Garden Rant
Gardening While Intoxicated
Buffalo Spree


A year ago, Licata became the fourth member of a group of garden bloggers with an attitude. Garden Rant one of my favorites: A blend of gossip, news, crusade and, yes, raw rant, it blows the cobwebs out of gardening's mustier corners.

–Adrian Higgins,
Washington Post

... co-curators Elizabeth Licata and Amy Cappellazzo have magnificently transcended the limitations of what is, at bottom, a show of books. ...Preciousness—the bane of such exhibitions—is nowhere in evidence.

–Richard Huntington,
Buffalo News

"Garden Walk Buffalo: A Celebration of Urban Gardens," is a tour guide into dozens of gardens during the annual event held the last full weekend in July. It's knowingly written by Buffalo Spree editor Elizabeth Licata, and packed with gorgeous photographs...

–Mark Sommer,
Buffalo News

< back


"Art For Dummies"

No doubt I am not the first to wonder if the instructional books "for Dummies" trend has gone far enough. At first, it made sense. Most of the initial books "for Dummies" quite intelligently took on the mysteries of computers and computer software, subjects about which most of us readily professed to know nothing about. This was particularly true during the '80s, when the "Dummies" books began. But then, having largely exhausted the digital realms, the "Dummies" books moved into areas where‹well, if you're such a dummy, maybe you should go into some other field where your inability to absorb technical knowledge won't be a handicap. One shudders to think of what ambitions might be raised by Pre-Med for Dummies or Air Traffic Control for Dummies, though, thankfully, these titles have not yet appeared.

The most recent entry into the "Dummies" series, however, is an interesting twist on the whole idea. Art for Dummies will probably be a welcome resource for many, because many people think they know nothing about art. This book might be just the security blanket the non-art person needs to fortify his or her intuitive judgments about the subject (which, in my experience, are usually quite sound).

Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum and author of Making the Mummies Dance, a highly entertaining memoir of his years at the Met, is an interesting choice to write this book. During his years at the Metropolitan, Hoving was an intriguing and contradictory blend of populist and connoisseur. He practically invented the blockbuster, including the immensely popular Treasures of Tutankhamen touring exhibition. It's partially due to Hoving that now almost every museum plans on having at least one crowd-pleasing big-name exhibition each year, and that the words "Monet" and "art" are virtually synonymous throughout the land. Hoving believed in user-friendly exhibitions and extensive museum education programs, so it makes sense that he'd be writing the ultimate user-friendly art book.

Yet...the man is also the ultimate art snob. Art for Dummies is set up on very traditional lines. Unlike many recent general books about art, which explore the relationships between imagery of all types, including the "non-art" imagery from popular culture and advertising which is so much a part of our daily lives and which has been so intertwined with the fine art world for most of the twentieth century, Hoving takes the tried and true path already well-marked by such tomes as Jansen's History of Art. In fact, half of the book is really a Jansen's Cliff Notes (and thus, quite useful for lazy Art History 101 students). Hoving never asks the hard questions (well, this is for dummies, after all) like, what makes prehistoric "art"‹like cave paintings or the Venus of Willendorf‹art. He merely smugly comments "I like to think so," when posing the hypothetical query: is this art for art's sake? I'm afraid I'll need a bit more justification than that to believe him. (And what is "art for art's sake" anyway?)

On the other hand, Hoving does have expertise in many areas, particularly in the Medieval field, and is able to summarize huge chunks of art history, like the Baroque and the Renaissance, succinctly and entertainingly. It is a little scary‹18th century America gets two paragraphs and there is a horrendous two sentence description of Minimalism‹but he does provide some amusing bits of anecdotal knowledge and opinion never seen in the standard tomes, which are generally a ponderous march of styles, names, and dates. For example, he explains why he defends the cleaning of the Sistine Chapel and illuminates the Dark Ages (of interest to those of us curious about the first millennium) with all the fervor of a true believer.

About mid-way through the book, Hoving quickly winds up art history to provide a cursory look at non-Western art, advice on collecting, his picks for the ten most interesting artists of all time and the ten most promising contemporary artists, and, most usefully, a comprehensive annotated guide to the top art museums of the world.

The advice on collecting is fine if you're collecting for a museum, but, in my opinion, not enough time is spent on the kind of art real people are likely to buy: contemporary prints and works of art made by local artists. Happily for Hoving, he is probably unaware of the iniquities practiced by dealers and auctioneers in small cities like Buffalo‹where digitally produced oil paintings are sold as original "masterpieces" and photoreproductions are passed off as limited edition prints‹so he doesn't stress the importance of getting to know small, trustworthy dealers whose stables of local artists can be personally contacted to ensure authenticity and quality. Although Hoving admits most of us are not in the market for museum-quality works and just want art that we love to look at, he spends too much time talking about the big-time commercial markets.

As for his "ten most" lists, they're fine as far as such subjective groupings can go. Nobody's likely to argue with Michelangelo, Dürer, and Rembrandt on the "for all time" list, although some might quarrel with Andrew Wyeth and Dale Chihuly on the "ten worth watching." The second list sounded more like one chosen to please a big audience, and the only choice I'd go along with is Robert Rauschenberg. It's not exactly a cutting-edge list‹Hoving doesn't prepare us, for example, to face a real contemporary exhibition like Sensation, the show now enjoying such a controversial run at the Brooklyn Museum.

But Hoving's directory of top museums is exemplary. Even though he must have traveled the world's art centers many times over, he still has a refreshing enthusiasm for these famous collections and his description truly inspire the reader to add these places to their "must see some day" lists. Hoving advises us to "lunge into" the Dürer gallery at the little-known Alte Pinakothek in Munich, and gives equally lusty descriptions of the masterpieces of such diverse museums as the Uffizzi, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, and the Hermitage.

Most gratifying to Buffalo readers will be Hoving's description of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which reads in part: " overwhelming art experience. Small, intimate, and seductive, the museum has one of the most thumping modern and contemporary collections in the world. You hear the names and you'll hope‹but until you go and see the specific examples, you'd never guess the staggering quality...Do yourself a favor and go to the divine Albright-Knox gallery."

Now, in Buffalo, even a "Dummy" could tell you that much. But it's still good to hear.

Buffalo Spree, November/December, 1999

Top Quality, Low Price Replica watches online.

< back