Paul Greenberg

Something is terribly wrong.

Used to be, I could safely attend the annual Delta show at the Arkansas Arts Center here in Little Rock with serene confidence that I would never agree with the judge's picks. It gave me the feeling, hollow as it might be, that I marched to a different drummer from the cognoscenti's. For my taste in such things has long been irreparably bourgeois -- middle-class, middlebrow, middlin' in general. Even verging on the sentimental, and maybe not just verging.

Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World," Edward Hopper's "Early Sunday Morning," Charles Demuth's "I Saw the Figure Five in Gold," those are my unfashionably popular speed. Their light, their sense of a remembered past, their almost nostalgic quality, and maybe not almost ... I'm a sucker for it all, predictably rear-guard at avant-garde shows.

But I left this year's Delta show shaken.

The big winner was Mark Lewis's "Peoria Avenue #7," my own favorite. This year's juror, Monica Bowman, runs a gallery called The Butcher's Daughter (talk about bourgeois) in Ferndale, Mich., a Detroit suburb. Her pick could have been a scene along almost any interurban line -- the MTA in Boston, the Long Island Railway out of Penn Station in New York, the L in Chicago once it gets out of the Loop and glides into commuter-dom.

Call it John Cheever and J.D. Salinger country. And mine. For exactly one year to the day -- October 1, 1966, to October 1, 1967. That's when I was the junior editorial writer for the old Chicago Daily News, and took the train out of Union Station to suburban Glenview every weekday, newspaper and briefcase in hand -- another indistinguishable member of the Mad Men generation blending into The Lonely Crowd.

The older you get, the more you may want things to stay not as they are but as they used to be, at least in your not-always-reliable memory. Problem is, I felt that way when I was still young. Call it a case of premature aging. Or just arrested, even reverse, development.

Arrested time, that's what "Peoria Avenue #7" tries to capture. The same thing the impressionist Bonnard was after in "Marthe Entering the Room." And found. As he put it, "What I am after is the first impression -- I want to show all one sees on first entering the room -- what my eye takes in at first glance."


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.