Articles by Stanley Meisler

Back out in the world, Afghanistan's hidden treasures

Back out in the world, Afghanistan's hidden treasures

Back out in the world, Afghanistan's hidden treasures

Back out in the world, Afghanistan's hidden treasures

Back out in the world, Afghanistan's hidden treasures

June 15, 2008
June 2008
Back out in the world, Afghanistan's hidden treasures
Ancient artifacts secretly kept in a bank vault in the war-torn country, safe from marauding militia, looters and the Taliban, are now on a museum tour for all the world to see. In an act that provoked worldwide outrage, the fundamentalist Taliban rulers of Afghanistan in March 2001 destroyed the monumental statues of Buddha that had been carved into the rock cliffs of Bamiyan 1,600 years ago. The shocking destruction was not an isolated event. As part of the same campaign, the Taliban sent hordes of militants into the Kabul Museum to smash every statue, no matter how small, that depicted a human figure or any other creature... But the museum did not die. Unknown to outsiders, museum director Omara Khan Massoudi and his assistants had packed the finest treasures of the museum during the 1980s and placed them in the vaults of the Central Bank in the presidential palace. "What kept them safe," says Hiebert, "was the code of silence"...

Landscapes are the draw at National Gallery

Landscapes are the draw at National Gallery

Landscapes are the draw at National Gallery

Landscapes are the draw at National Gallery

Landscapes are the draw at National Gallery

April 20, 2008
April 2008
Landscapes are the draw at National Gallery
For much of the 19th century, scores of French painters, laden with knapsacks and portable easels, trekked through the Forest of Fontainebleau to capture the shifting wonders of nature with their brushes right on the spot. Some came for weekends; some stayed for a lifetime. Pioneers of the new art called photography, laden with even more equipment, made the pilgrimage as well. So did the young Impressionists. Together they all raised the art of landscape to new heights in France. A generous sampling of this work is on display in an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art that celebrates a place rather than a painter. Called "In the Forest of Fontainebleau: Painters and Photographers From Corot to Monet," the show closes June 8 and goes on to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston in July. The place celebrated is a forest that was once the hunting grounds for the royal chateau in the town of Fontainebleau...

Engage, Isolate, or Strike

Engage, Isolate, or Strike

Engage, Isolate, or Strike

Engage, Isolate, or Strike

Engage, Isolate, or Strike

March 25, 2008
March 2008
Engage, Isolate, or Strike
After the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended in the last decade of the 20th century, American strategists turned their sights on another threat: the potential havoc that might come from a group of smaller countries like North Korea and Iran that the Americans called "rogue states." That name was a wonderful metaphor. It reminded everyone of "rogue elephant," the term that hunters and wildlife experts use for an elephant that breaks from the herd, follows its own rules, and goes on wild rampages. The antics of a rogue elephant sounded just like the threat of a rogue state, especially a rogue state trying to arm itself with nuclear weapons. But the metaphor had one flaw. No one tries to negotiate with rogue elephants. Hunters simply kill them...

'Condoleezza Rice: An American Life,' by Elisabeth Bumiller

'Condoleezza Rice: An American Life,' by Elisabeth Bumiller

'Condoleezza Rice: An American Life,' by Elisabeth Bumiller

'Condoleezza Rice: An American Life,' by Elisabeth Bumiller

'Condoleezza Rice: An American Life,' by Elisabeth Bumiller

December 11, 2007
December 2007
'Condoleezza Rice: An American Life,' by Elisabeth Bumiller
A talented, ambitious woman whose judgment is clouded by intense loyalty. In late August 2005, Condoleezza Rice stepped into a Broadway theater to see the musical "Spamalot." At the end, when the lights came on, some in the audience noticed the secretary of State. Evidently angry about both the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, they stood up and booed. A careful, well-documented new biography, "Condoleezza Rice: An American Life," will not dissipate such anger. Elisabeth Bumiller, who covered the White House for the New York Times during most of George W. Bush's presidency, has labored to present an evenhanded look at Rice. She shows some sympathy for her subject and even more understanding. But, in the end, this is a portrait of a talented, ambitious woman who has allowed intense loyalty to cloud her judgment and good sense...
Condoleezza Rice: An American Life

