COLUMNS

  • Books

    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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  • Books

    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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  • Books

    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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  • Books

    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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  • Books

    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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  • Books

    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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  • Books

    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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  • Books

    An Ad for Ad as Ad

    Art-as-art: The Selected Writings Of Ad Reinhardt, ed. Barbara Rose (New York: Viking Press, 1975), 236 pages, illustrated.

    Since the 19th century almost every artist has thought of himself or herself as an outsider. Movements like Surrealism or Abstract Expressionism are as much the result of artists’ need to operate, however marginally, within a larger group, as they are a matter of shared esthetic goals. Isolation can be a numbing experience.

    Ad Reinhardt, the quintessential outsider, came into his separatist position gradually; once there, he guarded his outpost fiercely. He was originally

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  • Books

    Art History Textbooks: The Hidden Persuaders

    Frederick Hartt, Art: A History Of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture (New York: Prentice-Hall/Harry N. Abrams), 2 vols., 995 pages.

    The usual publisher’s fanfare has accompanied the recent arrival of Frederick Hartt’s two-volume Art: A History of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, advertised as “the most complete introduction to the history of Western art yet published.” The publishers are Harry N. Abrams and Prentice-Hall, Inc., who collaborated successfully on H. W. Janson’s History of Art, which appeared in 1962 to capture the market from Helen Gardner’s Art Through the Ages. An updated edition

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  • Books

    The Story of “A”

    Andy Warhol, The Philosophy Of Andy Warhol (From A To B And Back Again) (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich), 241 Pages.

    If I were writing obituaries or 99-cent supermarket encyclopedias, my précis on WARHOL, ANDY (b. Warhola, 1930, att. Carnegie Institute) would run thusly:

    Effete former 5th-Avenue shoe illustrator who became, in the early ’60s, the definitive Pop artist, with silkscreen repetitions of Liz and Campbell’s soup cans and static films like Empire and Sleep. His total Pop lifestyle, however, is what finally distinguishes him from his contemporaries Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg,

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  • Books

    Ways of Seeing

    John Berger, Ways Of Seeing, based on a television series with John Berger (New York: The Viking Press, 160 pages), illustrated, hardbound.

    Judging from the praise accorded his criticism as well as the cries of outrage—“before John Berger manages to interpose himself again between us and the visible meaning of a good picture, may I point out . . .”1—John Berger is in danger of being condemned to a gadfly role. This would be greatly to underrate the depth and seriousness of his critical undertaking. Berger is one of the few marxist art critics in the English-speaking world (perhaps the only one

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  • Books

    Super Realism: A Critical Anthology

    Super Realism: A Critical Anthology, edited by Gregory Battcock (New York: Dutton Paperbacks), 322 pages, illustrated.

    For several weeks last summer I noted the daily progress of two huge figures being painted on the side of a building north of Times Square. One male and one female figure,each dressed in denim, they composed a cigarette ad. The painters moved about the wall on their pulleyed scaffold, never able to see more of the outlined figures than the area immediately in front of them.

    Now that the painting there is finished, you would think that the designer of the wall had been interested

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