Harry Cooper

  • View of “Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror,” 2021–22, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Wall, from left: Two Flags, 1962;  Corpse and Mirror II, 1974–75; Two Maps, 1989. Foreground: Painted Bronze, 1960. Photo: Joseph Hu. © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


    I CAME OUT OF “Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror” at the Whitney, not yet having seen the Philadelphia part of the show, feeling . . . what? Calm? Clear? Alive to the particulars of visual experience? Those were the words I jotted down. But they didn’t quite belong to me. Asked by a Danish reporter in 1969 about the state he hoped to induce in his viewers, Johns said, “When something is new to us, we treat it as an experience. We feel that our senses are awake and clear. We are alive.” I read those words years ago in the catalogue of the 1996 Johns retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.1

  • Alfredo Ramos Martínez, Calla Lily Vendor (detail), 1929, oil on canvas, 45 7⁄8 × 36". © Alfredo Ramos Martínez Research Project.

    “Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925–1945”

    FLOWER POWER! The fragrant phrase hit me like a ton of calla lilies as I wandered into “Vida Americana,” Barbara Haskell’s fascinating show about how the Mexican muralists—especially José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, known as Los Tres Grandes—influenced US artists as varied as Belle Baranceanu, Elizabeth Catlett, William Gropper, Philip Guston, Jackson Pollock, and Charles White.* In the first room, between Rivera’s Flower Festival: Feast of Santa Anita, 1931, and Alfredo Ramos Martínez’s Calla Lily Vendor, 1929, a veritable welcome mat had been laid out. 

    Of course,

  • Harry Cooper

    FOR ALL THE GLORIES of the Alberto Giacometti survey at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (which was organized by Megan Fontanella and Catherine Grenier), for all the sculptures both classic and little known (borrowed for the most part from the Fondation Giacometti in Paris), what caught my eye and has stayed in my mind was something much more humble: a framed sketchbook page, smudged and slightly crumpled, hanging near a bathroom in one of those right-angled detours that periodically interrupt Frank Lloyd Wright’s spiral. With rapid, assured strokes of a pencil, the artist has


    WHEREVER YOU LOOK—the press release, the brochure, the fact sheet, the cornerstone—Ellsworth Kelly’s new building at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin insists on one thing, namely that it is one thing: a single work of art with a single name (Austin) and a single author (Kelly) conceived at a single time (1986) and finished at a single time (2015). Yes, it may have taken a team of architects and engineers, a small army of donors, and a handful of key players to bring it to life, or to bring it back from the dead and see it through to its public opening


    The most famous hundredth birthday this year may be that of the Russian Revolution, but let’s not forget the founding of De Stijl, which is being well marked in its Dutch birthplace. De Stijl means “The Style,” a dogmatic self-designation if ever there was one, yet the movement produced a striking range of work and was, of course,  beset by its share of schisms. (In fact, on August 20, Amsterdam’s Stedelijk closed a show focusing on Chris Beekman, who left the movement out of frustration with its lack of political engagement.) This exhibition, part of

  • Diego Rivera, Creation of the Universe [Illustration for Popol Vuh], 1931, watercolor on paper, 12 1/4 × 18 7/8". From the series “Popol Vuh,” 1931. © D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

    “Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time”

    Accompanied by a dense and lushly illustrated catalogue, this exhibition uncovers Picasso’s and Rivera’s parallel interests in antiquity—Mediterranean and pre-Columbian, respectively. A dozen great paintings from the teens suggest that, as a Cubist, Rivera possessed a sensibility that was as close to Juan Gris’s as to Picasso’s. But paintings are not the only attraction here: The show is notable for its wide range of media and epochs. Plaster casts that the two studied in school (and drawings by both

  • “Picasso Sculpture”

    This American survey of Picasso’s sculpture, the first in almost fifty years (since the 1967 MoMA show), will be unforgettable. With roughly 150 works, many from the Musée National Picasso–Paris, the chief lender and coorganizer, the exhibition will trace Picasso’s continual upending of the medium. The curators have decided to stay out of the way, allowing the story to unfold in chronological chapters corresponding to distinct periods when the painter threw himself into three-dimensional work. Sculpture, which suggests carving, is too

  • View of “Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals,” 2014–15, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA. From left: Panel One (Harvard Mural Triptych), 1962; Panel Two (Harvard Mural Triptych), 1962; Panel Three (Harvard Mural Triptych), 1962. As seen with colored digital projection. Photo: Kate Lacey. © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. © President and Fellows of Harvard College.


