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Book Review
‘True Colors’: The Real Life of the Art World’
The defining decades, marked by a turbulent and extraordinary period in the American world of art, have witnessed immense creative intensity thanks to artists, like Julian Schnabel, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons. They managed, in their own ways, to switch over to popular culture from the rarefied realm of high art. It was also a phase when other promising streams and even whole movements, such as Graffiti, sprung into life and then almost suddenly disappeared. The astonishing boom times of the 1980s shaped the newly vigorous art market that dramatically transformed the role of collectors and dealers to impart them with power as well as and glamour. They often received or demanded as much attention as the artists they represented. And then came the bust…

In ‘True Colors’: The Real Life of the Art World’ (Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; Paperback: 352 pages; $27.50) Anthony Haden-Guest covers three critical decades of the vibrant American art scene. This sometimes scathing, sometimes hilarious book is an honest and forthcoming portrayal of the fabulous, fashionable and often perplexing New York art world in particular deals with the important time in history when artists and their work came fully under the glare of the mainstream media and gradually turned pop cultural figures.

So you have Andy, Jean-Michel, Leo, and Julian as only eccentric art critic Anthony Haden-Guest can vivaciously and peculiarly present them. Revealing interesting anecdotes and gossip, he offers a perspective of how the art world actually works - its undercurrents, inside developments, politics, and how an artist survives in it or not. Witty and at the same time wry, it comes across as a highly absorbing narrative the art world, its curious ways and its trajectory. This uncanny look into art and art practitioners is quite revealing apart from studying at the library or museum.

Anthony Haden-Guest was born in Paris and has spent his life in New York and London. He started his career as a journalist at the Telegraph, and went to New York in the late 1970s, where he became part of the ‘new journalism’ movement by Tom Wolfe. A writer, reporter and cartoonist, His scholarly essays and articles have been published in most leading magazines in Britain and America, such as Sunday Telegraph, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Paris Review, Sunday Times, Esquire, GQ (UK), The Observer, Radar. He was awarded in 1979 a New York Emmy for writing and narrating documentary, titled ‘The Affluent Immigrants’. His other popular books are ‘The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night’ (William Morrow & Co,) ‘The Chronicles of Now’ (The Allworth Press), and ‘In The Mean Time’ (Frieght Volume).

His witty, gossipy and whirlwind tour of the contemporary art scene focuses on New York City with fascinating forays to Paris, California, and elsewhere. It deeply probes a fickle and fast-paced art market where connections, galleries, critics and trends make or break reputations in no time. Taking off from the late 1960s, as performance artists, surrealists and conceptualists rebel against minimalism; it quickly moves through a flurry of art movements to earthworks and graffiti art from neo-expressionism; and then ends with a report on the 1993 Venice Biennale and a skeptical look at developments in 1990s, such as confessional and victim art, technological and ecological art. Through a series of conversations, interviews, capsule bios and critical views, Haden-Guest profiles dozens of well-known artists such as Cindy Sherman, Keith Haring, Julian Schnabel, Malcolm Morley, Donald Judd, James Turrell, Jeff Koons and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Journalist, writer and editor George Plimpton rightly describes it as a knowledgeable, a qualified guide and highly personal voyage through the turbulence of the art world from 1973 onwards. Seemingly everyone, directly or indirectly involved with it surfaces in Anthony Haden-Guest's account of the art scene, when vested interests apparently supplanted esthetic concerns. He takes us through a complex art landscape, which acquired a sort of heated, garish tinge, like the set for a popular game show. The 'real life' of the book’s subtitle refers to the artists, their ambitions, eccentric habits, and curious relationships formed with critics, dealers and collectors, and, obviously their own art. For example, the author at one point mentions: “Artist, like everybody else, are subject to political and economic forces. They tend to be at least as ambitious as politicians. They endure rejection and failure. They survive success. The final product is the art that ends up in the gallery, a museum, a public space, in the hands of a private owner, or only as a documented memory.”

An introductory note to the book elaborates, “Haden-Guest gives vivid portraits of the art world’s key players and dramatizes the pivotal moments in the always evolving scene. Skillfully conveying a sense of the intricate geography of the art world, he tells of its clashes of ambition, its intrigues, and its power plays. This is how artists survive, or don’t survive. ‘True Colors’ is filled with telling anecdotes and expertly told stories that cohere to give a sense of how the art world works, its current state, and where it may be going. The author of this engaging narration has moved within the world of art, known the market players, and diligently reported on the developments during his writing career. He draws on his reporting and observation skills to deliver a powerful inside account of the contemporary art world.”

In nine chapters, ‘True Colors’ keeps a reader engaged and engrossed thanks to the writer’s telegraphic style and pointed observations. For example, he mentions: “Artist, like everybody else, are subject to political and economic forces. They tend to be at least as ambitious as politicians. They endure rejection and failure. They survive success. The final product is the art that ends up in the gallery, a museum, a public space, in the hands of a private owner, or only as a documented memory.”

Filled with anecdotes, dramatically told incidents and precise critical assessments narrates the inside tales of the art world. Focusing on the personalities and lives of the art world's important players, and with an unmistakable critical component, he portrays their journey, as they strive to fulfill their creative ambitions. He takes a non-judgmental look at the machinations of those in control of the larger drama - the art dealers, collectors, gallerists and curators, to present an authoritative observation and analysis.