Art critic Welzenbach's novel-of-ideas provokes debate on the problematic relationship of the visual arts to society, politics, and economics. As the year 2000 approaches, disillusioned art-critic Corry Peters is preparing an end-of-decade wrap-up when he meets an old man in front of Picasso's Les Saltimbanques in the National Gallery. The old guy does look a lot like Pierrot in the painting. Can he actually be the commedia dell' arte clown who has figured in the visual arts for five centuries? The constantly grinning, winking Pierrot lives in N.Y.C.'s Village with his fabulous art collection and eventually lectures Peters about Watteau, Goya, Picasso, Modigliani, etc. They also travel back in time to meet Japanese artist Hokusai. Pierrot reawakens an appreciation of art's magic, and the humility of the true artist, struggling to capture an impossible vision. He condemns most well-known contemporary artists as fame-and-money-hungry publicists and sloganeers who claim to be commenting on society's ills but instead perpetuate them. Peters--who is often annoying, falsely ingenuous--contrasts the commitment of the greats with the boastful self-promotion Robert Longo displays in an interview. Besides historical information, Pierrot provides interpretations of Anselm Kiefer's work (regarded with favor) and contemporary aesthetic malaise; however, as the Goya section teaches, "political" art needs craft before content. Perhaps first-novelist Welzenbach thought fiction would haw wider readership than an essay, but his valuable ideas often lose power amid unsatisfying contrivance.