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




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 dazzling visual homage to a music icon gone too soon.


A Los Angeles–based photographer pays tribute to a legendary musician with anecdotes and previously unseen images collected from their 25-year collaboration.

St. Nicholas (co-author: Whitney: Tribute to an Icon, 2012, etc.) first met Prince in 1991 at a prearranged photo shoot. “The dance between photographer and subject carried us away into hours of inspired photographs…and the beginning of a friendship that would last a lifetime.” In this book, the author fondly remembers their many professional encounters in the 25 years that followed. Many would be portrait sessions but done on impulse, like those in a burned-out Los Angeles building in 1994 and on the Charles Bridge in Prague in 2007. Both times, the author and Prince came together through serendipity to create playfully expressive images that came to represent the singer’s “unorthodox ability to truly live life in the moment.” Other encounters took place while Prince was performing at Paisley Park, his Minneapolis studio, or at venues in LA, New York, Tokyo, and London. One in particular came about after the 1991 release of Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls album and led to the start of St. Nicholas’ career as a video director. Prince, who nurtured young artists throughout his career, pushed the author to “trust my instincts…expand myself creatively.” What is most striking about even the most intimate of these photographs—even those shot with Mayte Garcia, the fan-turned–backup dancer who became Prince’s wife in 1996—is the brilliantly theatrical quality of the images. As the author observes, the singer was never not the self-conscious artist: “Prince was Prince 24/7.” Nostalgic and reverential, this book—the second St. Nicholas produced with/for Prince—is a celebration of friendship and artistry. Prince fans are sure to appreciate the book, and those interested in art photography will also find the collection highly appealing.

A dazzling visual homage to a music icon gone too soon.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-293923-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Clear journalistic prose makes sense of the befuddling legal entanglements in an ongoing battle that has become notorious in...



American Lawyer deputy editor Anderson chronicles the legal contests over the administration of America’s largest private art collection.

The author begins with a fair portrait of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, amasser of the famous Barnes Collection and creator of the eponymous foundation charged with its preservation. Barnes received his medical degree at 20 and went on to wrest control of a pharmaceutical company that owned exclusive rights to manufacture an internationally prescribed gonorrhea medicine. (His signature style throughout his life was to hire first-rate legal counsel and pursue his litigious course until he got what he wanted.) Barnes’s fortune, preserved through the Depression, permitted the assembly of a fabulous collection that included 180 Renoirs; it’s currently valued at six billion dollars. Just before his death in 1951, the doctor changed the terms of the foundation’s indenture, granting control to the trustees of Lincoln College, the oldest black college in America, setting the stage for a long round of disputes. While the collection gained tremendously in value over the next four decades, the size of the endowment that paid for the upkeep of the French Renaissance palace that housed it dwindled through mismanagement. In the 1990s, foundation president Richard H. Glanton, a high-profile African-American lawyer, oversaw the galleries’ renovation and undertook the expensive litigation responsible for bringing the foundation to the edge of ruin. Anderson describes these conflicts in a work that by his own admission is “a legal tale” rather than a scholarly biography or a work of art history. The absence of footnotes, he explains, springs from the desire of his best sources to remain anonymous. That’s not surprising, considering the rancor all this legal wrangling has generated, including a lawsuit over a parking lot instituted in federal court that invoked the Ku Klux Klan Act.

Clear journalistic prose makes sense of the befuddling legal entanglements in an ongoing battle that has become notorious in the art world and beyond. (16 illustrations)

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-393-04889-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2003

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