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July 12, 2023 42 mins

What’s the value in traveling to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa in person when today, anyone with an internet-friendly device can have access to a high-resolution image? Why go to Amsterdam for a Johannes Vermeer exhibit when Dall-e AI can create credible fakes in just minutes? Yet, people flock to experience art up close, and New York Times critic-at-large, Jason Farago, has theories why. Jason catches up with Martha about blockbuster art events, safeguarding cultural treasures in Turkey and Ukraine, favorite places to see art, and why you should trust your own senses as you explore the world of art. 

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
The principal thing that we're really trying to do is
to show people that they actually understand more about the
world that they look at than they necessarily realize.

Speaker 2 (00:13):
There's art all around us. Many of us turn to
art critics to help us make sense of it all,
to guide us to what's worth seeing, and to interpret
the political implications of various works. Jason Farrago is the
Critic at Large, a very big title for The New
York Times. He began his career there in twenty fifteen

(00:35):
and takes his readers into the art world in such
distant locations as Pergamon, the Reis Museum in Amsterdam, and Kiev, Ukraine.
It's great to see you again, Jason, and welcome to
my podcast here at Samsung eight three seven.

Speaker 1 (00:51):
Very happy to be with you. Martha.

Speaker 2 (00:53):
Well, there's so many questions I have for you because
you're a young man Yale graduate. Your master's degree was where.

Speaker 1 (01:00):
In London the court Told Institute of Art, which is
this very small institution with this incredible collection of painting
and not more than I don't know, fifty students a
year or something, so you get to really delve into
this unbelievable.

Speaker 2 (01:14):
Collection and you became an art critic. What is the
role of an art critic in your mind?

Speaker 1 (01:21):
Well, I can tell you what it's not, and that
might even be easier than saying what it is. It's
not about prescribing taste to other people and saying that
the things that I like, the things that make me happy,
the things that I find interesting, are the things that
you ought to immediately love or find interesting. The role

(01:42):
of an art critic, the role of all critics, I
should really think, is about giving readers the ability to
form their own judgments in ways that are more substantial,
that are more sophisticated than what you might have if
you're just going on Yelp or on trip Advisor on
Google and putting stars out of five. I mean, everybody's

(02:03):
got opinions, everybody's got taste. Yeah, you're not like a
food critic.

Speaker 2 (02:07):
You're not going into a museum and saying these are
worth seeing and these are not worth seeing.

Speaker 1 (02:12):
Generally, Not that's right. I mean there's always a slight
sort of consumer reports, like how should I spend my time,
But that's not the principal thing that any of us
really want to be doing. What we want to be doing,
I think is helping people understand the world around them
at a higher level, or at a deeper level then
you might get if you're just scrolling through your phone
or if you're just walking down the street. And I

(02:33):
think that one of the duties of being a critic
is not to just be a kind of well, you know,
the stereotype of critics is that critics are kind of frustrated.
They're they writers who can't get their novels published. There
they don't know how to paint, and so they tell
other painters that they're terrible, and there's I'm not going
to pretend that there isn't a small amount of truth

(02:54):
to some people I could name, but I'm gonna suggest
that the principal thing that we're really trying to do
is to show people that they actually understand more about
the world that they look at than they necessarily realize.
There might be contexts that they're not familiar with yet,
there might be historical meaning that they're not familiar with yet.
But a combination of that kind of context that I

(03:17):
can provide and a kind of training course in how
to trust your own eye and how to build your
own eye, that's the real sort of aim of criticism.

Speaker 2 (03:27):
In my book, you said that you weren't particularly exposed
to art as a child, which first drew you to
the art world.

Speaker 1 (03:36):
Well, when I was in high school. I grew up
in the suburbs. It's just up the Hudson River from
here in where Maronick, New York.

Speaker 2 (03:41):
Oh, Marinick right near me. I'm in Bedford.

Speaker 1 (03:45):
You know, we're not yet in the Hudson Valley. We're
still in the solid Westchester County in the nineteen nineties,
and I would often come down here to Manhattan to
go to the theater. I was a bit of a
sort of Broadway baby when I was fourteen fifteen sixteen.
It wasn't that I didn't have access, and I have
to say, I'm very lucky that I lived in sort

(04:05):
of shooting distance of places like the Metropolitan zoom Ard
or the Museum on an Art, or the Whitney right
outside our door now. But it wasn't necessarily something that
I came to with great levels of passion. God knows,
I can't draw, and I've never had any particular facility
with making art. But I think that one of the
things I began to discover when I was I don't know,

(04:27):
about sixteen seventeen years old. I remember going to MoMA,
probably to go to the movies or something, because if
you had a ticket to moment, the movies were free.
And I remember this initial encounter I had with a
painting by Paulsezon, one of the most important of the
post Impressionists of late nineteenth century France. It's a painting

