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Leonardo’s Young Woman; Ironic Junk Crams Guggenheim

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Nov. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Serenely, she looks over her shoulder at us with an assured gaze, a passageway built of faith and true devotion.

Leonardo created the “Head of a Young Woman” (1480s) as a study for the angel in the “Virgin of the Rocks,” and the celebrated drawing is on view in New York for the first time.

It’s been 10 years since the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s magnificent survey of Leonardo’s drawings. The Morgan Library & Museum is now showing “Leonardo da Vinci: Treasures from the Biblioteca Reale, Turin.”

The boutique show of about a dozen drawings and codices by the Renaissance master and some 20 by his followers -- the Leonardeschi -- reminds us that it’s worth making an effort to see even one Leonardo.

“Three Views of a Bearded Man” quivers, a perfect balance of wisdom and skepticism. There are his studies of horses, insects and weapons, and “Codex on the Flight of Birds” (c. 1505-06), his melding of ornithology, science, art and fantasy, also making its first appearance in this city.

Christopher Wool

The Christopher Wool retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum is among the most fraudulent and depressing shows I have seen. It’s an affront, an absolute bummer for anyone who cares about painting.

In a less-exalted venue -- and at another time -- Wool’s stenciled black-and-white word pictures, bleached-out downtown New York street photography and blase abstract messes might mean very little.

Overflowing the rotunda, the show is the latest example of museum exhibition as market-driven browbeating.

There is almost nothing in this bleak and padded show with any real merit, though I did like the collaboration with Robert Gober, an untitled gelatin silver print of a forest tree clothed in a sundress.

Mostly, Wool’s slick process is one of appropriation and irreverence. Large stacked broken-word paintings read: “FO/OL”; “SEX/LUV”; “SELLTHE/HOUSE S/ELLTHEC/AR SELL/THEKIDS.”

Smudged Patterns

Big abstractions consist of scribbled lines or floral patterns that have been smudged, wiped out and covered.

He can’t paint. He can’t draw, but Wool, 58, knows which buttons to push.

He works with self-consciously satirical, anti-art tools such as rollers, stencils, enamel and rubber stamps, employing silkscreens and copy machines.

These are not paintings but shrewd art-historical signs. Wool borrows Gerhard Richter’s smear, Abstract Expressionists’ angst, Lawrence Weiner’s conceptual nihilism and Banksy and company’s graffiti.

So why, exactly, is this ironic junk at the Guggenheim? Recently, Wool has become a must-have artist for contemporary blue-chip collections. His increasingly hot pictures bring millions.

And since “What sells, sells,” the public must suck it up and accept that in today’s market, museum exhibitions of contemporary art frequently indicate little more than where fashion-conscious investors (often museum trustees themselves) are currently parking their cash.

“Leonardo da Vinci: Treasures from the Biblioteca Reale, Turin” runs through Feb. 2 at the Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Ave. Information: +1-212-685-0008; http://www.themorgan.org.

“Christopher Wool” runs through Jan. 22 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Ave. Information: +1-212-423-3500; http://www.guggenheim.org.

(Lance Esplund is U.S. art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include John Mariani on wine and Jeremy Gerard on theater.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lance Esplund in New York at lesplund@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net

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