Peter Plagens

Artists as Reality-TV Stars

Long before the American Idolization of every art form on the planet, the great humorist S. J. Perelman imagined a gnarly New York painter being asked by a vulgarian Hollywood movie producer: what exactly do you artists do in the studio when you get an idea? "I usually smite my forehead," the painter replies sarcastically, "and shout 'Eureka!'?"

The End of Political Art

There's a double-gallery exhibition still up in New York called The Visible Vagina. It's another one of those didactic anthology shows purporting to bring some issue that artists think regular folk have either thought about incorrectly, or have repressed entirely, out into the open and, in the patois of today's art world, "address," "confront," "deconstruct," "unpack," and "interrogate" the hell out of it.

Museums Suffer the Art World's Biggest Fallout

When the art market collapsed along with everything else last year, the general public's first reaction was a resounding "Who cares?" After all, what skin was it off their noses if a Jeff Koons failed to sell at Sotheby's or some snooty London gallery shut its doors?Art museums, however, are another matter.

Nauman's Own--Art

Some people say that Bruce Nauman is the most influential American artist since Andy Warhol, but when Nauman arrived at art school way back in 1964, he had almost no idea where he was headed.

Three Decades In Madrid

If Antonio Lopez-Garcia's "Lucio's Balcony" were not a great painting on its own, then the circumstances of its creation would clinch the matter. It took the 72-year-old Spanish realist 28 years to complete, from 1962 to 1990.

Still Life with Beach Towel

The gift shop at the new Museum of Contemporary Art in New York doesn't sell standard museum fare—no Monet neckties or Jackson Pollock jigsaw puzzles. Instead, the NCMA, which just opened its new building in November, carries much edgier stuff.

A Modern Master's Modest Art

Sometimes I find it's best not to pay too much attention to the label. The one for "Railway Tracks," for instance, in the wonderful "Georges Seurat: Drawings" exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art, on view through Jan. 7, touts the "deep perspective of a winding road" and the "sensation of the earth in upheaval." While there is a bit of road at the bottom, and the drawing does depict a changing suburban area outside late-19th-century Paris, the beauty of Seurat's art lies elsewhere.

Is Photography Dead?

How is that even remotely possible? The medium certainly looks alive, well and, if anything, overpopulated. There are hordes of photographers out there, working with back-to-basics pinhole cameras and pixeled images measured in gigabytes, with street photography taken by cell phones and massive photo "shoots" whose crews, complexity and expense resemble those of movie sets.

Unknown Modern Master: Gerald Murphy

A few months after moving to Paris in 1921, Gerald Murphy happened to walk by the gallery of the pioneer modern-art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who was holding a kind of clearance sale of cubist paintings by Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris and Georges Braque.

Artist Slugs It Out With Museum

The early-20th-century American critic Sadakichi Hartmann famously said, "If you think vaudeville is dead, look at modern art." Hartmann wasn't a reactionary.

'The Dinner Party' Gets a Home

Lots of people think that Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party" is lousy art. Chicago (and a few hundred disciples/volunteers) made the restaurant-size work in the '70s as a kind of feminist encyclopedia.

'Glitter and Doom': Art to Make You Wince

In the first world war, Germany suffered 5 million dead. When the war was over, the country was left with 2 million orphans, a million widows and a million invalids.

An Old-School Radical

At 68, Brice Marden is still a trim, handsome man with knowing eyes. Which must be why--since abstract painters aren't usually celebrities--he's recently appeared in a Gap ad.

Mortality, Morbidity And More

For someone with all the trappings of a severely intimidating modern artist--long, insane-asylum-gray hair, all-black garb and hieroglyphic tattoos--Kiki Smith is awfully considerate with an interviewer.

A Car You Could Frame

While you've been shopping around for a fuel-efficient hybrid, a new Bugatti has hit the market. It's called the Veyron, and costs $1.3 million. Its 1,001-horsepower engine can make the car go 250mph and get you a piddling 3mpg doing it.

East of the Louvre

During the Cold War, it was called "Eastern" Europe. Since the fall of the Berlin wall, "Central" has become the designation of choice. Tourism marketers prefer "The Other Europe" to set off such countries as Poland, Slovakia and Hungary from heavily Americanized Western Europe.

Blockbusters: Mass Appeal

While it's great to take the road less traveled, especially during the summer months, there are always a number of exhibits that are well worth their wait in line.

Hot Properties

For the past few weeks, the smooth, ghostly and haunting face of Zhang Xiaogang's "Bloodline Series: Comrade No. 120" (1998) has been almost as ubiquitous in contemporary-art circles as, say, an Andy Warhol "Marilyn" or a Damien Hirst pickled shark.

An Irishman Goes Back to His Roots

For more than 30 years Brian O'Doherty has lived just off New York's Central Park in a landmark building built about a century ago with sunlit two-story studios especially for artists.