Arcadia, the pastoral paradise beloved by poets and painters from the ancients to the moderns, is a terrific subject for a summer museum show. Aren’t we all in the mood for green glades, cool streams, lazy afternoons, and a little wine and song? I wish I could report that the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s “Gauguin, Cézanne, Matisse: Visions of Arcadia” fulfills more than a fraction of that promise. But the exhibition, which ought to be a laidback intellectual feast, turns out to be a headache.

Joseph Rishel, the curator in charge, has certainly pulled together an astonishing group of loans, which climax in a room where Bathers, Philadelphia’s own Cézanne, is surrounded by masterworks by Poussin, Gauguin, Le Douanier Rousseau, Derain, and Matisse. But the exhibition is undone by what amounts to a showdown between half a dozen competing visions. What is billed as a gathering of the titans fizzles. While there is no question that, at least in some instances, these artists were involved with related sensibilities and ideas, it is not at all clear that their works speak directly to one another. Just because a beautiful young woman in a painting has taken off her clothes and stood by a stream or sat under a tree does not mean she has something to tell us about another woman who has done more or less the same thing. There is something almost embarrassing about the central room in Philadelphia, because the major works on display shrink away from one another. (I am reminded of the famous evening when Proust and Joyce were brought together at the same table, and failed to produce the revelatory conversation the world was waiting for.)”

— Jed Perl, “A Perfect Summer Painting Exhibition That Falls Flat

Esther McCoy, the aesthete whose prose defined Southern California’s architecture:

Architecture is a great subject for an aesthete with a flair for dialectical thought. And Esther McCoy, in the collection of her writings just published by East of Borneo Books, knows how to invigorate art-for-art’s-sake hothouse subjects with a cooling blast of analytical precision. McCoy, who was in her mid-eighties when she died in 1989, has long been a hero among students of modern architecture in southern California, a subject scarcely defined until she came along. The exhibition devoted to her career at the Schindler House in Los Angeles—which offered tantalizing glimpses of this woman who was both a political activist and an unabashed aesthete—was a highlight of Pacific Standard Time, last fall’s salute to the arts in mid-twentieth-century southern California. What has not yet been recognized, or at least not sufficiently recognized, is the subdued power of McCoy’s prose. Now, with the publication of Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader, we can see deep into McCoy’s complex imagination.”

- Jed Perl, The Analytic Prose That Defined the Architecture of Southern California

Photo courtesy of Dexigner

Why is MOMA’s latest Cindy Sherman exhibition so egotistically boring?

So what has happened? I think it’s pretty simple. What pop culture giveth pop culture also taketh away. Having insinuated herself into the museums by dressing herself in a shopping mall’s worth of middlebrow iconography—she’s the whore, the housewife, the waif, the clown, the porn star, the prom queen, the wallflower,  the romance-novel princess—Cindy Sherman has become a victim of the very clichés she embraced. Pop culture fast-forwards as usual, and Sherman is left on the trash heap with the rest of yesterday’s sensations.”

— Jed Perl, "The Irredeemably Boring Egotism of Cindy Sherman"

Photo courtesy of

Pencil Icon

Phillips after 5

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)
Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1881
Oil on canvas
51 ¼ x 69 1/8 inches
Acquired 1923
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.


DC Tumblrs! Join TNR and the Phillips Collection tonight for Phillips after 5, an evening of exciting cultural programming. As DJ Neville C spins a vinyl-only set in the Music Room, guests in adjacent galleries will enjoy projections from the Phillips ‘Love Stories’ series and hors d’oeuvres by Ping Pong Dim Sum. Plus! Gallery talks with TNR art critic Jed Perl and literary editor Leon Wieseltier.