An illuminating, strongly opinionated, and enthusiastically acerbic critique of today’s art world.

BUCKING THE ARTWORLD TIDE

REFLECTIONS ON ART, PSEUDO ART, ART EDUCATION & THEORY

A collection of critical essays takes on art world trends.

In this volume of essays that Kamhi describes as “both a prequel and a sequel” to her work Who Says That’s Art? (2014), she gathers assessments of the contemporary art world’s failings written over a span of more than three decades. The essays, many of which were previously published on the author’s blog or in Aristos, the journal she co-edits, include reviews of museum and gallery shows, critiques of education programs in public schools, and deep dives into the philosophical questions of how art is defined. Favorite pieces of art make appearances, as do works and artists that Kamhi holds up to withering criticism. She connects her views to Ayn Rand’s objectivism, with several of the essays exploring the philosophical underpinnings of art as humans have created and engaged with it since the days of cave paintings. Other offerings detail the author’s battles with educators, museum curators, and other figures of authority in the art world, bringing readers deep into her ongoing fight against mainstream critical opinions. The book’s tone is imperative and immediate throughout, and readers will be left with a clear sense of how and why art and the public’s understanding of it matter in the contemporary world. Detailed notes, including both citations and comments, are included in the backmatter.

Kamhi does not mince words (“One of the most absurd and destructive notions in today’s artworld is that of so-called ‘conceptual art’ ”). She is also clear in the definitions she applies throughout the volume (Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc, “like any abstract work—is not art, in part because it does not, indeed cannot, communicate, outside explication notwithstanding, fundamental human values, or ideas”), leaving readers with no doubts about her perspective. Even readers who disagree with the author’s take are likely to appreciate the book’s authoritative confidence and depth of knowledge as well as her strong and forcefully expressed feelings about the value and role of art. There are occasional shortcomings in that largely comprehensive knowledge (for instance, Kamhi misses relevant historical allusions when she dismisses Dread Scott’s protest art). But on the whole, the author has a solid command of her subject and is skilled at presenting analyses of a primarily visual form through text. (The book does not include illustrations; readers can find links to images of the art mentioned at mmkamhi.com.) Because the volume is a compilation of discrete pieces originally published in a variety of contexts over several decades, there are some repetitive elements. Careful readers will have no trouble keeping track of the artists Kamhi favors and despises, as they make many appearances throughout the text (“the vulgar triviality of Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons”). Although her contentions are not entirely persuasive to readers of different philosophical persuasions, they are solidly argued and thoughtfully presented. The collection’s eloquent prose and well-developed point of view make it a thought-provoking and often enjoyable read even for those who disagree. Kamhi’s passion for her subject is undeniable and makes even the more technical aspects of the work accessible.

An illuminating, strongly opinionated, and enthusiastically acerbic critique of today’s art world.

Pub Date: May 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-9906057-3-7

Page Count: 351

Publisher: Pro Arte Books

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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