What I Heard: Paul Richard

I just got back from hearing longtime Washington Post art critic Paul Richard speak at the National Gallery of Art. Richard is an excellent speaker and an alluring storyteller. His lecture, titled “What I Saw,” began with his move from scrappy beat reporter to dread-filled art critic in 1967.
Richard did an admirable job of illustrating his talk largely with artworks either from DC, or which had been shown in DC. A central, and astute, premise, which Richard used to pivot from his own inexperience to the non-academic, non-specialist enthusiasts who were his readers, to the four-decades-long wave of new museums and blockbuster exhibitions in DC was basically, “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you.”
And he’s right. Museums–like the one he was speaking in, of course, the alternative title of his lecture could have been, “What Museums Showed Me”–brought revelatory shows to Washington: Chinese Treasures and British Treasure House treasures, DaVinci treasures, tons and tons of treasures.
And Richard paid homage to Washington’s most cutting edge curator ever, Walter Hopps.
And yet. He wove his argument for universal “rhymes” and echoes in art across cultures and millennia, from IM Pei’s triangles to the Washington Monument’s capstone to prehistoric ochre carvings. He spoke reverently and fondly about Hopps, and the artists he met through Hopps, like Duchamp, Warhol, Kienholz, and Tony Smith. Which got us to about 1968.
But Richard showed exactly two works–Rachel Whiteread’s Ghost (1990) and Beverly Semmes’ Kimberly (1994), that were made after he became an art critic.
Which I guess is as accurate an account of the history of DC’s fraught, distant, marginalized relationship with contemporary art as anything else. Or at least of its newspaper and its museums.