'New York Mid-Century: Post-War Capital of Culture, 1945-1965', by Annie Cohen-Solal, Paul Goldberger and Robert Gottlieb (Contributions) - Review

By MacCabe, Colin | The Spectator, November 8, 2014 | Go to article overview

'New York Mid-Century: Post-War Capital of Culture, 1945-1965', by Annie Cohen-Solal, Paul Goldberger and Robert Gottlieb (Contributions) - Review


MacCabe, Colin, The Spectator


New York Mid-Century: Post-War Capital of Culture, 1945-1965 Annie Cohen-Solal, Paul Goldberger and Robert Gottlieb (contributions)

Thames & Hudson, pp.399, £28, ISBN: 9780500517727

I picked up this book with real enthusiasm. Who cannot be entranced by those 20 years after the second world war when New York supplanted Paris as the cultural capital of the world? One thinks of the Beats, of Dylan and Greenwich Village, of Sontag and Trilling. Well think again, for none of the above feature in this book at all.

Indeed the first thing to be said is that to call this offering from Thames & Hudson a book is a real abuse of language. It has covers and inside those covers one finds text and image but the three essays that cover visual art, architecture and design and the performing arts appear to have simply been placed together without either editorial brief or plan. Worse, the book lacks not only a credited editor but also a credited designer. There are some wonderful images, as one expects of a Thames & Hudson book, but they seem to have been slapped down on the page without any attempt to work them into the essays, which they merely dominate.

The contributors seem simply to have been asked to produce lists, and so in the section on visual arts we trace the rise of Abstract Expressionism and then the arrival of Pop Art. But although we are led from gallery to gallery and from museum to museum and although we are endlessly being told that now New York is replacing Paris, there is no attempt to explain or even enthuse about the art. Nor is there any understanding of how the city worked as a continual cross-over between the various arts. Ashbery is mentioned by name, but there is no attempt to link the New York school of poetry to the painters that so influenced them.

Even more inexplicably there is no consideration of the general influence of popular culture, from fashion to film to rock music. Admittedly Warhol's involvement with the Velvet Underground falls just outside the book's limit date of 1965, although that poses the awkward question about why a date with no cultural significance whatsoever was chosen as an end point. But this arbitrary date does include the beginning of Warhol's experiments with film, and indeed the magical Screen Tests which may prove his most enduring work. …

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