Roving thoughts and provocations

At Home with the Rembrandts

Martin Filler

Fondation Custodia

New York’s august Frick Collection could never be accused of pandering to the masses. But the enthusiastic public response to two recent Rembrandt shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which together attracted well over a half-million visitors, cannot have been lost on the organizers of “Rembrandt and His School: Masterworks from the Frick and Lugt Collections.”

This exhilarating new show presents more than sixty drawings and prints from the Paris foundation established in 1947 by the renowned Dutch connoisseur and scholar Frits Lugt (1884-1970) and Jacoba Klever, his heiress wife, to preserve some 37,000 works on paper he had amassed since his teens, and exhibits them alongside the Frick’s own Rembrandt paintings and prints.

A Vanguard of Friends’

Dan Chiasson

Tibor de Nagy Gallery

Tibor de Nagy, the iconic midtown gallery, has been celebrating its sixtieth anniversary with a show that doesn’t so much trace its history as distill its early essence. “Painters & Poets” includes drawings, chapbooks, letters and well-known paintings that emerged from the fantastic collaborations between Frank O’Hara and Larry Rivers, O’Hara and Joe Brainard, Brainard and John Ashbery, James Schuyler and Grace Hartigan, among many others. The energy of the poets drove those projects, yet often the painters made them sit still and keep their mouths shut, as we see in the many striking portraits in this show of poets reading, writing, sitting there, spacing out, in every phase of dress and undress. Other times, they inspired one another to produce works—like Hartigan’s series of paintings made in response to O’Hara’s poem “Oranges”—that drew from their complementary strengths. “The strangeness of the collaborative situation,” wrote Kenneth Koch, another mainstay of the group, “might lead them to the unknown, or at least to some dazzling insights at which they could never have arrived consciously or alone.”

The Revolution Is Not Yet Over’

Yasmine El Rashidi

Yasmine El Rashidi

It has been twelve days since Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president of the republic, and the country—although still celebrating—has never been more divided. Many feel that the revolution has succeeded and it is time for everyone to get back to work. Many more feel that his ousting is but a small first step on a long and tortuous road. On February 18, as millions of people came out again to the streets of downtown Cairo and central Tahrir Square for Friday prayers, and as much smaller numbers marched again on Tuesday, the fragmentation of the protest movement was clear, and a new question loomed: what exactly do we want now as a nation, and are we willing to continue fighting for it?

Nuclear Madness in Tripoli

Jeremy Bernstein

If any further proof is needed of Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi’s mental instability it is provided by WikiLeaks dispatches from US diplomats in Tripoli in November and December of 2009. At issue was some nearly loose nuclear material, a Russian plane, and a lone security guard—a footnote in the WikiLeaks scandal that many may have missed. But first, a little background.

Almost from the moment he assumed power in 1969, Qaddafi was interested in acquiring nuclear weapons. He tried to buy them from China; and when that failed he tried to build them himself. In the 1990s he bought an entire turnkey nuclear weapons program from the Pakistani proliferator A.Q. Khan, including centrifuges and designs for a nuclear weapon. It is believed he gave up the entire program in 2003 in a grand bargain with the United States that eventually restored Libya’s diplomatic status and allowed US companies to do business with the oil-rich country.

1789—2011?

Robert Darnton

The question has come to haunt every article and broadcast from Egypt, Tunisia and other countries in the region whose people have revolted: what constitutes a revolution? In the 1970s, we used to chase that question in courses on comparative revolutions; and looking back on my ancient lecture notes, I can’t help but imagine a trajectory: England, 1640; France, 1789; Russia, 1917 … and Egypt, 2011?

The Secret Politburo Meeting Behind China’s New Democracy Crackdown

Perry Link

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

In an NYRblog post on February 17, I discussed Chinese government efforts to block news of the democracy uprisings spreading across the Middle East and speculated how China’s rulers might view those uprisings. I have now received news that resolves much of that speculation and that may also help explain the unusual show of force by Chinese security officials this weekend in response to a call for street protests to support a “Jasmine Revolution” in several Chinese cities.

Obama’s Lesser Evil

Jeff Madrick

President Obama’s budget proposal this week shows just how thoroughly austerity economics now dominates the policy debate for both Democrats and Republicans. This emphasis is not new: Obama had already signaled he was giving special priority to cutting the deficit well before the November elections, when he named a bipartisan panel to make recommendations on how to deal with future deficits. It was hardly an objective panel, headed by two deficit hawks, former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and retired Wyoming Republican Senator Alan Simpson.

Not so very long ago, some economists feared Obama’s stimulus plan was not doing enough, quickly enough to rescue the economy. With US government spending now surpassing revenues by about 10 percent of GDP, those voices have been muffled.

Middle East Revolutions: The View from China

Perry Link

AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

Chinese authorities have done what they can to block news of Egyptian people-power from spreading to China. Reports about Egypt in China’s state-run media have been brief and vacuous. On February 6, at the height of the protests, the People’s Daily informed readers that “the Egyptian government is continuing to carry out its various measures to support restoration of social order.” But on the Chinese Internet, which despite vigorous policing is hard to stifle, Mubarak has received a drubbing: “autocrat,” “corrupt thug,” and so on. Thus, while Chinese censors have declared the word “Mubarak” (along with “Egypt” and others) to be “sensitive” and have set up filters to delete any message that contains it, Chinese Web users, in their usual cat-and-mouse game, have invented witty substitutes. These include “Mu Xiaoping” and “Mu Jintao”—which, by playing on the names of China’s own autocrats, get around the censors and up the ante at the same time.

Why the Kremlin Can’t Fight Terrorism

Amy Knight

AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev

As the story of the horrific January 24 bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport continues to unfold, the parallels with past major terrorist attacks in Russia are striking. It is not just the high number of casualties (36 dead and 160 wounded) and that the perpetrators appear to have come from the volatile North Caucasus. As with earlier such violence, there were also serious warning signs in advance that were ignored, and the immediate handling of the attack by the authorities was botched. Above all, the confusing and contradictory response of both the security agencies and Russia’s leadership has once again raised troubling questions about the Kremlin’s counter-terrorism policies.