work, Breakdowns.


December 1st, 2008

Before there was Norman Rockwell, there was J.C. Leyendecker, inventor of the advertising brand, star illustrator of The Saturday Evening Post, and clandestine gay man. America loved what Leyendecker drew; Steve Donoghue shows us what they were really seeing.

4 Questions for cover artist Michela Emeson

November 8th, 2008

OL: You’ve lived in both Mexico and Europe. Do you think this has influenced your work away from the American grain?
Michela: Even though I have strong European influences, I am American with a range of work that …

In the Hands of a Master

July 1st, 2008

If you don’t tell a good story then you’ve got no business writing history. According to Jan van Doop – who knows his fakes, phonies, and forgeries – Edward Dolnick’s The Forger’s Spell is the genuine article.

Violent Art: On Learning to Shudder

February 1st, 2008

In this regular feature, John Cotter examines two brutal, disturbing pieces of 20th-Century German art—and they come disturbingly close to examining him in return.

The Songs, the Singers, and the Sung-To

September 1st, 2007

Myths and legends reveal the most about the people who re-imagine them. Gardner Linn explores two provocative reshapers in the music-driven graphic novels Stagger Lee and Phonogram: Rue Brittania.