Sister Wendy's Take on Six Great American Art Museums

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"One of the things I feel strongly [about art] is that no one view is canonical," says Sister Wendy Beckett, reached by phone in London, where she is dutifully promoting her new PBS series, "Sister Wendy's American Collection (Wednesdays, Sept. 5, 12, and 19, 8-10 p.m., check local listings).

"Everybody comes to a work of art with their own feelings, and may well read it differently," she says, welcoming dissent with her own interpretations. "All I'm trying to do is to persuade people to go and look for themselves, and if they disagree with me, that's splendid - as long as they have taken the trouble."

Sister Wendy is a Roman Catholic nun who devotes her free hours daily to the study of art. Born and educated in South Africa, she lives in England in a Carmelite convent. But this retiring lady is well known around the world for her many books, television series, and commentary on visual art. She fairly twinkles with enthusiasm for the art she discusses, and even when one wonders at some of her analyses, she manages to open new vistas about individual works and whole cultural perspectives with her empathy and affection for art.

She says this is her last series. So she takes on six great American museums in six hour-long segments: The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas; The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Art Institute of Chicago; and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Her aim is to give the viewer a taste of the variety and depth of the American holdings of world art. She does discuss American-made art, but the show is not heavily weighted in that direction. Nor does she spend a significant amount of time with contemporary works - though her remarks about modern masters like Richard Diebenkorn and Georgia O'Keeffe are illuminating. …