Vibrant commentary on art and society by a writer with a sharp eye for the offbeat.

FUNNY WEATHER

ART IN AN EMERGENCY

A stellar collection of essays and reviews from the award-winning London-based writer.

Laing, the winner of the 2018 Windham-Campbell Prize for nonfiction, is often described as a cultural critic, but insofar as the term suggests a sole focus on the arts, it belies the wider sweep of these pieces, most of them previously published. A graceful stylist and superb reporter, the author is a journalist in the spirit of Michael Dirda, who calls himself “an appreciator” rather than a critic, and Laing includes no negative reviews here. Nonetheless, there’s plenty of first-rate arts criticism in her appreciations of painters like David Hockney and Jean-Michel Basquiat and novelists Patricia Highsmith and Sally Rooney along with musings on topics like gardening and a standout essay on the surrealistic horrors faced by an asylum-seeking refugee who spent 11 years “trapped in Britain’s infinite detention system.” Laing’s aesthetic tastes lean toward idiosyncratic or transgressive work that involves links between art and disaster, whether a crisis imperils the human body or the body politic. Disease and death stalk her pages—Kathy Acker’s breast cancer, Freddie Mercury’s AIDS, Georgia O’Keeffe’s agoraphobia, and Hilary Mantel’s migraines—but she brings a fresh and humane eye even to ills exhaustively covered elsewhere, such as David Bowie’s cocaine addiction. Afflicted with corneal edema, the painter Sargy Mann “took a hair dryer to the National Gallery, plugged it in and calmly dried his soggy, waterlogged eye in order to see the paintings.” Laing sinks only briefly into lit-crit jargon in discussions of “reparative reading,” and sometimes her enthusiasms run away with her. Were the 700 or so poems by Frank O’Hara truly “as original and lovely as anything of the century”? Still, the author’s praise never appears less than genuine or unsupported by deep observation, and she consistently shows the talent James Wood ascribed to Mantel: She has “the maddeningly unteachable gift of being interesting.”

Vibrant commentary on art and society by a writer with a sharp eye for the offbeat.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-324-00570-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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A fascinating, major work that will spark endless debates.

WARHOL

An epic cradle-to-grave biography of the king of pop art from Gopnik (co-author: Warhol Women, 2019), who served as chief art critic for the Washington Post and the art and design critic for Newsweek.

With a hoarder’s zeal, Andy Warhol (1928-1987) collected objects he liked until shopping bags filled entire rooms of his New York town house. Rising to equal that, Gopnik’s dictionary-sized biography has more than 7,000 endnotes in its e-book edition and drew on some 100,000 documents, including datebooks, tax returns, and letters to lovers and dealers. With the cooperation of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the author serves up fresh details about almost every aspect of Warhol’s life in an immensely enjoyable book that blends snappy writing with careful exegeses of the artist’s influences and techniques. Warhol exploded into view in his mid-40s with his pop art paintings of Campbell’s Soup cans and silkscreens of Elvis and Marilyn. However, fame didn’t banish lifelong anxieties heightened by an assassination attempt that left him so fearful he bought bulletproof eyeglasses. After the pop successes, Gopnik writes, Warhol’s life was shaped by a consuming desire “to climb back onto that cutting edge,” which led him to make experimental films, launch Interview magazine, and promote the Velvet Underground. At the same time, Warhol yearned “for fine, old-fashioned love and coupledom,” a desire thwarted by his shyness and his awkward stance toward his sexuality—“almost but never quite out,” as Gopnik puts it. Although insightful in its interpretations of Warhol’s art, this biography is sure to make waves with its easily challenged claims that Warhol revealed himself early on “as a true rival of all the greats who had come before” and that he and Picasso may now occupy “the top peak of Parnassus, beside Michelangelo and Rembrandt and their fellow geniuses.” Any controversy will certainly befit a lodestar of 20th-century art who believed that “you weren’t doing much of anything as an artist if you weren’t questioning the most fundamental tenets of what art is and what artists can do.”

A fascinating, major work that will spark endless debates.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-229839-3

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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