Peter Plagens

The Font Of Youth

Ex-surfer David Carson is changing the way we read. Designing magazines and ads, he twists, shatters and blurs the type. Twentysomethings think he's the coolest. Others aren't so sure.

Miracle On Fifth Avenue

ONE EVENING LAST FALL, ON HER daily walk home from New York's Institute of Fine Arts, Dr. Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt passed the French Embassy's cultural center on Fifth Avenue, near the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Click On A Canvas

LET'S SAY THAT KENT AND CARLA Naif of Kansas City decide to start acquiring contemporary art. They've seen reproductions of big paintings by the current SoHo star Paolo Pomo, and they want one.

Peeling Paint

PAINTING HAS HAD A ROUGH TIME since the end of the 1980s, when the market for neoexpressionism collapsed and ambitious young artists went back to making installation art.

Mussolini Over Miami

WE'RE FUTURISTS," SAYS MITCHELL Wolfson Jr., who looks like a younger version of Schweppes's Commander Whitehead, of his brand-new museum and its staff. "If you want to know what we are, you have to go back to Marinetti." Really?

Sex, Please, We're French

The French didn't actually invent sex, but they sure know how to make a big deal out of it. They've given us the Folies Bergere, French postcards, French kissing and, of course, vive la difference itself.

When Less Was More

These days, a relentless IMpulse to throw everything lying around the studio floor into contemporary art seems to dictate that a giant-size, interactive photo-text installation with video monitors and Dolby sound is inherently better than a plain old painting or sculpture.

What A Life She Red

Tina Modotti's life (1896-1942) is the stuff that mini-series are made of. That may not he the reason "Tina Modotti: Photographs," on view through Nov. 26 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is, according to a sign on the wall just inside the show's entrance, "made possible by a generous gift from Madonna." Still, it's nice to see showfolk stepping into an arena--museum exhibitions with a little grit to them--where government and corporate funds fear to tread.

Beauty And Beats

The Last Few Years Have Been Hard On visual art. To folks in the malls and on Capitol Hill, art is about as welcome as Calvin Klein at a PTA meeting. Hassles over Robert Mapplethorpe, Karen Finley and Ron Athey have taken their toll on the art world.

The Video Vibes Of Venice

On a balmy june night in venice, hundreds of fashionably stubbled men and spandexed women crowded around video artist Bill Viola. San Pellegrino spritzers in hand, they shouted congratulations for his show at the current Biennale (open through Oct. 15).

It's A Wrap At The Reichstag

Last Weekend Christo's Crew Of Rock climbers and construction workers was putting the finishing touches on the wrapped Reichstag. After lobbying the Bonn Parliament for 23 years for approval, after spending perhaps $10 million (being raised by the sale of the project's drawings and prints), the Bulgarian-born New York artist, 60, saw the once and future home of German democracy almost completely swathed in more than a million square feet of rippling silver polypropylene fabric.

The Rap On Whistler

An admirer once approached the American expatriate painter James McNeill Whistler (1884-1908) and told him, "There are only two great painters, you and Velazquez." "Madam," Whistler replied, "why drag in Velazquez?" Indeed.

A Very Early Modern

FOR A MEDIUM SO RESOLUTELY grounded in the particulars of the there and then-what was in front of the lens when the shutter clicked-photography can, in the hands of a master, remain eternally in the present.

The Impossible Exhibition

One of these days, maybe in time for the 1997 Whitney Biennial exhibition, the O.J. trial will be over. People will feel an emptiness in their lives. And they'll also feel a little bit guilty about it.

The Whitney Tries Again

Slender, soft-spoken curator of drawings Klaus Kertess sure doesn't seem like the guy to straighten out the troubled Whitney Biennial exhibition. At 54, he's decidedly past the median age on the art world's hipness profile.

War And Remembrance

Last week -- with about as much notice as the German Wehrmacht gave the Soviet Union when itinvaded in June 1941 -- Moscow's Pushkin Museum opened an exhibition of art masterpieces.

When Freedom Was But A Promise

As a poor kid in Detroit, Jackie Napoleon Wilson began haunting thrift shops, where he could buy a pair of shoes for a nickel. He also started collecting other things he found there. ""I consider it an honor to admire someone's forgotten treasures,'' says Wilson, an attorney and the grandson of a slave who lived to the age of 107.

New Museum By The Bay

SAN FRANCISCO'S MELLOW ART SCENE almost gives provincialism a good name. An alternative to New York's grimy infighting and Los Angeles's sunny air-kissing, it's proud of its beatnik assemblages, psychedelic rock posters and the slather-it-on painting school of David Park and Wayne Thiebaud.

Cool Hand Koolhaas

FOR A LOT OF YOUNG ARCHITECTS, urbanophiles and art students, Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, 50, is one hot deconstructivist dude. The tall, articulate former journalist and scriptwriter hops between Rotterdam, London and Cambridge, Mass., and drives a Maserati.

Say No Mo To Po-Mo

PRUDENCIO IRAZABAL, 40, IS A SPANISH ARTIST WITH a studio in New York's Chinatown -- a postmodern situation if there ever was one. But Irazabal paints small, abstract, subtly colored canvases that attempt to discover the absolute bedrock of painting. "I'm interested in what painting was in the beginning," he says, "when it was concerned with feeling." This is a modernist enterprise if there ever was one.

Living On Tokyo Time

The curator of "Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky" (at the Guggenheim Museum's Soho branch in New York through Jan. 8 and in San Francisco next May) is of two minds about the show.

The Way They Were, We Are

August Sander's everyday folk if there's a word with a bad reputation around today, it's "stereotype." But without those invisible mental molds in which to slip specific images of people, to see how closely they fit, how else can we get a glimpse of universal human nature in pictures of the local butcher, coal hauler or policeman?

Surprise Sellers: Feline Fauves

Why would 20,000 readers -- so far -- want to buy a book on the great cat painters of the world? (Not artists portraying felines, mind you, but cats who paint.) A spokesman for Ten Speed Press in Berkeley, Calif., guesses, "It panders to animal behaviorists, art historians and people who like Spy magazine." Sounds weird, but Ten Speed must know something.

Thanks, But No Thanks

It's almost a year now since Richard Oldenburg announced his res-ignation as director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, and no replacement has been found.

Drawing On The Dark Side

Comic books have gotten a lot less comic over the years. Today's typical readers -- skateboard adolescents and some Gen-Xers -- are interested in mesomorphic superheroes and fur-clad warlocks.

Maya Lin's Time For Light

Maya lin works minor miracles. As a 21-year-old undergraduate architecture student at Yale in 1980, she submitted the winning design for the magnificently conciliatory Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Her simple, noble granite Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala. (1989), conveys both the uniqueness and universality of that struggle without compromising either.