Innocent Eye: A Passionate Look at Contemporary Art
by Patricia Rosoff
“… Rosoff knows that audiences often feel stymied by contemporary art that seems to them ugly, unskilled, inaccessible, or gimmicky. ‘I hope by this book,’ Rosoff writes, ‘to loan you my eyes and my empathy, professional and personal, as I bring you with me through the galleries and museums in which I have grappled with ideas and questions that are not yet codified into art history books.’ …working out her own struggles with contemporary art in prose that’s as clear as it is insightful.” —Anne McDuffie
We are grateful to the Antonia and Vladimir Kulaev Cultural Heritage Fund for a generous grant in support of this book’s creation and publication.
Award-winning journalist, artist, and educator Patricia Rosoff offers a first-hand tour of the sometimes shocking, often challenging ideas and approaches that continue to fuel the art of today. Rosoff describes the sources of contemporary painting, sculpture, photography, and mixed media in the works of such radicals as Monet, Kandinsky, and Joseph Cornell, who are now part of the tradition but who keep on catalyzing experimental innovators such as Ellen Carey, Spencer Finch, Janine Antoni, and Iñigo Manglano-Ovale.
With close (and sympathetic) consideration of conceptualists, including works by Sol LeWitt and Mierle Ukeles, and with special excitement about the inexhaustible potential in abstract art, Pat Rosoff is the gallery or museum guide you’ve always wished to have along.
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My first taste of this was the shock of seeing Jan van Eyck’s Adam and Eve from the Ghent Altarpiece in an Encyclopedia Americana, full-page and in color. Adam was buck-naked, with black hairs against his pasty-skinned bony arms, bluish veins in his hands, the gaunt awkwardness of his body perched uncomfortably in a carved wooden niche; Eve stood shyly in her swelling pregnancy, with a plucked hairline, tiny plum-like breasts, remarkable in the delicate way she holds the fruit of her temptation. These images still shock me every time. It’s not the nudity, either; it’s the naked truth of them. They just carry—even in reproduction; they are so honest, so ugly, so utterly, powerfully naked.
My eye is innocent again every time I look at them; they surprise me every time, compel me every time, have not lost, even after all these years, the vividness of that first encounter. Above all else, this is what I expect art to deliver.
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“As an artist and art critic, Patricia Rosoff knows that audiences often feel stymied by contemporary art that seems to them ugly, unskilled, inaccessible, or gimmicky. ‘I hope by this book,’ Rosoff writes, ‘to loan you my eyes and my empathy, professional and personal, as I bring you with me through the galleries and museums in which I have grappled with ideas and questions that are not yet codified into art history books.’ She’s also a teacher of art and art history, which makes her the perfect companion. In these essays, Rosoff is both expert guide and life-long student, working out her own struggles with contemporary art in prose that’s as clear as it is insightful.”—Anne McDuffie, Colorado Review
“An eye-opening and revealing study. … I have always been drawn to ‘realistic- art and certainly have not given contemporary art a fair shake. I was fascinated by many stories in [Rosoff’s] book, stories such as Mierle Laderman Ukeles with the New York City sanitation workers, both the shaking of 8,000 hands to express thanks and the ballet for street-sweeping machines. And I loved the article on Benny Andrews and his ‘Revival Meeting’ piece. [Rosoff’s] writings have always lifted me and stretched me and her book did that for me again. It is a book which I will read again, but first I have promised to lend it to a friend.” — Flo Hare