Leading art critic explores the connections between art’s past and present
Contemporary art sometimes pretends to have made a clean break with history. In The Perpetual Guest, poet and critic Barry Schwabsky demonstrates that any robust understanding of art’s present must also account for the ongoing life and changing fortunes of its past.
Surveying the art world of recent decades, Schwabsky attends not only to its most significant newer faces—among them, Kara Walker, Thomas Hirschhorn, Ai Weiwei, Chris Ofili, and Lorna Simpson—but their forebears as well, both near (Jeff Wall, Nancy Spero, Dan Graham, Cindy Sherman) and more distant (Velázquez, Manet, Matisse, and the portraitists of the Renaissance).
Schwabsky’s rich and subtle contributions illuminate art’s present moment in all its complexity: shot through with determinations produced by centuries of interwoven traditions, but no less open-ended for it.
About the Author
Barry Schwabsky is art critic for the Nation and coeditor of international reviews for Artforum and has contributed to many publications including the London Review of Books and New Left Review. His previous books include Words for Art: History, Criticism, Theory, Practice, a collection of essays on art writing and art writers, as well as several volumes of poetry. He lives in New York.
“With great skill and generosity, Barry Schwabsky threads a fine needle in writing accessible art criticism for a general audience about a wide range of artists and histories, without making any concessions to his passions … offering his readers an erudite and independent voice as a guide and a resource.”
—Mira Schor, artist and author of A Decade of Negative Thinking: Essays on Art, Politics and Daily Life
“Schwabsky’s prose is elegant, erudite, and to the point, fueled by unprejudiced judgment and a great sense of observation. What he wrote of Degas applies eminently to him, too: ‘He saw things that had never been noticed before, little gestures that are insignificant but that are touching in a strangely anonymous way because they are simply human.’”
—Thierry de Duve, author of Sewn in the Sweatshops of Marx
"Like many of the best critics, Schwabsky has the ability to describe things so precisely that no explicit evaluation is necessary. Every time an idea is introduced, it is allowed to hold the reader's attention for the time it takes to ground a judgement, and no longer. This gentle rhythm gives the essays an unillusioned clarity and undogmatic authority rarely found in writing about art."
—Malcolm Bull, author of Anti-Nietzsche (in praise of Words for Art)