Monday, June 3, 2013

A documentation of art history

Edited by Richard Shone and John-Paul Stonard, ‘The Books that Shaped Art History’ (Pages: 268; 54 illustrations; Price: £24.95) reanalyzes and takes a fresh look at Nikolaus Pevsner’s ‘Gospel of Modernism; ‘Pioneers of the Modern Movement’, E.H. Gombrich’s ‘Art and Illusion’; Alfred Barr’s ‘Legendary monograph on Matisse’; Clement Greenberg’s ‘Art and Culture’ that had a seismic effect when first published in 1961, apart from Rosalind Krauss’s ‘The Originality of the Avant-Garde & Other Modernist Myths’ (it introduced structuralist/ poststructuralist line of thought into art historical study), among others.

An introductory note to the comprehensive compilation states: “With leading writers including Boris Groys, Susie Nash, Richard Verdi and John Elderfield, each chapter tries to analyze a single major book so as to set out its premises and argument as well as to map the intellectual development of its author. The chapter discusses a particular book’s position within the vast field of art history, considering its significance in the larger context both of its initial reception and its legacy.” Richard Shone, editor of ‘The Burlington Magazine’, has authored a number of books on both French and British art like ‘Bloomsbury Portraits’ and ‘The Post-Impressionists’.

He contributed to the exhibit catalogue for ‘Sensation’ at The Royal Academy, London. An art historian and former Contributing Editor of The Burlington Magazine, Stonard’s ‘Fault Lines: Art in Germany 1945–55’ was greatly appreciated. He has worked as a Visiting Lecturer at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and was a Senior Fellow at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2010–11). He has published several titles on modern and contemporary German and British art.

The Guardian columnist Kathryn Hughes underlines the fact that the erudite essayists are all bound by connections in this enriching account of the 20th-century art history. Describing it as ‘a thought-provoking and meaningful reflection on nearly a century of Art Historical scholarship’ Daisy Dunn of the Telegraph UK points out: “Praising the masters even while accepting and assessing their errors, the volume sets the bar for the next generation. It heralds a bold approach.

Art historians find it difficult to dodge the lofty lineage of earlier scholarship. It hammers home that point with subtle force: Art History is little else than received wisdom. It’s as much about theorizing and re-theorizing other theorists’ theories about art, these days, as it is about looking at pictures. The books of Fry, Kenneth Clark, Bernard Berenson, and all the other famous historians discussed in this collection certainly shaped Art History today. However, one cannot help thinking that in doing so they might also have zapped it of its own voice.”

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