THIS 5-POUND miscellany (designed by Milton Glaser) is a trip in every sense, and a diverting one, from a time when art meant something rich men collected from Europe and "the working element" went to look at in museums, when avant-garde American art was "the so-called impressionism" of Hassam and Glackens, devoutly acquired in Paris; to another age when the role of museums, their trustees and directors is gravely questioned, and American art a confusion of experimental reactions tothe golden age of abstract expressionism.
The voice of criticism in ArtNews is no less fascinating than its subject: It begins in tones politely circumlocutory, sometimes rude, always more emotional than thoughtful, becoming a vehicle after 30 years for professional critism as we know it, and in the last five years turning to hard-edge journalism.
In the early years there is notice of a decline in Bierstadt's prices (as low as $550), question of the wisdom of keeping the Metropolitan Museum open on Saturday nights when the poor are too tired and the rich too busy.
Predergast's latest paintings look like work done on cider; Henri Rousseau's subjects resemble "wooden gods of a baroque mythology"; the Albright Gallery gets a woman director (1910 - how many now?). Matisse in 1911 is perceived as "the most docile" of a bunch of "mentally cross-eyed French peasants," while the armory show produces a geyser of comment on such works of "disordered stomachs and deranged minds" as Duchamps's nude descending. The big boys start to dropping off. Morgan, Frick, Wanamaker; Degas, Renoir (still "something of a China painter"), Modigliani ("not outre," really), Monet.
in 1923 Picasso performs "An Amazing Evolution from Cubism" to a classic style, and Rousseau is seen in the Louvre, Matisse gets a retrospective; a judge against the U.S. customs that Brancusi's bird is art, not metal. In 1929 the Museum of Modern Art is founded; soon after the Whitney, Worcester, the Jue de Paume. A public works art project is put in motion, and Andrew Mellon gives $10 million for an art gallery. IN 1939 Picasso gets a big retrospective and is judged the greatest artist, though not greatest painter of our time. In 1943 Jackson Pollack, "A Denizen of Wyoming," is noticed, whose paintings contain "a disciplined American fury" and sell for $25-$750.
After the war Sartre hails Calder's mobiles - "Between Matter and Life," and Churchhill declares paintings to be "a joy ride in a paintbox." The 1950s produce essays by Elaine de Kooning on David Smith. Malraux on Goya, Meyer Schapiro on the avant garde, Genet on Rembrandt, Motherwell on Miro, Rosenberg's famous essay on action painting appears; the 36-year-old Andrew Wyeth gets a retrospective.
The '60s give us Kenneth Clark on abstract art (impertubably agreeable though anti), Dali on the Mona Lisa (smartass), McLuhan on art as anti-environment, John Ashberg on Cornell and Steinberg.The '70s come on strong with why there have been no great women artists, and follow up with Nevelson on herself.
Finally there are investigative pieces on museum trustees and the law, the Roethke decision, the Thomas Hoving years - art news now being about neither culture nor artists, but the big time. Masses of illustrations, entertainment both trivial and substantial, and some essaysthat deserve to survive make this book quite a treat.