FEEDING THE EYE by Anne Hollander


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What might have been an unstable mix of essays and reviews on a variety of art forms—dance, film, fashion, and painting—instead coalesces into a thematically sound and richly varied collection. Critic Hollander (Sex and Suits: The Evolution of Modern Dress, 1994) knows how to link subjects—even those that seem to bear little or no relation to one another—by isolating underlying themes and teasing them to the legible surface. Which is not to say that she manipulates her material; she simply remains true to her priorities as a critic. And her work benefits. In this latest collection, Hollander takes pains to assert that artists are increasingly working in mediums that reflect movement. Well, maybe, but her assertion functions largely as an excuse to indulge her own abiding fascination with clothing, costuming, and the intersection between artist and physical environment. Those obsessions seem reason enough to group these pieces together, especially since they’re all imbued with Hollander’s intellectualism. Expert and deeply informed, she examines fellow authors’ work with considerable thoroughness—reading her can feel like eavesdropping on a passionate, if somewhat biased, debate. In her review of Mark Anderson’s book Kafka’s Clothes, she lauds his ability to combine serious literary criticism with a discussion of 19th-century attire. “Clothes have always made useful literary metaphor (language is the dress of thought and so on),” she writes, “they have also offered a useful descriptive device for most novelists, however surreal their vision.” Thus Gregor Samsa, “the fearsome beetle, clad in his functional carapace,” becomes “the new-made Modern Artist.” This contact point at which the artist’s very body meets the outer world—and is mediated by clothing or costuming—always sparks Hollander’s interest. And she brings a vital freshness and droll sense of humor to subjects that seem possibly trite, like the wearing of black, androgynous fashions, even tight-lacing corsets. While Hollander’s intellectualism may verge on the academic, her passion for exploring the symbolism of art and clothing is anything but.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-374-28201-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999


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