(04:48):
of a solitary man, a bather who sort of downcast.
He's sort of looking down at his feet, wearing a
kind of loincloth like white bathing suit, and I remember
looking at it and understanding for the first time that painters,
that artists more generally, were not simply people who were
there to represent reality as faithfully as the eye could

(05:13):
possibly see it. It wasn't a matter of being as
photographic as you could possibly be, but that there was
some other impetus to making a painting beyond lifelikeness, beyond representation,
that these these forms, the kind of clumpy, heavy forms
of Sezan and this bather, or later I remember seeing

(05:36):
in the kind of still lives of apples and pears
and things like this, that it wasn't about how many
apples and pairs are on the table, and did you
perfectly capture the shape of the apple and pair? But
what sort of impression were you expressing through that depiction
or what kind of individuality were you bringing to that depiction?

(05:57):
And that's a very sort of elementary thing to a
first discovered But I remember that moment is I wouldn't
want to aggrandize it by calling it a thunderclap or
anything like it, but certainly a kind of formative moment
where I realized that art has functions that go beyond
representation and go towards something about an internal life, an

(06:18):
external message. And I remember the excitement about that, and
I don't think that's ever gone away from me.

Speaker 2 (06:24):
So do you just start looking at art then?

Speaker 1 (06:26):
I suppose I got much more serious about it around then,
around the age of sixteen seventeen, eighteen years old, which
is a an And then.

Speaker 2 (06:32):
You went to Yale. Yes, and Yale has lots of
art in the in the college.

Speaker 1 (06:38):
It has two of the best museums in the East Coast,
that's right, the University Art Gallery.

Speaker 2 (06:42):
And you studied art history.

Speaker 1 (06:43):
I did. I actually went to study English. And you know,
I might have had pretensions of being a poet or
being a novelist of some kind, like many critics do
at one point in their lives, and I discovered that
it wasn't for me. And I think that this is
another really important point I want to make about being
a critic, is that the real gift and the lucky
break I had was that I was able to look

(07:03):
at objects in the original that I had a museum,
and not just museums, by the way, but free museums.
Didn't even have to buy a ticket. You could just
walk in, look at one painting for five minutes and
walk out. An immense privilege and one that I wish
was open to everybody, though of course there are many
free museums across this country that I want to celebrate.
And I remember the you know, this is around the

(07:26):
year two thousand. I've got a sort of early BlackBerry.
The iPhone hasn't arrived yet, but certainly more and more
screens are beginning to sort of infiltrate every sort of
facet of our lives. And I'm not, you know, here
to hate on technology. Technology is very important, and I
use it all the time in my work, but the
ability to sort of oscillate between the kind of learning

(07:49):
that I could do on the Internet and the speed
that was offered by the Internet and the slowness or
the permanence of paintings and objects in the collection. That
was absolutely formative for me when I was younger.

Speaker 2 (08:01):
How did you find yourself at the New York Times
to be the critic at large? What did you What
was your first piece for them? My first was it
was it for assignment.

Speaker 1 (08:10):
It was an assignment, but believe it or not, it
was about Yoko Ono, who her art, her art and
her music. The great thing about being critic at large
is that, although you know, visual art is kind of
the core of my beat, I do roam a little
more widely into music, literature, cinema, things like that. But

(08:31):
there was a Yoko in an exhibition in twenty fifteen
at at the Museum of Modern Art, and it was
an opportunity to talk about the fact that this this
figure who we all know as someone who was involved
with John Lennon and someone who had made all these
records that were just reviled in the nineteen sixties but
have kind of been rediscovered, had a longer career than that,

(08:51):
and one that I could contextualize with the kind of
history of Tokyo in the history of New York in
the nineteen sixties. It's something that I've always really found
important for readers is not just to say, like, what
you're actually looking at with your own two eyes, but
where does it come from? What were the conditions under
which it was made? What is the context that gave

(09:12):
rise to certain images or certain objects, and how that
can maybe make you more sympathetic, make you give you
a greater, perhaps more three dimensional understanding of something, and
maybe even force you to question your initial reaction. I
would never want to say that the only answers are

(09:33):
in the textbooks and you shouldn't trust your eyes. It's
clearly both. But learning how to kind of that push
and pull game between one and the other, between knowledge
and your senses, between looking and thinking, that I think
is the task I suppose and one of the things
I find most fascinating.

Speaker 2 (09:51):
At Yale, what did you write your thesis on?

Speaker 1 (09:53):
You're never gonna believe it. It's embarrassing. I wrote about
fine artists who remade Hollywood movies. This was a moment,
It's like, really very is a moment when video art
was becoming more and more important, and there would often
be movies fine artists who would remake Hitchcock or remake
sort of like schlocky movies from the nineteen seventies parodies. So,

(10:17):
for example, there's an artist called Stan Douglas who had
a wonderful He's actually got a mural that's in Moynihan Station.
If you could go to the waiting room at Moynahan Station.
Stan Douglas did the photographic Marta.

