New Criterion's managing editor, Roger Kimball, spoke Thursday on his new book, "The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art" (Encounter Books). The talk was held during a meeting of the Friends of the Thomas J. Watson Library. Conservative titan William F. Buckley was among those in the audience at the Douglas Dillon Boardroom at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; chief librarian Kenneth Soehner presided.
Referring to the book's title, Mr. Kimball told the audience he once received a call asking if the book was about golf. "It's actually not about golf," Mr. Kimball wryly said, showing an overhead slide of golf champion Tiger Woods, and asking the forbearance of sports fans who may have come under that misapprehension.
Mr. Kimball said political correctness among academic art historians has been a "twofold betrayal." It has been not only a betrayal of an academic discipline, but an assault on our culture, he said.
Art can afford us access to the experience of beauty, or, to use Friedrich Schiller's words, "a real enlargement of humanity and a decisive step toward culture." But Mr. Kimball provocatively asked, "Is the academic teaching of art history an ally in this pursuit or is it an enemy?"
He spoke about the spurious aggrandizement of artists, such as Matthew Barney, whom Michael Kimmelman had praised as the most important American artist of his generation. Mr. Barney's "Cremaster Cycle" includes a video of the artist ascending a pole while applying Vaseline to his orifices.
After displaying an image of a photomontage by Gilbert and George showing excrement, Mr. Kimball said it makes one appreciate the definition, attributed to Warhol, that art is what you can get away with.
Mr. Kimball then offered examples of masterful paintings "traduced" by the academic art establishment. He gave the example of a man in a Courbet painting who was blowing a horn. Michael Fried of Johns Hopkins had said the horn represented a paintbrush. Mr. Kimball said, "I think this is a position summed up by a Cole Porter song, 'Anything Goes.'" Mr. Kimball showed another Courbet painting involving scattering of grain that had been described by an art critic as implying menstrual blood. Mr. Kimball sharply commented, "I don't think so."
Mr. Kimball said his own book was short "because I have great compassion for my readers." He said various forms of art criticism - whether Marxist, psychoanalytic, feminist, deconstructive, "or some toxic combination" of the above - were not marginalized methods, but were a part of the mainstream in art criticism today. Flashing the current tuition of Columbia University on the screen overhead, Mr. Kimball said such art criticism involved a kind of "swindle" by teachers entrusted with passing on the history of art to students.
To those who say, "Who cares? They aren't hurting anybody, are they?" Mr. Kimball said he found practical, moral and aesthetic problems with such academic art criticism. The criticism, often so encumbered with an ideological program, can be at odds with the work itself, he said.
Philippe de Montebello has described Mr. Kimball's book as "in short, a restoration project" that sets out "to repair the damage inflicted on art history..."
"I view Steve as a kind of 20th-century Tom Paine brought into being through art," said the Nation's editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, standing at the Society of Illustrators where a reception was held to celebrate editorial cartoonist and illustrator Steve Brodner's book, "Freedom Fries: The Political Art of Steve Brodner" (Fantagraphics Books).Viewing examples of his political drawings, she said Mr. Brodner's work had "spirited humanity."
Seen were Harper's magazine editor Lewis Lapham, who wrote the book's introduction; cartoonists Rick Meyerowitz, Barry Blitt, Peter de Seve, Burt Silverman, and Jim Mc-Mullen, who design and paints posters for Lincoln Center. Also seen was Lycee Francais de New York English department chair Sandra Cullinan seated near Yonkers Riverfront Library librarian Phyllis Cole.
Mr. Brodner presented a slideshow and said at the outset that his book consisted of 30 years of his "angry caricatures." Illustration, he said, is a very high form of storytelling.
In the outdoor garden, guests pored over pages of Mr. Brodner's book, filled with their tart portrayal of Washington's political cast of characters in unflattering - or revealing, depending on your political bent - light.
"Men who build bad buildings are bad governors." Quotations such as this from Senator Moynihan adorn the walls at the Museum of the City of New York, where his daughter Maura greeted friends who came out for a farewell party for "New York's Moynihan" exhibition. Those present included a descendent of Judge Learned Hand, Wilson Hand Kidde, who was introduced to Ms. Moynihan in the 1980s by Andy Warhol.
Others in attendance included nonprofit consultant Betsy Seidman, formerly of CBS, who was the only nonlawyer on Moynihan's selection committee choosing judges. She recalled Senator Moynihan saying that she was "knowledgeable and opinionated." Also seen was Aliza Fogelson, who is Ms. Moynihan's editor at Regan Books of HarperCollins, and who says she is editing all kinds of books including an unusual children's book about a mouse.
Nearby was Steve Flanders, who has written a book on the design of courthouses. He said that Senator Moynihan was a great supporter of well-designed courthouses. "Without him, we wouldn't have good courthouses." His wife, Jane Flanders, has just published a book of poems and has two more volumes in the works. Also seen were Peter Feld, who works in marketing at Conde Nast; Michael Brady, a fund-raiser for Long Island University in Brooklyn, and a freelance editor and writer in health care, Donna Hrusovsky.
Guests watched a video running of excerpts of Moynihan's appearances and speeches in which he talks of welfare policy and other social issues as slowly and clearly as a poet relishing the meaning of each word.
On one wall, there's a quote that exemplifies Moynihan's ability to sum up issues succinctly: "Am I embarrassed to speak for a less than perfect democracy?" he says, "Not one bit. Find me a better one."
PARADE AT THE FOUR SEASONS
Phyllis George, Betsy Gotbaum, Steven Rattner, Ken Auletta, Robert Caro, Leonard Lauder, Judith Regan, Geraldo Rivera, and many others packed the Four Seasons restaurant to celebrate Parade magazine's return to New York City in the New York Post.
The audience laughed when New York Post publisher Lachlan Murdoch introduced Mayor Bloomberg as someone familiar with Parade "since he goes to one or two parades each weekend."
NEAR YET FAR
When the late celebrity lawyer Marvin Mitchelson would come to New York from Los Angeles as a guest of his friend and music producer, Phil Spector, they would stay in separate suites at the Plaza Hotel, according to Mitchelson's long-time publicist, Sy Presten.
However, when Mr. Spector wanted to give information to Mitchelson about what their plans were and where they would meet up in the city, he wouldn't call Mitchelson directly on the hotel phone. The eccentric multimillionaire would call his secretary in Los Angeles who would call Mitchelson at the Plaza to make the plans.
Gina Gershon, Levar Burton, Julie Danenberg, and Howard Stringer were among the crowd that came out to Le Cirque for the 80th anniversary of the jewelry company Casa Damiani in celebration of its new boutique on Madison Avenue...Adele Smithers-Fornaci was given the treasured Gold Key Award from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence for her untiring work in the field. Ms. Smithers-Fornaci recently gave a favorite charity of George Steinbrenner's, the Tampa Bay Boys and Girls Club, a contribution of $250,000 on behalf of her Christopher D. Smithers Foundation.