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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.
“Exemplary....focuses not only upon the major figures of ascendant movements but also upon how a variety of independent-minded artists, energized by the vitality of the mid-century exchange of ideas, found individual means of expression."
—The Washington Post Book World
“The sort of grand marriage of criticism, history and biography that Edmund Wilson achieved in his finest books. . . . A thrilling achievement.”
—The Atlantic Monthly
“Bound to stand as the definitive volume on this hectic and fertile period in American art for years to come.”
“Fascinating . . . by far the most thorough account of the ‘triumph of American painting’ that we have. . . . A splendid achievement and an exceptionally worthwhile read.”
—The Christian Science Monitor
“Shows the incisiveness and pluck of George Bernard Shaw writing about music or Pauline Kael reviewing movies. . . . Opens onto new surprises at every turn.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Few people write about art as beautifully, one might say as tenderly, as Jed Perl.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“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.” —Roger Shattuck
“The full story of how New York ‘found its place in the history of art’ has never before been told in such enthralling 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.” —John Ashbery
“There is no account of 20th-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.” —Robert Hughes
“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