From Publishers Weekly
[Signature]Reviewed by James Lord
This love affair provides for those who care about art and artists a piercing, passionate glimpse of creative activity in America during the first half of the 20th century. Kuh (1904–1994) saw everything, knew everybody, went everywhere and in the miraculous lucidity of her old, old age still had the wit and discernment to tell the story of her vision, knowledge and travels. It is, of course, a very personal tale. The raison d'être of memoirs is not merely to relate experience but also to reveal the personality of the author. Thus, Kuh discloses how and why art became, as it were, the very backbone of her physical and spiritual adventure. It required exceptional courage and intellectual discipline. The revelations are aided and abetted, so to speak, by Kuh's friend, admirer and accomplice, Avis Berman, who edited and completed the manuscript after the author's death, at 89, and who disclosed vital information that Kuh's reticence would have set aside, describing, for example, details of the love affairs which contributed essential elements to the passion of art.Passionate as it indeed is, this around-the-art-world voyage invited mainly the happy few as fellow passengers. And Kuh possessed the resilient temperament enabling her to sail audaciously along when the happy few were very few. Almost all of her professional and emotional life was spent in Chicago, the pivotal center of the aesthetic doldrums then prevailing in America's cultural badlands. New York was artistically far more exciting, but Katharine was determined to create excitement within spitting distance of the stockyards.She opened her own gallery there in 1935, the nadir of the Great Depression, when even in New York it was difficult to give away a drawing by, say, Bonnard. Nonetheless, the gallery prevailed, introducing unheard of and unwelcome artists to Chicago, where a handful of prescient adventurers were prepared to pay a pittance for pictures their neighbors considered evidence of madness. Kuh's courage was rewarded when she was appointed to the prestigious post of curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, a museum which her sharp eye enriched with fine examples of avant-garde modernism.The love affair with the art of her time came fully into its own after WWII, when the enamored connoisseur developed close friendships with the artists, collectors and curators whom she had intimate cause to admire. The larger part of her autobiography is an account of her devotion to these individuals, almost all of them celebrated today: Brancusi, Mies van der Rohe, V.W. van Gogh, Rothko, Clyfford Sti·ll, Tobey, Berenson, Albers, Léger, Franz Kline et al. Her reminiscences vividly draw the reader into a deep sympathy for her love affair. Succinctly written, it is a fine memorial to a memorable journey.James Lord is the author of
Picasso and Dora,
Six Exceptional Women and, most recently,
Mythic Giacometti, all published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
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*Starred Review* Visionary gallery owners and curators were essential to bringing radical works of modern art before a recalcitrant public. Born in St. Louis in 1904, and inspired by the innovative art historian Alfred Barr, Katharine Kuh valiantly opened a gallery in Chicago to show the likes of Klee and Kandinsky. Kuh went on to become the first curator of modern art at the Art Institute of Chicago and art critic for the Saturday Review
. So full was her life, she didn't start writing her memoirs until she was 87 and then died before completing the project. Berman has done a superb job of tying up loose ends and in his moving introduction reveals Kuh's struggles with polio and the many dimensions of her impressive life. Kuh herself is scintillating, incisive, and elegantly offhanded as she relates eye-opening anecdotes about her seminal curatorial adventures. She focuses most on the artists she knew best, astutely assessing both temperaments and aesthetics as she portrays, with rare intimacy and insight, more than a dozen brilliant artists, including Duchamp, Rothko, and Hopper. Kuh's evocative, engaging, and unique reflections enrich the stirring story of modern art and introduce readers to a refined and unstinting arts advocate who significantly enriched American culture. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved