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Great Cats

And things of beauty

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Freelance journalist Sharon Guynup has been traipsing around Central and South America’s jungles for two decades, but she had never even glimpsed a jaguar in the wild until reporting our cover story, “The Jaguar Freeway” (p. 48), in Brazil, where she petted a tranquilized cat on her second day in the country. “It was amazing to see the animal that close,” she says. “Its paws are extraordinarily large, it has a very big head and a very powerful chest and trunk. It has the squat, powerful physique of a prizefighter. I was just stunned by the animal’s beauty.”

Guynup’s article is about a bold plan to create a corridor that would link a number of jaguar populations in 18 different countries from Mexico to Argentina. The passages would allow the great cats to roam and, more to the point, breed. “Nothing like this has ever been attempted at this scale for any animal on earth,” she says. “The basic approach to conservation over the last decades has been to protect animals in parks, which is hugely important. But as climate changes and as humans encroach on the land, the idea of corridors becomes much more important.”

A major new retrospective exhibition of paintings and other works by Willem de Kooning is the occasion for critic Mark Stevens’ penetrating look at the artist, “Change Agent” (p. 72). “A very important part of the art world thought that anything he did after about 1950 was the work of a painter in decline,” Stevens says. “He was the painter many pop and minimal and conceptual artists defined themselves against.”

But Stevens insists de Kooning deserves better. “He was, in my view, a great painter throughout, from the beginning until almost the end of his life.” Moreover, “he is one of those artists who quite apart from the quality of their work develop an iconic significance for American culture.” Artists such as Winslow Homer, Georgia O’Keefe, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. “You can argue about the quality of their work,” says Stevens, who with his wife, Annalyn Swan, wrote de Kooning: An American Master, “but you can’t really argue about their significance in American culture. De Kooning’s has to do with being an immigrant, being broken in the way that immigrants often are, and with the way he invented himself in the New World. So he led a classic American life as well as being a very important painter. For a biographer, it helps to have a subject who is both a great artist and a great American story.”

About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

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