TRACKING THE MARVELOUS: A Life in the New York Art World by John Bernard Myers

TRACKING THE MARVELOUS: A Life in the New York Art World

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

I am an inveterate gossip. This doesn't bother me, since people never tell me they don't want to hear the latest 'dish' and everybody seems to want to tell me things they ought not to."" So wrote young John Myers in his 1945 diary--and though there's a lack of real anecdotal zest in this disjointed, undramatic memoir, it's certainly crammed with famous names, first impressions, pouty opinions, and gossipy tidbits. From an Irish Catholic family in Buffalo, Myers came to N.Y. at 24 in 1944--hooked on surrealism (""I cannot find le merveilleux in Buffalo""), ready to sell ads for View, the art-magazine of Parker Tyler and narcissistic Charles Henri Ford (both of whom were firmly convinced that Ford's roommate Tchelitchew was ""the greatest living painter""). Soon, of course, surrealism was out, and existentialism was in. But, by then, Myers had met some idols and found new ones; he was hosting Friday-night ""salons"" (Mary McCarthy ""was learned but never a bluestocking""); after View folded, he tried literary magazines, a traveling marionette theater (with elite collaborators). And then, having had an epiphany about modern art in Jackson Pollock's studio, he decided to team up with businessman Tiber de Nagy in a gallery--funded by Peggy Guggenheim's friend Dwight Ripley, guided esthetically by the Pollocks and Clement Greenberg. The next 100 pages, then, offer chapter-by-chapter recollections of artists won and lost: Larry Rivers, who had ""an inborn canniness about pricing"" and used Myers as a frequent model (for The Agony in the Garden, ""I was all the disciples--smothering in the filthy studio shmatta""); Fairfield Porter, cerebral, morbid, with ""a big streak of the crank in him""; ""very funny"" Helen Frankenthaler, who left suddenly, perhaps because of husband Motherwell's objection to Myers' (presumably homosexual) ""private life""; Red Grooms, Grace Hartigan, Robert Goodnough (""the artist I considered the best""); and later, in the 1960s, reductionists and color-field painters. Myers is most serious when arguing against politics-in-art (""boring""), when portraying the Pollocks as ""essentially quiet, orderly and productive,"" when decrying snobbery in the Hamptons or discussing critics (""appalling"" Emily Genauer, ""scary"" John Canaday, praise for Thomas Hess, Greenberg, and others). He also--with only a very limited, sketchy sort of insider's view--offers commentary on the Rothko case, defending the trustees and aiming thin sarcasm at Kate Rothko et al. For the most part, however, these are loose, frivolous jottings from one of N.Y.'s esthetic subcultures--primarily for those already in the name-dropping know, with only occasional broader insights into the art, the artists, or the art-business.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Random House