    WHEN IS A PAINTING not a painting anymore?
    In 1962, Mark Rothko created the Harvard Murals, a set of six monumental paintings, five of which were displayed in the penthouse dining room of the university’s Holyoke Center, a windowed perch with stunning views. Deeply and delicately hued expanses, the canvases ranged in color from searing orange-red to light pink to dark purple. But in the decade that followed, continual exposure to daylight drastically changed the works, fading them so that some areas lightened to near white while others turned a dull black. Languishing in storage for many years, the works were thought to be beyond repair. But recently, a team of conservators and scientists made a new and unprecedented attempt to restore the pictures—not with pigment or chemicals but with light: For each canvas, they devised a highly complex colored-light projection that, when shone on the work, returns it to its original coloration. What we see is what was meant to be seen, ostensibly. But what are the risks of such an approach? Does the use of light open the door to virtual reality, to smoke and mirrors, turning the paintings into something else altogether? Or does it constitute a brilliant way of making the paintings viewable again, without so much as touching a thread of canvas?
    Conservator CAROL MANCUSI-UNGARO, who worked on the project; curators HARRY COOPER and JEFFREY WEISS; art historian YVE-ALAIN BOIS; Artforum editor MICHELLE KUO; and artists LYNN HERSHMAN LEESON, DAVID REED, KEN OKIISHI, and R. H. QUAYTMAN peer into the void.

    CAROL MANCUSI-UNGARO: Rothko’s Harvard Murals were installed in 1964, but after suffering differential damage, they were put in storage in 1979. They were included in a few exhibitions, two at Harvard and one traveling exhibition, but basically they hadn’t been seen or studied for decades.

    The murals are one of only three commissions that Rothko made. Scholars studied the Seagram paintings, and they studied the Rothko Chapel, but they largely skipped the Harvard Murals because hardly anyone had seen them. Most only knew the story about their fading and being removed from view. The works

  • Brad Cloepfil with Allied Works Architecture, Clyfford Still Museum, 2011, Denver. Photo: Jeremy Bittermann.

    the Clyfford Still Museum

    TAKING STOCK OF CLYFFORD STILL (1904–1980) in these pages on the occasion of a Hirshhorn Museum show in 2001, I made the not exactly daring prediction that even though it had been more than twenty years since his death, and even though single-artist museums in the US were a rarity, the estate would find a home. An American city would offer Still’s work its own museum, thus satisfying the terms of his strict will and receiving the lion’s share of his oeuvre—more than eight hundred paintings and almost all his works on paper, some twenty-four hundred pieces in all.

    I am happy to say that

  • Frank Stella, Ostropol III, 1973, mixed media on cardboard, 92 1/8 x 105 1/2 x 16 7/8". Installation view, Gerda Henkel Collection, Düsseldorf, 2012.

    “Frank Stella: The Retrospective, Works 1958–2012”

    Frank Stella has been producing art tirelessly for more than fifty years now, much of it huge, making it harder and harder for any museum to mount a full retrospective without bursting.

    Frank Stella has been producing art tirelessly for more than fifty years now, much of it huge, making it harder and harder for any museum to mount a full retrospective without bursting. (The last attempt was by the Reina Sofía in 1995.) This fact alone makes the exhibition at Wolfsburg worth seeing. Uniting some sixty paintings and reliefs with a generous sampling of works on paper and a handful of models, the show will allow us to grasp the seventy-six-year-old artist whole, to consider his varied inspirations (music, literature, architecture, tools,

  • “The Irascibles,” New York, 1950. Front row, from left: Theodoros Stamos, Jimmy Ernst, Barnett Newman, James C. Brooks, Mark Rothko. Middle row: Richard Pousette-Dart, William Baziotes, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Robert Motherwell, Bradley Walker Tomlin. Back row: Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Ad Reinhardt, Hedda Sterne. Photo: Nina Leen/Getty Images.


    ABSTRACT: LITERALLY, “TO PULL AWAY.” EXPRESS: “TO PUSH FORTH.” Did Robert Coates, the critic who gave Abstract Expressionism its current usage in 1946 (it had previously been applied to the work of Kandinsky), sense the etymological contradiction? Probably not. Was it a coincidence that he was reviewing the paintings of Hans Hofmann, known for his “push-pull” theory of composition? Probably. For Coates, the term was simply more “polite” than “spatter-and-daub school of painting.”

    The Abstract Expressionists often insisted that their work had a subject, which meant that it was neither abstract (

  • Philip Guston

    Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations, edited by Clark Coolidge. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010. 352 pages. $30.

    PHILIP GUSTON’S CAREER swung like a dangling lightbulb—from figuration (starting in 1930) to abstraction (around 1948) and back to figuration (from 1968 until his death in 1980). Yet he often insisted on the continuity of his work. In 1958, when asked about the “change in approach” in the late ’40s, he remarked, “I really don’t believe in change.” In 1979, a year of outlandish paintings such as Moon, which shows the artist at work in a barren,