J.M.W. Turner's sprawling landscape

J.M.W. Turner's sprawling landscape

J.M.W. Turner's sprawling landscape

J.M.W. Turner's sprawling landscape

J.M.W. Turner's sprawling landscape

November 18, 2007
November 2007
J.M.W. Turner's sprawling landscape
In a Washington exhibition, the British painter's wide-ranging influence is seen through the swirls and mists of his search for the sublime. A dramatic exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1966 set the way many Americans still look at the works of the British painter Joseph Mallord William Turner. By then, Turner had been dead for more than a century -- hardly a conventional subject for a temple of Modern art. But, by concentrating on his later paintings, filled with swirls of color and light and mists and fire and storm, the museum hailed Turner as a godfather of French Impressionism and, even more important, a precursor of American Abstract Expressionism. The show prompted abstract painter Mark Rothko to joke, "That guy Turner learned a lot from me!" Now, another major exhibition, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, is trying to put Turner in better perspective...

Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries

Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries

Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries

Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries

Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries

August 12, 2007
August 2007
Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries
Smithsonian exhibition explores a world trader's legacy. In the 1400s, decades before the voyages of Christopher Columbus, sailors from little Portugal braved the oceans to map the world, carry back spices and other treasures, spread Christianity and set down an empire that would extend in the next two centuries from Africa to India to China to Brazil. The impact was enormous. Europe was inundated with images and objects from the outside world. And, from then on, the rest of the world would never escape the influence of Europe...

'Sargent and Venice': an artist's true passion revealed

'Sargent and Venice': an artist's true passion revealed

'Sargent and Venice': an artist's true passion revealed

'Sargent and Venice': an artist's true passion revealed

'Sargent and Venice': an artist's true passion revealed

July 8, 2007
July 2007
'Sargent and Venice': an artist's true passion revealed
John Singer Sargent put portraits aside to capture the workings of an ethereal city... John Singer Sargent was the most popular portrait painter of his day, but the tedium of the work often oppressed him. In letters to friends, he liked to mock his lucrative success in what he called "paughtraits." He found it a nuisance "to entertain the sitter and to look happy when one feels wretched." When he took time off from the portraits, he would say, "No more mugs!" Accompanied by friends and family, and armed with oils and watercolors, he would leave his London studio every year for a long vacation, usually to the Alps in the summer and then south to Venice in the fall...

Moving a century function forward

Moving a century function forward

Moving a century function forward

Moving a century function forward

Moving a century function forward

April 8, 2007
April 2007
Moving a century function forward
'Designing a New World: 1914-1939' shows how a movement moved a century function forward. Exhibition showcases the legacy of Modernism's breakaway style. When portions of "Ulysses" first appeared in a literary magazine from 1918 to 1920, its Irish author, James Joyce, wanted the world to know that he had created a new kind of novel, resembling nothing that came before. When Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" premiered in Paris in 1913, the Russian composer's music was so dissonant, new and shocking that the audience rioted. Other artists such as the painter Pablo Picasso, architect Le Corbusier, designer Marcel Breuer and filmmaker Fritz Lang wanted to do the same: break completely with the past and re-create their form of art, taking it to new and different heights...

Artwork for the masses borne of revolution

Artwork for the masses borne of revolution

Artwork for the masses borne of revolution

Artwork for the masses borne of revolution

Artwork for the masses borne of revolution

October 29, 2006
October 2006
Artwork for the masses borne of revolution
An exhibition highlights the golden age of Mexican printmaking. In the wake of a long revolution against dictatorship, Mexican artists vowed in the 1920s to create works that would instruct and enrich the masses. They even signed a manifesto proclaiming, "We repudiate so-called easel painting and every kind of art favored by ultra-intellectual circles." Out of this mood came the great murals of modern Mexico, especially the monumental works of Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. But the mood also spawned a lesser-known burst of creativity — an enormous production of prints for 30 years. Unlike paintings that would likely be savored by rich families in their homes, the multiples of these woodcuts, linoleum cuts and lithographs could reach many people...

Countrymen, get reacquainted

Countrymen, get reacquainted

Countrymen, get reacquainted

Countrymen, get reacquainted

Countrymen, get reacquainted

October 22, 2006
October 2006
Countrymen, get reacquainted
George Washington the man, the myths and even the teeth make up the new Mount Vernon experience. The private organization that runs Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, will soon open an opulent and dramatic visitors complex that will try to fill a need spawned by the growing ignorance of Americans about their own history. There was a time when most visitors came to the 18th century estate and lovely grounds in northern Virginia already full of facts and insights into the life and times of the first president of the United States. But this is no longer so — a lack of knowledge that first attracted notice in the 1990s...

