Jhe artist, as Antony Gormley says of fellow sculptor Brancusi, is someone who “tries to remake the world on his own terms in his own studio”. This definition, both cosmic and domestic, is beautifully illustrated in Piet Mondrian: The Studios (Thames & Hudson), edited by Cees W de Jong. In Amsterdam, Paris, London and New York, Mondrian lived in modular, rectangular spaces like those in the canvases he painted – cells for a Theosophical monk, who believed a studio should be “a little sanctuary”. He preferred the Paris Metro to Notre-Dame and objected to the garden behind his studio in Hampstead because it contained too many distracting, non-geometric trees: the world, remade by him, was a paradise for aesthetes with OCD.
Gormley himself is what he calls a “post-studio artist”, whose ambitions extend beyond these clean, well-lit places. In Antony Gormley on the sculpture (Thames & Hudson), he shows the work he installed on the Austrian mountains and in the Australian desert, at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, and on the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square. His comments on his own creations tend to float in metaphysics; he is best when he poetically extols the work of others – the sea-washed pebbles of Jacob Epstein, the fuzzy, absorbing felt figures of Joseph Beuys, and the Paleolithic-looking steel plates of Richard Serra.
Although Hayden Herrera’s biography of Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi is titled listen to stone (Thames & Hudson), the materials listened to by Noguchi were not only marble, granite and basalt. He also used paper, rubber, wood and – to the disgust of one snobby dealer – aluminum. Sometimes its forms were uterine and earthy, but its hollow statuettes also illustrated the lightness and emptiness of Zen. Herrera is brilliant about the job and insightful about the man – his schizophrenic cultural heritage, nubile muses and bossy clients, one of whom, an American socialite, insisted after undergoing cosmetic surgery that he recise his nose on her marble bust that she brings it up to date.
Noguchi sculpted water into a series of monumental fountains; videographer Bill Viola’s medium is light, and – for example in the paintings of martyrdom he installed in St. Paul’s Cathedral – he reinvents religious miracles for an age of incredulity. Text by John Hanhardt Bill Viola (Thames & Hudson) is obscured by electronic jargon and quotes from fashionable scholars, but the images are glorious.
Mystics like Viola seek to transform the world; artists with a political agenda try to change it, and usually fail. In Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit (Yale), Mark Rosenthal describes one such fanciful campaign, when in 1932 the Mexican muralist Rivera was hired to design a “Sistine Chapel of Industrialism” for the garden courtyard of a new museum. Rivera thought he could “promote a communist message in a capitalist country”, although police recently fired tear gas at striking workers at the local car factory. Rivera’s wife, Frida Kahlo, practiced subversion in her own way by declaring Americans ugly and stupid, or innocently asking vicious anti-Semite Henry Ford if he happened to be Jewish. The citadel may not have crumbled when Rivera painted on its walls, but its grand frescoes have survived, as post-industrial Detroit crumbles around them.
In Derek Boshier: rethinking/reintegrating (Thames & Hudson), Paul Gorman features another ungrateful immigrant who, like Rivera, questions American sanctities. Boshier attended the Royal College of Art with David Hockney and they remain friends, although their views have diverged. Hockney settles in California as a passionate pilgrim, freed by his paganism. Boshier’s images of Texas cowboys and Los Angeles transsexual prostitutes are more bitterly satirical, but he understands, unlike Rivera, the futility of his own protests, which divert anger from his work into frustration full of frustration. spirit. One of his ink drawings collects a stack of art magazines, presumably filled with sweeping rants, and titles the work package How to make jewelry left: art, after all, is decor, co-opted by the consumer economy it makes fun of.
Giles Waterfield in The People’s Galleries: Art Museums and Exhibitions in Britain 1800-1914 (Yale) recalls a time when art, while not wanting to change the world, at least made serious efforts to improve it. Waterfield’s captivating and anecdotal book on the public galleries of Victorian Britain emphasizes their mission to enlighten and uplift a weary and discouraged populace. The worthy founders of these institutions were driven by a gospel of civic altruism, which Waterfield defends against the dismal contemporary assaults on museums as agents of social control and colonial oppression or as “mausoleums for the vanities of the wealthy”. “.
It’s a lofty story and – now that museums are masquerading as retail outlets while historic homes left to the nation are “reduced”, as Waterfield remarks with a sniffle, “to function as places marriage” – his account has a cautionary intent.
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