THE RANSOM OF RUSSIAN ART

A brisk and intriguing, if rather slight, tale of art-world skulduggery before the Iron Curtain was brought down. Under Stalin, any artist who challenged the prevailing Socialist Realist orthodoxy guaranteed himself a bleak and brutally foreshortened future. Under the equally philistine Khrushchev and Brezhnev regimes, however, while abstractionists and other "deviationists" remained subject to the constantly refined black arts of harassment, the Gulag and the bullet in the back of the head became increasingly remote prospects. This relative relaxation bred an initially cautious, then increasingly confident, artistic subculture of satirists, pop artists, and other "parasites." The gradual awareness of artists like Evgeny Rukhin and Vasily Sitnikov in the West owed much to the covert activities of an unlikely hero, Univ. of Maryland economics professor Norton Dodge. Over the course of three decades and some 20 visits to the USSR beginning in the early 1950s, Dodge, first under academic cover and later going AWOL from tour groups, sought out the artistic pariahs. He acquired and smuggled out a collection of dissident art now valued at several million dollars. Dodge's success was spectacular; his motives and methods were mysterious; and his personality was pleasingly eccentric. (Though he stalked the back streets of Leningrad and Kiev, according to his wife, "he couldn't find his way out of St. Louis airport.") McPhee (Assembling California, 1993, etc.) paints his protagonist and the artists themselves — a colorful, vodka-guzzling crew to a man (and very occasional woman) — with enthusiasm and brings to the telling his customary conversational style and alert reporter's eye. However, the anecdotal tone and McPhee's tendency to dwell on personalities rather than on the artworks themselves, ultimately gives this more the air of an overgrown magazine piece than a full-fledged book. A picturesque ramble through the margins of the Cold War.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-374-24682-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.

HUMANS OF NEW YORK

STORIES

Photographer and author Stanton returns with a companion volume to Humans of New York (2013), this one with similarly affecting photographs of New Yorkers but also with some tales from his subjects’ mouths.

Readers of the first volume—and followers of the related site on Facebook and elsewhere—will feel immediately at home. The author has continued to photograph the human zoo: folks out in the streets and in the parks, in moods ranging from parade-happy to deep despair. He includes one running feature—“Today in Microfashion,” which shows images of little children dressed up in various arresting ways. He also provides some juxtapositions, images and/or stories that are related somehow. These range from surprising to forced to barely tolerable. One shows a man with a cat on his head and a woman with a large flowered headpiece, another a construction worker proud of his body and, on the facing page, a man in a wheelchair. The emotions course along the entire continuum of human passion: love, broken love, elation, depression, playfulness, argumentativeness, madness, arrogance, humility, pride, frustration, and confusion. We see varieties of the human costume, as well, from formalwear to homeless-wear. A few celebrities appear, President Barack Obama among them. The “stories” range from single-sentence comments and quips and complaints to more lengthy tales (none longer than a couple of pages). People talk about abusive parents, exes, struggles to succeed, addiction and recovery, dramatic failures, and lifelong happiness. Some deliver minirants (a neuroscientist is especially curmudgeonly), and the children often provide the most (often unintended) humor. One little boy with a fishing pole talks about a monster fish. Toward the end, the images seem to lead us toward hope. But then…a final photograph turns the light out once again.

A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-05890-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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A fascinating, major work that will spark endless debates.

WARHOL

An epic cradle-to-grave biography of the king of pop art from Gopnik (co-author: Warhol Women, 2019), who served as chief art critic for the Washington Post and the art and design critic for Newsweek.

With a hoarder’s zeal, Andy Warhol (1928-1987) collected objects he liked until shopping bags filled entire rooms of his New York town house. Rising to equal that, Gopnik’s dictionary-sized biography has more than 7,000 endnotes in its e-book edition and drew on some 100,000 documents, including datebooks, tax returns, and letters to lovers and dealers. With the cooperation of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the author serves up fresh details about almost every aspect of Warhol’s life in an immensely enjoyable book that blends snappy writing with careful exegeses of the artist’s influences and techniques. Warhol exploded into view in his mid-40s with his pop art paintings of Campbell’s Soup cans and silkscreens of Elvis and Marilyn. However, fame didn’t banish lifelong anxieties heightened by an assassination attempt that left him so fearful he bought bulletproof eyeglasses. After the pop successes, Gopnik writes, Warhol’s life was shaped by a consuming desire “to climb back onto that cutting edge,” which led him to make experimental films, launch Interview magazine, and promote the Velvet Underground. At the same time, Warhol yearned “for fine, old-fashioned love and coupledom,” a desire thwarted by his shyness and his awkward stance toward his sexuality—“almost but never quite out,” as Gopnik puts it. Although insightful in its interpretations of Warhol’s art, this biography is sure to make waves with its easily challenged claims that Warhol revealed himself early on “as a true rival of all the greats who had come before” and that he and Picasso may now occupy “the top peak of Parnassus, beside Michelangelo and Rembrandt and their fellow geniuses.” Any controversy will certainly befit a lodestar of 20th-century art who believed that “you weren’t doing much of anything as an artist if you weren’t questioning the most fundamental tenets of what art is and what artists can do.”

A fascinating, major work that will spark endless debates.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-229839-3

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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