cover image Fine Disregard

Fine Disregard

Kirk Varnedoe. ABRAMS, $39.95 (319pp) ISBN 978-0-8109-3106-0

Taking on critics of all stripes, Varnedoe argues that modern art was not deterministically shaped by the grinding-wheel of social forces, new technologies or foreign influences. The flatness of Degas's pictorial space, he contends, owes less to Japanese prints or photography than to an unprecedented late-19th-century burst of experimentation with perspective. In Picasso's and Gauguin's primitivism, Varnedoe discerns a process of pulling objects out of their original contexts in order to alter our way of seeing. With reference to 286 plates (one-third in color), he shows how artists have changed the rules as he considers the devices of fragmentation (from Rodin to Pop Art) and the use of an overhead view (from Andre Kertesz's aerial photographs to Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty earthwork). Director of painting and sculpture at New York's Museum of Modern Art, Varnedoe makes a novel case for modern art as an opening up of human potential driven by individual creativity. (June)