Peter Plagens

Snap Judgment

THEY MARCHED INTO SUNLIGHTBy David MaranissPultizer Prize winner Maraniss reconstructs two days in 1967: in Vietnam, on the demonstration-torn campus of the University of Wisconsin and in the Johnson White House.

Our Bilbao

Build it, the cliche goes, and they will come. But if it's already built and you just gut it, slick it up a bit, fill it with gargantuan minimal and conceptual art, and persuade New York Gov.

The Celtic Alternative

In any major city these days, you can encounter more neoconceptual artists--and their deceptively artless videos and installations-with-attitude--than you can shake a mahlstick at.

Buying Into The Buzz

However clever our alternative route, there's no way a seasoned art lover can avoid Paris, London or Rome this summer. Two Parisian standouts are "Leonardo da Vinci: Drawings and Manuscripts" (through July 14 at the Louvre), a rare chance to put the Mona Lisa in context, and "Arabian Icons: Christian Art of the Levant" at the Institute of the Arab World (through Aug. 17).

The 'Greatest' Cliche

Critics get paid to make judgments. And I'm fine with that. The most valuable service we critics can provide is starting arguments by saying that, Elizabeth Murray, for instance, is a better painter than Brice Marden.In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing a sentence like this appear in my favorite art magazine: "After the installation of 'North, East, South, West,' his crowd-pleasing series of steel-clad giant geometric holes in the floor at the newly opened DIA:Beacon museum an hour upriver from...

Some Irony With That?

As an artist, Adolf Hitler was a hack watercolorist who nevertheless enjoyed a fairly good overall sense of design. He had a hand in the look of all those dramatic torchlight Nuremberg rallies, Gestapo uniforms and even the original Volkswagen.

In Defense Of High Art

A few years back, I was driving through a Midwest university town, and I spied an old, oxidized and slightly rusty green Volvo wagon with a gaily colored kiddy seat in the back.The driver was a young guy with a Lincolnesque beard (no moustache), wire-rimmed glasses and a tweed duckbill cap--all of which just about shouted "junior faculty!" As he turned down a leafy, residential street, I could read the bumper sticker identifying his department and his artistic predicament: SERIOUS MUSIC ISN'T...

Froufrous With 'Tude

Don't expect to find America's very best-designed industrial products in the new show at New York's Cooper-Hewitt design museum: they've been dropped on Iraq.

The Real Leonardo

Do you remember that strange left-handed, long-haired kid in study hall, the one who could do that stupid backward "mirror handwriting" and drew all the time?

Friendship And Rivalry

Squeezed into its MOMA-in-exile headquarters in a rehabilitated Queens, N.Y, factory, the Museum of Modern Art will permit fewer than 4,000 people a day to get a look at its blockbuster exhibition "Matisse Picasso." That'll mean a total audience of about 330,000 people--a lot, to be sure, but a whole lot fewer than the half million who saw it late last year in London and the 580,000 who saw it in Paris before it closed there just six weeks ago.

Art: Staying For A While At A Museum Near You

You might call it "calendar creep." Art-museum exhibitions in America and abroad are running longer and longer these days. New York's financially constricted Guggenheim Museum just closed its video show "Moving Pictures" after a run of almost seven months, Scotland's National Galleries won't take down its big exhibition of "Warhol to Koons" until it's been up almost as long and the St.

The Endless Show

Call it "calendar creep" or simply "slow shows," but in Europe and America, art-museum exhibitions seem to be running longer and longer these days. The giant Aztec show at the Royal Academy in London, for example, will endure almost as long as that ancient civilization itself; it closes on April 11 after opening way back in November.

The Blob Strikes Again

According to Dan Cameron, curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, no American artist of the past two decades "has treated the transformed cultural interaction of nature and humanity with anything approaching the intensity and depth of Carroll Dunham." Whoa, some statement!

A Quilting Bee Bounty

America is a nation of quilters--20 million of them, in fact, which is probably more than the number of people who go to see exhibitions of modern art in museums.

Flights Of Folly

At the Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, it's an amazingly short walk from slot machines to Cezanne. Built right into opposite sides of the Venetian are two Guggenheim museums, both designed by avant-garde Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and neither yet a year old.

Hitler: A Gift For Evil--But Not For Art

But why give him the wall space?" an art critic asked Deborah Rothschild, curator at the Williams College Museum of Art in Massachusetts. "Him" is Adolf Hitler, and two of Hitler's watercolors are in the exhibition "Prelude to a Nightmare: Art, Politics and Hitler's Early Years in Vienna, 1906-1913" (through Oct. 27).

Hitler's Paintings

"But why give him the wall space?" One of the art critics at the exhibition preview asked Deborah Rothschild, curator at the Williams College Museum of Art in Massachusetts. "Him" is none other than Adolf Hitler, and two of Hitler's watercolors are part of the exhibition "Prelude to a Nightmare: Art, Politics and Hitler's Early Years in Vienna 1906-1913" (through Oct. 27).

What Andy Saw

Great artists make the familiar seem astonishing. Really great artists turn around and make the astonishing seem familiar again. In the big, 250-work retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (up through Aug. 18), Andy Warhol does both--and then some.

Doubts At Documenta

When a contemporary art extravaganza announces that it's not limited to art but includes everything from the social sciences to architecture, you know it's going to be a pretty conventional show.

Films: Extreme Art House

Peter PlagensThe short answer is: a bunch of nattily dressed 1930s types doing weird, pointless deeds in the Chrysler Building. The long answer includes a destruction derby in the lobby, an art-deco elevator filled to the brim with cement, an intermission and the prosthetic genitals of an entirely new sex.

Art: Kitsch As Kitsch Can

If there's anything that scares the pants off the avant-garde art world, it's kitsch. Plastic statues of saints and garden Pietas, say. Or tropical landscapes spray-painted on the sides of vans.

Schizophrenic Scribe

Peter Plagens has been NEWSWEEK's art critic since 1989. Now he's retiring as a full-time staffer to spend more time in his painting studio. Recently, he sat down with himself-or, rather, his two selves-for a conversation on the vicissitudes of being both an art critic and an artist.Let's get right to it: how does it feel to be retiring?ARTIST & CRITIC (in unison): I'm not.

A Radical's Work Grows Old--Not So Gracefully

You can almost imagine old Barnett Newman doing stand-up. Monocle attached to his mustached, Gene Hackmanesque face, the belt line of his heavy suit hovering just under his armpits, a short biblike necktie adding a little color, he begins, "Seriously, folks, there is no such thing as a good painting about nothing." And sculpture? "That's something you bump into when you back up to look at a painting." (Rimshot.) "Hey, I gotta tell ya, an artist paints so that he will have something to look at."...


Jordan Shows His AgeIt looks like Michael Jordan may be human after all. Jordan's latest comeback--this time with the Washington Wizards--stalled last week when he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.

Where's The Light?

As Gene Kelly said in the old movie musical "An American in Paris," "Brother, if you can't paint in Paris, you'd better give up and marry the boss's daughter." From the mid-18th century on, the City of Light's powerful Academy and magnificent Louvre Museum were command central for traditional art.

Looking Back At Richter

The 70-year-old German painter Gerhard Richter is one of those artists whose every exhibition prompts more discussion about the rationale behind the work than whether the art looks good or not.