Susan Tallman is an art historian living in Chicago and Berlin. She is currently working on a book about the prints of Kerry James Marshall.
 (September 2020)


Who Decides What’s Beautiful?

Willem van Haecht: Apelles Painting Campaspe, circa 1630

A History of Art History

by Christopher S. Wood

The Barbarian Invasions: A Genealogy of the History of Art

by Éric Michaud, translated from the French by Nicholas Huckle
In recent months dozens of artworks have been defaced, damaged, or pushed into the drink during the protests initially set off by the murder of George Floyd. Directed at first toward monuments to the Confederacy, the rage expanded to encompass a swath of imperialist or genocidal Europeans, from Christopher Columbus …

The Master of Unknowing

Gerhard Richter: Group of People, 66 15/16 x 78 3/4 inches, 1965

Gerhard Richter: Painting After All

an exhibition at the Met Breuer, New York, March 4–closing date to be announced; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, August 15, 2020–January 18, 2021

Gerhard Richter

an exhibition at the Marian Goodman Gallery, New York City, February 28–April 25, 2020
Gerhard Richter is contemporary art’s great poet of uncertainty; his work sets the will to believe and the obligation to doubt in perfect oscillation. Now eighty-eight, he is frequently described as one of the world’s “most influential” living artists, but his impact is less concrete than the phrase suggests. There is no school of Richter. Though his influence has indeed been profound, it has played out in eyes rather than hands, shifting the ways in which we look, and what we expect looking to do for us.

What the Little Woman Was Up To

One half of a stereographic souvenir card from the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia showing a display of the naturalist Martha Maxwell’s wildlife specimens, with Maxwell seated at the center

Five Hundred Years of Women’s Work: The Lisa Unger Baskin Collection

an exhibition at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, February 28–June 15, 2019; and the Grolier Club, New York City, December 11, 2019–February 8, 2020
One of the most celebrated attractions at Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial International Exhibition was the installation of Great Plains and Rocky Mountain wildlife in the Kansas-Colorado Building. Stereoscopic souvenir cards show a faux mountainside crammed like a Victorian what-not shelf with deer, goats, polecats, and raptors. A cougar is suspended mid-leap …

‘I Just Look, and Paint’

Vija Celmins: Untitled (Ocean), 12 3/4 x 17 1/2 inches, 1970

Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory

an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, December 15, 2018–March 31, 2019; the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, May 4–August 4, 2019; and the Met Breuer, New York City, September 24, 2019–January 12, 2020

Vija Celmins: Selected Prints

an exhibition at the Senior and Shopmaker Gallery, New York City, September 12–November 2, 2019
Vija Celmins has been an admired artist for more than fifty years, and for most of that time critics have struggled to explain the elusive poignancy and staying power of her work. In an art world that rewards noisy assertion and the avid annexation of wall space, her work is thoughtful, modest in scale, mostly black-and-white. And while much contemporary art prides itself on being difficult, even opaque, Celmins’s paintings and drawings of night skies and oceans are eye-pleasing and generous in a way that keeps them broadly appealing, even as they contend with weighty questions about the mechanics and consequences of representation. All this makes her work hard to encompass in the current language of art. Looking at her pairings of apparently identical rocks, the word that floats to mind is not “simulacrum” but “sublime.”

Now You See Me, Now You Don’t

Paula Modersohn-Becker: Self-Portrait on Her Sixth Wedding Anniversary, 1906

The Self-Portrait: From Schiele to Beckmann

an exhibition at the Neue Galerie, New York City, February 28–June 24, 2019
Ever since Giorgio Vasari wrote Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects in the sixteenth century, we in the Western world have understood artworks and biographies as intertwined. This isn’t inevitable. A glance sideways geographically, or over the shoulder historically, shows that most cultures have not much cared …

Painting the Beyond

Hilma af Klint: Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 2, Childhood, 1907

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future

an exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, October 12, 2018–April 23, 2019

World Receivers: Georgiana Houghton, Hilma af Klint, Emma Kunz

an exhibition at the Lenbachhaus, Munich, November 6, 2018–March 10, 2019
Hilma af Klint was a skilled painter of portraits and landscapes who in the first decades of the twentieth century began making hundreds of strange pictures articulating the fluid relations between spirit and matter. Many have no basis in the visible world, and their early dates—in some cases years before such benchmark abstract paintings as Wassily Kandinsky’s Composition VII or Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square—have led to excited claims for af Klint as the unknown woman who pipped all the famous men to the post. This is the seductive pitch behind the Guggenheim’s much-lauded exhibition “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future,” the first comprehensive American overview of the artist now hailed, some seven decades after her death, as the female progenitor of modernist abstraction. Even if this were true—and it really isn’t—it would be the least material or interesting thing about this ecstatic and perplexing body of work.


Poons v. Koons: The Art of ‘The Price of Everything’

Artist Larry Poons walking to his studio in East Durham, New York, from Kahn’s The Price of Everything, 2018

The quandary at the heart of The Price of Everything, the art world documentary recently acquired by HBO, is summed up in a scene with the great German artist Gerhard Richter. Gesturing to one of his own paintings, Richter explains, “It’s not good when this is the value of a house. It’s not fair. I like it, but it’s not a house.” Viewers who anticipate a filmic celebration of capitalism as a force for cultural good, or alternatively, a condemnation of commodification, will be disappointed. The Price of Everything develops no particular argument, posits no solutions, uncovers no scandals. It isn’t a polemic, it’s a portrait, and in its mix of the grotesque and the earnest, a pragmatic and recognizable one.