From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In these biographical essays on 10 of the most interesting contemporary artists, Tomkins's access is astonishing, as when he dines with Jasper Johns and his wife in their Caribbean home in St. Martin, watches John Currin paint or receives revealing gifts from Maurizio Cattelan (he loves giving odd presents to his friends.... His gifts to my wife include a large three-dimensional display ad for Oscar Mayer franks...). A deft biographer, Tomkins (Duchamp
) gives a lesson in his craft: how to balance present with past, the specific with the general, personality with context, features with flaws—all in the space of 20 pages. Tomkins is a ruthless observer. On Cindy Sherman watching a slasher movie, he writes: She slides down in her seat like a teenager, knees pulled up, and giggles at the gory parts and the in jokes.... He is also a generous critic of the cult of artistic personality, so that Julian Schnabel's ego appears charming and Richard Serra's notorious anger seems a measure of his dedication to his work. Books that trade on content that originally appeared in the New Yorker
have become a small industry, but not all are as intimate as this one. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Tomkins, author of an outstanding biography of Duchamp, assembles a guide to the age of anything-is-art out of 10 of his incandescent New Yorker profiles. Reveling in the long tradition of parsing artists’ lives launched in 1550 with Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Most Eminent Artists, Painters, and Sculptors of Italy, Tomkins has chosen his “eminent” artists wisely. The earliest essay is his 1999 piece on the perpetually controversial Damien Hirst, which is undiminished by the intervening years and briskly updated, as are each of the other equally memorable portraits, including the 2008 piece on John Currin and his evocative uniting of Old Master techniques and twenty-first-century oddities. Tomkins is equally intrigued with the many faces of Cindy Sherman, painter Julian Schnabel’s metamorphosis into a Cannes-anointed film director, Richard Serra’s flintiness, the confounding contrast between Matthew Barney’s oh-goshness and the baroque bizarreness of his films, and James Turrell’s austere and ambitious desert quest. With inquiries into Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, and Maurizio Cattelan rounding out this smart book, Tomkins covers the art spectrum with panache. --Donna Seaman