Art and Architecture

Review: Smith, The Plan of Chicago

November 14, 2006
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Review: Smith, The Plan of Chicago

Last Sunday’s Chicago Tribune featured a prominent review of Carl Smith’s new book The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City. Writing for the Tribune, Lois Wille—a journalist and historian of Chicago—praises Smith’s account of Daniel Burnham’s sweeping plans to remake the city of Chicago. Wille writes: The story of Burnham’s plan has been told many times before but never in a more appealing or succinct style than in Carl Smith’s modest little book.… What sets this book apart from other Burnham histories is Smith’s attention to the filthy, miserable, 19th century city that repelled and motivated Burnham, and the extraordinary promotional effort led by the Commercial Club of Chicago, that sold his plan to the public. Delivering a comprehensive examination of the most influential document in the history of urban planning, Smith’s insightful book is an indispensable addition to our understanding of Chicago, Daniel Burnham, and the emergence of the modern city. Lois Wille is the author of Forever Open, Clear, and Free: The Struggle for Chicago’s Lakefront. . . .

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Press Release: Halpern, Norman Rockwell

November 13, 2006
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Press Release: Halpern, Norman Rockwell

One of the most popular artists of the last century, Norman Rockwell specialized in warm and humorous scenes of routine small-town life. His countless illustrations of ordinary middleclass Americans for the Saturday Evening Post are still among the most indelible images in all of postwar art. Today, opinions of Rockwell vary from uncritical admiration to sneering contempt, but those who love him and those who dismiss him do seem to agree on one thing: his art embodies a distinctively American style of innocence. Norman Rockwell: The Underside of Innocence reimagines Rockwell as an American Freud, or a canny and remorseless diagnostician of the purity in which we bathe ourselves. Richard Halpern here argues that Rockwell’s works might look like innocent portraits of everyday life, but if you look a little bit closer and probe beneath their banal veneer, you’ll find a lot of them teeming with perverse acts of voyeurism and sexual desire. For Halpern, Rockwell is an artist who we have not yet dared to see for the complex creature that he is: a wholesome pervert, a knowing innocent, a kitschy genius, and an unexpected influence on more contemporary visual artists such as John Currin, Frank Moore, and Eric . . .

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Meyer Schapiro: The Norton Lectures

November 2, 2006
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Meyer Schapiro: The Norton Lectures

The October 30 issue of the New Republic features an article about several recent additions to the prodigious body of published works by the influential art historian Meyer Schapiro (1904-96), including his Romanesque Architectural Sculpture: The Charles Eliot Norton Lecture Series, edited by Linda Seidel. Though renowned for his critical essays on nineteenth- and twentieth-century painting, Schapiro also played a decisive role in defining the style of architecture known as the Romanesque. Schapiro has remained a highly esteemed yet mysterious figure of academia, widely known, but little read. However, as Jed Perl’s New Republic article notes, this new book promises to change that. The book collects Shapiro’s lectures on Romanesque Architecture given in 1967 for the Norton Lecture Series at Harvard; lectures which have been acclaimed throughout academia for their verve and freshness. Perl writes that much like the works of art they take as their subject, “the pleasure of Schapiro’s lectures, though they were given in the late-modern 1960’s, are what might be called early modern pleasures: the pleasures of close looking, and of the search for unexpected ways to express the most self-evidently human experiences.… Linda Siedel, in editing the Norton Lectures, has preserved the movement of Schapiro’s . . .

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Clement Greenberg: A Critical History

October 26, 2006
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Clement Greenberg: A Critical History

The October 16 issue of the Nation features a five-page article by Barry Schwabsky on the work of former Nation contributor Clement Greenberg—art critic, historian, and the central subject of Caroline Jones’ recent book Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses. The Nation article includes an interesting retrospective of the impact of Greenberg’s work on the world of contemporary art while hailing Jones’ book as the best critical history of Greenberg’s writing available, trumping several recent biographies. Schwabsky recommends: Readers who want a better understanding of what Greenberg wrote and why, and above all why what he wrote was so significant, would in any case be better off if they ignored biographies and did the harder but more rewarding work of reading Jones’ dense, indeed sometimes maddeningly verbose, “critical history.” Like Jones leans on biographical material … along with Greenberg’s own writings as well as reactions to and (and against) Greenberg by the art critics and historians that followed in his footsteps; but she brings to all this an analytical intensity, an almost ferocious determination to dig into the text, that makes the biographers’ declarative flatness seem dull by comparison. The hundred pages . . .

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Interview with Joseph Leo Koerner

October 4, 2006
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Interview with Joseph Leo Koerner

Mark Thwaite has an excellent interview with our author, Joseph Leo Koerner, at the online book review site, ReadySteadyBook. One of the most visible scholars of German art, Koerner discusses his work, including two of his books The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art and The Reformation of the Image. From the interview: MT: Your first book was The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art. What was it that was so uniquely important about that “moment”? What does the creation of self-portraits tell us about society and the individuals that make it up? JK: Oddly, if you go back to the moment—the actual historical instant—when the first modern self-portraitist looked at himself and decided to depict what he saw, you find it was not a particularly “momentous” event, at least not for a history of the “self” or of modern subjectivity. Around 1490, the young Albrecht Dürer sketched his hands and fingers because they posed a special challenge to him as a budding draughtsman, and because they were simply there: available models he could pose as he wished. Dürer’s first true nature study is in fact a drawing he did of his left hand just lying there. It’s . . .

