Recent links of note:
“Review: Anodyne ‘Civilizations’”
Eric Gibson, The Wall Street Journal
This year, the BBC took up the challenge of “updating” Kenneth Clark’s groundbreaking Civilisation television series of 1969. Clark’s original series, which studied the history of art and culture from medieval times to the early twentieth century, was incredibly popular and widely praised. But Clark’s admiration for “civilisation”—that is, Western “civilisation”—seems to be a politically noxious stance among today’s cultural string-pullers: hence the revamp. Presented by Simon Schama, Mary Beard, and David Olusoga, the new Civilisations (note the terminal “s”) also examines non-Western cultures as well as Greco-Roman art in an attempt to uphold a pluralism that fecklessly withholds all judgment of value. But, as Eric Gibson ruefully reports in a review for The Wall Street Journal, “there is one respect in which ‘Civilizations’ is decidedly not value-free, and that is in its attitude toward the West. If there are any barbarians in this series, they are the denizens of Europe, who are nearly always depicted as racists, conquerors, looters, slave owners, colonialists, and originators of the lurid ‘male gaze’ in art.” Unfortunate, indeed; as is Gibson’s observation that “[y]ou won’t find any mention of Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling, but Mr. Schama found time for a sit-down with Damien Hirst at last year’s Venice Biennale.” Look out for Gibson’s review of The Metropolitan Museum’s “Like Life” exhibition in The New Criterion’s forthcoming May issue.
“Romancing the Horn: Opera Stars Record Like It’s 1900”
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times
Enrico Caruso, who lived from 1873 to 1921, was and still is considered one of the greatest Italian operatic tenors ever to sing. He was also one of the first great singers to record on the phonograph, a new invention in the early twentieth century. Those hoping to hear Caruso’s voice, however, are restricted by the technological limitations of the phonograph, even despite partially successful efforts to “remaster” these recordings using contemporary digital technology. Piotr Beczała, one of the Metropolitan Opera’s leading tenors, wanted to hear how his voice stacked up against that of Caruso and his turn-of-the-century contemporaries, so he enlisted historians at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center to help him cut some tracks on an Edison Home Phonograph. Susanna Phillips, a standout Met soprano, also got involved in the experiment. Anthony Tommasini’s review of the project for The New York Times includes video of the recording session as well as audio comparisons between phonograph and modern recordings.
“Under Construction: 5 Columbus Circle Is Going Back in Time”
Liam La Guerre, Commercial Observer
Amid the myriad stories one hears these days of architectural destruction in metropolitan areas across the country and globe comes an encouraging report of one New York City developer’s effort to revive the original aesthetic of a historic but previously modified building. At 5 Columbus Circle, a Flatiron-like tower designed by the famous architectural team of John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings in 1911, owners are removing a decades-old aluminum façade and replacing it with cast stone, which will unify the structure’s base with its eloquent tower.
“Jerry Saltz Has a Pulitzer and I Have Questions”
Margaret Carrigan, Observer
On Monday, The Pulitzer Prize Board announced that Jerry Saltz of New York magazine is the 2018 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for criticism. The social media virtuoso was praised for his “robust body of work that conveyed a canny and often daring perspective on visual art in America, encompassing the personal, the political, the pure and the profane.” Fittingly, Saltz’s winning article took as its subject not art, but Jerry Saltz. Margaret Carrigan of Observer questions the thinking of the Pulitzer Prize Board, and she raises the critic’s at-times unscrupulous online behavior and relentless self-promotions as signs that Saltz may not be a figure worthy of art-world applause.
From our pages:
“We may be deranged, but at least we’re virtuous”