Peter Plagens

High Performance

HERE'S A TWIST: SOMEBODY WHO MAKES AVANT-GARDE ART (videos and photographs) to sell in a New York gallery to support her career in performance art. But then, Claude Wampler, 33, is not your normal artist.

These Days, It's The 'Old Of The Shock'

ARTISTS ARE KIND OF CRAZY-smart, like cats. They've got antennae--all right, whiskers--to help them make the right moves when conditions change. For example, when the market for cutting-edge art works such as David Salle's pomo paintings began to slide in the late '80s, a lot of old-masterish landscapes suddenly showed up in hip galleries.

Revenge Of The Britpack

CLAUDE RAINS AS CAPT. LOUIS REnault was shocked--shocked--to find gambling going on at Rick's Place in ""Casablanca.'' He'd have been really shocked if he had walked into the Royal Academy of Arts (est. 1768) in London last week to find ""Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection'' opening there.

Cutting To The Chase

ONE NIGHT IN OCTOBER 1960, paparazzi pursued the voluptuous Swedish actress Anita Ekberg to her Roman villa. Ekberg stormed outside in her black sheath and stocking feet, carrying a bow and arrow.

Santa Fe Raises Its Sites

ON THE INTERSTATE UP FROM ALBUquerque, things don't look promising: Indian-run casinos, factory outlets for handbags and drunk-driving lawyers. Can the traditionally artsy city of Santa Fe really lie just ahead?

Unholy Hades

Hercules sure is strong. Fast, too. In less than 86 minutes, Here wins enough fights not only to prove he's a hero, but to realize that what's inside his heart counts more than winningfights.

Big Man On Canvas

ART CRITICS ARE A SPINSTERISH lot. We really are. We're either fastidious poetasters writing hairsplitting guides about rare paintings, or we're priggish deconstructivist wan-bringing up the intellectual rear of the P.C.

Stuck In The Middle

THE WHITNEY MUSEUM'S BIENNIAL exhibition of contemporary American art has turned into a peculiar mating dance with the critics. The museum fluffs its feathers and protests its being pecked to death for bringing the public up to speed on current art.

The Last Dutch Master

WILLEM DE KOONING CALLED HIMSELF A ""SLIPPING glimpser'' because his pictures were never totally abstract. Early last Wednesday morning, he slipped from life at the age of 92.

Exiles On Main St.

HITLER WASTED NO TIME AT all. In 1933, his first year in power, he forced 20,000 Jews you to flee. He also founded the Reichskulturkammer to censor art. And his storm troopers invaded the visionary art school the Bauhaus on the ground that it was a hotbed of ""Jewishness'' and ""cultural bolshevism.'' In 1935 the Nazis enacted the infamous Nuremberg laws depriving Jews of their civil rights; by 1937, when they staged the biggest of their mocking ""Degenerate Art'' shows, most of Germany's...

Little Artists And Athletes

Cradling a newborn, said playwright Sebastian Barry in "The Steward of Christendom," is like "holding a three-pound bag of loose corn": the baby has about as much motor control as the sack of kernels and is equally incapable of any intentional movement.

Inflated Reputation

THE SAME SHERIFF WHO charged Cincinnati's Contemporary Arts Center with obscenity over its 1990 Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition brought his own bagpipe band to play at Tim Hawkinson's opening there recently.

Tokyo Time For Vinoly

TOKYO--TO UNDERSTATE THE OBVIOUS--is a vast, sprawling city infamous for its centerless semichaos. No single building could possibly give it an urbanist's bull's-eye.

Life In The Virtual Year

ONE MOMENT WE WERE popping bubbly on New Year's Eve 1995. Next thing we knew we were cracking a can of Old Milwaukee in front of the 1997 Outback Bowl. Nineteen ninety-six was a leap year, but did that mean you skipped it entirely?

Rally Round The Flag, Boys

JASPER JOHNS'S AUSTERELY ELEGANT town house on Manhattan's Upper East Side is a little like a home, a little like a museum. The art on the walls--Cy Twombly, Kurt Schwitters, Picasso and a bit of Johns's own--has been astutely placed.

There Goes The Neighborhood

IN THE ART WORLD NOTHING EXCEEDS like success. Take New York's SoHo district, where airy galleries show cutting-edge art, where artists live and work in spacious lofts and where esthetes chow down together in local bistros.

Biting The Hand

MOMMAS, DON'T LET YOUR BAbies grow up to be artists. They'll get sucked into a treacherous, black-clad SoHo demimonde, where elegantly cynical dealers manipulate egotistical painters.At least that's the gist of Kim Benabib's oddly affecting first novel, Obscene Bodies (256 pages.

Chicago's New Hope

YOU HAVE TO HAND IT TO Chicagoans: they never tiptoe around anything. Take their huge new Museum of Contemporary Art building, which opens to the public with a 24-hour celebration on the summer solstice, June 21.

A World Of Apples

YOU MAY KNOW THE TYPE OF guy. He's bald, gruff and has grown a mountain man's beard. He works in his garage, perfecting some clumsy electrical devicethat doesn't seem likely to work.

Even A Kid Could Do It

BEAUTIFUL ALEXANDRA NECHITA, age 10, puts on her paint-dappled "magic slippers" and hums a little tune. She ties an apron around her waist. Then -- oblivious to the sounds of the nearby freeway in Norwalk, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles -- she begins to paint.

Cows On The Cutting Edge

ENGLISH ARTIST DAMIEN HIRST SEEMS like a real nice, un-self-conscious guy. The day before his big debut at Larry Gagosian's SoHo gallery earlier this month, Hirst, 30, took a pull on a Heineken and said, "I think the moment you become your own idea of yourself, you've lost everything." So it wasn't a snarling, enigmatic artist's persona that packed Hirst's opening with black-clad artsies and such celebrities as David Bowie, John Waters and Anna Wintour.

In A Spiral

GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM DIRECTOR Thomas Krens leans back in his office chair and smiles. Krens, 49, is 6 feet 4, so it's a pretty impressive lean. Once again, Krens is defending the way he runs his museum, so his smile is a little weary. "I sometimes feel personally attacked," be says. "I can't believe that intelligent people wouldn't support what we're doing." But ever since he arrived in 1988 -a former college art teacher armed with an M.B.A. -his ambitious plans have been denounced by critics.

Here's Pablo!

BIENVENUE SUR LE WEB DE PICASSO, the computer screen says. Last week Pablo began presiding over his own Web site ( picasso), while the Museum of Modern Art in New York opened yet another major exhibition, "Picasso and Portraiture" (through Sept. 17).

The Golden Hoard

STARTING APRIL 16, THE FABLED "Gold of Troy" that Heinrich Schliemann excavated in Turkey will see the light of day for the first time since 1941. In 19 bulletproof-glass cases, 259 priceless objects will be put on public view for a year, in Moscow's Pushkin Museum.

The Great Assembler

ED (NO EDWARD, PLEASE) KIENHOLZ was a bearded, big-bellied, self-taught artist who became famous in the 1960s for making angry assemblage sculpture in Los Angeles.

Abstract Slant

NEARLY 40 YEARS AGO, 21 MODERN artists--including Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline--signed an open letter protesting the Guggenheim Museum's plans for a new building by Frank Lloyd Wright.