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The Shock of the New(s)

It’s an ominous sign when, in the middle of a drought, the Spencer Museum of Art is forced to close due to flooding.  Sure enough, lightning struck and our collective conversation on art spasmed and shrunk, for esteemed writer and art critic Robert Hughes has died.

I’ve failed at attempts at remembering when I first encountered Hughes’s writing, but I do know that I’ve always liked his forthright style and extremely wide-ranging perspective on how art fits into and shapes the world.  He was one of those authors I paid attention to, even if I didn’t read all his works cover to cover.  (I just had to go back and change that sentence from present to past tense. I hate that.)  At the last Friends of the Library book sale I scored a copy of The Shock of the New, Hughes’s excellent examination of the rise and fall of modern art, for a whopping $1.  The eyebrows went up on the gentleman totaling my purchases—he knew that I’d found a deal.

Hughes didn’t only write about art—his history of Australia, The Fatal Shore, was a best seller in 1987, and he has written about cities, such as Barcelona, and what turned out to be his final book, Rome. I bought the latter as a gift and looked through it before I sent it along—definitely another one for the “to read” list.  He also wrote The Culture of Complaint, which a few years back helped cement a friendship: when an acquaintance asked for it at the reference desk, I knew I’d found a kindred spirit.

If there’s one Hughes book worth skipping, it’s his autobiography, Things I Don’t Know.  Probably my favorite is American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America.  An odd subtitle, “epic history” describing something just five centuries old, and coming from a guy who knew his Ionic from his Corinthian, but it is epic in his telling.  American Visions has a fat section on “The Wilderness and the West,” one of my interests, and the cover is Walter De Maria’s “Lightning Field,” which ties into a related interest, land art.  (Along those lines, check out Spiral Jetta, about an art student’s road trip to land art sites, and my nominee for cleverest book title of the last five years.)

In honor of Mr. Hughes, I’ll mention a couple artsy things your public library is up to:  First, in celebration of Banned Books Week (at the end of September) and in cooperation with the Lawrence Arts Center, we’re announcing a call for Banned Books Trading Cards.

And be sure to read this important news about public art and the library renovation. – Jake, Reference

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