New York

Art Nouveau

Hofstra University

Art Nouveau, perhaps not purely Symbolist in character, is certainly nourished by antecedent and overlapping Symbolist features. As surveys, Art Nouveau exhibitions are hardly events of note. Yet, the present installation at Hofstra University indicates how much a small museum of limited budget and few assistants can do for a theme show when presented imaginatively and carefully. The period installation is as fine as any that has been arranged at prestigious institutions and the bibliographic extension in the Hofstra rare books collection is far better than most. Important loans such as the Kelmscott Chaucer or Oscar Wilde’s dedicated volumes to “Bosie from his friend the author” are carefully displayed for real comparison against a wide range of period production—C. R. Ashbee muffin-warmers, Alexandre Charpentier medallions and a full display of the intellectual and comedic periodicals of the day. Most importantly the Hofstra Art Nouveau, in a setting dominated by the mosaic columns of Tiffany’s demolished Oyster Bay Cove retreat, isolates the furniture production of Carlo Bugatti (father of the racing car designer), with its Moorish attachments and perverse willfulness, in a way that no other survey of turn of the century taste has achieved.

Robert Pincus-Witten