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Book Review: Art Appreciation Through Exhibition Catalogs

I can trace my appreciation of art in the broadest sense to frequent visits to three local museums: The Wichita Art Museum, WSU’s Ulrich Museum of Art, and the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City. Visits to museums further afield stay in my psyche through gorgeously illustrated exhibition catalogs.

Stuart Davis: In Full Swing documents a retrospective show by the precursor of both pop-art and contemporary abstraction at New York’s Whitney Museum.  (If you can conjure the broad strokes of primary color on the canvas of “View from the Bay,” from your visits to WAM, you’ll know why I fell in love with this extensive overview of Davis’s energetic paintings.) The volume details each stage of Davis’s artistic career, including the evolution of his paintings of egg beaters, and the imagery of modern life on the water and in and around cities.

In The Broad Collection, we see the Los Angeles museum “The Broad” built by Eli Broad and his wife to house and exhibit their inimitable collection amassed over 70 years. Included are mind bending photographs by Cindy Sherman and oversized, stripped down graphite compositions of Cy Twombly. You’ll see arrogant sculptures made by Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, and the revved up brilliant paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat. After those, you can come back down to earth looking at the more cerebral abstract works of Jasper Johns.  

In the literary world, the transformative nature of the greatest fiction has never been overstated, and the transporting of the best works of art from museum walls to the pages of a book is one I cherish every day.