An art critic's mail begins to swell dramatically in mid-August, when the first press releases and gallery announcements start pouring in. Within a week, the summer's trickle of a dozen or so pieces of mail a day is transformed into a veritable flood of printed information about the many wonderful things that will be on view this month and in October.
Most of this information will be exaggerated, but enough of it won't be hyped to make the very idea of a new season with its many possibilities and occasional discoveries an exciting one.
Of course, after a certain number of years, a critic develops a considerable amount of skepticism. I certainly have. But never enough to match my expectations. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that within the next few months I will ``discover'' some exciting new work, deepen my appreciation of at least one Old Master, and meet a few talented and bushy-tailed young artists freshly arrived from Maine, Montana, or Ohio whose enthusiasm and imagination will help keep me on my toes.
Even so, I view this coming season with some trepidation. Unless something totally unexpected happens (and in today's art world that is always possible), it already appears certain from the illustrations on the gallery announcements and the literature already received that we will see at least as much tomfoolery masquerading as art this season as we did during the last three or four. And it also seems clear that the amount of puffery cranked out to make it all seem important will exceed even the records set in the mid-1960s and last year.
On the other hand, we have been promised a wide assortment of excellent exhibitions devoted to both older and more recent work. Heading the list is the Metropolitan Museum's eagerly awaited retrospective of the work of Francisco de Zurbar'an (1598-1644), one of Spain's greatest masters and an artist altogether too little known in the United States. The exhibition will open next Wednesday and will consist of some 70 paintings, many of them virtually unknown treasures from private European collections.
The Metropolitan will also play host to a major show of Hudson River School paintings that will include 85 works by such artists as Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, Frederick Church, John F. Kensett, and Albert Bierstadt. It will run Oct. 4-Jan. 3, 1988.
Probably the most important exhibition of a living artist will be the mid-career survey of Anselm Kiefer's art that goes on view at the Art Institute of Chicago Dec. 5 and will then travel to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles before coming to New York's Museum of Modern Art in October 1988.
This show is already shaping up as one of the major art events of the year, for it is perceived as the clincher that could establish Kiefer as the most significant painter of the late '80s. The question of whether or not it will do so has generated a great deal of interest in this retrospective, the first this contemporary German has had in America.
Frank Stella's exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art of 35 large paintings from the 1970s and '80s promises to be another blockbuster event. Here, however, the art world's attention is focused on the issue of Stella's staying power, his ability to hold his own against the best of his younger contemporaries. There's a feeling in some quarters that he's had his day, that his work is becoming shallow and artificial. It's a question I intend to decide for myself when these works go on view Oct. 12.
Among other outstanding museum and gallery shows are ones devoted to the art of Charles Demuth (at the Whitney Museum beginning Oct. 15); Julian Schnabel (also at the Whitney, from Oct. 30); Jan Dibbets (the Guggenheim Museum, Sept. 11); and Pablo Picasso (Jan Krugier Gallery, Oct. 14). Of these, I'm most interested in Schnabel's 12-year survey and Picasso's exhibition of 59 Cubist works from the Marina Picasso Collection - the former because I suspect that the sight of 35 large-scale Schnabel paintings may do his reputation irreparable harm, and the latter because any large showing of Picasso's Cubist works has to be important.
These, then, are a few of the new season's highlights. With almost 600 galleries and roughly 60,000 artists in the Greater New York area, it stands to reason that we can also expect a number of pleasant surprises from unknowns, either individually or collectively.
I certainly hope so, for that is one of the reasons the New York gallery scene remains alive and well, and why the beginning of a new art season stirs the interest of even the most jaded of art professionals.