TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT December 1984

books

New Art, Art Plastic, Beyond a Portrait, Emile Gallé, Howard Hodgkin, Munch, and Irving Penn

IN THE GRANDER SCHEME of things, this tabloid-sized record will surely look dated in no time at all. Compiled by four editors who seem to have combed recent catalogues and reviews rather than looked at the real thing in order to make their selections, this cross between a telephone book and a mail-order catalogue illustrates works (very little sculpture, endless numbers of paintings) by 118 artists “exhibited in the United States.” For the unfamiliar reader this will be confusing since there is only one page of text (in the form of an editors’ note) to accompany the mass of images laid out alphabetically by artist, from Acconci to Zwillinger. Scale is thrown to the winds, and color is sandwiched in to minimize printing costs. The only critical criterion stated is that the selection “spans the qualitative and typological range of art now.” Perusing this trendy product resembles reading the Social Register or the gossip columns—those who have knowledge of recent gallery and museum shows can recognize their favorites and boo their villains, meanwhile bemoaning the neglect of significant artists such as Robert Morris, who fail to appear. The book adds nothing to general understanding of contemporary “pluralist” vitality other than reinforcing it.

New Art, ed. Phyllis Freeman, Eric Himmel, Edith Pavese, and Anne Yarowsky (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.), 207 pp., 126 black and white illustrations, 17 color plates.

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HOWARD HODGKIN MAKES PAINTINGS that look ravishing when reproduced in color. In this book, which also serves as the British pavilion’s 1984 Venice Biennale catalogue, forty of his paintings are reproduced in very good color. They look glowingly “attractive,” like abstract Indian miniatures (the painter has collected Indian miniatures avidly, so the parallel is not an unconscious one). John McEwen’s essay mixes biography with critical appreciation of the artist’s work in a deft, slightly vacuous homage that never violates the boundaries of appropriate catalogue style. David Sylvester’s interview is as charming as it is smooth. The book is more useful as a record than as analysis.

Howard Hodgkin: Forty Paintings 1973–84, Essay by John McEwen, interview by David Sylvester (New York: George Braziller, Inc.), 112 pp. 40 color plates.

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WITH HIS COMBINATION OF business acumen, botanical knowledge, and artistic genius, Emile Gallé is a worthy contender to Louis Comfort Tiffany. His commercially successful business never seemed to prevent the French designer from realizing abstruse projects. His glass-making feats were breathtaking and he constantly outdistanced his imitators, as Garner demonstrates. Gallé’s sinuous glass vases, his ceramics, and his remarkable objects in wood, inspired by nature and influenced by the Orient, were the quintessence of art nouveau, redolent with fin de siècle estheticism. Gallé’s astonishing bed, Dawn and Twilight, executed in his workshops in 1904, the year the great glassmaker died, is fittingly given a double-page spread in the book. It is a show-stopper. Garner traces the influences that shaped Gallé’s designs, exhaustively describes his technical innovations, and sets his career and contribution in historical perspective. The book is now the best and most complete work in English on this fascinating Frenchman and his revolutionary role in late 19th-century decorative arts.

Philippe Garner, Emile Gallé, (New York: St. Martin’s Press), 160 black and white illustrations, 34 color plates.

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JOHN SZARKOWSKI CONTRIBUTES A customarily elegant and concise essay to this glamorously produced catalogue/book. The tireless photographer’s life and work are presented with utmost seriousness and respect, his long connection to the fashion world celebrated rather than excused. It’s a nice book about a photographer who has gone everywhere and made everything and everyone he sees incredibly chic. One can only fault the commentary if one doubts the depth of the body of work.

The portraits, the fashion photography, the still lifes, the ethnographic studies, the formalist arrangements of cigarette butts, and much else are reproduced on satiny paper which satisfactorily replicates an expensive print. So why does this book remind me of a recurring nightmare? I dream that I am surrounded by photos from old fashion magazines and that I can’t remember who on earth any of the people in the pictures are, or who the photographers are. But how could I forget that it was Penn who made diamonds drip from a faucet and turned tribespeople into fashion victims?

John Szarkowsk, Irving Penn (New York: The Museum of Modern Art), 216 pp., 135 black and white and 21 color photographs, 27 black and white and 7 color illustrations.

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REINHOLD HELLER’S DENSE VOLUME looks like another reading-list chore. It is printed in rather tiny type and skimps on color reproductions while scattering black and whites throughout the text. But the book turns out to be that rare entity—a riveting read about an artist. The author’s background as a professor in the University of Chicago’s Department of Germanic Languages and Literature (he is also chairman of the art department and acting director of the David and Alfred Smart Gallery at the University) has served him well. His translations from Munch’s diaries are fluent, his own writing style is both authoritative and eloquent, and his critical examination of the relationship of Munch’s internal and external life to his work is unusually illuminating. His comments about the evolution of Munch’s thought and its effect on the great Norwegian artist’s work renew familiar images while introducing wonderful, lesser-known works which have never been shown in America. A significant addition to art history.

Munch: His Life And Work, by Reinhold Heller, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

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PRODUCED AS A RECORD OF an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Alfred Stieglitz Center, this is an emaciated, elegantly designed vehicle for memorializing the relationship between Dorothy Norman and Alfred Stieglitz. It includes 13 of Stieglitz’s portraits of Norman plus several other photos related to his gallery An American Place and his home in Lake George, N.Y., combined with Norman’s photographs of her mentor and of various landscapes. Mark Holborn writes his short introductory essay in high catalogue-lyrical prose, feeding richly the Norman/Stieglitz legend, and thus diluting the O’Keeffe/Stieglitz legend, but hardly enlightening the reader. The photos themselves are pleasant enough, though one wonders why Norman appears apprehensive and wounded in so many of Stieglitz’s close-ups.

Beyond A Portrait: Photographs by Dorothy Norman and Alfred Stieglitz, introduction by Mark Holborn, Millerton, N.Y.: Aperture, 1984.

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ANYONE SMART WOULD HAVE started collecting plastic objects when The Graduate (1967) made Dustin Hoffman a star. Two decades later, Andrea DiNoto makes it obvious to those who missed the cue. This book, a cross between an industrial-design history and a collectibles reference work, contains lavish color photos of Bakelite radios, plastic jewelry, housewares, toys, clothes, and bibelots. The author’s discussion of the development of plastics and their adaptation to multiple uses is both interesting and useful; the rest is descriptive. The book is a whimsical sidebar to the ever-escalating phenomenon in which everyday and industrially produced objects are turned into antiques the moment they become obsolete.

Art Plastic, Designed For Living, by Andrea DiNoto, New York: Abbeville Press, 1984.

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Alexandra Anderson is an art critic that lives in New York.