James Gardner Articles

Del Sarto Rising

Two shows prompt a reassessment of the Renaissance master.
Dec 21, 2015

New York

Andrea del Sarto is the perfect example of an artist for whom modernity has no use. That he was an excellent painter is universally acknowledged by anyone who has bothered to look at his art. But his originality was not so potent as to compel the attention of our listless age: It was a tactical originality that arrived at certain stunning compositional and chromatic solutions, rather than the titanic originality of a Michelangelo or a Raphael, his contemporaries, who conjured into being new worlds and new ways of seeing.

Nevertheless, two eminent New York institutions, the Frick Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have staged simultaneous shows of del Sarto that may prompt a general reassessment of the

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Picasso’s Avocation

The figures that altered the course of art history.
Nov 16, 2015

In recent years, the Museum of Modern Art has seemed to have a target splattered across its ever-expanding façade—and not the artsy sort of target depicted by Jasper Johns. From all corners of the art world, critics have shown up with their BB guns, which they mistook for bazookas, and aimed them squarely against the museum’s immaculate Miesian curtain wall. MoMA, they complain, has become old. It has become male and pale, the repository of dead things.

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Rocks of Ages

Isamu Noguchi, sculpting at dual purposes.
Jul 27, 2015

Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) appeared before the world as a two-form, shape-shifting paradox. One is hard put to say if he was an American sculptor of Japanese extraction, or a Japanese sculptor who happened to spend most of his life in the United States. The short answer, according to Hayden Herrera’s new biography, is that he was American—in fact, very American: Born Isamu Gilmour in Los Angeles, he had an American passport, spoke English as a first language, and often needed an interpreter in Japan.

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Museum With a View

Thoughts on the new Whitney.
2:45 PM, Jun 03, 2015

Renzo Piano is too good an architect for his new Whitney Museum, in Manhattan’s meatpacking district, to be a total failure. The interior is, in general, quite good and surely a vast improvement over Marcel Breuer’s nuclear bunker on Madison Avenue, which housed the museum for half-a-century. And even aspects of the exterior of Piano’s building, taken piecemeal, are quite dexterously done. But seen from the outside and taken as a whole, the new Whitney is somewhat awful. 

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A Practiced Eye

In Washington, a Florentine master comes into his own
Mar 30, 2015

Piero di Cosimo was, in all likelihood, the strangest painter of the 15th century. “Men could perceive the strangeness of his brain,” wrote his biographer, Giorgio Vasari. “He knew no pleasure save that of going off by himself with his thoughts, letting his fancy roam, and building castles in air. .  .  . He was very strange.”

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Only Yesterday

Thomas Hart Benton’s masterwork finds a home at the Met
Feb 09, 2015

Are we allowed, in 2015, to like Thomas Hart Benton? And if so, are we allowed to admit in public that we like him? 

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A Visual Dialogue

What connoisseurs talk about when they talk among themselves
Dec 08, 2014

Few books of late have pleased me as much as this one. Whether it will interest anyone else is an open question, but it might, and it should. In essence, this book consists of an ongoing dialogue between two very cultured men, Philippe de Montebello, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Martin Gayford, former art critic for the Spectator. The pair meet periodically in the great museums of Europe and America and discuss Old Master paintings.

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Eager to Please

Jeff Koons and the kitchen-sink approach to art
Sep 22, 2014

In theory, this Jeff Koons retrospective is a big deal. It has taken over the entire Marcel Breuer fortress at 945 Madison Avenue—an honor that, if memory serves, has been accorded to no previous artist. Perhaps more important, it is the last exhibition that the Whitney will ever mount in the Brutalist landmark that has housed the institution for nearly half a century: Sometime next spring, the museum will reopen in a new and far vaster venue in the Meatpacking District, three miles to the south and west.

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The Evil of Banality

On the Nazi perversion of art.
May 05, 2014

New York 
It seems a little weird to find Adolf Hitler even mentioning the word “Dada,” let alone offering his considered opinion of that vague and anarchic movement. But so he did in a speech delivered in Munich in 1937 that officially opened the Great German Art Exhibition. “Sixty years ago,” he declared, “an exhibition of so-called Dadaist experiences would have seemed simply impossible, and its organizers would have ended up in the madhouse, whereas today they even live in artists’ associations!”

