- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 18, 2002

Internationally known art critic Barbara Rose dashed into town this week for the opening of Larry Rivers' show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. She was instrumental in bringing Mr. Rivers to the Corcoran's attention.

Along with actress Goldie Hawn, she may be the Washington area's most famous export to the arts. She even dresses the part with designer dresses, a dimpled smile and carefully coiffed blond hair.

She champions artists such as Mr. Rivers, Al Held and Washingtonian Sam Gilliam (she thinks they need more attention) and is known for fighting for the New York avant-garde in the 1960s.

Now a distinguished research professor at American University in Washington and curator of exhibitions around the world, Ms. Rose was a pusher from the beginning. Early in life, she decided she would go after what she wanted. Ms. Rose missed so many classes at Calvin Coolidge High School while visiting Washington's museums, the school temporarily expelled her for truancy. "Barbara was very precocious and was two steps ahead of you all the time. She had a mind of her own and seemed to know what you were thinking," says her mother, Lillian Rose, of Silver Spring.

Ms. Rose entered Smith College in Northampton, Mass., at age 16 but quickly switched to Barnard College in New York where she could soak up the New York art scene. While working for a doctorate at Columbia University, she studied with renowned art historians Meyer Schapiro, Julius Held and Rudolph Wittkower but chose to hang out with artists. The critic met Mr. Rivers when she was 18 and he was playing jazz saxophone in New York.

The art historian married artist Frank Stella in 1961, and the two went to Spain on her Fulbright Fellowship. Her love affair with Spain began when a Coolidge High School Spanish teacher recommended she read "Don Quixote" and other Spanish classics. Mr. Stella is the father of her children, Rachel Stella, who curates and makes films in France, and Michael Stella, a doctor at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. Ms. Rose and Mr. Stella are divorced.

Regarded as an art world maverick despite her scholarly career at colleges and universities Sarah Lawrence, Yale, the University of California at Irvine and at San Diego, American University and the AU Art in Italy Program and writing books and articles on artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Mr. Held, Beverly Pepper, Magdalena Abakanowicz and Dale Chihuly, she is curating "The Varieties of Monochromism" for the Reina Sofia in Madrid. Ms. Rose considers it her most challenging and exciting exhibition.

"It cuts across all national boundaries and examines the intellectual underpinnings of monochrome art, revealing that it is not a style but a worldview with complex historical, intellectual and spiritual dimensions," Ms. Rose says. She is obtaining loans of paintings by artists such as Claude Monet, Kasimir Malevich, Joan Miro, Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, the early Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Ellsworth Kelly and the Polish and Czech constructivists no small task.

"I'm incredibly fortunate that in Spain, a show that cannot hope to bring in the kind of crowds that American museums compete for, can be done because there is still the sense that quality counts more than quantity," she says.

The show will open in Madrid in spring 2004 and travel to one other European museum. Ms. Rose is curating three other shows to be mounted in the next three years in Spain and other countries. She commutes between Spain and New York, where she has a Soho loft.

Some scholars can write and curate, but not teach; others can teach, but not write and curate. Ms. Rose, however, is a very good teacher, her former students say. Jacquelyn Serwer, chief curator at the Corcoran and organizer of the "Larry Rivers: Art and the Artist" exhibition, studied with Ms. Rose at Sarah Lawrence in the 1960s. "She was so exciting and was our idol and role model. Here was this beautiful young woman who knew all the artists and critics in the New York art world and was already well known for her own critical work. She took us to artists' studios and introduced us to this extraordinary world," Ms. Serwer says. The curator points out that Ms. Rose has won the prestigious College Art Association's Mather Award for Distinguished Art Criticism twice and that Ms. Rose's "American Art Since 1900, a Critical History" has been translated into 14 languages.

The critic has also taught during the fall semesters at the AU Art in Italy Program at Corciano for the past five years. She helped Don Kimes, professor of art at AU and director of the program, concentrate the teaching on original works of art. She regularly takes her students to see the art of Italian Renaissance masters such as Giotto and Fra Angelico at Assisi, Florence and Rome.

"She's a fabulous teacher because she gets involved with the students, knows the material cold and everything firsthand whether talking about contemporary or historical art," Mr. Kimes says.

The critic frequently returns to the Washington area to visit her family. Her two brothers and their wives live here, as well as her mother, who turns 93 on May 26.

Ms. Rose is excited about what's happening in Washington. She points to the $15 million Cy and Myrtl Katzen Arts Center at AU. "They just broke ground for it, and it's bound to be a great cultural resource for the city. The center and Frank Gehry renovation and new building at the Corcoran makes my hometown really interesting now, " she says.


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