By Roberta Smith and Holland Cotter
Still in recovery from Covid lockdown, art museums in 2022 tried hard to pull traffic through the door. This meant a season heavily weighted, on the marquee side, toward an Old Normal: familiar, low-risk fare. At the same time, even our big, conservative institutions have started to come to grips with the fact that they need to appeal to new, demographically diverse audiences if they’re going to have a future. And this impulse seems to lie behind some of the most stimulating shows of the year.
Jim Nutt at Venus Over Manhattan
One of the year’s best shows in a commercial gallery (which I unfortunately saw on its last day) was “Jim Nutt: Portraits” at Venus Over Manhattan, a rare sighting of a reclusive contemporary master. It brought together six paintings and 14 drawings from 1987 to 2013, showcasing a talent in which Northern Renaissance precision and frugality are met by caustic harshness based in Surrealism and American popular culture. Nutt reduces the face to a kind of map where each feature exists in isolation, with its own style. Noses resemble geological outcroppings; eyes, which rarely match, can be indicated with the most delicate of marks. They all come together in the end, but only after careful examination. Someday this artist will get the museum retrospective he deserves.