Books: The market muscles its way back onto the agenda, with Bacon and the body keeping pace

Mammon’s shrine in the groves of academe


Academia has traditionally tended to look down its nose at the art market, dismissing its concerns as essentially venal and infra dig., but things have begun to change in the past two or three years with the arrival of a string of useful texts exploring the development of the market for Modernism. Recent studies such as Michael Fitzgerald’s excellent Making Modernism: Picasso and the creation of the market for twentieth-century art (California) have thrown valuable light on a largely neglected area of Modernist culture and in the process dispelled a few well-worn myths about artistic purity and autonomy.

A rather more oblique take on the unique dynamic between artists and dealers emerges in a forthcoming book from Abrams which promises to contribute still further to our developing knowledge of the soft underbelly of Modernist activity. Matisse: father and son by John Russell (May, $39.95, £25.00, hb), explores the relationship between the Post-Impressionist painter and his son, the art dealer, Pierre Matisse (1900-1989).

Pierre moved to New York in his mid-twenties (his father seems actively to have hastened his departure) where he established himself as an art dealer, eventually becoming the American representative of Miró, Tanguy, Giacometti, Balthus, Dubuffet et al. Matisse senior had himself dabbled in buying and selling pictures before his own work took off but his son, driven largely by necessity, proved particularly successful in the trade. Through recourse to the huge Pierre Matisse archive, Russell’s book charts the relationship of almost thirty years of near-daily letters between père et fils, many illustrated in pencil, and draws too on Pierre’s extensive correspondence with the artists he represented. This sounds like another welcome contribution to the Matisse literature which has been particularly well served of late, following Hilary Spurling’s recent, critically acclaimed biography of Henri.

So much for Modernism and Mammon. Modernist art and fashion has also been proving a fruitful seam to mine in recent months, the London Hayward Gallery’s exhibition “Addressing the century”, which explored the relationship between art and fashion, having been particularly well received by the public.

Elsewhere on the Abrams Spring list, such connections continue to provide grist to the mill. Cubism and fashion by Richard Martin (March, $45.00, £28.00) is evidently the first study to reveal the interrelationship between fashion and Cubism, and is published to accompany a forthcoming exhibition at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Meanwhile, decorative arts titles from Abrams this year include books on Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen (March, $19.95, £12.95); Ruhlmann: master of Art Deco by Florence Camard (April, $75.00, £48.00); and Edgar Brandt: master of Art Deco ironwork by Joan Kahr (May, $60.00, £38.00).

Look out also for a number of new texts on photography from Abrams, notably Innovation/imagination: fifty years of Polaroid photography by Barbara Klochko, Deborah Kao and Deborah Martin (May, $35.00, £22.00); An American century of photography: from dry-plate to digital: the Hallmark photographic collection by Keith F. Davis (March, $95.00, £60.00); and Brassaï: the eye of Paris by Anne Wilkes Tucker (June, $60.00, £38.00).

While Barry Joule’s “archive” of Bacon “drawings” and “acted-upon” photographs remains suspended in a soup of scepticism and controversy, the Bacon post-mortem publishing machine continues apace.

Among the more prominent forthcoming titles from Abrams is Francis Bacon: a retrospective produced to accompany the US touring exhibition and containing essays by Bacon scholars Michael Peppiatt, Dennis Farr and Sally Yard (March $65.00, £40.00). Claiming to be “a complete departure from anything published in the past”, this volume provides individual picture commentaries (something Bacon always outlawed in previous exhibition catalogues) and promises to “shed light on Bacon’s private life…and working methods, about which he was particularly secretive.”

One of the more useful volumes coming out of the MIT Press this year is Conceptual Art: a critical anthology edited by Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson (August, $50.00, £29.95, cloth), which is being described as a “landmark” collection of key historical documents, contemporary memoirs, and critical essays on the conceptual art movement of the late 60s and early 70s. The book has contributions by, among many others, the art and language team, Bochner, Broodthaers, Buchloh, Buren, Burgin, Crow, Haacke, Harrison, Kelly, Kosuth, Lippard, LeWitt, Rosenberg, Smithson and Wall.

The MIT Press are also among those turning their critical gaze upon aspects of the American urban experience. The drive-in, the supermarket, and the transformation of commercial space in Los Angeles, 1914-1941 by Richard Longstreth (May, $55.00, £38.50, cloth), is a richly illustrated study of the evolution of retailing and its effect on the urban landscape, while Thomas A. P. van Leeuwen has borrowed Burt Lancaster’s swimming trunks and taken the domestic swimming pool into fresh critical terrain with The springboard in the pond: an intimate history of the swimming pool (January, $40.00, £24.95) which is at once an architectural and cultural history, “a provocative visual archive” and, more intriguingly still, a “material philosophy of water” and our relationship to it.

Rather surprisingly, but mercifully, there are few volumes with an obvious millennial feel on this year’s lists, but among the larger survey volumes emerging from American publishers is W.W. Norton & Co.’s The American century: art and culture 1900-1950 by Barbara Haskell (June, $60.00, £40.00, hb), the first of two volumes to accompany the exhibition “The American century”, being billed as “the most comprehensive display of twentieth-century American art ever assembled,” to be held at the Whitney from April to September 1999 and October 1999 to March 2000. Meanwhile, from the same publisher comes Diego Rivera: the Detroit Institute murals by Linda Downs (May, $49.95, £35.00).

Another substantial volume documenting all aspects of America’s artistic heritage is American arts at the Art Institute of Chicago: from Colonial times to World War I ($75.00 £45.00, hb), a catalogue of the Institute’s holdings of American art recently published in conjunction with Hudson Hills Press, while the Art Institute also joins forces this year with Princeton University Press, Yale University Press and Abrams to publish new titles on, respectively, Gustave Moreau ($60.00 hb, $29.95 pb), Julia Margaret Cameron’s women ($49.95 hb, $29.95 pb), and Mary Cassatt: modern woman ($65.00, hb; $29.95 pb).

According to the University of North Carolina Press, Bayard Wootten (1875-1959) was a “trailblazer for women photographers in the South” and has just become the subject of a new study, Light and air by Jerry W. Cotten (October, $37.50, £29.95, hb), while from Penn State University Press comes The sleep of reason: primitivism in modern European art and aesthetics, 1725-1907 by Frances S. Connelly (January, $40.00, £17.95, pb), which sets out to argue that “primitive” art was not a style at all, but a cultural construct, forged during the Enlightenment, concerning the nature of the origins of artistic expression.

Finally, interest in medieval attitudes to the body continues to bring forth texts of great interdisciplinary relevance (see also the Reaktion list in the UK round-up). Although ostensibly emerging from within the realm of medieval studies, Jody Enders’s new book from Cornell University Press, The Medieval theater of cruelty: rhetoric, memory and violence ($45.00, £33.50, cloth) is also likely to capture the interest of art historians, cultural studies specialists, and the lit-crit crowd. Why did medieval dramatists weave so many scenes of torture into their plays? asks Professor Enders, who goes on to analyse the consequences of torture for the history of aesthetics in general and of drama in particular. Doubtless future historians will look back on our own cultural preoccupations with bodily mutilation with the same mixture of wonder and curiosity.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Mammon’s shrine in the groves of academe'