I just finished reading Adam Gopnik‘s latest book At the Strangers’ Gate: Arrivals in New York. For anyone interested in art, and particularly contemporary art, I encourage you to read it.
Let me just say, however, that there may be some bias at work here. I’m a huge fan of Gopnik’s writing. I find it easily accessible , despite his knowledge and creative thought that far surpass my capabilities and capacities. He is a superb essay writer: in Paris to the Moon, the book about his family’s years living in France, he ably discussed politics, philosophy and history, while grounding the narrative in the quotidienne-his daily life with his beloved, Martha and their children.
I may also be biased because he speaks fondly and respectfully of Canada. American born, he was raised in Montreal; Martha is Canadian born. In 2011, he delivered (and subsequently published) the fiftieth anniversary Massey Lectures for the Canadian Broadcasting Company entitled Winter: Five Windows on the Season. (Is there anything more Canadian than discussing the weather?)
In the chapter SoHo, 1983 Gopnik begins by recounting the story of how he and Martha were able to secure an apartment in SoHo. It remains the strangest and luckiest thing that has ever happened to us. He reports that… The SoHo we moved to in 1983 was still a village, a village of art. He makes the case that New York, and specifically SoHo, was the art capital of the world in the 1980’s. He discusses how the art produced was a product of its environment, and, of course, the cultural and economic influences of the decade. He provides an insider’s view of the era with engaging physical descriptions and anecdotes: This is how a Saturday morning in SoHo would unfold in the middle years of the 1980s…… you would inevitably bump into friends, eyes set professionally aslant from the work of looking, and exchange a warm greeting and a few terse words about the things just seen.
It’s his reflections about the art and art making, the dealers and buyers, and, really, the meaning of art at a specific time, in a specific place, that are most insightful. The social life of those Saturday mornings was at least as important as the chance for solitary looking. All art serves a double function, and the double function of American visual art by the eighties was as both a mark of generational identity and a luxury good for the wealthy.
At the Strangers’ Gate serves a double function, too. It’s an entertaining, amusing read (you won’t want to miss the candy factory story) as well as an insightful analysis of art, artists and culture in North America.