As Walter Benjamin was “more than a literary critic,” John Berger is more than an art critic. The work collected in Landscapes (Verso, $26.95) dates from 1954 to 2015 and includes essays, memoirs, and poetry. It showcases Berger’s skills as storyteller and aphorist (“a drawing is an autobiographical record of one’s discovery of an event…a ‘finished’ work is an attempt to construct an event in itself”), and as a Marxist art historian. Defining “landscapes” in the broadest sense, these pieces evoke not only actual places—Ramallah, Finistère—but map the intellectual ground of figures including Roland Barthes, Rosa Luxemburg, and Gabriel García Márquez, as well as exploring the particular terrain of the European peasantry and the Soviet states. “The Moment of Cubism” is quintessential Berger, showing how Picasso and Braque “imagined the world transformed, but not the process of transformation,” and how this marked a shift from the Renaissance, when not the way something was depicted but the subject determined the picture’s expressive power. Berger is as attentive to what lies outside a frame as to the colors and lines within it, and his sincerest wish is that all “art should be an inspiration to life—not a consolation.”
While always returning to brushes, canvas, charcoal, and paper, David Hockney has been happy to try new technology—first in his cubist photos and fax-machine collages, now in his drawings on iPads. He has also explored (in Secret Knowledge) how artists in the past used lenses and mirrors to help translate three dimensions onto a flat surface. Now, in dialogue form, Hockney and art critic Martin Gayford explore A History of Pictures (Abrams, $45) “from the cave to the computer screen.” There are provocative discussions on mark making, the depictions of shadows (or their absence), “picturing time” in scrolls and frescos, and the camera “before and after 1839.” The reproductions are superb—and the juxtapositions of images are fresh and bold: Titian’s “Magdelene“ and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, whirlpools in Hiroshige and Disney’s Pinocchio, a Rembrandt sketch and a Chinese brush drawing. Hockney’s quotes are bouncy (“Caravaggio invented Hollywood lighting”), but it is the deep connections that he and Gayford make throughout visual history that makes this book come alive.
The pairing of Matisse/Diebenkorn (Prestel, $49.95) was a natural, and the catalog of the exhibit—now at the Baltimore Museum of Art through January 29—is a true delight and joy. Richard Diebenkorn fell in love with the Matisses in the Phillips Collection in 1944, while stationed at Quantico. So began the California artist’s lifelong engagement with Matisse—never in an imitative way, but in his evolving signature style, alternating between figuration and abstraction, culminating in his Ocean Park series. There are many echoes between the artists: shared subject matter and attention to light, audacious brushwork and use of color, even the laying down of paint—sometimes hurried, sometimes rethought and layered. In their drawings, especially their life studies in charcoal, there is the graceful, bravura black lines, and the use of stumps and erasers to create highlights and sensuous greys. The conversation builds with each successive pairing of works on full-page, side-by-side spreads. There are essays by co-curators Janet Bishop and Katherine Rothkopf, by Jodi Roberts on drawings, and an introduction by John Elderfield, former MoMA curator who put on several important Matisse shows, who shares his many memories of Diebenkorn. Don’t miss the show, or the catalog. András Goldinger