Speaker 2 (10:27):
When you say remade, they actually reached.

Speaker 1 (10:29):
Shot by shot remakes of In this case, it was
a film called Journey into Fear with Vincent Price and
Sam Waterston, which is this sort of schlocky nineteen seventies thriller.
But beyond that, because I was very interested in questions
about media. Again, as I say, this was a moment
when things were beginning to get digital, and I was
interested in what it was going to happen to artists
when you could just download everything. When you know, this

(10:51):
was a moment when Napster had just been born and
you could download music for free, not entirely legally. This
was a moment when you would just beginning to get Netflix,
though it was still DVDs that were in the mail
and what is it, Blockbuster Blockbuster. I'm the last generation
that went to Blockbuster. It's true.

Speaker 2 (11:10):
And actually I remember those little envelopes coming every single
day because I consume movies like crazy.

Speaker 1 (11:17):
And you remember to be scratched sometimes.

Speaker 2 (11:19):
Oh yeah.

Speaker 1 (11:19):
The thing was usable usage. It was a phenomenon of
it used to be that you had to go to
the card catalog in the library. You had to go
to at the beginning of my career as a student,
to the slide library. If you wanted to know images
that were in the past, you would literally get a
lantern slide. You put them in the in the Kodak

(11:39):
projector and you would look at these things. And I
watched that tide go out and this new tide of
digital imagery come in.

Speaker 2 (11:47):
I studied our history. I don't know if you know that.

Speaker 1 (11:50):
I do know that, but tell me more.

Speaker 2 (11:51):
But I had a box of little three by five
like index cards. But they were all the great paintings
in the world in our courses, images that were like
playing cards, and you'd go through them and you have
to say who painted it, when, did was it painted?
What was it?

Speaker 1 (12:10):
So like one card would have one.

Speaker 2 (12:11):
Painting, one everything, and you would memorize all those things
and look at them. Of course you're not looking at
the beautiful painting. You're looking at a photograph, a bad
photograph of a beautiful painting. And it was and that's
all before the internet, before we had computers. And now
it's so wonderful when you can just laid up your

(12:32):
screen on your computer and look at a beautiful image
of a beautiful painting.

Speaker 1 (12:36):
It's an incredible privilege.

Speaker 2 (12:38):
And we look what we have here.

Speaker 1 (12:39):
We have this, we have money.

Speaker 2 (12:41):
Water Lily is just sitting next to us in a
Samsung frame. It's crazy, it's crazy, but it's also weird, excellent.

Speaker 1 (12:48):
It's excellent. And there's something I think that when that
all began in the two thousands, we didn't necessarily expect.
I think around that moment in the two thousands, do
you remember this moment when everyone was going to have
these screens in their house, and therefore then go would
be worthless? Who would need to see the original start
at night?

Speaker 2 (13:04):
Because it does not do justice to the paintings exactly.
There's no texture.

Speaker 1 (13:10):
And there is something very interesting to me about this,
about the idea that anybody can download an incredible ultra
high res version of the Mona Lisa, and yet still
people will fly across the ocean, they will wait in
line to see the real thing.

Speaker 2 (13:22):
And they'll go to Vermir. You went to Vermir?

Speaker 1 (13:25):
I did in Amsterdam a couple months.

Speaker 2 (13:26):
Yes, the most beautiful exhibit ever. Tell us about that.

Speaker 1 (13:30):
I had the enormous privilege of going to Amsterdam at
the beginning of the year to the Reis Museum. So
Johannes Varmir, a painter of the early seventeenth century and
mid seventeenth century and Holland who's best known for quite
small genre scenes or scenes of often a single person,
usually a woman, often doing household labor, basically middle class

(13:55):
people or their servants. Every day, every day figures secular
imagery of seventeenth century Holland. And there are two things
to preface this with. The first is that the paintings
themselves are pretty small, maybe two or three feet tall,
And the second is that there aren't very many in
this world. I think under forty if I'm not mistaken.
So any exhibition that can assemble more than a few

(14:18):
is an event. And this one got twenty eight out
of the thirty some on thirty six seven eight of
all of the surviving each other, well, a couple still
belong to the met and they were too fragile to travel.
There's one that belongs to the Louver that I think
it was the same thing. It was a travel thing.
And then there was in Vienna at the Constastoricius Museum.

(14:40):
They chickened out at the very end. But the Frick collection,
which is usually in this mansion on Fifth Avenue, is
under renization right now and therefore exceptionally they were able
to lend the three vermires that they have for the
first time. And that's basically how the show got started.
You first get those three, then you've got the ones
that are already in the Netherlands. Then you call someone

(15:01):
you say, well, we got these three. What if you
give us your two? And then the ball Then everything
began to snow.

Speaker 2 (15:06):
And as critic at large, what did you find?

