Final musings on mostly modern art by the prolific lion of American letters.
This posthumous collection of essays by Updike (Higher Gossip, 2011, etc.) has been gorgeously collected and edited by Carduff and elevated by reproductions of the artwork under review. The author was an infamous gallery-crawler with a sensitive eye for American art, and his scrupulous aestheticism is on full display here. The book opens with a sad preface in the wake of the author’s death in 2009; Updike offers a full and honest remembrance of a photo of himself reading a Mickey Mouse comic at the age of 9. What follows are 13 richly illustrated essays on various art exhibitions ranging from the opening salvo, “The Clarity of Things,” deconstructing the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Picturing America collection, to “The Art of our Disorder,” a look at a 2005 exhibition of American surrealists. But Updike reserves his most acute analysis for collections by individual artists, including Claude Monet, Joan Miró and others. These essays, like those in his earlier collections, Just Looking (1989) and Still Looking (2005), are incisive in their examinations of individual artwork but don’t carry the self-conscious or cynical air that accompanies much postmodern art criticism. One exemplary essay, “Degas Out-of-Doors,” takes the great French impressionist out of his traditional context: “His eccentric perspectives, his truncated compositions, his increasingly daring juxtapositions of color make us reflect, in modern style, upon the operations of perception—or, more precisely, upon the synthetic tensions that occur when a vision in three dimensions is reduced to a two-dimensional colored surface.” In “Bridges to the Invisible,” Updike delves into the New Objectivism of Max Beckmann, but also gives a rich description of descending into the Guggenheim’s Soho cousin, which inhabited a converted warehouse rather than its celebrated main emporium on the Upper East Side.
A rich trove of insights for art lovers of all stripes.