• The Writings of Robert Smithson

    The Writings of Robert Smithson, ed. Nancy Holt (New York, New York University Press, 1979), 221 pages, 220 black and white illustrations.

    Artists-as-artists, Ad Reinhardt wrote, say the same thing—repetitive nothing is the subject of their work—but Robert Smithson, the guardian of impurity, had a very great deal to express. Those party to his late-night ramblings at Max’s could have these dictates readily. There the vituperative tongue and wide-ranging intellect held court until all hours. But for the rest, it seemed, there were other sources to contact. In the late 1960s one could expect regular

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  • Where the English Draw the Line

    WHATEVER THE CLAIMS OF art to universality, the institutions where art is displayed have a clear tendency to exhibit national characteristics. They have, as we perhaps need to be reminded, precise historical origins, and they correspond not to some ideal blueprints but to the particular circumstances of their origins. The categories and divisions that they introduce into the body of art are never neutral. Indeed, the notion of an “art world” that effectively sets its own norms and practices is not a mere paranoid delusion of the outsider: it applies beyond the immediate field of commercial

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  • The Third Mind

    William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, The Third Mind (New York: The Viking Press, 1978), 194 pages.

    Experimental work, in pen or brush, explodes the meanings of words and/or images, subjecting them to the impact of violent clashes, to violent perturbations of structure. Caught between an otherness of the self and a fetishism of the machine, poets and painters algebrize metaphors and permutations: a rose is a rose is a rose, but this is not a pipe. The Dadaists, more than any other vanguard group, reduced art to a game in which the dice were loaded with irony. Games, of course, follow rules, and

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  • On Reading Architecture

    READING AND WRITING ABOUT architecture, shaping the consciousness of the reader and observer, has a logic independent of the spaces it describes. In the best architectural writing such description and analysis adds depth of meaning to a building’s already complex physical presence. Modern architecture sought to be rid of such layers of meaning, assuming that form might be generated almost automatically from function—“form following function,” as Sullivan put it. Indeed Le Corbusier’s “Five Points of Modern Architecture”—the “free” plan, the “free” facade, the building raised on pilotis, strip

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  • Marcel Duchamp: Appearance Stripped Bare

    Octavio Paz, Marcel Duchamp: Appearance Stripped Bare (New York: The Viking Press, 1978), 211 pages.

    Marcel Duchamp has been known for his inactivity in the art world as much as for his activity. In Marcel Duchamp: Appearance Stripped Bare Octavio Paz sets up a duality between Duchamp’s modus operandi and that of Picasso: the silence of Duchamp set against the incessant production of Picasso. Paz pairs these two as the greatest artists of the 20th century, yet in all his writing there is very little actually stated about Picasso’s work, except to say what the work is not. Duchamp, then, is Paz’s

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  • The Decorated Letter, Manuscript Painting at the Court of France: The Fourteenth Century (1310–1380), and The Icon

    HIGH HONORS GO TO an ongoing series of picture books dealing with medieval manuscript painting that Braziller has been publishing since last year. The project involves, in each case, the selection of some 48 full-page color plates, each with identification and commentary on the facing page, and a substantial introduction by some recognized scholar in the field, with the introduction itself fitted out with many black-and-white comparative illustrations. Each volume comes in both cloth and paper formats, the paperbacks costing in the neighborhood of $10 to $12.

    It happens that I have not seen

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  • Beyond Time and Place, and Modern Art 1890–1918

    OF THE MANY, MANY new books dealing with general modern art history, three seem particularly worthy of note, although I still do not pretend to have covered the entire field. Beyond Time and Place, by Philippe Roberts-Jones (Oxford), treats the 19th century as the Symbolist century in painting and graphics. Written by a Belgian poet, and thematic in approach, it is packed with engaging visual parallels between, especially, Romantic-period material and high Symbolisme. Such an approach is not in itself new, but here it is searchingly and convincingly applied. Roberts-Jones’ subtitle is Non-Realist

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  • La Belle Epoque: Fifteen Euphoric Years of European History

    LA BELLE EPOQUE: FIFTEEN Euphoric Years of European History (Morrow) is a different matter entirely, although it covers a lot of the same territory, concerned as it is with European society and culture between 1900 and 1914. This is a rather more old-fashioned sort of book, for artistic purposes at least, than Jean Clay’s, in that art becomes a kind of mood music for the telling of a story that amounts essentially to social history. Things can get too anecdotal as well, in a way that is distracting rather than mnemonically useful. But there is a lot of interesting art here, and the historical

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  • Islamic Architecture and Architecture of the Islamic World: Its History and Social Meaning

    TWO ARCHITECTURAL BOOKS OF general interest are John D. Hoag, Islamic Architecture, in Pier Luigi Nervi’s big “History of World Architecture” series (Abrams), which appeared last summer, and Architecture of the Islamic World: Its History and Social Meaning (Morrow), edited by George Michell and just out. Here it’s tough to pick one over the other, since there is not as great a polarization between connoisseurship and iconography as the two titles might suggest; Hoag also remains aware, along the way, of historical context. As far as I can tell, he does tend to be more “objective,” in the sense

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  • Minor White: Rites & Passages; His Photographs Accompanied by Excerpts from his Diaries and Letters

    IN THE PAST YEAR the crushing torrent of books on photography, including tiresomely redundant surveys, historical potboilers and full-scale monographs purveying the most inconsequential reputations, has not let up. We do, however, come across something quite extraordinary in the form of the 80th number of Aperture, that justly famous periodical series of photographic books. The 80th number is Minor White: Rites & Passages; His Photographs Accompanied by Excerpts from his Diaries and Letters, edited by James Hall Baker and Michael E. Hoffman (Aperture). Frankly, I don’t readily take to driftwood

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  • Abstract Film and Beyond

    Malcolm Le Grice, Abstract Film and Beyond (Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press), 1977, 160 pages, illustrated.

    A KEY FEATURE WHICH HAS quite radically distinguished the English film avant-garde from that in the United States has been its stress, over the past five or six years, on public and private debate and dialogue among filmmakers and between filmmakers and critics. That stress underlines the relationship between theory and practice, often in a political or quasi-political manner.

    In contrast, in the United States there is a standard, years-old museum and showcase format in which filmmakers

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  • George Rickey

    Nan Rosenthal, George Rickey (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1977), 220 pages, 223 illustrations, including 66 plates in full color.

    M. Matyushin, a color theorist, an initiator of studies on optical perception and a close friend of Malevich, hypothesized in 1932 that by making a conscious attempt to exercise the peripheral aspects of one’s vision it was possible through “extended vision” to attain a peripheral vision approaching 360 degrees.1 I cite this only as an example of the difference between aspiration and reality. For a number of years, Abrams has aspired to publish, in book form, the work

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