Speaker 1 (15:10):
There was some kind of the word I use in
the review, if I remember correctly, with something like deceleration
it slows you down. There was these things have an
ability after almost four hundred years, three hundred and fifty years,
to bring you out of this sort of constant flood
of images and information and force you to concentrate. I

(15:32):
think one of the real things I try to do
with my writing, and I think that art should do
more generally, is to revive powers of concentration and to
show people that there are different ways of looking, in
different tempos of looking. It's not to say that like
looking at images on your phone is terrible. I have
Instagram too, it's great, but that there are different moments
that require different kinds of looking. And one of the

(15:54):
incredible abilities of a masterpiece by someone like Vermr is
to return to you that ability to look slowly, to
look closely, and I think also to rediscover your own
place in this world, and the idea that someone who
is long dead, who lived somewhere very far from where
you lived, can still do that to you. That, for me,

(16:15):
is the definition of a masterpiece.

Speaker 2 (16:26):
I've read just today. I read a few of your
articles just in preparation, and I have the beautiful article
on Hoku Sais of woodcuts in Japan.

Speaker 1 (16:36):
This is a show at the Museum of Fine Arts
in Boston.

Speaker 2 (16:38):
Yes, and then aired again, and then you go to
Turkey and you revisit the Hagia Sophia. You see, the
Turkey has more fabulous ruins than Greece.

Speaker 1 (16:51):
Correct, yes, and that is.

Speaker 2 (16:53):
An amazing fact. And people don't know that until you
start reading about Turkey, and then you worry about them absolutely.

Speaker 1 (17:00):
I mean the Trojan War. Now Troy is on the
west coast.

Speaker 2 (17:04):
Of Turky that's right. You worry so much about who's
taking care of all these treasures. And then of course
the Ukraine, and you went there to try to understand
is anybody taking care of the artworks and the culture
of a country under siege. This paragraphically got to me.

(17:24):
But the risks to Ukrainian culture are more than mere
collateral damage. For President Vladimir Putin of Russia, there is
no Ukraine as such. He maintains that Ukraine is a
Soviet fiction, that the Ukrainian language is a Russian dialect,
that Russians and Ukrainians are one people, so why destroy

(17:45):
one people one of the two people?

Speaker 1 (17:47):
Exactly right.

Speaker 2 (17:48):
You bring up so much in your articles. I mean,
it's just mind boggling really, and as critic at large,
I think that's your job. But broad rope is very broad.

Speaker 1 (18:00):
You know, I have a very strong interest in cultural
preservation and hardly just in times of war and everything
from you know, classical architecture to how our museums collect things,
and every war in dangerous culture Syria we know from
last year, I mean horrible destruction in Syria, before that,
in Iraq and in Afghanistan. But what made this war

(18:24):
different in Ukraine is exactly what you were just reading
out is the idea that this war has cultural aims
from the start, that it is about religion, language, territory, history,
topics like this. And therefore, I believe very much my
responsibility as a critic to reckon with that doesn't mean

(18:44):
that you go and look at the sufferings of others
and you kind of stroke your beard and you give
it like a thumbs up or a thumbs down. That
would be a barbaric thing to you. But to bring
the tools that I have to bear alongside the incredible
reporters and photographers and all the other people who clarify
what is happening in horrible situations like this, to try
to pull back a little bit, to contextualize and to

(19:07):
give readers in understanding that things that are immediate actually
have deep roots and that have longer histories.

Speaker 2 (19:17):
So are they saving? Are they protecting?

Speaker 1 (19:19):
Absolutely? I met some extraordinary figures who, for example, are
working on stained glass in the churches in across the country.
And so when you get to over the border from Poland,
there I met these two guys who were managing these
mountains of styrofoam, peanuts, bubble wrap, protective gloves, emergency sprinkler systems.

(19:45):
You know, when the war began, they didn't have the
preparation for these kinds of emergencies. Let's say, you know,
you have a bunch of paintings and you want to
put them in the basement to keep them from harm.
Well that's great, but what if the basement is damp,
what if the lighting conditions are not correct, what if
it's dusty. Getting people those tools and those immediate needs
was something that I was very, very very happy to discover,

(20:07):
and that was happening, by the way, not necessarily at
the government level, but at the level of volunteers. These
were people who took it upon themselves and it was
one of the most extraordinary and most inspirational things that
I was able to see is that both inside Ukraine
and outside Ukraine, you have people who were ready to
stand up and say we have to save these things,
and that these things are meaningful not just for local

(20:30):
people but for all of human civilization.

Speaker 2 (20:32):
Well, that's admirable, and I certainly hope it continues, and
that the craziness ends one of these days. It's hard
to wake up in the morning and look at the newspaper.
Do you find that? As a journalist?

