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New Art City Hardcover – October 4, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Perl, the art critic for the New Republic, celebrates the heterogeneous achievements of the New York art world in this elegant, erudite work that sweeps gracefully from the 1940s, when the city was "the place of dazzling contradictions," to the "jangling urgency" of art in the 1970s. Contending that the personal characteristics of an artist's work are shaped by his relationship to the city, especially to its art scene, Perl finds in postwar New York a "dialectical extravaganza" in which painters and sculptors set about redefining their place in history—aiming not to shatter traditions but to forge new ones. Although giants such as de Kooning and Pollock make significant appearances, this history is equally concerned with "minor characters" who exerted more subtle influences, such as the painter Earl Kerkam, whose approval Pollock dearly valued. Perl's conversational tone is at times so intimate that the effect is more that of a curator offering a private tour of his exhibition than an art historian's lecture. Or, perhaps, a walking tour that takes readers from downtown studios and artists' taverns to the Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art and back again, with a guide whose perceptive eye always steers us toward an unnoticed treasure. 328 illus. (Oct.)
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*Starred Review* Perl, art critic for the New Republic, has constructed a book large, detailed, and energetic enough to truly encompass the story of art in New York City during the "change-everything years between the late 1940s and the early 1960s." This may seem like well-mapped terrain in little need of yet another cartographer, but Perl puts skepticism to rest with the freshness of his vision, his polychromatic prose, the reach of his analysis, and his reclamation of neglected artists. Perl is especially interested in artists who teach, Hans Hoffman preeminent among them, and critics who became gurus, including Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg. Another guiding light is the photographer Rudy Burckhardt, who brilliantly captured the ambience of Manhattan's art world. Perl begins with in-depth inquiry into two very different artists, Willem de Kooning and Joseph Cornell, and concludes with another intriguing pair, Fairfield Porter and Donald Judd, covering myriad originals in between. And so effective is Perl's thorough explication of how the city, itself a "grand collage," inspired the romanticism of abstract expressionism, the wit of pop art, and the poetic inquiries of the new realists, he has, indeed, created a uniquely enhanced and richly interpretative map of a justifiably fabled "art city." Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
However, I do think many general readers will find the prose of Jed Perl over the top, with his constant use of phrases that sound heavy but are light on meaning, e.g., "contextualized romanticism" and "improvisational conceptualist." I also recognize that "dialectics" was a major catchword of this art era (and of Marx) but its frequent use in this book is taken to an annoying extreme.
Mr. Perl certainly possesses an arsenal of knowledge and strong opinions which he machine guns out in this book on art at mid-century in the Big Apple. Its many forms of art, key artists, and related places--like the Cedar Tavern, Hofmann's school, and Black Mountain College--are all covered.
When I finished the book I'm not sure what I read. The only new insights that I developed from the book came from the discussion about Fairfield Porter.
The book suffers from being published at about the same time as the much more captivating Stevens & Swans' "De Kooning: An American Master" which covers much of the same ground but is a more interesting read.
However, I do think many people that pick up the book to read will find the writing style of Jed Perl redundant and annoying, he loves to use the phrases and concepts of "contextualized romanticism" and "improvisational conceptualist" to the point that enough is enough
If you are an expert or very well read in mid century you might enjoy this book, I am struggling to finish it.