Michael Kimmelman is a longtime critic for The New York Times. A version of his essay in this issue will appear in the collection City Squares: Eighteen Writers on the Spirit and Significance of Squares Around the World, edited by Catie Marron and published in April by Harper.
 (April 2016)

The Craving for Public Squares

Ludwigkirchplatz, Berlin, 1997
The art of architecture requires not just making attractive buildings but providing citizens with generous, creative, open, inviting public spaces. And one of the basic truths of urban life turns out to be that there’s a nearly insatiable demand for such places.

Becoming van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh: Miners in the Snow at Dawn, 1880

“Countless freeloaders, lost teenagers, parents of lost teenagers, and disappointed artists have found consolation in Vincent van Gogh’s misfortune,” writes Michael Kimmelman in the Review’s February 5, 2015 issue. “His story is the ultimate ‘I told you so’: a troubled, not obviously talented oddball, who through determination and sheer chutzpah is finally, albeit mostly posthumously, recognized as a genius.” Here we present a series of van Gogh’s sketches and paintings, with commentary drawn from Kimmelman’s piece.

Van Gogh: The Courage & the Cunning

Vincent van Gogh: Self-Portrait, summer 1887
“Don’t be cross with me that I’ve come all of a sudden,” Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother. He instructed Theo to meet him under the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. It was late February 1886. Vincent was about to turn thirty-three. He arrived in Paris to complete an artistic education that had so far yielded no financial returns for his long-suffering sibling paymaster; nor did Vincent’s career promise the slightest profit in future.

The Art Hitler Hated

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Self-Portrait, 1934/1937
What was Nazi art? It was, from the start, whatever Hitler felt at the moment. For a while there was a chance it was going to be a kind of Nordic Expressionism, until the Führer decided it wasn’t. Beckmann, Kirchner, and Oskar Schlemmer imagined working with the state as late as June 1937, when Hitler ordered thousands of their works and others impounded from German collections. The Bauhaus had had hopes, too, until it didn’t.


Henri Matisse (center) and Hans Purrmann (right) dining with Michael, Sarah, and Allan Stein at their apartment at 58 rue Madame, Paris, circa 1908. The paintings in the background, all by Matisse, are The Young Sailor I (far left); Pink Onions and Male Nude (left column); Fruit Trees in Blossom, Woman in a Kimono, Nude Reclining Woman, and Nude before a Screen (center column); Madame Matisse in the Olive Grove, a sketch for Le Bonheur de Vivre, and Madame Matisse (The Green Line) (right column).
Gertrude Stein endures. More than a hundred books about her have been written during the past decade or so and lately she made an appearance in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. She remains a figure of fascination for scholars of queer studies, a saint in the broader gay community, exalted as a pioneer of poetics and sexual liberation, and as the librettist of wry, cryptic texts set to Virgil Thomson’s crazy-quilt music in Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All, both recently revived to warm reviews.

A Very Wily Believer

Leo Castelli and Andy Warhol at Robert Rauschenberg’s studio, New York City, 1965
You could almost picture Leo Castelli smiling from beyond the grave a few weeks ago, that small, canny smile of his. First an Andy Warhol, Men in Her Life, from 1962, sold for $63.3 million at a Phillips auction in New York. Then at Christie’s a work by Roy Lichtenstein, …


Andre Agassi and Roger Federer at the 2005 US Open, just after Federer defeated Agassi in the men’s final
Andre Agassi’s Open: An Autobiography is a remarkable and quite unexpected volume, one that sails well past its homiletic genre into the realm of literature, a memoir whose success clearly owes not a little to a reader’s surprise in discovering that a celebrity one may have presumed to know on the basis of a few television commercials hawking cameras via the slogan “image is everything” emerges as a man of parts—self-aware, black-humored, eloquent.

