JUST LOOKING

ESSAYS ON ART

This collection of 23 essays on art by one of our leading novelists should come as no great surprise, for in his fiction Updike is a master of complex visual detail. He approaches his current subject matter with modesty, though; he does not regard himself as an expert on art, but instead resolutely takes a middle position of "just looking." Updike begins with a bouquet of roses and weeds extended to the Museum of Modern Art. In the archly titled "What MoMa Done Told Me," the author traces early childhood memories of looking at pictures in "sophistication's toy shop." There, he discovered in the landscapes and nudes of Cézanne and Matisse an idyllic world that consoled his need for religious feelings. MOMA became his cathedral where, when stressed, he could go to gain the spiritual courage to become an artist himself. However, by the 1960's and 70's, the temple became overrun by moneylenders, who opted for "a greedy open-endedness' and "a bigger souvenir shop." The rest of the pieces her are less personal and more eclectic, and deal with various art exhibits that Updike has reviewed for such journals as Réalities and The New Republic. They present a generally balanced combination of reporting and reflection, with a slight nod toward the jocular magisterial. Updike is fond of witty pronouncements: The total impression of a 1985 Renoir retrospective, for instance, left on his retina "an accumulated taste of artificial sweetener." More sympathetic if no less sophisticated essays deal with the artists of children's books: Andrew Wyeth's Helga exhibition; and a very perceptive and heartfelt study of artistic melancholy, based on the life and works of cartoonist Ralph Barton. A lavishly illustrated, oversized volume, with numerous (132) full-color illustrations setting off the text and charming the eye. Now here's a gift book worth giving—or receiving.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 1989

ISBN: 0878465774

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1989

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A beautifully written, pensive, and restorative memoir.

A MONTH IN SIENA

A quiet meditation on art and life.

Matar’s Pulitzer Prize–winning memoir, The Return (2016), was about his Libyan father who was kidnapped in Cairo and taken back, imprisoned, and “gradually, like salt dissolving in water, was made to vanish.” His father’s presence reverberates throughout this thoughtful, sensitive extended essay about the author’s visit to Siena, where he ruminates and reflects on paintings, faith, love, and his wife, Diana. Matar focuses on the 13th- to 15th-century Sienese School of paintings which “stood alone, neither Byzantine nor of the Renaissance, an anomaly between chapters, like the orchestra tuning its strings in the interval,” but he discusses others as well. First, he explores the town, “as intimate as a locket you could wear around your neck and yet as complex as a maze.” Day or night, the “city seemed to be the one determining the pace and direction of my walks.” In the Palazzo Pubblico, Matar scrutinized a series of frescos the “size of a tennis court” painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in 1338. As the author writes, his Allegory of Good Government is a “hymn to justice.” Matar astutely describes it in great detail, as he does with all the paintings he viewed. When one is in a despondent mood, paintings, Matar writes, seem to “articulate a feeling of hope.” He also visited a vast cemetery, a “glimpse [of] death’s endless appetite.” Over the month, he talked with a variety of Sienese people, including a Jordanian man whom he befriended. One by one, paintings flow by: Caravaggio’s “curiously tragic” David With the Head of Goliath, Duccio di Buoninsegna’s “epic altarpiece,” Maestà. Mounted onto a cart in 1311, it was paraded through Siena. Along the way, Matar also ponders the metaphysics of rooms and offers a luminous, historical assessment of the Black Death.

A beautifully written, pensive, and restorative memoir.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-593-12913-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Clear journalistic prose makes sense of the befuddling legal entanglements in an ongoing battle that has become notorious in...

ART HELD HOSTAGE

THE BATTLE OVER THE BARNES COLLECTION

American Lawyer deputy editor Anderson chronicles the legal contests over the administration of America’s largest private art collection.

The author begins with a fair portrait of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, amasser of the famous Barnes Collection and creator of the eponymous foundation charged with its preservation. Barnes received his medical degree at 20 and went on to wrest control of a pharmaceutical company that owned exclusive rights to manufacture an internationally prescribed gonorrhea medicine. (His signature style throughout his life was to hire first-rate legal counsel and pursue his litigious course until he got what he wanted.) Barnes’s fortune, preserved through the Depression, permitted the assembly of a fabulous collection that included 180 Renoirs; it’s currently valued at six billion dollars. Just before his death in 1951, the doctor changed the terms of the foundation’s indenture, granting control to the trustees of Lincoln College, the oldest black college in America, setting the stage for a long round of disputes. While the collection gained tremendously in value over the next four decades, the size of the endowment that paid for the upkeep of the French Renaissance palace that housed it dwindled through mismanagement. In the 1990s, foundation president Richard H. Glanton, a high-profile African-American lawyer, oversaw the galleries’ renovation and undertook the expensive litigation responsible for bringing the foundation to the edge of ruin. Anderson describes these conflicts in a work that by his own admission is “a legal tale” rather than a scholarly biography or a work of art history. The absence of footnotes, he explains, springs from the desire of his best sources to remain anonymous. That’s not surprising, considering the rancor all this legal wrangling has generated, including a lawsuit over a parking lot instituted in federal court that invoked the Ku Klux Klan Act.

Clear journalistic prose makes sense of the befuddling legal entanglements in an ongoing battle that has become notorious in the art world and beyond. (16 illustrations)

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-393-04889-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2003

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