Apr 21, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 30 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
When it became known last year that George W. Bush had taken up painting, The Scrapbook took note of the fact, commenting on a couple of random examples that they were “better than you would expect, show imagination, and are certainly evidence of Bush’s well-developed sense of humor. . . . The paintings—in their awkward simplicity, bright colors, and irregular perspective—strike The Scrapbook as delightful. We would like to see more.”
Well, it seems that the former president was reading The Scrapbook, for last week, 30 new works went on display within an exhibition entitled “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy” at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. Apprentice novelists are always told to “write what you know,” and Mr. Bush has translated that advice onto canvas: These are 30 head-and-shoulders portraits of world leaders with whom he dealt as president.
Attention has largely been paid to the portrait of Vladimir Putin, which, with its wary eyes, bland expression, and vague air of menace, seems to capture something of the Russian president. But the others—Tony Blair of Great Britain, Ehud Olmert of Israel, Angela Merkel of Germany, Junichiro Koizumi of Japan—are equally, sometimes startlingly, incisive. The literary scholar Willard Spiegelman, writing in the Wall Street Journal, seemed especially beguiled by Bush’s portrait of Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: Calling it a “knockout,” he was clearly impressed by the nascent talent that captured “the planes of color in her violet hat and dress [standing] in contrast to the dark skin tones and folds of her flesh.”
Needless to say, the former president’s debut as an artist has had predictable consequences: As we noted last time, the inevitable allusions to another amateur painter—Adolf Hitler—have been duly noted on the left, and the mere mention of his name sent the New Yorker into verbal paroxysms (“W was and remains a vile person”).
As far as The Scrapbook is concerned, we remain beguiled by Bush’s art, and cannot help but notice that it shows signs of growth and confidence since last year. This has not gone unnoticed among critics and journalists, some of whom have been moved to say so. For our part, pulling on our art historian’s cap, we are struck by a resemblance to the Sunday paintings of Arnold Schoenberg, the great 20th-century composer and inventor of the 12-tone method of composition. We would invite readers to compare, say, Bush’s Putin with Schoenberg’s 1910 self-portrait: two very different subjects, but executed with a curiously similar approach and technique.
Schoenberg’s art, we should add, was admired in its day by masters such as Oskar Kokoschka and Wassily Kandinsky. We await the professional verdict on Bush with interest.
Detroit’s restructuring proposal.Apr 21, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 30 • By DAVID SKEEL
From the moment Detroit filed for bankruptcy last summer, comparisons to the 2009 Chrysler and General Motors bailouts have abounded. Most highlight the differences, noting that the federal government is unlikely to pump billions of dollars into Detroit. But although the differences are real, the restructuring plan that Detroit has recently proposed suggests that the city’s bankruptcy may have more in common with the car bailouts than anyone imagined. Unfortunately, it’s the abuses of the latter that could be replicated—and even extended—if Detroit’s plan is upheld in its current form.
12:42 PM, Feb 24, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
The Art in Embassies program of the U.S. State Department just turned 50 last year, but its growth in the last decade has been particularly dramatic if the insured value of the artwork is any indication. Although Art in Embassies purchases original works, such as the $1 million sculpture for the new U.S. Embassy in London, much of the artwork on display at various State Department installations throughout the world is in fact borrowed. In 2002, the State Department maintained a $20 million policy for artwork. By 2010, it had grown to $65 million. This year, the agency is looking to renew its current level of coverage, informing interested providers that "[i]nsurance must cover all items in any location in a Department of State facility abroad up to a value of $200,000,000." Last year, the $200 million policy cost the government $86,932.
The president takes an unwarranted shot at art history.
12:22 PM, Jan 31, 2014 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
President Obama traveled to Wisconsin yesterday and engaged in a tasteless bit of anti-intellectualism.
Émile Zola and the literary representation of art. Jan 20, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 18 • By EDWIN M. YODER JR.
If this painting isn’t iconic, the term should be banished from the vocabulary of art. Forget, for a moment, Mona Lisa’s smile and the Sistine Creator transmitting the spark of life to Adam. Set aside what was to come, including Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). They, obviously, have their claims.
10:52 AM, Dec 3, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
At the end of September, the federal government's fiscal year was drawing to a close, the threat of a shut down was increasing, and the State Department was shopping for art. Four contracts were awarded in the last two weeks of September, including $1,000,000 for a granite sculpture by Irish-born artist Sean Scully to be installed at the new U.S. Embassy in London. Notice of the awards was posted Sunday afternoon of Thanksgiving weekend on the Federal Business Opportunities website.
10:09 AM, Jul 22, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
Washington D.C. is big on tradition, and one of those traditions involves official portraits of top government officials. The Defense Department just awarded a $31,200 contract (frame included) to Portraits, Inc. for an official portrait of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta:
The work-in-progress of an American master. Jul 22, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 42 • By DANIEL ROSS GOODMAN
In some locales, wrote Albert Camus in The Plague, beautiful days are only experienced in the winter. But this is easily belied by the magnificent Edward Hopper exhibition on display at the Whitney Museum this summer. Beyond a showcase of artistic beauty, it is a much-deserved homage to an American master who is occasionally overshadowed by New York museums’ infatuation with European painters. That Hopper was born and bred in New York merely compounds this ironic injustice.
The disdain is largely one-sided.
Jul 1, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 40 • By STEPHEN MILLER
John Kinsella, a highly regarded Australian poet who teaches at Cambridge, was quoted not long ago in the Times Literary Supplement as saying that he has “not sold his soul to market fetishization.” Kinsella means that he doesn’t want even to think about making a profit from his writing. But Kinsella is also doing what comes naturally for most poets and many literary essayists: He is expressing a disdain for the commercial world. To think about selling books is tantamount to worshipping Mammon.
4:02 PM, May 25, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Detroit is so close to insolvency that there is talk in the city of selling off some of the Detroit Institute of the Arts' treasures, including works by Henri Matisse and Vincent van Gogh.
The gimlet eye of Saul Steinberg.Mar 11, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 25 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
At a celebration at UCLA of the career of Eugen Weber, the Romanian-born historian of France, I made the mistake of describing Eugen as an exile. In his response to the tributes paid him, Eugen corrected me, remarking that he had never considered himself an exile. “From the moment I attained consciousness,” he said, “I wanted to leave Romania. The place is a dump.”
3:41 PM, Feb 8, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
The illegal hacking of email addresses of George W. Bush's family members has revealed paintings that appear to be the work of the former president himself.
Weaving the Master’s spell without color.Dec 10, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 13 • By DANIEL ROSS GOODMAN
It may be hard to believe that one of the more underrated New York art exhibits of recent times is a current Picasso show at the Guggenheim, but such is the case. “Picasso Black and White” is not only one of the best Picasso exhibitions to visit New York; it is one of the better exhibitions of any artist to visit New York in the past few years.