John Updike’s book, 'Always Looking' was written posthumously in 2012. Best known for his fiction and reviews, these 'Essays on Art' are an honest approach to art by an author I most admire. I’ll discuss the art exhibits mentioned in the book and my tribute to John Updike.
"Always Looking" is a companion book to Updike’s other writings on art, "Just Looking" (1989) and "Still Looking" (2005).
As I often write about my experiences at art exhibitions I have attended, Mr. Updike walks us through many of the great museums and his own personal, eloquent response to the art he views.
Updike begins by asking the same question, once addressed in 1958 by Lloyd Goodrich, then director of the Whitney Museum of Art, "What is American in American Art?"
I think, no matter which century the artist represents, the areas of: portraiture, history, landscape, genre, and still life are the subjects which make American Art so unique.
In that first chapter, "The Clarity of Things," works by: John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Grant Wood, George Caleb Bingham, Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Sheeler, Joseph Stella, Norman Rockwell, and Richard Estes are mentioned. (I truly didn’t want to exclude any of these illustrious American artists from this list.)
The next chapter, "Making Faces" speaks about the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit, New York, October 2004-January 2005, "Gilbert Stuart" which includes the famous portraits of George Washington: Vaughan Portrait, Athenaeum Portrait, and Lansdowne Portrait.
Chapter Three, "The Love of Facts" tells of the exhibit, "Treasures from Olana: Landscapes by Frederic Edwin Church" at the National Academy Museum, New York, February-April 2006.
Even if you have attended these museum exhibits, I’m sure you’ll delight in reading Updike’s essays on:
"Gilbert Stuart" exhibit, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, October 2004-January 2005.
"The Clark Brothers Collect: Impressionist and Early Modern Paintings" exhibit, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, June-September 2006.
"Monet in the '90s: The Series Paintings" exhibit, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, February-April 1990.
"Degas Landscapes" exhibit, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, January-April 1994.
"The Intimate Interiors of Edouard Vuillard" exhibit, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, May-July 1990.
"Gustav Klimt: The Ronald S. Lauder and Serge Sabarsky Collections" exhibit, Neue Galerie New York, October 2007-2008.
"Max Beckman in Exile" exhibit, Guggenheim Museum SoHo, New York, October 1996-January 1997.
"Joan Miro" exhibit, Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 1993-January 1994.
"Surrealism USA" exhibit, National Academy Museum, New York, February-May 2005.
"Magritte" exhibit, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, September-November 1992.
"Roy Lichtenstein" exhibit, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, October 1993-January 1994.
In Updike’s final chapter, "Serra’s Triumph," the author discusses the Museum of Modern Art, New York exhibit, "Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years," June-September 2007.
As promised, this is my tribute to the author of "Always Looking."
Let me 'count the ways' why I most admire this great American author, John Updike:
Is it because he became a New Englander after being born in Pennsylvania?
(I live in New England.)
Is it because he was a Pulitzer Prize winner for "Rabbit is Rich" and "Rabbit at Rest"?
(I was a fan of the 'Rabbit' series.)
Is it because he was interviewed for an article at his MA home by a mutual acquaintance in 1996?
(Mr. Updike was kind enough to sign the book I provided and added an inscription wishing me a happy birthday!)
Is it because he was the guest author at "Writers on a New England Stage" – sponsored by The Music Hall and New Hampshire Public Radio in 2006?
(I enthusiastically attended that program.)
Is it because he died in January 2009?
(Coincidentally, the same month a close friend of mine died, also from cancer.)
John Updike, the author of 60+ books and a writer of the middle class, invites us to not just 'look,' but 'see,' when viewing art.
(That is certainly advice worth following.)
You can own John Updike's book, "Always Looking, Essay on Art," available here from Amazon.com.