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To MAY 21
A decade ago, I reviewed an Arnold Newman retrospective held at a corporate conference center in central New Jersey. At the time, it was obvious that Newman is a master of “environmental portraiture,” in which he carefully arranges his subjects within an appropriate setting—a scientist hemmed in by equations on a blackboard, a jazz musician surrounded by moody smoke, and so forth. (Jacob Lawrence is pictured.) Before I went to see “Arnold Newman: Breaking Ground,” I wondered whether the photographer’s stagey, rather pretentious style would still wow me. After viewing the 157-photograph exhibition, my answer is “yes and no.” Some of the portraits included are unquestionably brilliant: Francis Bacon’s head barely illuminated by an eerie, unshaded light bulb; Igor Stravinsky shot from above against a checkered floor; I.M. Pei’s head squeezed into one end of a narrow rectangle of light within a starkly black field. Newman’s other works, however, run hot and cold. His architectural abstractions are inspired, especially his two homages to color-field painting shot at a John Deere factory in 1982. And Newman cleverly reinvents his famous portrait of Picasso, in one case mounting a print of one of Picasso’s eyes. But Newman’s shots of world leaders are undynamic, and his color photographs—besides those of city-builder Robert Moses and painter Frank Stella—literally pale next to his black-and-white work. Oddest of all are Newman’s attempts at photographic cutouts, which range from mediocre constructivist works to a laughable portrait of Andy Warhol. on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday to Monday and Wednesday and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, to Sunday, May 21, at the Corcoran Museum of Art, 500 17th St. NW. $3 (suggested donation). (202) 639-1700. (Louis Jacobson)