Wow, I thought, this is going to be AMAZING! And it is. But. The thing is, it’s not a survey of a wide field exactly, it’s much more a catalogue of the admittedly extensive collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Indeed, the original publication is theirs.
With the amount of material available and authorship by a former associate curator of the Museum’s Department of Contemporary Art, this has the very best credentials and is as authoritative as its pedigree suggests.
What we do need to state clearly though, I think, is that this is not something for the casual browser or passer-by but for the cognoscenti. If you know the background, have a fair idea of the breadth of material and understand what you’re looking at, this will give you all the detail you could wish for. However, if you were looking for an introduction, you might find the fact that the book is arranged alphabetically rather than topically was the first stumbling block. What I get from it is the same sense that I get from American as opposed to British broadsheet newspapers: very serious and wanting to be taken very seriously. At the same time, a feeling that they take themselves a tad too seriously too.
As I write this, I have the sense of being a mouse railing against an elephant. After all, who am I, a mere critic who, let’s be clear about this, knows very little about the subject, to criticise? Well, I am what I am and that’s all that I am (thanks, Popeye) and I’m trying to find a way in. Maybe I’m not the book’s audience, but then again, who is? Well, the book is on sale to the general public and especially, given its heritage, visitors to the Metropolitan Museum, and they can’t all be experts. In fact, if you made all the Art Deco experts queue up for entrance would they reach round the block? Books are aimed at a general market and have to satisfy the general reader and the question that needs to be asked is: can the general reader navigate it?
My feeling is that, good as it is, this is more of a souvenir purchase, a thing to know you have rather than to have for its own sake. I hope I’m wrong, and you may find that just browsing the illustrations gets you all the bang you want for your not totally unreasonable buck. A primer it’s not, though it also never claims to be one.
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