The Perpetual Guest

The Perpetual Guest:Art in the Unfinished Present

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Leading art critic explores the connections between art’s past and present

The idea of contemporary art sometimes allows us to pretend we have made a clean break with the past. 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.
In surveying the art world of this past decade, 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, both recent (Jeff Wall, Nancy Spero, Dan Graham, Cindy Sherman) and more distant (Veláquez, Manet, Matisse, and the portraitists of the Renaissance).
“The art critic,” Schwabsky writes, “formalizes and deliberately exemplifies the role of the spectator who realizes the artist’s work, not by leaving it just as it is, but by adding something to it, making a personal contribution.”
Despite the hysterical pronouncements of criticism’s demise, Schwabsky’s rich and subtle considerations of art’s complexly intertwined traditions are an indispensable contribution to understanding our present moment.

Reviews

  • 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 judgment, and no longer.

    Malcolm Bull, author of Anti-Nietzsche and University Lecturer in Fine Art at Oxford University