MixedThe New CriterionThe passionate inwardness typical of Frankenthaler’s work throughout her long working life first declares itself in her untrammeled works of the 1950s, providing, it could be argued, reason enough to concentrate on this decade of her long working life. Nonetheless, I was perplexed by the narrowness of Nemerov’s focus ... I confess to being even more perplexed. The book is a kind of staccato biography. We learn a good deal about Frankenthaler’s aspirations, ambitions, insecurity, conflicts, joys, and relationships, both personal and professional ... Nemerov has read a lot of letters, diaries, and interviews, mining, in particular, Frankenthaler’s correspondence with her close friend the writer Sonya Rudikoff ... Some inclusions seem problematic. Do we really need to know what Greenberg, a brilliant critic but a matchless holder of grudges, who liked to see how cruel he could be to the people around him before they fought back, wrote in his journals about his dislike of Frankenthaler’s body, after she ended their relationship? ... Such digressions notwithstanding, the flavor of the rapidly evolving New York vanguard art world of the period comes through as we follow the trajectory of Frankenthaler’s increasingly important place within it ... We also get a great deal of Nemerov’s response to Frankenthaler’s work, long passages of description and self-referential free association, noticeably low on formal analysis, that tell us more about the author than about the painter or the works under review ... Nemerov’s concentration on the 1950s results in odd gaps and elisions, diminishing the importance of some of Frankenthaler’s enduring early connections ... More troubling are minor lapses in accuracy. None of them is individually important, but cumulatively they raise questions about Nemerov’s approach to research. The glitches make me suspect that he relied on the recollections of his sources without checking or questioning them ... That Nemerov deeply admires and has even been moved by Frankenthaler’s paintings of the 1950s is evident. So why am I resistant to his discussions of her works? ... Why do I keep thinking of the song (written, no doubt significantly, the year before Frankenthaler was born) \'I’ve danced with a man, who’s danced with a girl, who’s danced with the Prince of Wales\'?
MixedThe Wall Street JournalBecause [Dery] assumes that the books are peculiar and sinister, Mr. Dery concludes that their author must have been, too. His book is intended to explain why. Mr. Dery’s attempt is problematic enough, given the resistance of richly associative art to explanation and the astonishing wealth of sources, from a dizzying range of disciplines, that the brilliant, omnivorous, polymath Gorey drew upon, both directly and indirectly. What’s much more problematic is Mr. Dery’s determination to find a psychological cause for every image and text ... what Mr. Dery obsesses about is not Gorey’s well-furnished mind, but his sexuality ... But [Gorey] described himself as \'neither one thing nor the other,\' refusing to define himself by his sexual preferences ... Mr. Dery, however, writes as if this aspect of Gorey’s life were the key to everything ... There’s interesting information in Born to Be Posthumous ... When Mr. Dery sticks to verifiable facts or quotes Gorey himself, the book is informative. But red flags go up when he attempts psychological interpretation or discusses things that Gorey cared passionately about and that resonated in his work. And Mr. Dery really gets into trouble when he seeks the origins of complex images and elusive narratives in the events of Gorey’s life ... Gorey would have hated Mr. Dery’s book. We’d hear the humming sound of his spinning in his grave, had he not been cremated and his ashes scattered, according to his wishes.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalFor a capsule history of the movement in its prime, there’s now an engaging, informative, occasionally inaccurate, not overly demanding Lives of the Surrealists ... It’s a conspicuously Eurocentric, even Anglocentric list ... Since Mr. Morris knew many of his subjects, there’s a wealth of gossipy anecdote leavening the facts, although he remains admirably evenhanded ... Mr. Morris’s 32 artists include only five women, an accurate reflection of the movement’s misogyny.