Ten Scholars, Critics, Writers, and Artists Choose the Year's Outstanding Titles

Article excerpt

SVETLANA ALPERS

Imagine that you are listening to a spirited conversation between a French art historian and a German painter. De Rouget and Daimler, as they are called, are at lunch on a recent October Sunday near Pontarlier. It is where Degas vacationed briefly in 1904 and where absinthe is made. In // etait plus grand que nous ne pensions: Edouard Manet et Degas (Paris: Nouvelles Editions Scala/Collection Ateliers Imaginaires), Eric Darragon, author of a subtle biography of Vianet and writings on contemporary German art, sets up the differences French/German and art historian/artist as a way to examine how we think and write about art.

The hook's title is Pegas's homage to Manet. "He was greater than we all thought" are the words of one of the group of independents coming around to a painter committed to the Salon. The two had not been close. I want your opinion in order to better compare Degas (1834-1917) and Manet (1832-1883), the Frenchman says. Everything is open--a work in progress. The German replies. You want to make order. You have a notion of history and have all your poets and writers, and you cannot imagine anything without them. When I make a painting, it decides what I need.

The pair is off and running: An artist from the culture that invented academic art history challenges an art historian from a culture that nurtures criticism. The fictional conversation is about studios, lives, and works. The two men agree that Degas's work is more resistant to words than Manet's, to which the German adds that Degas's dancers do it for him. What to make of Degas's Young Spartans Exercising, ca. 1860, and Manet's Dejeuner surl'herbe,1863, unsold and on view in their respective studios until the artists1 deaths? We understand the Cezanne whom Manet disliked better than you do, the German claims. A German present (Immendorff, but also Pina Bausch) plays against a French past.

A dossier of annotated illustrations, an author's "studio" note, a chronology, and a dictionary of names cited are included at the end of the volume. This is not academic art history, nor art theory, nor criticism as currently practiced. The series is promoted as another way to write history. And this is a wonderful book.

SVETLANA ALPERS IS PROFESSOR EMERITA, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA. BERKELEY; VISITING SCHOLAR. DEPARTMENT OF FINE ARTS, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: AND THE AUTHOR OF THE VEXATIONS OF ART: VELAZQUEZ AND OTHERS (YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS. 2005). (SEE CONTRIBUTORS.)

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ANTHONY VIDLER

Michael Sorkin's latest book Alt Over the Map (Verso), is precisely not: It is in fact quite focused, a witty, incisive, critical, and brilliantly written invitation to see contemporary architecture and urbanism as a complex result of economic, political, and ideological forces that are hardly masked by the formal expressions of architects. Comprising a series of seventy-six essays written between 2000 and 2009, the book serves as a trenchant reader in the architecture of recession--our own and that of the global community.

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From the debacle of the World Trade Center memorial "competition" to the uneven political and economic development of the Emirates, with harrowing looks at the effects of Katrina and of oil exploitation in the Amazon basin along the way, Sorkin insists that there is another way--or, more precisely, other ways--that will better serve the public good and the environment. While he is never kind to those he sees as providing "fig leaves" for political and economic manipulation of the public realm, neither docs he leave us with a sense of despair. Rather, he professes an underlying belief that Utopia could be, might be, may be, should be, just around the corner if we could but wish and design it--tempering his passionate diatribes with an almost Benjaminian sense of the unfortunate errors of a fallen world, albeit one that could be redeemed. …

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