Gopnik asks why: John Alexander retrospective at Smithsonian American Art Museum

John Alexander: A Retrospective,” curated by Jane Livingston for the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC. Through March 16.

In the Washington Post, Blake Gopnik takes aim. “We’ve all come across actors too fond of their thespian skills. They rage when their characters are mad, wail when they’re supposed to be sad and turn every hint of an accent into a Meryl Streep moment. The pictures of John Alexander, a 62-year-old Texan long based in New York, overact in just that way. Almost 70 of them are now on view in Alexander’s first retrospective, which recently opened at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and will go on to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Alexander’s frantic vision of the Crucifixion, titled ‘Go Jesus Go,’ is aflame with lashings of golden paint slapped down over midnight blue. It’s less a true nightmare than a bad dream after chili….I’d place Alexander somewhere up there among the 5,000 or so best artists in the country. Which is more than enough to justify his continuing to paint and collectors’ continuing to buy him. What I don’t understand is why our national art museum, with such limited exhibition slots and an already iffy reputation for its contemporary programming, would want to highlight such a secondary figure. Alexander has barely had a significant museum show since the early 1980s, when his good friend Jane Livingston first displayed him at the Corcoran, where she was a talented chief curator. Livingston, now working freelance, also organized this show; her boss at the Corcoran, and again for the current survey, was Peter Marzio, now director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. By curating Alexander into our national museum, Livingston is billing him as one of our next Gilbert Stuarts, Edward Hoppers, Jackson Pollocks or Jenny Holzers.” According to Gopnik, that’s more than Alexander’s modest talent can bear. Read more.

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