“New Art City” is, of course, New York City, the scene and in a variety of ways the subject of Jed Perl’s engaging narrative of the history of New York art from, in his terms, its Golden Age in the 1940s to the end of its Silver Age in the ’60s. The artists of both these ages are heroic figures in Perl’s pantheon, and he writes about them with informed admiration and critical generosity. With one qualification, these attitudes, together with the historical schema of ages of decreasing luminosity, make this book a pendant to Perl’s earlier Paris Without End—an equally engaging celebration of the capital of modern art after World War I, before it was replaced in this capacity by New Art City. Perl’s qualification has to do with the crossover figure of Marcel Duchamp, about whose gifts and contributions he is ambivalent, though he is far from ambivalent about what he regards as the artist’s baleful influence as a kind of serpent in the paradise that was New York before the emergence in the late ’50s of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and the Pop art explosion they helped detonate. The age of Pop has no Hesiodic counterpart for Perl: Metallurgy knows no metal base enough to emblematize the degradation of art that took place under its auspices in the ’60s. The contempt and sarcasm he marshals in writing about it here match the tantrums of critical negativity he now and again exhibits as art critic for The New Republic.
more from Bookforum here.