Facing Off with the Old Masters

Ingrid D. Rowland

Jacopo Carucci Pontormo: Visitation, circa 1528–1529; Bill Viola: The Greeting, 1995

One of the favorite sports of Renaissance artists was a contest called the paragone, the “comparison,” the age-old debate about the most expressive form of art. Like sport itself, the fun lay in playing the game with headlong passion, insisting that painting, or sculpture, or architecture reigned as queen of all the other arts. This spring and summer, the Florentine exhibition “Bill Viola: Electronic Renaissance,” organized around the work of the acclaimed American video artist Bill Viola, has brought the paragone into the twenty-first century.

Matisse: The Joy of Things

Claire Messud

Henri Matisse: Vase of Flowers, 1924

Matisse, unsurprisingly, had strong feelings about the objects of his daily life. They delighted, inspired, or confounded him, in their humble ordinariness and in all that they evoked. These mundane items, the organizing principle for the exhilarating show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, served as sparks for Matisse’s art. The exhibition’s considerations of these objects enable us to see Matisse’s works anew.

The Banality of Putin

Robert Cottrell

A still from The Putin Interviews, 2017

It’s easy to see why Oliver Stone puts up with being lied to in The Putin Interviews, Stone’s new four-part documentary. He needs Putin’s indulgence to make the series. The harder question is why Putin made so much time for Stone, given that Putin has a country to run. Stone does not have much to offer, and Putin cannot help but run rings around him for three of the four interviews.

Afghanistan: It’s Too Late

Ahmed Rashid

To continue seeing the conflict in Afghanistan only through the prism of war and troop numbers as the US does will only lead to continuing erosion of the government’s legitimacy. and loss of territory. Taliban attacks will increase, there will be continued loss of territory, and the government may collapse. This is a recipe for failure.

Lost in Arabia

Colin Thubron

Detail depicting Kaaba in Mecca from a scroll showing a Shiite pilgrimage, purchased by Niebuhr in Karbala, Iraq, 1761-1767

The 1761-1767 doomed Danish expedition to the Middle East was little known for many years. In Felix Arabia, an account of the expedition recently published in a new edition, Thorkild Hansen sometimes doubts the expedition’s influence. But since, its reputation has burgeoned. Despite the losses and decay suffered by its findings, the maps, studies in zoology and botany, and other discoveries were a gift to the future. In 2011, the 250th anniversary of the expedition’s departure was celebrated with pride.

The New Face of Russian Resistance

Masha Gessen

Protestors during a demonstration in downtown Moscow, June 12, 2017

As long as some Russians, including some very young ones, are willing—as they were on Monday—to brave streets filled with riot police, they keep an unreasonable hope alive, and they increase the chances that opposition activist Alexei Navalny will survive and stay out of prison. That’s not nothing.

Words Still Matter

Francine Prose

James Comey’s June 8 hearing proved that it is still possible for politicians to speak in complete sentences, to display a familiarity with history, to strive for linguistic and moral clarity: to make sense. But we are still waiting to hear from the senators and representatives with the fortitude to say lie as often as Trump’s supporters repeat not under investigation.

Lygia Pape’s Radical Banquet

Esther Allen

Lygia Pape: Livro do tempo (Book of Time), 1961-1963

By the time she made it, Brazilian artist Lygia Pape’s career had evolved through two schools of geometric abstraction—Concretism and its less rigid Rio de Janeiro counterpart Neo-Concretism. She had made paintings, sculpture, artists’ books, films, installations, and performance art. A retrospective of Pape’s work currently at the Met Breuer—her first solo exhibit in the United States—is highly conceptual, drawing on semiotics, architectural theory, and anthropology, but never losing a deep connection with the visceral realities of daily life.

Britain: The End of a Fantasy

Fintan O’Toole

British Prime Minister Theresa May on her way to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen's permission to form a minority government, London, June 9, 2017

Brexit is an elite project dressed up in rough attire. Because Theresa May doesn’t actually believe in Brexit, she’s improvising a way forward very roughly sketched out by other people. In Britain’s recent election, May’s phony populism came up against the Labour party’s more genuine brand of anti-establishment radicalism that convinced the young and the marginalized that they had something to come out and vote for.