Peter Plagens

Smoke And Mirrors

From the beginning, Andy Warhol's reputation as an artist might have been made of smoke and mirrors. So perhaps the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was fated to be engulfed in a rancorous soap opera that's becoming the art world's version of ""Rashomon.'' After all, Andy first made the scene back in the 1960s by pass-ing off crude, hasty photo-silk-screens of Campbell's soup cans, car accidents and Jackie as paintings for serious collectors.

King Of The Urban Jungle

DISNEY MOVIES SPEAK TO THE KID IN all of us. And since kids like the same healthful stuff-mother love, frolicking in the grass with other kids and pretending to be heroes - the Disney appeal is nearly universal.

Return of the Galisteo Kid

IF THERE WERE EVER AN EXHIBITION TO provoke a museum guards' strike, the Bruce Nauman retrospective at Minneapolis's Walker Art Center is it. Day after day (through June 19), those laconic, uniformed heroes, without whom no museum could display its art, will not only have to field more questions than usual from a puzzled public, but they'll have to bear up under the dissonant din of Nauman's vid-eo installations.

Pop Goes to Pittsburgh

ANDY WARHOL ACTED NICE about being bad. He made crude silk-screen paintings of fatal car accidents, shot movies with real sex and dope in them, and promoted the street hustlers and debauched debutantes who hung around his New York studio (called The Factory) as poets and "superstars." But Andy, who died in 1987 at the age of 58, also gladly signed autographs, went to church every day and ensconced his mother in a Manhattan town house.

I Ought To Be In Pictures

THE MOST DAMNING PHRASE IN THE art world these days is "the '80s." It calls up inflated prices, unreadable blather about "postmodernism" and "deconstructivism" and artists' egos big enough to fill a movie sound stage.

Drawing Political Fire

SOCIALISM WAS BETRAYED," Sue Coe says with the matter-of-factness of stating that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. "It was betrayed by people like Gorbachev." The artist, 42, makes this comment in the small, dark Manhattan apartment she occupies with two pet rats (which have tumors from lab-induced cancer) and a tuxedo cat who, she warns, just might scratch.

Stranger In The Night

IF YOU THINK IT'S FINALLY TIME FOR OL' Blue Eyes to quit, you can dial 1-900-something and register your 75-cent vote in a New York Daily News poll. If you don't, make plans to be in Tulsa, Moline, Omaha, Wilmington, Syracuse or New York City after March 24 because that's where the 78-year-old Chairman of the Board will be belting out "My Way." The last time Frank Sinatra sang that darkly bravado anthem to a career's end (March 6, in Richmond, Va.), he collapsed.

Bad Girls For Goodness' Sake

FEMINISM HAS BEEN GOOD FOR THE ART world. And the art world has been relatively good to it. Historical reappraisals of painters from the baroque's Artemisia Gentileschi to the early modernism's Lyubov Popova and the emergence of new generations of important contemporary artists have benefited museums, galleries and alternative spaces.

School Is Out, Far Out

THE BORDER CAFE, AN ARTIST-owned restaurant-bar in Richmond, Va., is named after the nonexistent boundary between Texas and Wisconsin. To Paul Kosmas, a graduate painting student at Virginia Commonwealth University who's sipping a Rolling Rock, that makes about as much sense as anything about art.

The Naked And The Dread

LUCIAN FREUD, THE PAINTER grandson of Sigmund Freud, was said in his youth to have almost no natural ability to draw. In spite of that, Freud managed to develop a unique sensibility in rendering the human form.

From Hopper To Hip-Hop

IN THE ART WORLD, RICH patrons fresh from corporate boardrooms dance cheek to cheek with feisty young artists fresh from schools where everyone talks about "the contradictions of late capitalism." You'd think that with the clash of such opposites, political correctness would quickly melt away.

A Bright Bridge To Surrealism

THERE'S A HEATED BATTLE of words currently raging Tin the art press between Spain's two most famous painters. Antoni Tapies, the country's establishment abstract artist, fumes that Antonio Lopez-Garcia, a consummate realist, should never have gotten a retrospective in the national modern art museum.

