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Landscape with Figures: A History of Art Dealing in the United States
Published by EH.NET (February 2001)
Malcolm Goldstein, Landscape with Figures: A History of Art Dealing in the
United States. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. xvi + 370 pp. $30.00
(cloth), ISBN: 0-19-513673-X
Reviewed for EH.NET by David W. Galenson, Department of Economics, University
The subtitle of Landscape with Figures declares it to be A History
of Art Dealing in the United States. Unfortunately for anyone interested
in the economic history of this industry, however, the subtitle is a misnomer,
in a number of respects. Some of these are relatively unimportant. Thus the
book is not about the trade in all forms of art, but only that in paintings.
And it does not treat the whole United States, but only New York. Although
these choices are regrettable, they are not necessarily critical, because
paintings have long been the most important part of the art trade, and New
York the trade's dominant location. Much more serious, however, is the fact
that the book is not actually about art dealing, but rather about dealers. And
in its emphasis on the personalities and social roles of the dealers, the book
furthermore neglects their business practices. These choices unfortunately
make the book of little value to readers seeking insights into the economic
history of the art market, including the economic consequences of the behavior
of some of the market's central figures. So, for example, Landscape with
Figures analyzes the impact of plastic surgery on Peggy Guggenheim's
appearance, and speculates on the nature of her sexual relationships with a
number of friends and acquaintances, but it does not consider the possible
impact on Jackson Pollock's art or Guggenheim's willingness in 1943 to make
him the first Abstract Expressionist with a contract that guaranteed a market
for his work, or the effect on Pollock's development of her commission for the
large Mural that many consider the artist's breakthrough painting.
The publisher's press release features a New York art professor rejoicing that
"At last, the history of art dealing in America has been written." And Malcolm
Goldstein, an emeritus professor of English at the City University of New
York, has written a book that will interest readers in search of amusing
anecdotes about New York art dealers of the past and present. The book will
also serve as a useful, if unsystematic, reference for readers who want to
know which galleries represented which artists, and when. But the author's
nearly total lack of interest in the economics of the art market means that a
basic part of the history of art dealing in America remains to be written.
David W. Galenson is Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago. His
book, Painting Outside the Lines: Patterns of Creativity in Modern Art,
will be published by Harvard University Press in the fall of 2001.