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

HUMANS OF NEW YORK

STORIES

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 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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