“One evening, early in our acquaintance, my great-aunt took me downtown to the loft of William Rubin, the then newly named chief curator of the Department of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA … In the whirlwind of that evening, for the first time I “met” Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude, Frank Stella, Patty and Claes Oldenburg, George Segal, Jasper Johns, and Lee Krasner.”
WOW, now there’s an introduction to the New York art scene of the 1960’s. The tale comes from Robert Storr’s introduction that tells how he fell into art criticism pretty much by accident. It sure helps to have had a relative who was friends with Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas.
Storr’s pedigree is, I think we can therefore agree, impeccable. But what about his ability to write? Francesca Pietropaolo, the editor of this generous and eclectic compilation, describes him as “terse, elegant, inquisitive, witty, poetic, contrarian and at times animated by a vernacular verve all its own”, writing in a way that speaks to both the specialist and the general public. This is a gift that can’t be manufactured (she adds, by way of emphasis, a quote from William Carlos Williams: “I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it” – and amen, I say, to that).
I could go on with the quotes, because Storr has almost infinite self-awareness and uses the writing process not just to convey what he knows, but to learn about what he doesn’t and it’s a journey he is careful to include his readers in. To read him is to go on a voyage of discovery with an enthusiastic and inquisitive but also well-informed guide.
Such is the quality of the prose that it would be easy to read this from cover to cover, but it is probably best taken slower, absorbed, considered and its lessons permitted to mature. His pieces will make you think and you should take time to do that. It’s a mark of good writing.
Part of the joy is finding that, while you probably wanted to know more about Louise Bourgeois, Jean-Michel Basquiat or Jackson Pollock, there are other – many other – names which will not be so familiar and which you might be tempted to skip, except that you want more of Storr’s work and you’ll devour anything he gives you. And that, gentle reader, is the mark of great writing.
Click the picture to view on Amazon