Book Details

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    • October 2007
    • 9780231141154
  • 408 Pages
  • Paperback
  • $27.00
  • / £18.50


Unnatural Wonders

Essays from the Gap Between Art and Life

Arthur C. Danto

Arthur C. Danto's essays not only critique bodies of work but reflect upon art's conceptual evolution as well, drawing for the reader a kind of "philosophical map" indicating how art and the criteria for judging it has changed over the twentieth century. In Unnatural Wonders the renowned critic finds himself at a point when contemporary art has become wholly pluralistic, even chaotic-with one medium as good as another-and when the moment for the "next thing" has already passed. So the theorist goes in search of contemporary art's most exhilarating achievements, work that bridges the gap between art and life, which, he argues, is now the definitive art of our time.

Danto considers the work of such young artists as John Currin and Renee Cox and older living masters including Gerhard Richter and Sol LeWitt. He discusses artists of the New York School, like Philip Guston and Joan Mitchell, and international talents, such as the South African William Kentridge. Danto conducts a frank analysis of Matthew Barney's The Cremaster Cycle, Damien Hirst's skeletons and anatomical models, and Barbara Kruger's tchotchke-ready slogans; finds the ghost of Henry James in the work of Barnett Newman; and muses on recent Whitney Biennials and art influenced by 9/11. He argues that aesthetic considerations no longer play a central role in the experience and critique of art. Instead art addresses us in our humanity, as men and women who seek meaning in the "unnatural wonders" of art, a meaning that philosophy and religion are unable to provide.

About the Author

Arthur C. Danto is Johnsonian Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Columbia University and art critic for The Nation. His books include The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art and Art in the Historical Present, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Borrowing his concept from Hegel, respected critic Arthur C. Danto observes that unlike the centuries of art made for spiritual needs, the art of our time has generally lost the power to communicate on its own and must be explained, because we have only an external relationship with it. Danto sympathetically assesses Damien Hirst (sliced-up sharks suspended in formaldehyde) and eloquently explains why some initially impenetrable art might have compelling statements to make, but he doesn't spare artists he feels are not pulling their weight... among the most sensible, intelligent, logical, and accessible art criticism of the last five years.

Danto uses his revered position to illuminate his subjects' cultural and art-historical contexts in order to give the public helpful tools for thinking about the art they are experiencing.... This enlightened collection of essays is an essential documentation of recent art history, brimming with valuable reminders of how art has gotten where it is today.

His musings on art in the wake of 9/11 are incisive and moving.

A welcome respite for insiders and a friendly introduction to aesthetics.

One of our pre-eminent art critics... [Unnatural Wonders] serves as a good introduction to his work, as well as a good introduction to contemporary art.

Kenny Tanemure

To look at a work with Danto is to see it within the context of contemporary art.

Barry Gewen

[A] brilliant, provocative collection of essays.

Jackie Wullschlager

A valuable collection of art criticism.

Preface to the Columbia University Press Edition Preface Introduction: Art Criticism After the End of Art Whitney Biennial 2000 "Making Choices" at MoMAChardin Tilman Riemenschneider Damien Hirst Barbara Kruger Yoko Ono Sean Scully Paul McCarthy Sol LeWitt Renee Cox: Yo Mama's Last Supper William Kentridge Picasso Érotique Art and 9/11 Philip Guston Philip Guston: The Nixon Drawings Alberto Giacometti Norman Rockwell Surrealism and Eroticism Artemisia Gentileschi Gerhard Richter Barnett Newman and the Heroic Sublime Joan Mitchell The Art of 9/11: One Year Later Reflections on Robert Mangold's Curled Figure and Column Paintings The Park Avenue Cubists Leonardo's Drawings Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle Christian Schad and the Sachlichkeit of Sex Kazimir Malevich Max Beckmann Whitney Biennial 2004 John Currin Dieter Roth Banality and Celebration: The Art of Jeff Koons Two Installations by Joshua Neustein Kalliphobia in Contemporary Art; Or: What Ever Happened to Beauty? The World as Warehouse: Fluxus and Philosophy Painting and Politics The Fly in the Fly Bottle: The Explanation and Critical Judgment of Works of Art Index