A BBC arts editor and authority on modern art guides us on an amiable cruise through the archipelago of personalities, works and movements that have comprised the art world since the mid-19th century.
Gompertz is not so much interested in criticism as in exposition and advocacy. Scarcely a breath of complaint or negative noise issues from his lips throughout this brisk, informed tour, and he rarely stumbles over a fact—though he does identify Poe as a novelist, a description that would have pleased the author of a single novel. Gompertz begins with the question that occurs to many laypeople when they view a modern work: “Is it art?” And his answer, throughout, is a resounding “Yes!” (In his generous definition, it’s art if the artist says it is.) The author frequently begins chapters with little narratives—e.g., Duchamp shopping for a urinal he will later display as Fountain. But there’s not a lot of time for narratives, for the author has many names and movements and works to survey. Soon he is zipping along, whisking us through the impressionists, postimpressionism, cubism, futurism and into the current age, which, he says, has not yet earned any agreed-upon name—though it is, as he notes, an age of a lively market with skyrocketing prices and jet-setting artists. Gompertz scolds the current crop for failing to have a sharper political edge. A few names earn a little more space than others: Cézanne, Picasso, Duchamp, Man Ray, Pollock, de Kooning and Warhol are among those who receive more than a paragraph or so.
A bounteous buffet for passengers aboard the cruise ship Modern Art.