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The Connoisseur

Bernard Berenson and the appreciation of art.
Feb 17, 2014

Canvas Battlefield

In the Civil War, art comes to terms with reality.
Aug 19, 2013

In one of his bolder poetic flourishes, General MacArthur once invoked “the sputter of musketry” to refer to burp guns and bazookas. His phrase had the élan of gallantry, even chivalry, to it, as it deftly sidestepped the new and very different realities of modern warfare.

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A Hidden Monument

Roosevelt Island commemorates its namesake.
Apr 22, 2013
New York
Nearly 40 years after his death, the legendary architect Louis Kahn (1901-1974) has finally completed his first project in New York City. A monument to Franklin Delano Roosevelt known as Four Freedoms Park, it stands at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, a skinny strip of land in the East River that stretches for two miles between Manhattan and Queens. Read more

Happy the Man

Dana Gioia has the courage of his contentment.
Nov 19, 2012



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Installed for Good

The improvisational art of Yayoi Kusama.
Oct 01, 2012

Though every generation dutifully brings forth its crop of visual artists, some harvests are more blessed and bounteous than others. And while few have been as sparse as those of recent date, we can all take some consolation in the Whitney’s retrospective of Yayoi Kusama. Any age that engendered her cannot be all bad.

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Fad Men

The Whitney Biennial strikes again.
May 07, 2012

Paradox is supposed to be interesting and subversion is supposed to be fun. But this year’s supposedly subversive Whitney Biennial, though paradox incarnate, is the sort of thing that gives soul-annihilating ennui a bad name. And its tedium is a direct consequence of the paradox at its very heart: These days, everyone wants to be a visual artist and no one wants to create visual art.

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To See Ourselves

The Renaissance portrait as a mirror of society.
Feb 27, 2012


Leon Battista Alberti was the James Franco of the Quattrocento. Believing that no province of human achievement was beyond his powers, he tried his hand at everything from painting and architecture to literature, mathematics, cryptography, and even athletics. When his contemporaries spoke of the uomo universale, the universal or Renaissance Man, they were speaking of him.

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Jobs Creation

A new Apple headquarters lands in Cupertino.
Sep 05, 2011

There was something almost princely in the way Steve Jobs went about selecting the shape and location of the proposed new Apple headquarters, announced in June to the city council of Cupertino, California, in Silicon Valley. Usually a large project like this—even a small project—develops gradually amidst endless consultations with a hundred stakeholders who bicker about the most pragmatic (and usually unimaginative) way to proceed. Far otherwise did the emperors Augustus and Hadrian plan their massive mausoleums, which can still be seen along the banks of the Tiber. They wanted something round, and they pointed to where they

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Cities of Dreams

The urban/e vision of Canaletto and his rivals.
Jun 13, 2011

Most sophisticated museumgoers would think it ineffably crass to complain about Cezanne’s unending sequence of apples and peaches, or the relentless quadrilaterals of Piet Mondrian. But it appears that certain of these people are no proof against the ennui that sets in when they encounter yet another Venetian scene by Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto. And yet the recent exhibition at Washington’s National Gallery of Art, “Canaletto and his Rivals,” represents, for attentive viewers, the definitive refutation of the view that Venetian cityscapes are slavish imitations of reality, that they are entirely

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Maxxi-mum Exposure

Is Rome’s newest museum an ornament, or not?
May 30, 2011

Even visitors who know Rome well are unlikely to venture north along the Via Flaminia, beyond the Aurelian Walls that encircle most of the city. Compared with what lies inside the walls, and with a few exceptions beyond, there is little to see in this clean and barren part of town. Though the streets are graced with names like Via Sandro Botticelli and Via Guido Reni—this is still Italy, after all—most of the drab building stock evokes the postwar years, and there is little or no street life.

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Atlantic Crossing

How and when Europe took note of American art.
Mar 07, 2011

Modern Life
Edward Hopper and His Time
Whitney Museum of American Art

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