Speaker 1 (20:46):
Enormously so? And I wouldn't. I'm not ashamed to admit
that one function of writing about art is to give
people a break from the kind of endless succession of
crises that it can sometimes feel there living through. At
the same time, I don't believe that it's only a vacation,
right like from and I think that one of the

(21:08):
things that culture can do is clarify the conditions that
we're living through, so that you know, if you look
at the economy, or if you look at the climate,
or if you look at the political system, you might
actually think, well, it reminds me of this thing that
Goya painted in the nineteenth century, or it reminds me
of how Mane was thinking when Mane was looking at
new technologies or things like that. You know, if you

(21:30):
look at say, artificial intelligence and all of these debates
that we're now having around artificial intelligence and what is
that going to do to our society? What is that
going to do to our democracy? I think that there
are lots of examples that can be drawn from from
earlier forms of culture that can There are no one
to one answers that you can apply from the past,
but they can that can lead us in better directions

(21:51):
than where we might be going now.

Speaker 2 (21:53):
When looking at a piece of art, old, new, ancient,
what do.

Speaker 1 (21:58):
You what do you look for? You try to come
with as few preconceptions as you can, and you try
to engage with the thing that's in front of your
eyes first at the level of just pure forms, colors, shapes, lines, textures, patterns,
things like that. And even if you know that the

(22:21):
image that you're looking at as an image of the
Madonna and child, or it's an image of waterlaus or
something that you hope is something that comes after an
initial engagement with the appearance of something and also the
way in which it's made. And I think that that's
of course, what distinguishes art from just the pictures that
I take on my phone every day, is that there

(22:43):
is a meaning or an importance to these things that
goes beyond communication, goes beyond pure representing of some other thing, right,
And so trying to just look. I'm not going to
tell you it's easy, but to strip away a lot

(23:04):
of the things that you already know, or the prejudices
that you might bring to something, and to just say
what is it? How is it made? How is it constructed?
That I think took me many, many years to get
comfortable with. And I think that one of the goals
I have as a critic is to convince people that

(23:27):
actually all of us are able to do this. It's
just that we have a lot of preconceptions that we
bring to things. And it's about slowing down, and it's
about looking, and it's about trusting your own eyes. So yeah,
those sensations, those visual sensations do always come first.

Speaker 2 (23:41):
Do you visit museums a lot, every week, every week everywhere?

Speaker 1 (23:46):
Yes? And I only recently began to appreciate, and this
is an embarrassing and very sort of chauvinistic New York
thing to admit, is that I go to Europe a
lot for work. I've been to Asia, I've been to
Latin America, I've been to Africa, and I have neglected
the United States a little bit. I've often felt very
guilty about this, and so last summer I did a

(24:08):
road trip to Cleveland, Detroit, Toledo, Ohio. One of the
best museums in the United States is in Toledo, Ohio,
Glassmaking Capital, Oberlin College. Of course, University museums across this
country are just extraordinary in terms of what they provide.
Chicago and Detroit or Chesta Chicago, I mean, the Art
Institute is Isn't that a mind boggling, my boggling place

(24:30):
and also a place that's almost like just it's like
the perfect size for a single day. Like I adore
the Metropolitans right here in New York, but it can
be exhausting if you try to cheap it's a week.
The Art Institute is at the same sort of level,
I think, in terms of excellence, and yet the experience
is so pleasant and I'm so light, and I you know,
but I've still got real holes in my map. I've

(24:51):
never been, for example, to Saint Louis and a very
important museum in St. Louis, I've been there, Art Museum.

Speaker 2 (24:56):
I'm lucky because oftentimes when I when I write a
new book, they asked me to come and speak to
some sort of group, and I always get to go
to the museums, which is always so great because you
do when you go to all these cities. I think
I've been to every big city in America as a
result of my book travels, and you get to see you.

Speaker 1 (25:16):
I should keep up with you. And there's one other
thing about these other museums in America is that in
cities that have a few where tourist dollars are a
smaller percentage of the kind of annual revenue at these museums,
these museums can really do incredible things for education and
for local communities that really cannot and should not be neglected.

(25:39):
The question of funding and fundraising for these institutions something
that I'm very concerned about as well, and getting people,
especially the young age, into these museums and making them
believe that they're not eleite institutions. They're not institutions that
are sort of up on a hill and they're only
for people.

Speaker 2 (25:55):
Who know they should be all inclusive.

Speaker 1 (25:58):
Absolutely, a great job you've had, well, thank you, and
I think it is a great job it's important to
give people faster and slower kinds of writing. I mean
the kinds of writing that you can get on Twitter
to get an immediate impression of something. This is also important.
I'm not here to say not otherwise.

Speaker 2 (26:14):
What's your favorite social media?

Speaker 1 (26:16):
I suppose Instagram? Yeah, though, you know, when Instagram.

Speaker 2 (26:21):
Got you could educate a lot of people.