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Press Release: Smith, The Plan of Chicago

September 25, 2006
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Press Release: Smith, The Plan of Chicago

The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City is the first book to fully explore Burnham’s Plan, the defining document of American urban planning. As Smith relates, Burnham and his coauthor, Edward Bennett, were careful to leave no part of the city untouched. The Plan of Chicago called for an extensive greenbelt around Lake Michigan, recreational parks throughout the city’s limits, a streamlined transportation system, and cultural amenities like the Field Museum of Natural History. Streets were widened, bridges constructed, and even the Chicago River itself was straightened. Smith takes a closer look at Burnham as well as his contemporaries at the Commercial Club of Chicago, showing how their influence shaped the city itself. The Plan, Smith reveals, embodied their belief in the humanizing—or dehumanizing—effects of one’s environment. And at a time when everything essentially “American” was changing, The Plan suggested that human will could, in fact, change history. Read the press release. . . .

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Review: Bruegmann, Sprawl

September 7, 2006
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Review: Bruegmann, Sprawl

A review written for the Times Literary Supplement summarizes Robert Bruegmann’s latest work, Sprawl: A Compact History, as a “polemic issue with one of the great environmental issues of today: how to reconcile the burgeoning demand for detached greenfield settings with the limits on the use of land, energy resources, and the loss of traditional urban cultures and identities.” While the detractors of suburbanization call it sprawl and assert that it is economically inefficient, socially inequitable, environmentally irresponsible, and aesthetically ugly, Bruegmann calls it a logical consequence of economic growth and the democratization of society, with benefits that urban planners have failed to recognize. The TLS review applauds this unique perspective on the suburbs saying: “In the 20th century the suburbs had bad press. Bruegmann compensates with a book that will be uncomfortable to read for many but is elegantly written and fair to nearly all points of view. Anybody interested in the future of planning policy will have to read it.” Read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Review: Hyman, The Objective Eye

August 31, 2006
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Review: Hyman, The Objective Eye

The onset of the modernist movement in western art marked the decline of realism from its place of dominance. In sharp contrast to the realist attempt to imitate the natural world, the moderns saw their art, instead, as an extension of it. But while the modernist movement may have dismissed realism as an “illusionistic” or a “mechanical enterprise,” in The Objective Eye author John Hyman takes a radical new approach to the genre that explores these works as subjects of a much deeper aesthetic interest. Edward Skidelsky writes in a recent review for the New Statesman: “The Objective Eye… scrupulously dissects the various myths and confusions surrounding the concept of depiction, with the aim of rehabilitating realism as ‘one kind of excellence in art.'” Skidelsky applauds Hyman’s work for “championing what sees as the natural, and pre-theoretical stance of artists themselves” and reinvigorating interest in the realist genre in the context of twentieth century criticism. Philosophers, art historians, and students of the arts will find The Objective Eye to be a challenging and absorbing read. . . .

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Review: Guthrie, The Nature of Paleolithic Art

August 25, 2006
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Review: Guthrie, The Nature of Paleolithic Art

Who created the cave art of the Paleolithic era? And why? In some academic quarters, those questions are regarded as more or less settled, and so R. Dale Guthrie’s book, The Nature of Paleolithic Art has been received about as warmly as the Ice Age. However, in her review of the book in the August 18 issue of the Times Higher Education Supplement, Nadia Durrani recognizes that the answers to those basic questions “remain unclear.” Durrani found Guthrie’s book a “fascinating and compulsive read” even as she acknowledges that it is “a controversial book.” (Readers of this blog will have noted our previous postings that have excerpted bits of Guthrie’s book to convey some of the fascinating content of the book. Plus we have all of the preface available online.) What is Guthrie’s thesis? The hot button that has drawn attention—and fire— is that much of the surviving Paleolithic art was not created by shamans for religious purposes or done purely for art’s sake, but was done by “testosterone-laden” young boys. Guthrie’s evidence for so radical a theory? Durrani explains: Guthrie’s thesis draws its main impetus … from the surprisingly limited themes dealt with by the art. Although Palaeolithic art . . .

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Review: Ades, The Dada Reader

August 15, 2006
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Review: Ades, The Dada Reader

In the August 11 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education columnist Richard Byrne takes note of the recent “flurry of scholarly work” that “has opened up new vistas in the history of Dada.” Byrne reviews several new contributions to the subject including The Dada Reader: A Critical Anthology. An excerpt from Byrne’s review follows: Expanding Dada’s reach and placing it in a wider context is the aim of another new collection, The Dada Reader: A Critical Anthology. Edited by Dawn Ades, a professor of art history and theory at the University of Essex, The Dada Reader pulls together the key excerpts from the explosion of Dada journals between 1916 and 1924. Not only does the new anthology present dozens of texts that have never been available in English, but it also brings in journals far from Dada’s traditional loci in Switzerland, Germany, France, and the United States—including ones from the Netherlands and Yugoslavia. The revolutionary Dada movement, though short-lived, produced a vast amount of creative work in both art and literature during the years that followed World War I. Rejecting all social and artistic conventions, Dadaists went to the extremes of provocative behavior, creating anti-art pieces that ridiculed and . . .

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