cover image The Devil in the Gallery: How Scandal, Shock, and Rivalry Made the Art World

The Devil in the Gallery: How Scandal, Shock, and Rivalry Made the Art World

Noah Charney. Rowman & Littlefield, $45 (200p) ISBN 978-1-5381-3864-9

In this delightful romp, novelist and art history professor Charney (The Collector of Lives) makes a thrilling case for how “antagonistic actions, moods, and tendencies... actually helped shape and elevate the course of art.” Charney makes his case in often-irreverent prose (“Caravaggio was a major-league asshole”) and uses vignettes to demonstrate how his themes of scandal, shock, and rivalry have advanced the careers of artists and changed the trajectory of art from classical times through to the present. Notoriety and the risqué testing of society’s boundaries, for example, often accelerated the careers of such painters as Greuze, Manet, and Picasso, while controversy, Charney asserts, is not always bad: Duchamp’s Dadaist urinal created shock waves in its day, but seems tepid when compared to the bizarre performance art practiced by contemporary artists Ulay and Marina Abramovic (who “carved a star into her own stomach”). And rivalries—such as those between Italian painters Duccio and Giotto, sculptors Ghiberti and Brunelleschi, and Roman architects Bernini and Borromini—often pushed artists to new heights, yielding famous designs including Florence’s Gates of Paradise. Like the topics it addresses, this will undoubtedly add spice to conversations about the meaning and purpose of art. (Aug.)