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Collectors Q&A with James Panero


James Panero in front of Paul Behnke’s "A Kind of Grail," 2013. Photo by Lily Panero.

The website asked me to take part in its smart "Collectors Q&A." Here, I am delighted to highlight some of the artists whose work inspires my family at home. With photos by Lily Panero (and dad)! — James

April 30, 2014

Collectors Q&A with James Panero

What was one formative moment for you as your interest in contemporary art began to grow?

In our living room, my parents had a catalogue from the 1982 Whitney retrospective of Milton Avery. I became fascinated with the painting on the cover, “Red Rock Falls” from 1947. The image was like a puzzle I could assemble in different ways: a monster, a neck, a hand, or the beak of Toucan Sam. It wasn’t just one thing. That’s an appeal of contemporary art: the question of it.


From left: Paul Behnke, “A Kind of Grail,” 2013; Julie Torres, “Paintings for Rachel Beach,” 2012; Gary Petersen, "Futuretime," 2013; Joy Garnett, “Blue,” 2012; Audra Wolowiec, "Concrete Sound (4x4)," 2011 (on desk); Rachel Beach, “Nod,” 2012 (in front of window); Mark A. Sprague, "Red Alert," 1952. Photo by Lily Panero


Tell us about your approach to collecting art.

I’m very fortunate in my job at The New Criterion. For my Gallery Chronicle column, which I’ve been writing every month for a decade, I get to document my evolving artistic interests. For the past several years, that’s taken me to the outer boroughs of New York, in particular to Bushwick, Brooklyn, where I’ve been inspired by the energy of their alternative art scenes. Here I see myself as an activist critic, drawing attention away from the market-driven precincts of Chelsea to these quieter corners. In part that means supporting artists and spaces both in words and deeds and, on my very limited budget, collecting where I can. Since I write my column for collectors, it helps to live with art as a collector myself and understand how work evolves in a private setting over time.


From left: works by Martin Bromirski, Austin Thomas, Lori Ellison, and Tom Goldenberg. Photo by Lily Panero.


You’ve written and spoken extensively on the current state of museums. In your article, “What’s a Museum?” you relate an anecdote about Kenneth Clark from Suzanne Bosman’s book The National Gallery in Wartime. During WWII, while museums were closed and evacuated, Clark valiantly began an initiative in which he displayed one work of art each month in a basement room, usually after taking suggestions from the public. Imagine a similar scenario. It’s WWIII, the apocalypse, a significant disaster. What would you display?

The interesting thing about art in crisis is that it comforts us more through a reflection of crisis rather than a distraction from it. So there’s the obvious gut-stirrers, such as “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” but that’s not quite right. Something better would be “The Gulf Stream” by Winslow Homer, a painting that shows us dignity in hopelessness. 


From left: Matthew Miller, "Untitled (Self-Portrait)," 2009; Christopher Wilmarth, "Cut Outs from Breath Etching," 1982; Dee Shapiro, "Untitled (hatchmarks)," 2009; Austin Thomas, two untitled works (on table). Photo by Lily Panero.


What art books would we find on your shelves?

Modern Art by Julius Meier-Graefe; The Journal of Eugene Delacroix translated by Walter Pach; The Tradition of the New by Harold Rosenberg; Art and Culture by Clement Greenberg; The Age of the Avant-Garde by Hilton Kramer. Before bedtime, my daughter and I like to flip through Masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art


On right: Kerry Law, “E.S.B 11/21/11,” 2011. Photo by Lily Panero.

Tell us about the last exhibit you saw and found compelling.

The “Invitational Exhibition” at the American Academy of Arts and Letters. It’s the lead review in my latest Gallery Chronicle.

Would you close with a favorite quote that’s art-related or speaks to creativity?

“as he seeks the food of light, so he lives in light” —Moby Dick


Loren Munk, "A Depiction of How Art History is Disseminated," 2010. Photo by Lily Panero.

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The New York City Ballet 'Family Saturday'

Corps de ballet members performing an excerpt from Peter Martins’s Swan Lake as part of a NYCB "Family Saturday."

James writes:

A cultural highpoint of classical music must be the development of engaging programs for children. Such events combine just the right mix of performance and narration to captivate and educate future generations (while also delighting the parents in tow).

The "Young People's Concerts" series at the New York Philharmonic offers the best, longest, and most consequential example of how this can be done right. The YPCs started as weekend children's matinees back in the late nineteenth century, became a regular feature in 1926, and reached their zenith (and "the Zenith") in the televised broadcasts of Leonard Bernstein starting in 1958. Some years ago, I watched the full run of these TV broadcasts, which is now available in a nine-DVD set from Kultur video, and wrote about it here.