At the Bad New Ballparks

Opening day at the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, April 16, 2009
Having won 103 games in the regular season, more than any other major league team, the Yankees returned to the postseason after a year in purgatory. The new stadium into which the team moved in April had, like the team, with its $208 million payroll, done its job, and Yankees …

Bad Bargains for Russian Music

Sergei Prokofiev receiving the Order of the Red Banner of Labor from Mikhail Kalinin Moscow, 1943; from Simon Morrison's The People's Artist: Prokofiev's Soviet Years
It is one of the abiding curiosities of modern music history that in 1936, at forty-four, after more than a decade of success in New York and Paris, Sergei Prokofiev took up permanent residence in Stalinist Moscow. For a while he enjoyed the privileges of official patronage, but, inevitably, the …

The ‘Mash of Myriad Sounds’

For several weeks this spring, a sculptural installation by Richard Serra—five slender, soaring steel monoliths, fifty-six feet high and seventy-five tons each, spaced evenly apart and differently tilted just so—occupied the emptied nave of the Grand Palais in Paris. The work was called Promenade. Large cranes were required to install …

The Last Act

Janet Malcolm begins her remarkable work on Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas by recalling how, half a century or so ago, like many other pretentious young Americans feeling hemmed in by Eisenhower-era conformity, she gravitated to Toklas’s cookbook. Its carefree, worldly snobbishness “fit right in with our program of …

A Hero of Our Time

As the British dance critic Richard Buckle said, “Much as I liked [him] underneath, I began to dislike him on the surface.” That’s at least better than the other way around. There was no moderation in Lincoln Kirstein’s reactions to others or in theirs to him. He was all hyperbole …

All in the Family

The second volume of Stephen Walsh’s exhaustive and eloquent life of Stravinsky completes the story of the most famous composer of the twentieth century, who has been endlessly written about but who has remained something of a difficult case for biographers. As Walsh points out, there are hurdles of language—Russian …

The Dreams of Frank Lloyd Wright

The news in early June came on what would have been Frank Lloyd Wright’s 138th birthday. The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in Scottsdale, Arizona, which is part of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, had been issued a warning by the Higher Learning Commission—its accreditation endangered, its student body …

The Undefeated

“The only moments I have when I play that are worth anything to me are when I can blissfully ignore the people I am supposed to be entertaining,” wrote the American pianist William Kapell to a friend, the pianist Shirley Rhoads, from Australia, where he was unhappily on tour in …

Lone Star

Among classical performers of the last half-century, only perhaps Arturo Tos- canini, Vladimir Horowitz, and Maria Callas were the subjects of as much adulation, controversy, and speculation as Glenn Gould. Even so, Gould’s popularity was different. He was part of a new era, and addressed a new audience. Coming along …

The Cold War over the Arts

In May 1961, the Kirov Ballet arrived in Paris. Its star was a peculiar, vain, and willful young dancer whom the company almost did not take with it on tour because Soviet officials could not be sure what he might do once he reached the West. They had good reason …

The Saint

Even now, thirty-six years after he retired and more than twenty years after he died at seventy-nine, Alfred Hamilton Barr Jr. remains a figure of fascination and contention. No one had a more profound effect on the direction of American museums over the last three quarters of a century, and …

Piano Portraits

Some years ago Alfred Brendel published the essay “Must Classical Music Be Entirely Serious?” The question was amusing coming from Brendel, whose seriousness has exemplified the loftiest aspirations of classical music performance during the last half-century. Then again, as Brendel has spent his career demonstrating, to play Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, …

Music, Maestro, Please!

“My God, what a life!” Arturo Toscanini wrote in 1936. “And to think that many people envy me! They see nothing but the exterior, which glitters in appearance, but a person’s interior, soul, heart—what unknown, unexplored things they are!!!” He was sixty-nine then, still on the verge of a long …

The Keys to Beethoven

The thirty-two Beethoven sonatas, composed between 1795 and 1822, are the most prestigious works in the solo piano literature. They are, as Charles Rosen says in his new book about them, “the great representative of Western culture in the upper middle-class household from 1850 almost to our day, as much …

Wandering Minstrel

Sviatoslav Richter died on August 1, 1997, at the age of eighty-two, the most mercurial and impressive of the Soviet pianists to come to prominence in the West. His playing could be by turns profound, perverse, elegant, heavy-handed, unforgettable, and unlovable. He was in various ways paradoxical. He cultivated a …