PRINT January 1981


Artforum editors

Victor Arwas, Art Deco (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.), 316 pages, 416 illustrations, including 200 in color.

This must be the most lavish book on Art Deco ever published. It may even be the last word on the movement. Except for a few out of focus black-and-white illustrations, the reproductions of bookbindings, glass, statuettes, jewelry, metalwork, paintings, furniture, textiles and ceramics are stunning. The fact that so many of the objects shown are either in the author’s collection or that of his gallery, Editions Graphiques, in London, has clearly given him unlimited access to a large part of his material. It is less easy to understand why the emphasis is so heavily on French Art Deco. Was it intentional to leave out the Chrysler building, industrial design (especially cars, trains and ocean liners), stage sets and movie stills and other photographs of the period? Perhaps the author felt that they might detract from his purpose of demonstrating Art Deco’s obviously decorative aspects. Ultimately, in spite of the lavishness of the pictures and the wealth of information, the effect of this book is to draw attention to the great shortcomings of Arwas’ Art Deco.


Gillian Naylor, The Arts and Crafts Movement (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1980), 117 illustrations, including 12 in color.

There is something both worthy and dispiriting about the Arts and Crafts Movement. So much of what was designed and produced looks as if it would best suit an unheated English Gothic Revival church. And yet the social and moral ideals of this movement, which originated in Britain as a reaction to mechanization and the inhuman factory conditions that it produced, continue to influence artists and craftsmen worldwide. Gillian Naylor’s study, originally published in Britain in 1971, is subtitled “A Study of its Sources, Ideals and Influence on Design Theory.” While the book describes the sources and ideals effectively, it is less strong on design theory. Naylor traces the movement back to Blake and forward to Gropius and Frank Lloyd Wright, showing how along the way it prepared the ground for Art Nouveau and Deco, Bauhaus and Werkbund. Considering the influences that the movement had on architecture, it would be interesting to see more illustrations both of buildings and of the objects in their original settings. Furniture, silver, textiles, jewelry, pottery, glass and printing are all well documented in eight strong essays.


Eve Arnold, In China (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980).

Well-known as a photojournalist (and a member of Magnum Photos), Eve Arnold travelled twice to China in 1977. On each trip she spent two months or more travelling with only an interpreter in the countryside and cities, as well as to Tibet and Inner Mongolia. This book documents her experience and is divided into four sections: Landscape, People, Work, and Living. The observations are personal and the eye, knowing. The portraits, however, are set up, and as a result rather formal.


Edmund Capon, Art and Archaeology in China (Cambridge Mass.: The MIT Press, 1980).

This book is intended to provide historical and cultural background for the arts of early China dug up by archaeologists in the past and in modern-day China. It is less grand, or exhaustive on any one period, than The Great Bronze Age of China, edited by Wen Fong and published this year by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Like that compilation, this book was designed with an exhibition of art in mind, the “Chinese Archaeological Exhibition” held in Australia in 1977. It contains a broad range of solid information, good illustrations, and a readable text.


Aubrey Burl, Rings of Stone, photographs by Edward Piper (New Haven Conn.: Ticknor and Fields, 1980).

Planned for the interested reader and potential traveller rather than the academic scholar, this book’s text, maps, diagrams and photographs present 50 prehistoric, stone circles located in Britain and Ireland. Ranging from a group of huge megaliths to rings of precisely placed, small stones, these enigmatic circles have provoked numerous theories about their supposed scientific, religious and social meanings. Dating from 3300 B.C. to 1100 B.C., there are no records, only centuries of conjecture. Burl concludes that these mysterious circles were a place for elaborate ritual.


Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, 1979).

It has long been recognized that there are many ways of seeing—and that the way we see is a highly conditioned response. (The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes opened up the key questions concerning creativity and theories of perception.) Betty Edwards has turned her classroom teaching experience into a straightforward drawing course. She has no pretensions and makes no pronouncements; instead she pragmatically presents drawing exercises designed to help students see. Edwards makes many fine points while she coordinates the reader’s hand and mind.


Sally Henderson and Robert Landau, Billboard Art (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1980).

Few things reflect so starkly society’s real (or fabricated) trends as a billboard. This book documents these giant advertisements from their beginnings in 1905, to the handpainted billboards from what is called the “Golden Age of Paint” in the 1950s, to the fantasy billboards that today line the Sunset Strip with pictures of rock stars and movie idols. All together they provide a sharp criticism of consumer culture.


Champfleury: The Realist Writer as Art Critic, by David A. Flanary; Art Critics and the Avant-Garde, by Arlene R. Olson. Both in the “Criticism” series. Myth in Surrealist Painting, 1929–1939, by Whitney Chadwick; Surrealism and the Crisis of the Object, by Haim N. Finkelstein; Artists and Revolution: Dada and the Bauhaus, 1917–1925, by Allen C. Greenberg; Chance: A Perspective on Dada, by Harriet Ann Watts; The Surrealist Connection: An Approach to a Surrealist Aesthetic of Theatre, by David G. Zinder. In “The Avant-Garde” series. All in the “University Studies in the Fine Arts” series, Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1980.

These are not beautiful books, and they are fairly expensive. They are important and scholarly, addressed to the academic community and those outside it who are willing to deal with dissertation English. Although perseverance is necessary, the subjects dealt with in the series are of far more than academic interest.


Diane Kelder, The Great Book of French Impressionism (New York: Abbeville Press, Inc., 1980).

Horst Keller, The Great Book of French Impressionism (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1980).

The need for another large scale book on French Impressionism is questionable, let alone two, both claiming the same title. If Dr. Keller’s book, with 207 color plates and 16 black-and-white illustrations, is the “Great Book of French Impressionism,” then by force of weight and numbers alone Professor Kelder’s book should be called the “Greater Book of French Impressionism” with its 241 color plates, 174 black-and-white photographs, twice the number of pages and a size that makes it a problem to carry.

Kelder’s book is splendidly laid out, with spacious, richly colored illustrations, often with fold-out and blown-up details, and with a comprehensive introduction to each section. However, it is unfortunate to read a sentence like “this . . . work poignantly conveys the emotional desperation of the painter, who finally shot himself in just such a field only days after executing this canvas.” (p. 370). The text is crammed with information and descriptive quotes but it avoids judgment, which may be a pity, since the result inevitably is that of an orderly card index.

Keller’s book, first published in Germany, 1975, has the feel of a translation, but is clearly a scholarly work. The quality of the illustrations is uneven, and for the most part the production quality of the book falls short of its larger rival. The book is divided into three sections: before (Turner, Constable, Corot, etc.), during (the Impressionists and NeoImpressionists), and after (Gauguin, Cézanne and Van Gogh). It is refreshing that Keller makes references to German artists whose names may not be familiar to the general reader, and to pictures from less obvious collections.

Both books have brief biographies of the major artists, bibliographies, comprehensive index sections and paintings by Monet on their covers. The larger book (Kelder’s) is represented by a vivid flag-flying street celebration, and the smaller book (Keller’s) by a contemplative water-lily pond—selections that are symbolic of the attitudes of the two authors.