An inviting and informative primer.

A critic offers encouraging words for viewers baffled by contemporary art.

An artist, teacher, and art critic for the Wall Street Journal, Esplund (Thornton Willis, 2011, etc.) is sympathetic to the challenges faced by visitors to museums and galleries who may encounter a man’s hairy leg protruding from a white wall at floor level or an inflated white balloon attached at the juncture of a gallery’s wall and bluestone floor. “Many people,” he writes, “tell me that they don’t know how to look at art, that they are afraid they are not sophisticated enough and will see or focus on the wrong things, that they will miss what’s important, and that they feel intimidated by art.” In a friendly and conversational tone, Esplund shares his insights honed during a long career. He aims to provide a basic grounding so that viewers begin to trust their own responses and also “begin to think like an artist.” Five chapters provide an overview about the effects of color, form, line, space, weight, rhythm, and structure; an artwork he asserts, “is a living organism” that exudes energy. He cites works by artists as diverse as Leonardo da Vinci, Paul Klee, Barnett Newman, Matisse, Pollock, Giacometti, and Brancusi to make the case that “all artists are poets and that they employ metaphors.” Looking at art is like dancing, where the artist leads the viewer’s eye to “hop and glide from form to form” and to pick up the work’s rhythms and melodies. Esplund urges viewers to draw upon their feelings when approaching an artwork; artists, he writes, “expect that their work will ignite your imagination and emotions as much as your rationality.” In separate chapters, the author focuses on 11 artists whose works may seem impenetrable to the novice viewer—e.g., Balthus’ nude adolescent girls, James Turrell’s disorienting light sculptures, Klee’s metaphor-rich abstractions, Maria Abramovic’s interactive performance pieces, and Robert Gober’s Untitled (Man Coming Out of a Woman), which is a “Frankensteinian sculpture, made of beeswax, human hair, a sock, and a leather shoe.”

An inviting and informative primer.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-465-09466-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018




A zesty, energetic history, not only of a building, but of more than a century of American culture.

A revealing biography of the fabled Manhattan hotel, in which generations of artists and writers found a haven.

Turn-of-the century New York did not lack either hotels or apartment buildings, writes Tippins (February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof In Wartime America, 2005). But the Chelsea Hotel, from its very inception, was different. Architect Philip Hubert intended the elegantly designed Chelsea Association Building to reflect the utopian ideals of Charles Fourier, offering every amenity conducive to cooperative living: public spaces and gardens, a dining room, artists’ studios, and 80 apartments suitable for an economically diverse population of single workers, young couples, small families and wealthy residents who otherwise might choose to live in a private brownstone. Hubert especially wanted to attract creative types and made sure the building’s walls were extra thick so that each apartment was quiet enough for concentration. William Dean Howells, Edgar Lee Masters and artist John Sloan were early residents. Their friends (Mark Twain, for one) greeted one another in eight-foot-wide hallways intended for conversations. In its early years, the Chelsea quickly became legendary. By the 1930s, though, financial straits resulted in a “down-at-heel, bohemian atmosphere.” Later, with hard-drinking residents like Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan, the ambience could be raucous. Arthur Miller scorned his free-wheeling, drug-taking, boozy neighbors, admitting, though, that the “great advantage” to living there “was that no one gave a damn what anyone else chose to do sexually.” No one passed judgment on creativity, either. But the art was not what made the Chelsea famous; its residents did. Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Robert Mapplethorpe, Phil Ochs and Sid Vicious are only a few of the figures populating this entertaining book.

A zesty, energetic history, not only of a building, but of more than a century of American culture.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-618-72634-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013



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

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 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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