PRINT January 1999


James Fenton

JAMES FENTON, FOR BETTER OR WORSE, is one of the main reasons I still read The New York Review of Books. His art journalism is both plainspoken and perverse, theory-free, zesty, and loose-limbed—at times, admittedly, to a fault. He ushers in a cavalcade of historical greats, from Pisanello to Rauschenberg. He locates many a gay skeleton in the closet. He’s on the prowl for odd bits of arcana, both scholarly and scabrous, as well as fresh dish—dashing off, for instance, to Marbach, Germany, to consult the journals of the early-twentieth-century avant-garde patron Count Harry Kessler. Fenton gets good mileage out of his research: He uses this overripe Teutonic fruit, fairly dripping in anti-Semitic sentiment and homoerotic innuendo, in not one, but four different essays in this collection. The invaluable Kessler becomes somebody we feel we know after reading James Fenton.


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