Speaker 1 (26:24):
Absolutely. And also there is a difference between the kind
of images that you might put on the grid, as
the kids say nowadays, with a sort of high gloss
perfect image, and the sort of more informal images that
people might have in an Instagram story that I like.
I like the idea that there might be different ways

(26:44):
of presenting images, some high quality, some a little faster.
But at the same time, you know, I am interested
in what Instagram and other social media has done to
our experience of art. I'm sure you've had this experience
where you go to a museum and you're looking at
something that you've wanted to see your whole life. And
what do you say, see? You see everybody holding up
their phones.

Speaker 2 (27:02):
Taking a picture, right, and you know I take pictures too.

Speaker 1 (27:07):
I'm not here to say it's the devil's work but
is there something that these phones are doing to our mentalities?

Speaker 2 (27:14):
Well? Is it preserving a memory or is it kind
of like making that memory only a moment. That's that's
what I worry about, am I When I look at
a painting, now, I want you to remain in my brain.
But I sometimes think, well, there's so much to learn

(27:34):
and so much to see. If I take a picture
of it, will I remember it better?

Speaker 1 (27:39):
That's something that I feel too, and I worry about
it because I wonder how much of the kind of
logic of the phone has been internalized in my brain
now right that I think like a phone.

Speaker 2 (27:51):
That's what's happening. I just went to the Costume Institute.
Did you do anything on the Carlogfild Show?

Speaker 1 (27:56):
Yes, I have been, and I've read the catalog. My
colleague Vanessa Freed and wrote a fantastic story, and I've
always been interested in.

Speaker 2 (28:03):
And what did you think of the exhibit?

Speaker 1 (28:05):
I honestly, honestly.

Speaker 2 (28:09):
No, no, I just went I'll tell you what I
think truth is.

Speaker 1 (28:13):
I think Carl Lagerfeld is an unbelievably fascinating figure who
might not have been the most important couture of the
twentieth century, and in particular, the fact that the show
blends the work that he did for Chanel, the work
that he did for Fendy, the work that he did
under his own name or for earlier labels sort of
gives a kind of false impression. He was always a
brilliant creator of brands and of images, and Chanell in particular,

(28:36):
but I'm not sure he was ever a true artist
in the way that someone like you've sell her all
might have been. So I think that blending all of
those together was Well.

Speaker 2 (28:46):
What did you think of the exhibit too, the way
it was set up.

Speaker 1 (28:48):
Yeah, it's done if you haven't seen the show, in
a kind of maze of white walls, and there are
these kind of contrasts, so to be like technology versus handmade,
or lots of frills versus very minimal.

Speaker 2 (29:01):
I was surprised to see that they had spent so
much money on Tardeo onos. Yes, but you couldn't see.

Speaker 1 (29:06):
The clothes very that's right, because the mannequins are actually
stacked two high or even three highs.

Speaker 2 (29:10):
I couldn't even see the workmanship on any of the
dresses that were in the upper alcoves. I mean this
this show, by the way, is it's a pretty big show,
pretty much, very large, a lot of pieces, but the
architecture they built these elaborate, elaborate mazes of alcoves in
which each mannequin was placed, and you couldn't see. I

(29:32):
couldn't see.

Speaker 1 (29:33):
And one reason that's regrettable is the show opens with
these interviews with the with the experts, with the craftswomen
that car Lagerfeldt had worked through for his whole life.
And these are true, true artisans.

Speaker 2 (29:45):
Yes they are. I love those ladies. You're just back
from Art Basel, that's right. So that was in in Switzerland, Switzerland,
the real art, the real.

Speaker 1 (29:54):
Art bozzle Fazzle Basle, as we sometimes call it, in
the city of Basil, Switzerland.

Speaker 2 (29:59):
What was the most spect tacular thing that you saw
this year.

Speaker 1 (30:03):
At the fair? Yeah, there was a booth of German
art of between World War One and World War Two
by artists like Auto Dix. But these incredible German and
Austrian artists who were making these images of real sort
of danger and surprise, images of sort of lush life, prostitution,

(30:26):
working class life, also the kind of political crises that
were taking place in Germany in the nineteen twenties, and
Auto Dix in particular, an artist who was a sort
of war hero in World War One and who then
is sort of denounced by the subsequent Nazi regime. There
were these watercolors by him that were just, I mean,
the most gorgeous but also like very disturbing things I

(30:50):
could have possibly seen. I love it. Art Basel is
special because it really is where the galleries from all
over the world bring their absolute, absolute best stuff. And
the great thing is that, as a critic, I have
no responsibilities there. It's not like I'm trying to sell, right,
like you know, everyone else is there to make money.
I'm just going to look.

Speaker 2 (31:08):
Art Bozel started in nineteen seventy and it has it
does have quite a tremendous influence in the art world,
doesn't it.

