ON THE BEATEN TRACK by Lucy R. Lippard


Tourism, Art, and Place
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A lively essay in cultural geography that delves into the question of how tourist attractions are invented and sold. There’s something about the phenomenon of “rubbernecking,” scorned by literary travel writers, that appeals to art critic Lippard (The Lure of the Local, 1997); rubbernecking, the evil opposite of sophisticated travel, “implies a willingness or desire on the part of the tourist to stretch, literally, past her own experience, to lean forward in anticipation, engagement, amazement, or horror.” Amazement and horror are key words, for, Lippard continues, domestic tourists like nothing quite so much as to visit the sites of massacres or bloody battles, to say nothing of strip mines, Wild West cemeteries, alligator farms, and other monuments to violence and mayhem. They come to the west, Lippard writes with inspired overstatement, “looking for places destroyed by shifting economies: Indian ruins, ghost towns, abandoned farms, deserted mines, and nineteenth-century spaces frozen in the governmentally managed wildernesses”; they go (or went, before the cleanup) to New York to gawk at the city’s bad seed in Times Square; they go to popular museums across the land to take in weird dioramas and improbable interpretations of history. Lippard gets a little scattershot at times, spending much of her narrative on performance and plastic art that few domestic tourists would ever care to see; but she has a fine, irreverent style and an eye for the bizarre, complemented by dozens of well-chosen photographs to back her points. Above all, she has fun with her subject, as when she writes of an Armageddon theme park now under construction outside Tel Aviv and slated to be finished in 2000. The park, she says, “is aimed at fundamentalist Christians who believe Christ will arrive for his second coming in the year 2007—a lot of work for a park that will last only seven years.” Lippard’s leisurely stroll through some of the wackier venues of our day makes for enjoyable reading.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-56584-454-8
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: The New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999


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