Grand Master Of Aloofness

The title of "World's Greatest living painter" is always suspect. Unlike, say, WBA junior welterweight champion, it's sweeping and subjective. Moreover, the unofficial belt always seems to go to a loner who doesn't subscribe to one of modern art's guiding "isms." At the middle of the century, Matisse was champ.

The Big Daddy Of Light And Space

In art, Los Angeles is america's second city. Until the '60's, it had only one real museum (with modern art and dinosaur bones under the same roof), a few old movie stars who collected impressionism, and some second-rate expressionist painters.

Life With The Proper Painter

Out on the Eastern end of Long Island, the Hamptons have been summer home to a lot of New York artists. But a few painters have spent their entire careers amid the green potato fields, gentle harbors and quiet villages along the South Fork.

The Long Run To Venice

As the odometer of art history turns toward 2000, it's apparent that we're nearing the end of something more than the century. Take the art world's version of the Cannes Film Festival, the Venice Biennale (open through Oct. 10), as a bellwether.

Sculpture To The Point

A big problem with sculpture these days is that practically anything can call itself sculpture and get away with it. The medium is spread thin all the way from Charles Ray's hyperreal but zombielike mannequins, through Cady Noland's stacks of beer cans surrounded by chain link, to tyro Christian Marclay's unwinding reels of audiotape.

Is The Barnes Noble?

The controversy surrounding the quirky Barnes Foundation could have resulted in more than just the exhibition of 80 of its best paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., from May 2 until Aug. 15.

Through A Lens Early

"Art," a certain painter once said, "is the only human endeavor where subsequent versions work the bugs in." He was right: the first cubist paintings were the best cubist paintings, and the first pop art the best pop art.

Making Book The Hard Way

Being a bibliophile has its privileges. You might even be recommended for membership at the prestigious Grolier Club in Manhattan. (One does not simply join, old chap.) Founded in 1884 and snuggled into a Georgian-style town house in 1917, the club describes itself as "the mainstay of American book collecting." Its premises contain a 90,000-volume library of books about books and a large, decoratively correct hall for exhibitions on the ground floor.

Fade From White

The Royal Academy in Paris sponsored the old official salons in the 18th and 19th centuries, where artists who wanted to get ahead contributed lots of heavily framed oil paintings and smooth bronze sculptures celebrating glorious moments in European history.

Even Mightier Than The Pen

That lovable old German theoretician Gotthold Ephraim Lessing thought that painting was an art of spatial relationships and that the things depicted in it should have the good manners to stand still.

A Matter Of Horsepower

Ever since the advent of photography more than 150 years ago, painting has been getting periodic attacks of insecurity. It frantically gives itself mass-media face-lifts, enlists in political revolutions and spends a lot of time in the rare-book room prepping for dinner parties with French philosophers.

Summing Up Doom And Gloom

If it were a movie, the poster line for the exhibition "Fever" would be: "If you see only one show this year, 'Fever' should be it." This exhibition might not make you laugh, cry or open your heart like never before, but its 200 pieces, by 47 artists, will give you a summary of art chic in the '90s. (The show is playing at the nonprofit Exit Art/The First World gallery in New York through Feb. 6.) If you're big on the New Alienation, it's a handy guide for further looking.

The Bidder And The Sweet

When the first caveperson artist put the last charcoal touch on a wall drawing of a six-legged beast, he probably turned to the crowd at the torchlit reception and said, "I'll let it go for five mastodon hides tonight, but it'll be worth at least 10 or 20 by the time the next solstice rolls around." That's the implied nature of the art world in Peter Watson's fact-stuffed, intelligently gossipy From Manet to Manhattan: The Rise of the Modern Art Market (558 pages.

The Ghost In The Machine

The phrase "kinetic sculpture" generally makes people's eyes glaze over. Good sculpture that's also mobile is usually a case of gilding the lily. Bad sculpture set in motion is, well, bad sculpture set in motion.