Speaker 1 (31:16):
That's right. I mean it started as a trade fair, right.
It's in a warehouse and there are these temporary booths
and galleries from all around the world bring the things
that they want to sell to an international clientele. But
since I guess around two thousand, which was when Art
Basil opened a second edition in Miami Beach, it became
a kind of almost like a lifestyle brand in which

(31:37):
there was a kind of not just the things that
were there to be bought and sold, but a whole
cornucopia of events and talks and dinners and parties and promotions.
It got really out of hands, you think, so, Yeah,
certainly in its Miami iteration. I know, people will go
down to Miami. They will go, they will party, they
will drink other people's champagne, and they will never even

(32:00):
walk into the fair and look at art in the first.

Speaker 2 (32:01):
Place I went this year, did you to Miami? Yeah?

Speaker 1 (32:05):
What wasn't like I mean, because it's really changed in Miami.

Speaker 2 (32:07):
Yeah, it was. There was some nice pieces on nothing
of the highest crawl over, not like what you're describing
in Basle bozzle. But it's it is a useful place
to go if you really are interested to see what's
happening in the contemporary world.

Speaker 1 (32:24):
That's right.

Speaker 2 (32:25):
Yeah, so I think that that's and it's fun. It
is fun.

Speaker 1 (32:28):
It is really fun that we can get very crowded.
You know what. The other really nice thing about it
going to Basle in Basel is in Miami. You go
swim on the beach in Basil, there's the river, the
river that runs the Rhine that runs through the city,
and it's clean enough to swim in, and so before
you go in or after you go in, people just
like strip down to their bathing suit. They pop in
the water for fifteen minutes and then you can go

(32:50):
to your next.

Speaker 2 (32:50):
Meeting about your close read this is interesting on the
New York Times dot com.

Speaker 1 (33:06):
Yeah, this is a series that we began during the pandemic.
Mean you we meaning me and a spectacular producer I
work with called Alicia DeSantis, who is an absolutely ace
digital producer. When the pandemic began in March of twenty twenty,
all of the critics had to really rethink what we
were gonna do when the sort of week by week

(33:26):
roll out of new things just wasn't taking place. So
what we came up with was that we were going
to do a kind of digital deep dive into a
single work of art. And each sentence that I wrote
could be associated with a region on the picture. So
you would scroll on your phone and as it could

(33:46):
also be in the desktop, and as you scrolled, the
image would zoom in, zoom out, it would pan to
the left of the right, and so I was able
I had this incredible tool now to say, and if
you look at this, you'll see that, and if you
look at you'll see that. And if you compare this
to that, you'll see a transition or a contrast. And
so that it was very much born.

Speaker 2 (34:11):
Does that work with a giant painting that's pretty much
like one color.

Speaker 1 (34:16):
Well, we did that. Actually, it's funny with a painting
by Jasper John's which is almost entirely gray. If you
zoom in very closely, and this is I think one
of the real privileges of the technology. You can see
that something that looks gray actually has a richer undertones
of blues and reds and things like that. But ultimately, yes,
you're right, this is something that doesn't immediately benefit from

(34:40):
a kind of megapixel zooming in the way that say
a Renaissance painting does, and so verre exactly where there's
that real precision.

Speaker 2 (34:49):
And so beautiful up close.

Speaker 1 (34:50):
Yeah, And so what you want to do when you're
looking at something more abstract is to say, you know, again,
it's that question about what is the thing that's actually
right in fron in my mind, in front of my eyes,
other than it's a gray painting. Well, how did it
become a gray painting? What? What is the shape? What
are the contents? What tools were made to use it?

(35:10):
We have a great demand for them, which is which
is great, except they're going, I know what they take forever,
their real artisanal work. And I've got an incredible team,
incredible team that I work with the New York Times,
with whom I'm built to build this. This is not
a solo act.

Speaker 2 (35:25):
It starts which paintings have you done already?

Speaker 1 (35:27):
Let's see.

Speaker 2 (35:28):
We did the j just for John.

Speaker 1 (35:29):
We did a Hokusai, a beautiful print by Hokusai, which
was looking at how art from Japan would influence art
in the West. We did a beautiful altarpiece by Parma
Jenino in Lawrence. We did a collage. It was about
the invention of collage. The most one, the one that
we did most recently, is interesting. It's a medieval manuscript

(35:50):
and it was about It was about calendars. It was
the invention of the calendar and how how different civilizations
have depicted the passage of time, and how from ancient
Egypt and the Aztecs to that Google calendar that keeps
pinging on my phone. How we represent time and how

(36:10):
those representations of time shape our world. So again, you know,
it's about looking closely at an individual thing. But then
also hopefully by the end of it, you're like, oh, well,
this is directly applicable to my life in terms of,
you know, the images that I send on my phone
or the things that are happening in the news each day.

Speaker 2 (36:29):
What happened to n f t S non fungible?

Speaker 1 (36:32):
Are you going to make me talk about NFTs?

Speaker 2 (36:35):
You no, No, let's do it?

Speaker 1 (36:37):
Why not? Why not? You don't have to do the
thing about crazy right insanity? I mean, hostle, let's just
call it what it was.

