Art: Democracy on Pedestals

Under paternalistic governments, artists produce the kind of art the government likes. Such art is apt to be expert, professional—at its worst, stereotyped, imitative, monotonous. Under a democracy, artists produce the kind of art they themselves like. Such art is apt to be personal, varied, lacking in precise standards—at its worst, amateurish, purposeless, sometimes egotistically incomprehensible. But at its best, democratic art flowers in endless variety, makes up in flashes of brilliant originality what it lacks in consistent workmanship.

Last week, at Manhattan's Buchholz Gallery, visitors saw one of the best cross-sections...

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