History's new verdict on the Dreyfus case

History's new verdict on the Dreyfus case

History's new verdict on the Dreyfus case

History's new verdict on the Dreyfus case

History's new verdict on the Dreyfus case

July 9, 2006
July 2006
History's new verdict on the Dreyfus case
[OPINION] Historians are hailing accused 19th-century spy Alfred Dreyfus as a hero, not a simple victim of anti-Semitism. In 1899, a broken Alfred Dreyfus accepted a presidential pardon — and its implication that he had committed treason against France. It was a matter of life or death, for Dreyfus feared that he would not survive the notorious penal colony on Devil's Island, where he had been sent after a military court convicted him of betraying his country. Those who believed that he was innocent and had called for his exoneration were deeply disappointed. "We were prepared to die for Dreyfus," said poet Charles Péguy, "but Dreyfus was not." His decision to accept a pardon is one of the cornerstones of a long-standing French perception that Dreyfus is the model of a submissive victim. But on the eve of the 100th anniversary of his exoneration in 1906 and the official end of the tumultuous affair that convulsed France for a dozen years, that view may be changing. Indeed, some historians see Dreyfus the patriot, not Dreyfus the victim...

Processing Dada's Merit

Processing Dada's Merit

Processing Dada's Merit

Processing Dada's Merit

Processing Dada's Merit

April 9, 2006
April 2006
Processing Dada's Merit
The movement of "very calculated nonsense" that influenced contemporary art gets a striking exhibition. It is hard to take seriously a group of grown men and women who submit a store-bought urinal to an art show, declaim meaningless sounds as poetry, stage mock trials of novelists they dislike, wear a string with two empty tin cans as a bra, provide an ax for dissatisfied art connoisseurs, call their movement Dada, and then proclaim proudly, "Dada means nothing". Yet these artists of shock from World War I and the 1920s have now been taken seriously enough for the National Gallery of Art to mount a striking and didactic exhibition of their work...

It works well. Tweak it.

It works well. Tweak it.

It works well. Tweak it.

It works well. Tweak it.

It works well. Tweak it.

November 6, 2005
November 2005
It works well. Tweak it.
[OPINION] AMERICAN POLITICIANS have urged U.N. reform for decades. Lately, the cries have become so loud and incessant that it is hard to imagine what will satisfy the critics. Abolish the veto for all nations save the United States and elect John Bolton as secretary-general? Strange as it seems, even those steps might not be enough -- not for critics whose demands for reform mask a deeper goal. They will not be satisfied unless the U.N. submits to the will of the United States. I do not doubt that the U.N. needs reform -- just look at the scandal in the U.N.'s oil-for-food program for Iraq. But let’s put this into perspective...

A Pearl of Poetry and Paint

A Pearl of Poetry and Paint

A Pearl of Poetry and Paint

A Pearl of Poetry and Paint

A Pearl of Poetry and Paint

July 10, 2005
July 2005
A Pearl of Poetry and Paint
In the last years of the 16th century, Emperor Akbar, the illiterate Mughal ruler of India, ordered his finest calligrapher and his workshop of artists to craft a luxurious edition of one of the great works of Persian poetry, known as “The Pearls of the Parrot of India.” The book had 31 full-page illustrations painted with delicacy and beauty. For many years, looking at most of them has been a private experience, limited mainly to scholars. That, after all, is the nature of a rare book. Now, for the first time, 29 of the miniature paintings are separate and on display in a show at the Walters Art Museum called “The Pearls of the Parrot of India: The Emperor Akbar’s Illustrated Khamsa, 1595-98.”..
Pearls of the Parrot of India

Europe's Dawn, In Art

Europe's Dawn, In Art

Europe's Dawn, In Art

Europe's Dawn, In Art

Europe's Dawn, In Art

May 30, 2005
May 2005
Europe's Dawn, In Art
Coming upon a remote Romanesque church from almost 1,000 years ago is one of the pleasures of traveling through the countryside of Europe. But these structures, put up when the tribes that had destroyed the Roman Empire were emerging from their Dark Ages, are almost bare, their sculptures, reliquaries and manuscripts often squirreled away in diocesan and regional museums in distant towns. It is hard to get a good sense of this unusual art. Until this year, France -- which claims the richest collections -- had never organized a major national exhibition of Romanesque art. The Louvre Museum in Paris has finally erased that neglect with an impressive show of more than 300 works titled “Romanesque France: In the Time of the First Capetian Kings (987-1152),” which runs through next Monday...

