John Elderfield is chief curator emeritus of painting and sculpture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and was formerly the inaugural Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, Distinguished Curator and Lecturer at the Princeton University Art Museum. He joined Gagosian in 2012 as a senior curator for special exhibitions.
On the Dot
In the first installment of a two-part feature, John Elderfield discusses how dots found a special place in the vocabulary of painting with the work of the French artist Georges Seurat and continue to be used to this day, most famously by Damien Hirst and Yayoi Kusama. Elderfield asks: what is it about dots that attracted modern artists, and what functions do they serve?
T. S. Eliot Meets Henri Matisse
John Elderfield asks: Is it possible that the paths of these two great modernists crossed? An essay by T. S. Eliot of 1919 on a playwright of the seventeenth century surprisingly raises that question; and an investigation of primary materials reveals an unexpected answer.
Light and Lightning: Wonder-Reactions at Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field
In this second installment of a two-part essay, John Elderfield resumes his investigation of Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field (1977), focusing this time on how the hope to see lightning there has led to the work’s association with the Romantic conception of the sublime.
A Day in the Life of The Lightning Field
In the first of a two-part feature, John Elderfield recounts his experiences at The Lightning Field (1977), Walter De Maria’s legendary installation in New Mexico. Elderfield considers how this work requires our constantly finding and losing a sense of symmetry and order in shifting perceptions of space, scale, and distance, as the light changes throughout the day.
Édouard Manet: Death in the Afternoon
In this second installment of a two-part essay, John Elderfield resumes his investigation of Édouard Manet’s Execution of Maximilian, focusing this time on the political and historical implications of the artist’s formal treatment of real, violent events.
Édouard Manet: Cut and Paste
In this first installment of a two-part essay, John Elderfield tracks the oscillating states of unification and separation that Édouard Manet’s The Execution of Maximilian has endured since its creation, in 1868.
Lockdown: Henri Matisse’s Domestic Interiors
John Elderfield reexamines Matisse’s Piano Lesson (1916) and Music Lesson (1917), considering the works’ depictions of domestic space during the tumult of World War I.
On the occasion of the exhibition Pittura/Panorama: Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, 1952–1992, at the Museo di Palazzo Grimani in Venice, Italy, art historians John Elderfield and Pepe Karmel discuss the concept of the panorama in relation to the artist’s work. Their conversation traces developments in Frankenthaler’s approach to composition, the boundaries and conventions of abstraction, and how, in many ways, her career continually challenged established theories of art history.
Helen and High Water
John Elderfield shares part of his lecture, prepared on the occasion of the exhibition Abstract Climates: Helen Frankenthaler in Provincetown.