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Peregrinations: Conversations with Contemporary Artists

by Robert Enright

Winnipeg art critic Robert Enright has been a fixture on the Canadian art scene for years and best known as editor at large of the art quarterly, Border Crossings. His preferred writing format is the interview and for years Border Crossings has been running his Q&As with prominent artists, 32 of which appear in this compilation, Peregrinations.

Enright’s cultural wanderings run the international gamut, from modern masters such as Jim Dine and Roy Lichtenstein to Attila Richard Lukacs, painter of skinheads and neo-Nazis, and Guy Maddin, director of Tales from the Gimli Hospital. There are also interviews with writers, photographers, choreographers, and musicians.

It is an impressive list. The trouble is, Enright banks heavily on his reader’s presumed knowledge. This is not a problem in the pages of a specialized art magazine where colour reproductions help put art works and text into context. But repackaged as a text-only book, Peregrinations often falls into an unsatisfying quagmire of being both too vague and too specific.

With the modernists, this is probably the biggest obstacle, and Enright has a hard time overcoming it. Recent interviews with artists like Robert Motherwell or Lichtenstein discussing their work from the 1960s seem redundant (since large volumes have already been written on them) and offer little in the way of new insight.

Enright has more success with younger artists if only because less is known about them and he is talking to them about work where theoretical, emotional, political, and personal elements are not entirely resolved. There is, therefore, more room for his subjects to ruminate and self-examine. Artists who have a shroud of controversy around their works are the most interesting subjects. Lukacs describes his non-fascist position and the male exclusivity of his life and work. And Jeff Koons, interviewed just before his marriage to Italian porn star Ilona Stoller (aka Cicciolina), is a revealing bit of text that shows Koons deeply in love with his now ex-wife and how important her public profile was in bolstering his. The outcome is conversations that ebb and flow – the reader finds artists like Lukacs and Koons contradicting themselves, changing their minds, and letting topics veer off course – just as meaningful, enlightened, and challenging conversations should.