In this prodigious display of intellectual bravado, Danto proves that art can be metaphysics. Art critic at the Nation since 1984, the author calls himself a ``philosopher of art.'' An autobiographical introduction to this collection traces how he went from would-be artist to distinguished professor (Philosophy/Columbia Univ.) to wide-eyed art critic. Then, in 44 critical essays, Danto doggedly wrestles mostly with big New York museum shows of the last five years. In reviewing, he succeeds by being concrete, setting himself off from the ``visualism'' of formalist critic Clement Greenberg by looking first for meaning. Art often succeeds for Danto as a ``transformative experience''; two exemplars, Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, pop up repeatedly. His summations have a willful, off- kilter freshness: in historical Chinese painting he discerns of- the-moment lit-crit ``intertextuality''; Mario Merz's retrospective is described as having aggressively ``occupied'' the Guggenheim Museum; he calls Vel†zquez ``a master of conceptual drama.'' The book ends with five ``aesthetic meditations'': ``Art after the End of Art,'' ``Beauty and Morality,'' and the like. In these, Danto is craggier and rangier, summoning the spirits of Hegel and Wittgenstein. Feisty and opinionated throughout, Danto nonetheless shows himself to be a sucker for art that displays human spirit. He holds up art triumphantly as a ticklish enigma, a moral conundrum in our midst.