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2009 was the year that Washington’s art museums decided they wanted to become relevant, topical, and just plain popular, writes critic Jeffry Cudlin in our Arts in Review issue. To judge by the exhibits, however, it was also a year prizing insular artists who kept a distance from larger trends. Cudlin writes:

At the Phillips in February, it was Giorgio Morandi—a man who waited out some of the most tumultuous years of the first half of the 20th century in his childhood bedroom, painting the same piles of dusty bowls, teapots, and vases over and over, in the same wan colors. Morandi produced a succession of tiny, scruffy still lifes that seemed to violate all commonly held assumptions about successful composition, perspective, and color—yet the pieces speak eloquently to the problems of painting and of seeing and are quietly, elegantly breathtaking. This is connoisseur stuff of the highest order—definitely not relational aesthetics, fluxus, or any of that let’s-all-hold-hands-and-be-the-art stuff.

Read the entire essay here.