COLUMNS

  • 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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  • Susan Sontag’s On Photography

    Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1977), 207 pages.

    Susan Sontag’s On Photography might have been called Off Photography, for “offing,” in the ’60s sense of committing murder, is what the book really intends to do. First, then, we have to remove the point of Sontag’s book from the wound it has made in its subject matter. The deepest penetration seems to occur in the following passages:

    . . . photographs have their power as images (or copies) of the world, not of an individual artist’s consciousness. . . . It makes sense that a painting is signed but a photograph is

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  • Progress in Art

    Suzi Gablik, Progress in Art, (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1977), 192 pages, 162 illustrations.

    Progress in Art is subtitled “Is There Progress in Art?” Gablik wants to suggest that there might be, and her book’s dust-jacket goes on to describe the volume it enfolds as “a radical and challenging view of art based on the ideas of Jean Piaget, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Thomas Kuhn.” One feels as though this sentence might be there to allay the anxiety brought on by the capricious interaction of title and subtitle. Accordingly, it’s printed in red, a brightly marked reassurance whose

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  • Eva Hesse

    Lucy Lippard, Eva Hesse (New York: New York University Press), 1976, 249 pages, 263 illustrations.

    LUCY LIPPARD DEALS WITH A body of work that has been surrounded by partisan excess, but she strikes a balanced pose, without dramatic claims, intense personal confessions or far-flung rhetoric. Scholarly and even-toned, her prose is matter-of-fact and almost dry in many places. Somehow Lippard manages to skirt the academic, and nothing seems unthinking or taken for granted. If pared-down prose can be a sign of simplemindedness, here it is the distillation of thought, consciously unadorned.

    As a critic

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  • Ada Louise Huxtable’s “Kicked a Building Lately?”

    OBVIOUSLY, IT ALL WORKS ON paper, and is all balled up in reality––perhaps the definitive comment on our times. Nothing is finished, nothing is solved. But then nothing ever is. History, after all, is a continuing state of flux. And Utopia is a recurring nightmare.

    I prefer the nightmare of reality.

    Ada Louise Huxtable writes these short, seductive sentences; her essays are built from them (this book is a collection of pieces from 1971 to 1976 written for the New York Times, where she is architectural critic). One piece begins: “See the 116-year-old house. See it being knocked down. See the

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  • The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism

    Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions Of Capitalism, New York: Basic Books, 1976.

    COULD IT BE THAT MODERN art was a factor in the U.S. defeat in the Vietnam war? This question is not absurd in the context of the neo-conservative cultural critique of Daniel Bell. In his rambling but powerfully written study, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, Bell seeks to analyze the current American malaise in the perspective of the history of ideas and to put forward a program for restoring “legitimacy” to the U.S. political and economic system. A great deal of the book’s analysis is devoted to “

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  • Seeing Through the Boxes

    Donald Judd: Complete Writings 1959–1975 (Halifax, Nova Scotia: The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1975), 229 pages.

    Donald Judd, a catalogue of the exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and a catalogue raisonné, essay by Roberta Smith (Ottawa: The National Gallery of Canada for the Corporation of the National Museums of Canada, 1975), 320 pages.

    THESE TWO BOOKS (A COMPLETE catalogue and the complete writings) are, in effect, a semicompact way of increasing the importance of an oeuvre with immense amounts of supporting material reclaimed from a highly defined

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  • Topics in American Art Since 1945

    Lawrence Alloway, Topics in American Art Since 1945 (New York: Norton, 1975), 282 pages, 64 black and white illustrations.

    THE FIRST WORD IN Lawrence Alloway’s selected survey of American art since 1945 is “differentiation.” It is a key term, implying a wide range of subject matter. The jacket cover promises Abstract Expressionism, Hard Edge and Systems, Conceptual Art, Pop Art, Happenings, Earthworks, Public Sculpture, and finally, The Changing Role of the Critic. Indeed, we get all this plus Alloway on “highway culture,” photo-Realism, Radio City Music Hall and the chronology of an art gallery.

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