The author of The Shock of the New (1980) and The Fatal Shore (1986) reviews work from Holbein to Hockney in 100 pieces...


NOTHING IF NOT CRITICAL: Selected Essays on Art and Artists

The author of The Shock of the New (1980) and The Fatal Shore (1986) reviews work from Holbein to Hockney in 100 pieces (most previously published in Time), and offers a brilliant, blasphemous view of the hollow ethos of the recent decade in art. ""The numbed eclecticism of eighties art, its fondness for pastiche and historical deck-shuffling, its vision of art history as a mere box of samples--these,"" writes Hughes, ""were the signs of a culture given over to surfaces, all style and no substance."" New York, he argues, is no longer the art world's Imperial center. The booming art market is ""strip-mining"" culture and has fundamentally changed the way we see painting. Erudite, fearless, and funny, the swashbuckling Hughes freely punctures inflated personalties on the ""market-museum axis"" like Julian Schnabel (who has ""never learned to draw""). But the 36 essays on ""contemporaries"" show that he admires a number of them, including Anselm Kiefer, Scan Scully, James Turrell, and Susan Rothenberg, whose paintings ""carry a patina of doubt."" Where the critic consistently finds the counterpoint to our mass-media-hyped age is in art of the recent and distant past. As part of ""the golden age of the museum retrospective,"" the Eighties brought exhibitions of Caravaggio, Watteau, Courbet, Degas, Manet, and van Gogh, etc. Explaining Goya's power to move us, Hughes sees the artist's ""long-dead face pressed against the glass of our terrible century."" The art criticism here, exploding with ideas and throwing its challenge to the status quo, will engage anyone trying to grasp American culture as it slouches toward the century's end. (Readers interested in a summary wrap-up of Hughes' critique of Eighties' art can read the concluding chapter--""The Future that Was""--to a new edition of The Shock of the New that the publisher is bringing out simultaneously with this volume. It's no less dour a view, however: "". . .there can be few who watch the approach of the year 2000 with anything but scepticism and dread."")

Pub Date: Aug. 24, 1990

ISBN: 014016524X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1990