RELATIVE VALUES by Louisa Buck

RELATIVE VALUES

or What's Art Worth?
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A lively and contentious companion book to a six-part BBC television series that probes the question ``Why do we value art so highly?'' In clipped, sound-bite style, the authors examine the mechanisms of power that give fine art its metaphoric and economic glamour: critics, museums, auction houses, collectors, and the mass media. Buck is a journalist with art-historical training; Dodd edits a film and television journal, Sight and Sound. Graphically, they've given the book a visual noise worthy of MTV: The text is set near boldface and photographs and quotes fashion implied ironies. Smart art-historical revisionism doubles as pop-culture critique as the authors cite Kirk Douglas's depiction of Vincent Van Gogh in Vincente Minelli's 1956 film Lust for Life to skewer the more serious biographical stereotype of the ``artist-as- genius.'' Elsewhere the authors speak of museums as creators and guardians of the ``present orthodoxy,'' enshriners of status-quo social values. They cite figures like David Rockefeller, formerly chairman of the Museum of Modern Art and currently chairman emeritus, to demonstrate that art collecting is a ``byword for power,'' in other words, that art, allegedly a spiritual good, is intimately tied to material wealth. Disparate artists are examined for their skills in politicized public manipulation, including Jacques Louis David, Jackson Pollock, Leon Golub, Jenny Holzer, and Jeff Koons. Throughout, the authors raise good, tough questions. Their answers, doggedly polemical, have less bite. They arrive at the unsurprising conclusion that ``art, its meaning and value, are made, unmade and remade throughout history.'' Pointed British brattiness and cut-up compositional verve give this book style points. A thin volume, it ends--happily--before it runs out of gas.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-563-20749-3
Page count: 176pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1994