Archive for category Publisher: Laurence King

The Short Story of Women Artists || Susie Hodge

The National Gallery’s current Artemesia Gentileschi exhibition has made the title of this, Susie Hodge’s latest volume, all the more cogent. “Why”, asked Linda Nochlin in 1971, “have there been no great women artists?” And then along comes a film, Beyond the Visible by Halina Dryschka, that examines the almost unknown Hilma af Klint, who, the thesis goes, may have invented abstract art. Af Klint’s problem was two-fold: firstly, she was a woman and secondly, she was a medium who believed that her work was instructed by spirits. So, a witch, not an artist.

So, here we have two candidates, one of whom is a slam-dunk and the other at least a good contender. Susie adds a good selection of others. The title, by the way, fits with previous books, which have told the Short Stories of art, photography and architecture. It’s a series rather than a challenge, but challenging for all that.

Sensibly and honourably, Susie treats her subject like any other – that’s to say, as a piece of history. This isn’t a rant, or even a political statement, simply a well-told history of women in art, presented factually, chronologically and thematically. That women can be great artists is never in question. Put simply, here they are, admire their works.

The structure is simple and, as the title implies, concise. Single works are illustrated and summarised, usually in a single spread. All the major movements are here, as you would – or should – expect, from the Renaissance through Cubism and Dada to Performance and Conceptual Art. And, yes, Feminist Art. Susie also looks at the major breakthroughs: Equality, Independence, the Salon and so on, as well as themes which appear just as they would in any self-respecting art history.

This is an excellent guide to art history seen through a particular filter. It doesn’t attempt to be any more or less than that and is all the better for it. Simple arguments made coherently are always the most convincing.

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200 Words to Help You Talk About Art || Ben Street

File this under Fun and please don’t take it too seriously.   Yes, of course you need to be able to drop Mimesis, Primitivism, Anamorphosis or Neue Sachlichkeit into any post-dinner party conversation and it’s helpful to know what they mean if anyone decides they do and wants to challenge you.   Too much Pinot Grigio can make even the most reclusive guest argumentative.   It’s handily small, too, so you can slip it in your pocket as a quick crib-sheet should things get ugly.

Even better, it’s arranged by theme: Media, Techniques, Movements, etc so that you can browse easily and there’s a contents list to make finding (say) Maquette a matter of moments.

A dictionary would be sorted alphabetically and be much more inclusive than this – think 2000 words at the very least.   This, though, gives you a basic grounding and, if you were inclined to be a bit less flippant than I’ve been, you’d find it an excellent grounding in art terms, movements and styles.

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Artemesia Gentileschi || Jonathan Jones

The #MeToo movement has brought the story of Artemisia Gentileschi into sharp focus and this short biography is timely. Jonathan Jones takes the rather original route of telling the story via a series of the artist’s paintings of women – Susanna, Judith, Cleopatra, Lucretia and Mary, concluding with his own portrait of Artemesia’s own narrative. It makes for lively reading and manages to meld the art with the woman in a genuinely intimate way.

My copy is an advance proof, but the quality of the illustrations, which are collected in the centre rather than being distributed throughout the book, is good. It seems probable that the quality in the published version will be excellent.

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Sensations || Jonathan Jones

This somewhat left-field thesis takes the Enlightenment as its starting point and finds a link between scientific curiosity and the development of art. Jones makes a convincing case, beginning with Robert Hooke’s Micrographia – a work that is extraordinary not just because of its scientific novelty, but also the craft of its illustrations. From here, Newton and Locke come into the picture as scientific exploration inspired a passion for closer examination of the natural world.

It’s reasonable to ask whether this is a concoction, of making facts fit answers. Did the Gentlemen’s Societies where ideas were exchanged encompass both worlds as completely as Jones’s narrative requires? Well, you can’t argue with George Stubbs or Joseph Wright of Derby, whose work arguably continued a thread that Hooke had begun.

The sensations of the title mainly derive from the Sensationalist philosophy of Joseph Locke, which centred on experience (sense) as the key to understanding, and might be said to be the foundation of what is now called the Scientific Method. However, Jones also wants to create a sensation himself. The chapter on George Stubbs is called The Butcher of Horkstow and opens, “ He began by slitting their throats”. That got your attention, didn’t it?

In less careful hands, this style would become the message itself and obscure the narrative behind it. Jones has a surer hand, however, and has managed to create a history of British art that reads more like a thriller than a dry academic tome. It won’t please everyone, but it’s an enjoyable journey that’s also thoroughly inclusive.

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The Short Story of Modern Art || Susie Hodge

This is, in many ways, the companion to Susie’s earlier Why Your Five year Old Could Not Have Done That. Where that volume concentrated on explaining specific pieces to the general reader whose initial response would be likely to be “doesn’t look much like art to me”, this one is a more chronological narrative that traces historical developments, movements and important figures.

In this way, Bauhaus sits alongside Magic Realism and leads to Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. A look at The Treachery of Images is illustrated, perhaps inevitably, by Magritte’s Pipe (This is Not a Pipe) and we also get to meet Marcel Duchamp, Frida Kahlo and Jackson Pollock. Did I also say that Rodin’s Thinker is here too?

As the title implies, this is a potted history that is at once informative, entertaining and understandable. If modern art (and all art was, in its day, modern), leaves you confused, the estimable Susie Hodge cuts a swathe through mystery, jargon and the sometimes deliberate obscurantism that some critics seem to need to introduce.

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Here Comes Mr Cass || Wilfred Cass

Self-published autobiographies normally suffer from a wide range of disadvantages: if their story was really interesting, a commercial publisher may have taken it up. They can be self-congratulatory; not least, they lack an editor who can remove details that, while fascinating to the author, and maybe even their family, are meaningless to the wider public.
This is different because the subject is the founder of the Cassart chain of art shops and the Cass Sculpture Foundation. He also has a gripping story to tell, which he relates readably but, above all, modestly.
The Cassier family (as they were) were industrialists and art collectors in Germany. Being Jewish, their position became dangerous in the 1930’s and Wilfred’s parents took the decision to leave, along with many others. Families that are determined to succeed will usually do so anywhere and the Casses, as they became, were no different.
Wilfred recounts, without self-congratulation, the course of how he became absorbed into the English educational system and his subsequent life in business. There’s quite a lot of archival detail that is probably of more interest to the family than anyone else, but it doesn’t intrude and you may well find that it fleshes out the narrative nicely. Overall, it’s a fascinating and heart-warming story.

This is a thoroughly readable account of the development of a major art business and the Foundation that its liberal-minded founder built up.

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