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  Pictures of Nothing:
Abstract Art since Pollock
Kirk Varnedoe
Foreword by Earl A. Powell III
Preface by Adam Gopnik

Book Description | Table of Contents
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"[These] lectures are remarkably fresh and conversational--not only because Varnedoe did not have a chance to edit and revise them, but also because he gave these lectures, as he did every other lecture, entirely from memory. . . . Varnedoe's lectures reveal the positive role of abstract art in modern cultural life. . . . Varnedoe insists; abstract art is difficult, it takes practice to understand, and if it is governed by rules that appear arbitrary, that only makes it like every other cultural practice."--Daniel A. Siedell, Christian Today

"Kirk Varnedoe's book . . . confronts the central question of modernism: How are people supposed to understand pictures that appear to be self-referential?"--Philadelphia Inquirer

"Readable and elucidated by well-chosen examples that help illustrate changing trends in a fast-paced time."--Globe and Mail

"Kirk Varneode begins by pointing out that the development of abstract art coincided with the cataclysm of World War I, which jarred artists into revolutionary forms. . . . [An] extraordinary series of lectures."--Sheila Farr, Seattle Times

"Elegiac, in the truest sense of the term: It is the pensive summation of a career undertaken by a man in the last stages of a devastating illness, and it is, too, the posthumous reckoning of his words by his closest friends. . . . [T]his book is a remarkable trace of its author. . . . He wanted to insist that any art worth looking at had, at least, many stories to tell."--Aruna D'Souza, Bookforum

"Pictures of Nothing examines how, while names like Pollock, Mondrian and de Kooning are immediately recognized for their significance in modern culture, the importance of depicting squares or splattered paint is not as widely understood. With humor and candor, Varnedoe illuminates the meaning behind nonrepresentational works of the past 50 years--the contradictory intentions of Josef Albers's and Carl Andre's shared geometry or the minute artistic details of Robert Smithson's massive Spiral Jetty."--Museum News

"An eminently readable, deeply insightful book."--Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times

"Varnedoe is a pragmatist. To those who would say that abstract art is a classic case of the emperor's new clothes, he simply says that it has been around for more than a century and that is proof enough of its efficacy. What he wants is not to validate what artists have been doing all this time but, rather, to find cogent ways of talking about it and, hence, a deeper understanding. . . . What this wonderful book shows is that although the original motivations behind abstract art were puritanical, crypto-religious or collectivist, it has flourished as a series of secular, diverse, individualistic, private visions. Society thrives, Varnedoe bravely suggests, when it gives free play to these visions, even those that initially seem absurd, banal or hermetic."--Sebastian Smee, The Australian

"A provocative defense of modern abstraction. . . . Varnedoe's analysis of abstraction, using specific works, helps make sense of various approaches to non-representational art."--Edward J. Sozanski, Journal Sentinel Online

"Expressed in vivid, accessible, and often passionate language. Varnedoe . . . speaks as a teacher."--Arthur C. Danto, ArtNews

"This is an important time capsule of cultural history, grappling with 60-plus-years' history of abstract art's legacies. . . . [T]his book captures the cadence, energy, and verve characteristic of Varnedoe's immensely effective lectures. . . . Erudite in all the best ways, this book is also deeply human, born of love for the experience of art. . . . Highly recommended."--Choice


"Varnedoe was an especially distinguished and influential curator and interpreter of modern art, and this book, in effect, is his last testament. It is in the analysis of specific works of art or bodies of work by a specific artist that Varnedoe shines, reflecting his long career of intimate study of art objects. He is commenting on some of the most challenging of artists, the likes of Richard Serra, Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns, and other innovators in abstraction of various kinds. There are some truly refreshing moments where Varnedoe has the courage of his convictions and explains why one artist of merit should receive more of our attention than another artist of merit-in effect, distinguishing between greater and lesser merit, rather than just good or bad."--Richard Shiff, University of Texas

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File created: 4/21/2017

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