Adventures in Art
By Sue Hubbard
When poets take up prose, the results can be masterpieces of minimalism. One can find themselves wondering how so many ideas got squeezed into so few words. Following in the footsteps of other poets who have turned their pen on the art world (Peter Schjeldahl, Baudelaire, and Frank O’ Hara to name a few) Sue Hubbard creates concise word portraits of the art world that can say more in two pages than most writers on the subject can say in whole tomes. Her new book Adventures in Art collects 20 years of writing on that subject. Although many of the pieces, commissioned for British publications are ten or more years old, nothing about this book feels dated. Her observations stand the test of time.
The book is divided into two sections. The first section is pieces written for magazines and catalogs. These pieces tend to be longer and more definitive. The second section is reviews. What makes this section so readable, long after a show has come and gone, is the meticulous research that went into crafting each piece. She is able to place the artist that she is writing about in a whole historical context, as well as placing the show she is reviewing into the artist’s career.
Early in the book she warns that these were commissioned pieces, so there might not be a lot of the big names that would be expected in a history of modern art. If one reads the book through, most of the celebrity art names get mentioned in a way that actually serve to make the people that she does write about seem more interesting. And just as a clue to potential readers, it is the names that you have probably heard the least about that will prove the most interesting.
When she writes about celebrity artists, such as Cindy Sherman, Francis Bacon, Ed Ruscha, and Tracy Emin, she is able to come up with some new angle or fact that can give the reader a whole new perspective on an artist that they thought they knew. Stating at the outset that her mission is to convey what is worth looking at and why, one comes away with a sense that her world view is broad enough to actually convey this in a world where information overload and a global perspective are very real factors.
Most of all, this book is incredibly readable. She can use an expression like “not worth a hill of beans” in one paragraph, and have you racing to a dictionary the next. Because it is the nature of this book to collect snapshots in time, rather than to lay out a history of modern art, the sum of these essays is actually greater than their well constructed parts. As she states in the introduction: “The process of looking involved in writing a poem, the long maturation, the editing, the elimination and constant reappraisal, is not so different from the techniques employed in making art.” This book is deliciously engaging proof of that hypothesis.