THE PAINTED WORD

No question about it, Tom Wolfe is speaking for the yahoos in this little essay—it appeared in its entirety in Harper's Magazine, and though the Art World will no doubt assiduously ignore Wolfe's Bronx cheers, a lot of ordinary philistines will say "Right on!" Wolfe's premise is simple: since WW II modern art has been characterized by the primacy of Theory. "As for the paintings—de gustibus non disputandum est. But the theories, I insist were beautiful." The museum exhibits in the year 2000 will feature the works of the critics—Harold Rosenberg, Clement Greenberg, Hilton Kramer and Leo Steinberg. But Greenberg most of all, since it was he who supplied The Word without which Abstract Expressionism (the dominant postwar style) is incomprehensible. The essential principal which has informed contemporary art, says Wolfe, is flatness. Three-dimensional effects are pre-modern; in fact they've been around since the Renaissance. Ugh! How to preserve "the integrity of the picture plane" and the disputes it engendered among the culturati were worthy of the how-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin debates of medieval scholasticism. Tout le monde, that is to say, a handful of collectors, curators and critics, had a field day. The public (the public?) was left light years behind, gawking. The appeal of Wolfe's essay, for all its distortions and simplifications, and they are legion, comes from his very just observation that contemporary art has, by and sadly large, been smugly elitist, its market and its value defined by a small clique. Less easy to accept is Wolfe's claim that the pictures illustrate the texts; or, that an actual conspiracy exists between artist and critic. Wolfe understands the motives of a Rothko or a Stella or even a Pollock poorly. And yet, his Populist blast against the reductivism of contemporary art from Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism to Conceptual Art-a process of eliminating more and more elements from the painting—is a shaft well-aimed—especially if you think that what's lacking is visual reward and emotional impact.

Pub Date: June 24, 1975

ISBN: 0312427581

Page Count: 116

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1975

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A beautifully written, pensive, and restorative memoir.

A MONTH IN SIENA

A quiet meditation on art and life.

Matar’s Pulitzer Prize–winning memoir, The Return (2016), was about his Libyan father who was kidnapped in Cairo and taken back, imprisoned, and “gradually, like salt dissolving in water, was made to vanish.” His father’s presence reverberates throughout this thoughtful, sensitive extended essay about the author’s visit to Siena, where he ruminates and reflects on paintings, faith, love, and his wife, Diana. Matar focuses on the 13th- to 15th-century Sienese School of paintings which “stood alone, neither Byzantine nor of the Renaissance, an anomaly between chapters, like the orchestra tuning its strings in the interval,” but he discusses others as well. First, he explores the town, “as intimate as a locket you could wear around your neck and yet as complex as a maze.” Day or night, the “city seemed to be the one determining the pace and direction of my walks.” In the Palazzo Pubblico, Matar scrutinized a series of frescos the “size of a tennis court” painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in 1338. As the author writes, his Allegory of Good Government is a “hymn to justice.” Matar astutely describes it in great detail, as he does with all the paintings he viewed. When one is in a despondent mood, paintings, Matar writes, seem to “articulate a feeling of hope.” He also visited a vast cemetery, a “glimpse [of] death’s endless appetite.” Over the month, he talked with a variety of Sienese people, including a Jordanian man whom he befriended. One by one, paintings flow by: Caravaggio’s “curiously tragic” David With the Head of Goliath, Duccio di Buoninsegna’s “epic altarpiece,” Maestà. Mounted onto a cart in 1311, it was paraded through Siena. Along the way, Matar also ponders the metaphysics of rooms and offers a luminous, historical assessment of the Black Death.

A beautifully written, pensive, and restorative memoir.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-593-12913-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

ART HELD HOSTAGE

THE BATTLE OVER THE BARNES COLLECTION

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more