I grew up attending the children's concerts at Lincoln Center (just after the Bernstein era). Now that I have a young daughter, I am back again. But as we've found, just because they are aimed at children, such concerts are not easy to perform well. A good children's concert is not a short, poorly orchestrated, dumbed-down version of an adult concert, which was what we unfortunately found last summer on the lawn at Tanglewood. All the Boston Symphony Orchestra did with that performance was drive a generation away from live performance, or at least the BSO's approximation of it, and back to YouTube. (If you didn't already know, some of the most captivating classical performances for children can now be found online. Just take a look at our current favorite--the Mariinsky's Nutcracker in flawless HD).    

Coming off the BSO experience, we were unsure what we'd find at last weekend's New York City Ballet "Family Saturday." Billed as a one-hour presentation "designed especially for family audiences," the performance promised "short works and excerpts from New York City Ballet's diverse repertory" with narrative instruction by NYCB artists "offering insights on the music and choreography." 

The answer was the finest children's performance I could imagine. Kept to a captivating, fast-paced hour, the NYCB performed excerpts from the season's repertory. This meant Emeralds with music by Gabriel Fauré, The Concerto Barocco with music by J. S. Bach, Who Cares? with music by George Gershwin, Barber's Violin Concerto, Dances at a Gathering with music by Frédéric Chopin, Todo Buenos Aires with music by Astor Paizzolla, and excerpts from the second and third acts of Coppélia with music by Léo Delibes.

Of the entire selection, the opening performance of Emeralds was the one letdown. At least one of the dancers was off a beat, and viewed from left orchestra, some of the staging was obscured by the musicians who were performing stage right.    

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But it all came together as soon as the morning's emcee, Silas Farley, stepped on stage. Farley may for now just be a young member of the corps de ballet, but his star quality can already outshine the principals of the company. My daughter and I first got to know about him through the NYCB's new online reality show, a high-production-value if slightly clichéd web series produced by AOL of life inside the company, with Sarah Jessica Parker narrating and ballet master Peter Martins acting as the heel (he would make a great villain in a 1970s-era James Bond film).

Here's a tip for next season's videos: less talking, more dancing. But between the catty gripes, the show did give us a glimpse of Farley, who was filmed the moment he received his contract to join the company. Taking bets now: With his great poise and bright attitude, Farley may one day be, what, Principal Dancer? Ballet Master? President of the United States? Until then we were lucky to catch him leading the NYCB's Family Saturday.

On stage, Farley's enthusiasm for dance was infectious as he (and the show's writers) made intelligent and fun comparisons between the programs--such as the differences between the choreography of George Balanchine in Jewels (with its performance directed at the audience) and Jerome Robbins in Dances at a Gathering (played more towards the other dancers on stage). He helped us appreciate the fun of Martins's choreography in the Barber Violin Concerto (with ragdoll moves by Megan Fairchild). He introduced us to an accordion-like instrument called the Bandoneon, played by JP Jofre, in Todo Buenos Aires. Finally, for Coppélia, with its robotic doll, he had the children of the audience stand up and move like marionettes.

It seems to be just the right metaphor. Here was a concert that pulled every string to further a child's appreciation of ballet.  

The NYCB's next Family Saturday is May 10, 2014, hosted this time by Principal Dancer Daniel Ulbricht. Tickets are for general admission and $20 each.  

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God and Me at Yale

James writes: 

Please join me on October 18 for the "The Future of Conservatism," the third annual conference of the William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale. I will be speaking about Buckley's mentorship on a panel alongside Neal B. Freeman and Lawrence Perelman, moderated by Linda Bridges. I am honored to join an afternoon and evening lineup that includes Jonah Goldberg, Michael Barone, Craig Shirley, Professor Robert P. George, Bret Stephens, Roger Kimball, Rich Lowry, Heather Mac Donald, Professor Steven Smith, and Professor E. Donald Elliott. Those interested in attending this free event should contact Lauren Noble (Lauren [at]

The William F. Buckley, Jr. Program was founded in 2010 by a group of Yale undergraduates under the guidance of Professor Donald Kagan. The program officially launched in the spring semester of 2011 with a mission is to promote intellectual diversity on Yale's campus. Affiliated with Yale, The Buckley Program is an independent non-profit that relies on the support of individuals in order to operate programs like this every year.