Speaker 2 (36:44):
It I did a couple, did you really? Yeah? And
they sold and I your value is now I wonder
I went with Bitcoin and ethereum way down, but not
so far down as they could have been, and they're
coming back absoluly.

Speaker 1 (37:00):
But do you know what I found interesting about all
of that talk about crypto and the NFTs was that
a lot of the kind of tone for the rhetoric
around these NFTs was the institutions are evil, These gatekeepers
are so terrible, These awful critics and these awful museums
control everything. But now with bitcoin. With blockchain, you were

(37:20):
going to be free, you were going to be liberated.
There's gonna be no walls. And what happened. Of course
that didn't happen. Of course, it just turned out that
it's another kind of gatekeeping, another form of elitism. It
was also, by the way, an ecological catastrophe. You know,
those things took enormous amounts of power they did to.

Speaker 2 (37:39):
Generate, generate. Now, who are some new artists that we
should know about or old artists who we don't know
enough about and we should know more. That's that's a better,
even a better question, because there are some you know,
when you walk through museums. I was when I was
on my way to the Logger filled there were so
many pains my artists that I sort of knew but

(38:02):
didn't really know. And they're hanging on that wall, so
they must be important.

Speaker 1 (38:07):
But and that I think is a real role of
these museums and of my job as a critic, is
to rediscover or to reorient people's attention away from the
classics and towards things that might have been neglected. I mean,
one of the most exciting things that's happened in the
last ten or twenty years has been looking at women
who were not women, yeah, but who were not working

(38:31):
in obscurity in the nineteenth and twenty neglectory, but were neglected.
We're not talking about people who were, you know, oh
like staying at home and had no contact.

Speaker 2 (38:40):
Not so long ago. I remember Helen Frankenthal, or she
came to our house for dinner, but nobody was buying
her art.

Speaker 1 (38:48):
No way.

Speaker 2 (38:49):
And now look at these look at these museums doing
one woman shows of all these beautiful Helen Frankenthal.

Speaker 1 (38:55):
It's unbelievable how quickly that changed. And it's you know,
very raple can complain a lot of out the status
of our institutions. I don't think they've been so bad
on this question. And you know the Last of Venicepianaloi,
for example, which is organized by Icilia A Lamani, a
wonderful Italian curator who directs the Highline here in New York.
That show was maybe about ninety percent women. And some

(39:18):
of the figures in that show, I mean everyone from
people like Josephine Baker, who is someone who is famous
but who he didn't take as seriously as a as
a creative figure, and also of course as a war hero,
to a sculpture like Elizabeth Catlett, an African American sculptor
who went to Mexico and was very involved in Aztec
and pre Columbian forms of art. And then looking at

(39:40):
more contemporary painters. I mean you asked me about people
that you should keep your eye on. There's a painter
I adore called Jacqueline Humphries who I think is doing
some of the most interesting work about digital technology out there.
And what is her medium. It's not NFTs, it's painting.
She uses oil and acrylic on canvas. And yet the
way in which these abstract paintings that she makes reflect

(40:02):
or mimic or challenge the kind of images that we
see on our screen is so revealing I think for now,
for how we all experience life in that kind of
space between our eyes and our screens. So that would
be I guess one example I could give you.

Speaker 2 (40:20):
So here're just a couple of rapid fire questions. Favorite
museum the Councistoricius in Vienna. It is one of the
greatest collections in the world, but also the building is insane.
It has these incredible murals. Favorite place to travel to
see art.

Speaker 1 (40:36):
Mexico City, that's got an amazing contemporary art scene. It's
really fresh, and yet it also has unbelievably great antiquities
and anthropology museums, and of course it's free to Colo
and Diego Riverez as the architecture is stunning.

Speaker 2 (40:51):
I think Mexico City would be my answer more than Madrid.

Speaker 1 (40:55):
I love Madrid, maybe a second.

Speaker 2 (40:57):
Choice all times. Favorite piece of art.

Speaker 1 (41:02):
The Luncheon on the Grass by Manet eighteen sixty two.
The moment when you really see modern painting being born
and the paintings are going from being something that was
just a kind of representative document to something really modern.

Speaker 2 (41:17):
The last work of art you saw that you can't
stop thinking about.

Speaker 1 (41:21):
There's a painting in the Jewish Museum right now of
images of World War One, of these sort of destroyed fields.
The Johnsinger Sergeant made. We think about Sergeant for these
sort of beautiful portraits of high society women, and yet
when World War One came around, he actually became a
war artist. And I think about that all the time,

(41:41):
about how you know, life might throw things at you
and suddenly you've got to do something new.

Speaker 2 (41:46):
I'm going to look for that picture well. You can
read Jason's reviews in The New York Times in print, online,
and via the New York Times app, and check out
his Instagram page at Jason Farrago. Jason, what a pleasure,
and thank you so much for spending time with me.

Speaker 1 (42:04):
I really enjoyed this. Thank you, Martha, thank you
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