Peter Plagens

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From their arrival after World War II to their imminent retirements, baby boomers have been the most prosperous and protected generation in history. But since coming of age in an era of turmoil and rebellion--from rock and roll to drugs to the Vietnam War--they have always had a hard time wearing their fortune without guilt.

The Art of the Deal

JP Munro, 30, is only six years out of art school and already he's in this year's Whitney Biennial, the art world's thrumming combination of "American Idol" and debutante ball. (The exhibition runs at New York's Whitney Museum through May 28.) That's not all the L.A.

Come to Dada

Ninety-two years ago, a Serbian nationalist assassinated the archduke who was heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and started the first world war. A couple of years later, in 1916, two Zurich poets named Hugo Ball and Richard Hulsenbeck wanted a name for the raucous, sarcastic anti-art antics they had in mind for their nightclub, the Cafe Voltaire.

Modernism's Heavy Metal

Whatever happened to modern sculpture? It started in the early 1900s with the amazing semi-abstract heads by Picasso and Brancusi. Then at midcentury came those haunting, existentially elongated human figures by Giacometti and the seductively biomorphic bronze blobs by Henry Moore.

A Misfit--And a Master

The great--yes, great-- American painter Andrew Wyeth just doesn't fit in. The Museum of Modern Art hangs "Christina's World"--its most popular picture--in a little hallway away from the canonical modernists.

Coloring Outside the Lines

A quarter century ago, when painting was supposed to be dead again, Elizabeth Murray spotted some small canvases lying around her New York studio. "I just screwed them together in a jumbled way and started painting on them," she says. "Then a studio assistant showed me how to stabilize them with aluminum bars in the back," and a style was born.

Ways Of Looking

In our own ways, we can all relate to New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman's idea of art as "points of contact with things greater than myself." Indeed, the mild-mannered Kimmelman is nothing if not humble in the face of art.

WEALTH ON THE WALL

If you count body painting and primitive jewelry on cavemen, art is probably the original luxury item. Pharaohs and popes, aristocrats and robber barons--and more recently, show folks and cyber-richies--have all collected it.

American Idol

Second place? Oh yes, Grant Wood's 1930 oil-on-panel painting, "American Gothic," currently hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago. Being runner-up is all the more impressive when you consider that the "Mona Lisa" comes from the hand of one of the greatest all-around geniuses of all time and enjoys the historical aura of having been painted half a millennium ago. "American Gothic," to the contrary, is the product of a merely good artist who confined his career to Iowa--where the picture was...

BLOCKBUSTERS: FOLLOWING THE CROWDS

Looking for something less quirky (but still serious)? Get in line for these surefire hit shows:Neo-Impressionism, From Seurat to Paul Klee, Musee d'Orsay, Paris, to July 10: If there's anything that can pack in viewers almost as well as impressionism, it's what came immediately afterward.

Summer Art Gets Serious

Truthfully, haven't you seen enough art-joke exhibitions? You know, the kind where some young tyro tries to take aback the audience by tearing holes in the walls, pouring goo on the floor or showing slapstick videos in blacked-out galleries?

Team Theory

When I was a young painter back in the mid-1960s--still in my 20s but already a college art instructor--I thought I understood most art up to and including Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.

MANHATTAN PROJECT

On the morning of Feb. 12, when New Yorkers start walking, jogging and bicycling into Central Park, they'll be greeted by a remarkable sight. Some 7, 500 bright saffron "gates"--each 16 feet high with a curtain of orange fabric hanging down to 7 feet off the ground--will festoon 23 miles of serpentine walkways.

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST

These days so much attention is given to "emerging artists" that you'd think there was no other kind--and, at 34, Julie Mehretu (pronounced merit-two) isn't particularly precocious.

WOMAN OF MYSTERY

His bio reads like a rock star's. A precocious talent, he never married because, he said, it would have hurt his career. But he moved his girlfriend in with him while he worked his last gig--then died at the age of 37 from a fever brought on, some said, by carnal excess.

DECKING THE WALLS

The museum of modern art was always cramped. From the day it moved into its modernist building in midtown Manhattan in 1939, and later, after Philip Johnson and then Cesar Pelli designed additions, it never had enough room to show even the highlights of its collection--the greatest assemblage, by far, of modern painting and sculpture in the world.

CHAIRMAN MAU

Bruce Mau is a quietly charismatic man of 45 who dresses in pajama-esque black, looks like a slightly svelter Orson Welles and talks as rapidly as a high-end computer salesman.

ART TOOLS OF DEMOCRACY

Looking for some hard-to-find political fun? Here's the assignment given to some of New York's best architects and designers: take an infamous 2000 Florida voting booth and make it into a three-dimensional editorial cartoon. "The Voting Booth Project"(47 wickedly modified tools of democracy) is up at the Parsons School of Design through Nov. 15.

GEORGIA ON OUR MINDS

For most Americans with an interest in art, the monumentalized flowers and delicately breathtaking landscapes of Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) are modernist enough to be exciting and traditional enough to be credible.

SNAP JUDGEMENT: BOOKS

The Coma by Alex GarlandThe story is simple, readable, desolate: Carl, an office worker taking the last train home, gets severely beaten by thugs. So his coma begins, on page seven.

SNAP JUDGEMENT: BOOKS

Skinny Dip by Carl HiaasenHiaasen's love-hate relationship with Florida (loves the place, hates what developers have done to it) has produced some of the best and certainly the funniest fiction ever written about the Sunshine State.

STANDING IN THE LINE OF FIRE

"Ten big ones," Janet Evanovich's 10th and latest Stephanie Plum thriller, finds the Jersey-girl bounty hunter pursued by a hired killer. As usual, Stephanie relies on help from her semi-reformed hooker sidekick, Lula; her handsome cop boyfriend Joe Morelli, and the disturbingly seductive fellow bounty hunter "Ranger." And as usual, Plum must also contend with a wacky grandmother and a jeans-stretching appetite for doughnuts and Cheez Doodles.PETER PLAGENS: What impresses me most about you is...

THE BODY ELECTRIC

Perfect living bodies will be in Athens this summer, working up a competitive sweat. But perfect marble, bronze and painted bodies can be found all over that other glorious classical city, Rome--not to mention much of the rest of Europe.

ART'S 'STAR SEARCH'

"I'm so nervous, I gave myself a rash," says Cory Arcangel, 26. Arcangel is a video and performance artist; in a week he's got to do the performance part of his gig in the Whitney Museum's just-opened Biennial exhibit of contemporary art.

SHOW ME THE MONET

The Elvises aren't really Elvis, and the Venetian is an impersonator. That's the whole point of Las Vegas: flashy faux surroundings for the rattle of roulette wheels and the snap of blackjack cards.

Brilliance Or Bust

After stops in London and Chicago, the much-buzzed-about survey of John Currin's oil paintings is up at New York's Whitney Museum through Feb. 22. Currin's work ranges from ridiculously busty babes, to vain professors and gals of a certain age, to complex family scenes.

The Return Of The Natural

It's pretty hard to decide which is more inspiring: the long-awaited Lee Bontecou retrospective exhibition at the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles (though Jan. 11), or the movie-quality story of the 72-year-old artist herself.

Cityscapes: A Walking Tour

Golden GatewayMost people fly in, but we recommend you set foot here at the Ferry Building at the bottom of Market Street. After a $100 million renovation, it's now a spacious, bustling artisanal California food-and-craft market.

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