Recently, while preparing my upcoming Washington Square project, I’ve been wondering why MFA-trained artists direct their work so specifically to the art cognoscenti rather than a wider, less art-savvy audience, so I was pleased to see Peter Schjeldahl thinking along the same lines in his recent review of the Met’s Augustus Saint-Gaudens show. After declaring that Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s bronze equestrian statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman, at the southeast corner of Central Park, across from the Plaza, is his favorite public art work in New York, Peter Scheldahl considers the uncomfortable relationship artists like Saint-Gaudens had with the emerging notion of avant garde art. “Saint-Gaudens became friends with August Rodin during a sojourn in Paris in the eighteen-nineties, and also with James McNeill Whistler. Like them—and like other superb contemporaries, including the muralist Puvis de Chavannes and the architect Stanford White—he was modern in spirit but retained conservative forms, consequently landing afoul of histories of modern art that venerate avant-gardism. Might we have reached a point of being allowed to praise Saint-Gaudens without apologizing to Picasso? It would amount to rekindling a long-lapsed wish for art that is both of the moment and genuinely public.”
“Augustus Saint-Gaudens,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Through November 15.