Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Written by Jed Perl
Art - Criticism; Art - History Hardcover
October 2005 $35.00 978-1-4000-4131-2 (1-4000-4131-7)
A fascinating, panoramic exploration of art and culture in mid-twentieth-century New York City from one of our most important and influential art critics.
New Art City takes us from the solitude of the artist’s studio to the uproarious bars where artists gathered, from the ramshackle bohemian neighborhoods of downtown Manhattan to the Midtown streets where steel-and-glass skyscrapers were rising and art galleries were proliferating. We encounter a kaleidoscopic range of artists. There are legendary figures–Jackson Pollock, David Smith, Willem de Kooning, Joseph Cornell, Andy Warhol, and Donald Judd–as well as still undervalued ones, such as the galvanic teacher Hans Hofmann, the lyric expressionist Joan Mitchell, the adventuresome realist Fairfield Porter, and the eccentric thinker John Graham. We encounter, too, the writers, critics, patrons, and hangers-on who rounded out the artists’ world. Jed Perl helps us see what the artists were creating and understand how they confronted an exploding art audience. And he makes clear how the economic boom of the late 1950s and the increasingly enthusiastic response to Abstract Expressionism ushered in the rapacious art world of the 1960s and the theatricality of Pop Art.
Artists drew strength from the dizzying onslaught of Manhattan, and produced a tidal wave of new forms. These included Hofmann’s brazen flourishes of color; Pollock’s quicksilver skeins of paint unfurling panoramic arabesques; and the crushed, jagged, turning-back-on-itself calligraphy of de Kooning’s gnomic alphabets. And there was much more: Burgoyne Diller’s levitating rectangles; Nell Blaine’s explosive renderings of quotidian scenes; Ellsworth Kelly’s extraordinary simplifications, suggesting sails or semaphores.
A brilliant tapestry of social history, biographical portraiture, and criticism, New Art City illuminates a revolutionary, unprecedented time and place in American culture.
The New York Times Notable Book of 2005
A Christian Science Monitor Book of the Year
"There is no account of twentieth-century art in that fabled powerhouse of culture, New York, that comes anywhere near this astonishing book by Jed Perl. Perl has seen and digested everything: New Art City is the deep creative work of a decade and more; it is the story that all of us (both in the art world and out of it) have been hoping for – personal but authoritative, witty, written straight on without a syllable of the vile jargon of academe. It comes out of a deep understanding of America and its individual makers, both as artists and as people, in their relations to one another and to other cultures. I found it enthralling.”
“The full story of how New York ‘found its place its the history of art’ has never before been told in such compelling detail. Documenting his narrative from dozens of hitherto-unexamined sources – films, diaries, letters, and novels, as well as critical writing – Jed Perl builds up a vast canvas that depicts the period in American art often called ‘heroic,’ and is as heroic as its subject.”
“This great bear-hug of a book never loses control of its dazzling account of the persons and places, the events and ideas that fused into the New York School. Vasari and Apollinaire would have welcomed New Art City.”
"A quirky and brilliant panorama of the triumphant Manhattan art scene in the middle of the last century."
“Perl matches the furor of ‘60s-era critics with his own invective. His passion is refreshing in an era that venerates every major 20th-century movement without discrimination.”
—Jonathon Keats, Forbes
“Perl’s highly readable and exhaustively researched history is bound to stand as the definitive volume on this hectic and fertile period in American art for years to come. “
—Ann Landi, ARTnews
“With ‘New Art City,’ Jed Perl has written the history of the New York art world’s rise to dominance in the 1950s. His narrative spans four decades and brings the city and its many artistic worlds alive in a vast and rich panorama. . . A delight to read. He never stoops to fashionable language to give substance to his ideas, and his avoidance of the arcane lingo that now passes for art criticism is refreshing. . . I was amazed at how engaging this story becomes in the hands of a brilliant critic who is also a painter and art historian — talents that too seldom merge. Start spreading the news — Jed Perl has given us a new standard book in the art-historical field.”
—Tom Freudenheim, The New York Sun
“In a statement from the late 50’s, the poet and art critic James Schuyler effused that to be a writer in New York was to be ‘affected most by the floods of paint in whose crashing surf we all scramble.’ In Jed Perl’s New Art City, his new book about the Manhattan art world at mid-century, he captures that same vivacity and force . . . Few critics have as much sheer passion for their subject. The pleasure of reading New Art City comes from seeing that passion channeled into a larger structure, a project that has occupied the author for more than a decade. What should one call this book, anyhow? It’s hard to imagine research any more scrupulous than Perl's, yet words like ‘history’ or ‘survey’ make it sound too dry. As its title suggests, the book is more of a virtual city . . . If New Art City were a painting, it would probably be de Kooning’s ‘Excavation,’ the artist’s grand breakthrough from 1950. That canvas . . . is a huge tapestry of intersecting vectors. Its title invokes the uncovered energies of New York City, yet it maintains the beguiling autonomy of all the best abstract art. Perl’s book creates a similarly vast panorama, an overarching structure that opens onto new surprises at every turn. It has the startling immediacy of wet paint.”
—Peter Campion, The San Francisco Chronicle
Selected as one of the six best books of 2005: “This almost impossibly rich book evokes, explores, illuminates, and analyzes the Manhattan art world of the 1940s through the early 1960s, a period that famously saw the ‘triumph of American painting’ and New York’s concomitant rise to supremacy as the world’s artistic capital . . . the sort of grand marriage of criticism, history, and biography that Edmund Wilson achieved in his finest books . . . New Art City is a thrilling achievement.”
—Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic Monthly
“Panoramic, fascinating . . . carefully researched . . . By far the most thorough account of the ‘triumph of American painting’ that we have. Perl conveys the messiness and richness of the era as the artists lived it. It is a splendid achievement and an exceptionally worthwhile read.”
—Terry W. Hartle, The Christian Science Monitor
“Only a New Yorker could have written such a pulsating book about the fascinating, panoramic exploration of art and culture in mid-century New York City. This is an art history that is crisply written and always relevant by the art critic of The New Republic, a man who hasn’t missed much since the 1980s.”
Jed Perl was born in New York City in 1951. He received a BA from Columbia College and studied painting at the Skowhegan School in Maine.
He was a contributing editor to Vogue in the 1980s and has been the art critic for The New Republic since 1994. Among his books are Paris Without End: On French Art Since World War I and Eyewitness: Reports from an Art World in Crisis. He lives in New York City with his wife, the painter Deborah Rosenthal.