The Madonna of the Future: Essays in a Pluralistic Art World

Arthur Coleman Danto, Author
Arthur Coleman Danto, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $32 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-10613-3
Paperback - 450 pages - 978-0-520-23002-6
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In his 15 years as art critic for the Nation, Danto has managed to negotiate that fine line between theorist and educator, an awkward but necessary combination putting sometimes conflicting demands upon a critic. This latest collection of his musings (whose title pulls a neat double entendre out of a Henry James short story) covers many of the major shows of the last several years: Vermeer, Picasso, John Heartfield, Robert Ryman, Lucien Freud, Willem de Kooning, Nan Goldin, Bruce Nauman, Jasper Johns, and Mark Rothko, among others. (The noteworthy lack of women artists on this list is symptomatic of the major venues in the art world of today.) Danto frames the collection of reviews with two essays: ""The Work of Art in the Historical Future"" and ""Art and Meaning,"" which recaps Danto's thesis that art ""ended"" with Warhol--meaning that a certain kind of representational content has been exhausted--which in turn leads to an interesting discussion of ""aboutness"" as the primary characteristic of contemporary art. The tone lightens for many of the reviews, including one of the recent ""Sensation"" show using a child's-eye perspective to shake prejudiced adults out of art snobbery. Among the reviews, Danto includes moving tributes to Meyer Schapiro and Clement Greenberg, though one can't help wishing he would also engage the critical work of contemporaries like Dave Hickey, Lucy Lippard or John Yau, among others. Yet whether he is questioning the idea of ""purely plastic motivation"" relative to Picasso's portraiture, explaining Wittgenstein with reference to Bruce Nauman, musing over Delacroix's placement of tigers in a French landscape or pondering the achievements of a deteriorating de Kooning, Danto increases our awareness of the value of art in our lives. He might even make you wish you had his job, though few of us could do it as well. (July)
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