PRINT December 1984


Alphonse Mucha, Breaking and the New York City Breakers, _Everyday Problems, American Impressionism, and The Restless Decade

IN THE “AGE OF THE COLLECTOR” everything is fair game, and Alphonse Mucha’s art nouveau posters and panels prove no exception. It was only a matter of time before a book devoted to his graphic work was published. If you’re a member of the Alphonse Mucha Fan Club, an avid collector of his work, or a lover of ingratiating, middlebrow, fin de siècle symbolism, then this may just be the right book. It attempts to be a definitive catalogue of Mucha’s work; every known poster, panel, and variant is reproduced. Many of the reproductions are given a full page. Dimensions, publisher, and date are listed, along with a brief description and history in English, French, and German. Being fans, as the authors are, is clearly a serious business. The anecdotal biography swings between the insipid and the dumb: “As is true of every artist, Mucha’s life shaped his art.” The reason Mucha could produce so much work is that his pieces are, with few exceptions, variations on a single format—a circular frame around a dewy-eyed woman. At the very best, Mucha is a poor man’s Aubrey Beardsley.

Jack Rennert and Alain Weill, Alphonse Mucha: The Complete Posters And Panels (Boston: G.K. Hall & Co.), 406 pp., 103 black and white illustrations, 172 color plates.


IF BREAK DANCING INTERESTS YOU, and you have no other access to the information, Michael Holman probably provides a great introduction. His book is a combination history/how-to/manifesto of—to use his words—“Breakdancing and the whole hip hop movement,” that “sport dance phenomenon that could in time become more important than the institutionalized sports we’ve all come to accept.”

Within the context of a history of the “New York City Breakers”—whose manager Holman is—this book covers the evolution of various styles of street dancing and other elements of “hip hop culture.” Two of the best aspects of the book are Holman’s descriptions of what qualities make a good break dancer, and the entertaining last chapter, the “B-Boy Glossary.” Much of the book is filled with chapters devoted to discussions of different people involved in breaking, or overviews of different subjects related to hip hop culture. This subject could have been better served in one or two tightly written chapters or articles that pulled the ideas together instead of letting them float off. In addition, there are about 40 pages of detailed instructions on how to perform certain breaking moves. Fun and interesting, but clearly oriented to appeal to a young audience who will pay $10.00 for a book profusely illustrated with poorly printed photos. The question is whether any one who “knows the halfs” of the sizzling sexy hip hop scene would really be interested in this moderately compelling but hardly attractive softcover book.

Michael Holman, Breaking And The New York City Breakers (New York: Freundlich Books), 176 pp., black and white illustrations.


WILLIAM WEGMAN’S FIRST BOOK, Man’s Best Friend (1982), is still his best. Everyday Problems is a collection of 38 cartoony sketches organized around a “theme.” Wegman is capable of a terrific light touch. He’s the Fred Astaire of wit, when he’s on. The sketches here, however, are quick takes, meant to be charming. Most of them are wry, deadpan observations, but the wit is at best adolescent and lazy. Wegman’s cartoons are not as nutty and mysterious as Glen Baxter’s, nor as sweet and poignant as Joe Brainard’s. For the price, you can buy a hamburger and beer, and get—more lasting pleasure.

William Wegman, Everyday Problems, introduction by Ron Horning (New York: Brightwaters Press), 78 pp., 38 black and white illustrations.


WRITING ABOUT CHILDE HASSAM, William H. Gerdts observes: “While the outline of Hassam’s career is well known, and many of his works quite familiar, the specifics of his development are still somewhat hazy. Estimations of his career have been oversimplified by imposing a consistency dear to art historians, but often irrelevant to the artists themselves.” Gerdts’ range of information, judicious responses, and thoughtful, penetrating insights always live up to the standard set by this critique. Despite a vast storehouse of knowledge, he never loses sight of the subject under discussion. He can move from a recently discovered bit of biographical detail to the subject of influence without resorting to lengthy digressions or unnecessary transitions. The prose is limpid and clear. The result is the best book ever written on the subject.

Gerdts begins American Impressionism with a discussion of the meaning “nature” had for 19th-century America. By doing so he provides a large context in which we can see how and why Impressionism appealed to artists such as Mary Cassatt, J. Alden Weir, and William Merritt Chase. This attention to context allows him to point out, for example, the influence of James McNeill Whistler on certain of John Twachtman’s paintings without denigrating their achievement. I have only one quibble with the book. Gerdts attempts to give both the prelude to American Impressionism and the later developments. He wants the widest scope possible. Why stop, then, with the early work of Marsden Hartley? Arnold Friedman belongs to the same generation as Hartley and Arthur Dove; a student of Chase, he turned to Impressionism late in his career, and during the ’40s produced a number of visionary

Impressionist landscapes. The continued neglect of Friedman’s accomplishment is unfortunate. Gerdts’ American Impressionism would have been truly complete if he had included this accomplished artist.

William H. Gerdts, American Impressionism (New York: Abbeville Press), 336 pp., 197 black and white illustrations, 204 color plates.


OUR VIEW OF THE GREAT Depression has been largely affected by the photographs of Walker Evans. His images of the rural South are synonymous with our feelings about a forlorn era. Now, with the publication of this long overdue book, we are given another view; rather than encounter sharecroppers, we are shown urban America through the eyes of someone who had just arrived from Germany. The automobile is already a sign of prosperity and mobility. An aura of busy naiveté prevails even as America moves toward World War II. It is Gutmann’s curiosity, his outsider’s need to learn about the ways of this strange country, that gives his photographs their fresh view. They may not have the emotional depth of an Evans photograph, but they are no less compelling in their depiction of a country and an era.

Max Kozloff’s introduction provides essential information about Gutmann’s biography, as well as an insightful analysis of key motifs. The selection of photographs is terrific, dynamic, and open.

The Restless Decade: John Gutmann’s Photographs of the Thirties, essay by Max Kozloff, ed. Lew Thomas (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.), 160 pp., 175 black and white photographs.


John Yau contributes regularly to Artforum.