By Calvin Tomkins
In the 1950’s and 60’s America was at the centre of a rapidly changing art world. Published in 1980, Tomkins account of Robert Rauschenberg, the young artist at the centre of the changing world, often includes lively first-hand accounts. The book follows Rauschenberg through his artistic endeavors – designing for storefronts, working out lighting techniques for the stage, working out his “Combines.” But it also chronicles his equally lively personal relationships, including his fascinating and ultimately tragic relationship with Jasper Johns, and also his work with artists and “heroes” across the disciplines – John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Peggy Guggenheim, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, and Betty Parsons.
Off the Wall is a great introduction to American Modern art. Easy to read and entertaining, it confirms my suspicions that life in the ‘60’s really was odd.
By Calvin Tomkins
Weird, funny, mysterious, strong-headed yet flighty, complicated: it’s hard to find a more fascinating character in the history of art than Marcel Ducham. Duchamp a lengthy read, but things are rarely dull with the man, even when his idea for an artwork is to let dust settle on the fame of a painting for a couple of months and then take a super close up picture of it. Even though it’s clear that Tomkins buys in to the cult of Duchamp’s genius perhaps a little too much, it’s hard to blame him. The French man, who thought of himself less as an artist and more as a chess player, stopped painting entirely in around 1920 (hard to say why), was an advocate of female artists, posed in drag for Man Ray and challenged the world to stop taking art so seriously. Still, it’s hard not to be seriously interested in him, and this book shows why.
Marcel Duchamp is the only one of all his contemporaries who is in no way inclined to grow older. (C Tomkins)
By Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo
This is the story of the insane yet fascinating John Drewe and his friend who can paint. When it comes to art forgery, you’d think that the real masterwork is in the production of the art itself. In the case of the criminal pair in Provenance, however, it’s Drewe who’s the real artist. The painter responsible for providing Drewe with his necessary materials in this investigative report, is bereft and struggling father of two John Myatt.
Together, the two ran a con for several years, culminating in the sale of two “Roger Bissieres” to the Tate Gallery. And they earned a tidy pile of cash on the way, also producing imitations of works by various greats such as Alberto Giacometti and Ben Nicholson.
When the two author’s set about writing this book they had full access to Myatt, and he gives full and heartfelt testimony of his sins. But the sinister Drewe is elusive, disappearing from sight and lying to his interviewers far after the jig was up. This is a fascinating story, not only of the twists and turns of artistic provenance, but also of the human character.
By Edward Dolnick
It was no great feat to steal Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream. In 1994 two thieves simply walked into the Munch museum and walked back out. Getting it back was a different matter. Edward Dolnick spins his readers a rattling good yarn. Not only does he paint a vivid picture of the charismatic US/British cop Charley Hill, he also discusses the history of the painting and the life of Munch, as well as some of the biggest and baddest art thefts to date. The author, Edward Dolnick, is a journalist with a keen interest in and deep respect for the art world, features that shine through his writing. The work that results is fast paced and witty, a great first look at the world of art crime.
By Martin Gayford
A well mannered book about two ill-mannered men. The Yellow House describes the period from when Paul Gauguin moved in with Vincent van Gogh in Arles, France, to van Gogh’s famous self-mutilation. Carefully researched, down to the nationalities of the prostitutes at the nearby brothel, the narrative keeps moving, putting paid to the variety of influences that pulled the artists at the little house in Arles together and, ultimately, apart. Quick to read, the book suffers from a lack of illustrations, and can sometimes be exhausting in its commitment to detail. Otherwise, The Yellow House is a great introduction to the lives and careers of Gauguin and van Gogh.