Monday, January 04, 2010

Exhibition Review

The Origins of El Greco at the Onassis Center (adjacent to St. Patrick's Cathedral) has been extended to February 27th, and it's still free. To spur you to attendance, I have a review of the show at The New Criterion this month, in which I tried to make points not made by the admittedly excellent synopsis at the New York Times.

Some of the most sumptuous holes in the history of art are on offer in this exhibition, and one really should see them, if possible, in person. When scuffs afflict the simple wood surface of an icon, they can cluster to create gold-flecked craters that no artist, however inspired, could have conceived. In one particular piece, a fifteenth century Noli me tangere, these wounds of time complement the sacred five of the resurrected body of Christ. Canvass deteriorates, but wooden panels age. If you'll pardon some overblown rhetoric: As with wine, so with icons: Far sweeter now than at the hour of inception.

This is far and away the best icon display in New York since Faith and Power exhibition in 2004. It is perfectly suited to vindicate Peter Brown's observation that El Greco was "The Last of the Hesychasts." But, properly understood, the show could inspire more.