A profusely illustrated volume, the textual complement to a forthcoming exhibit at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art, follows the development of Andrew Wyeth's landscape painting in critical essays and color reproductions of more than 125 works. 30,000 first printing.
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Unknown Terrain: The Landscapes of Andrew Wyeth makes an irresistible case for ignoring both Wyeth's sentimental champions and his cynical detractors. It's easy to understand either pole of opinion about this very American painter, but harder to get to the essence of what makes him excite such vehemence. In the end, it may simply be that he is very, very good, and like all good painters, a little too complicated for most critics.
For one thing, while Wyeth does have a special sensitivity for suggestive narrative elements, he is also an abstract painter, with a powerful sense of gesture, stroke, and pattern. Some of his watercolors are as thrusting and liquid as Jackson Pollock's drips, and almost as nonobjective. Other compositions can be as fixed as Christina's World, the huge 1948 painting for which he is perhaps best known, but within the strictly ordered confines of tempera, a painstaking medium, he still handles the brush with bravura. The authors of Unknown Terrain make an attempt to elucidate Wyeth's relationship to this century, and they succeed admirably--with the help of nearly 200 reproductions.From Booklist:
With more than 160 reproductions, the lion's share in color, this accompaniment to an exhibition of landscapes by one of the century's greatest serious popular painters is a shoo-in addition to virtually every American art library. Emphasizing landscape, it perforce emphasizes Wyeth's watercolors, which have never before been so extensively displayed. Like many other artists, Wyeth uses watercolor to make preparatory studies for paintings in a classier medium, in his case tempera. More swiftly and impressionistically executed, the watercolor studies are immediately discriminable from the temperas and frequently exemplify one of the four types of realism Adam D. Weinberg's excellent essay descries in the work of this artist, often lazily considered stylistically monotonous. Weinberg also points out that the supposedly retrograde Wyeth's formal concerns are virtually identical with those of his abstract expressionist contemporaries, and Beth Venn invaluably describes Wyeth's watercolor techniques. Michael Kammen, in the book's third and last essay, cogently discusses two qualities that inform Wyeth's art and ensure its American popularity--individualism and local patriotism. Ray Olson
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