Dalí As You've Never Seen Him

Dalí As You've Never Seen Him

Dalí As You've Never Seen Him

Dalí As You've Never Seen Him

Dalí As You've Never Seen Him

May 15, 2005
May 2005
Dalí As You've Never Seen Him
It may seem excessive, but there are three museums commemorating the life and work of Salvador Dali in the northern area of Catalonia not far from the French border, but what was his life if not excess? The museums are a little off the main American tourist routes in Spain, but they are well worth the trouble to find. The three brim with art and kitsch and reflect the many sides of the artist. Here is a look at them. The Dali Theater-Museum is in Figueres, fitting because the artist was born here in 1904 and died here in 1989. Port Lligat - Dali’s home, which attracts 90,000 visitors a year, is about 20 miles from Figueres -- but it can take an hour or more to drive there. The castle at Pubol tells us a great deal about Dali’s love for Gala...

His Shadowy City of Light

His Shadowy City of Light

His Shadowy City of Light

His Shadowy City of Light

His Shadowy City of Light

May 8, 2005
May 2005
His Shadowy City of Light
IN the last years of the 19th century, Montmartre, a poor Paris neighborhood high on a hill, burst into a frenzy of popular song and dance, creative art and decadent high jinks -- a frenzy with wonderful imagery that still lingers in our minds. We owe most of those images to the works of the diminutive and doomed artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Toulouse-Lautrec was a painter and lithographer of extraordinary appeal. Museum-goers and buyers of reproductions love his paintings, prints and posters of cancan dancers and caustic singers and depressed prostitutes and bourgeois men on the prowl. This is demonstrated once again by the crowds that now stream into the National Gallery of Art for its extensive exhibition “Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre...”

The Surreal World of Salvador Dalí

The Surreal World of Salvador Dalí

The Surreal World of Salvador Dalí

The Surreal World of Salvador Dalí

The Surreal World of Salvador Dalí

April 1, 2005
April 2005
The Surreal World of Salvador Dalí
The flamboyant Spaniard often hid his artistic genius behind a perpetual zeal for self-promotion and an obsession with money. Genius or madman? A new exhibition may help you decide. Salvador Dalí spent much of his life promoting himself and shocking the world. He relished courting the masses, and he was probably better known, especially in the United States, than any other 20th-century painter, including even fellow Spaniard Pablo Picasso. He loved creating a sensation, not to mention controversy, and early in his career exhibited a drawing, titled SacredHeart, that featured the words “Sometimes I Spit with Pleasure on the Portrait of My Mother.” Publicity and money apparently mattered so much to Dalí that, twitching his waxed, upturned mustache, he endorsed a host of products for French and American television commercials. Diffidence was not in his vocabulary. “Compared to Velázquez, I am nothing,” he said in 1960, “but compared to contemporary painters, I am the most big genius of modern time...”

A Richer Portrait

A Richer Portrait

A Richer Portrait

A Richer Portrait

A Richer Portrait

March 29, 2005
March 2005
A Richer Portrait
The life of Amedeo Modigliani is the stuff of cliched myth and operatic tragedy: A handsome Italian artist weakened by too much hashish and alcohol, Modigliani died penniless in Paris of tuberculosis in 1920 at the age of 35. His last love leaped to her death from a fifth-story window a day later. While alive, he never sold enough to exist without the charity of friends. Yet, from the moment of his death, the fascination for his life and his work has soared. Now he is one of the world’s most popular artists. Only last November, Sotheby’s auctioned his last portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne, the mistress who killed herself, for $31,368,000, a record for a Modigliani. Although the drama of his life and his popularity after death have driven up the value of his paintings, they have done far less for his reputation...

An Artist in Her Own Light

An Artist in Her Own Light

An Artist in Her Own Light

An Artist in Her Own Light

An Artist in Her Own Light

February 13, 2005
February 2005
An Artist in Her Own Light
Berthe MORISOT was one of the first French Impressionist painters, the only woman to exhibit at their initial show in Paris in 1874. Her name and talent, said Edgar Degas, who helped organize the rebellious exhibition, “are just too important to us for us to be able to manage without her.” Yet, ever since, she has remained in the background of Impressionism, overshadowed by her renowned male counterparts, including Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. In the United States, she has been overshadowed as well by Mary Cassatt, the American painter living in Paris during that era. When Americans talk about women and Impressionism, the name that usually comes to mind first is Mary Cassatt, not Berthe Morisot...