New York

17th Century Dutch Paintings

Shickman Gallery

There was an exhibition of 17th Century Dutch Paintings at the Shickman Gallery which was as delightful as it was unexpected. Yet a conventional review is pointless in the present critical context. I cite the exhibition partly because it was a delight, but mainly because that delight is all the more precious in a culture most of the art of which provides little or no delight at all. Yet it is the delight of a minor art—domestic scenes, landscapes, still lifes, flower paintings. Minor art is that which limits its emotional and conceptual horizons. But it is precisely these limited horizons which provide a welcome contrast to so much art that is overextended by ambition, that dissipates its power in effects and confuses opticality with vision. I have seen better Ruisdaels than the one in this exhibition, better Steens (but there was a substantial Ochtervelt, a memorable Adriaen Van Ostade, a representative Honthorst and a rich Pieter Claesz) and besides, this was Dutch painting sans Rembrandt, Hals and Vermeer. Nonetheless, it was an extremely effective exhibition, both for the quality of a number of the works and for the intangible reassurance of an experience in which it did not seem worth worrying whether one was responding to sentiment or to sentimentality. The point has been made that modernism precludes a minor art, because it involves a special kind of risk. Perhaps this type of exhibition fills a gap created by the constant necessity of necessity.

––Sidney Tillim