The American Art Tapes: Voices of American Pop Art

Tate Publishing. Nov. 2021. 240p. ISBN 9781849767576. $35. FINE ARTS
In 1965–66, British art historian/artist John Jones toured the States, interviewing over 100 prominent artists working on this side of the Atlantic. His goal: to determine if American art had differentiated itself from European art, and to gather material for his University of Leeds lectures. This volume (edited by John’s daughter Nicolette) transcribes 20 of his recorded interviews with giants of art; it’s an often-compelling tour of the contours of some of the best artistic minds of the ’60s. Jones’s long interviews are loaded with savory nuggets—for instance, in order to speak with Roy Lichtenstein, one had to phone, hang up after one ring, then call back. Louise Nevelson was an avid day-drinker. Claes Oldenburg expresses absurdly Freudian ideas about maps; Marcel Duchamp calls himself “a lazy bum”; Lee Krasner opines on her late husband Jackson Pollock. Predictably, the selection of artists in this volume largely reflects the dominant white male canon, but it includes interviews with six women, including a pre-Lennon Yoko Ono. Multiple generations are represented too: Duchamp and Man Ray rub shoulders with youngsters like Helen Frankenthaler and Ed Ruscha.
VERDICT Ultimately inconclusive on the question of artistic independence from Europe, this interesting time capsule of the American pop art elite is a rewarding deep dive into primary sources, packed with felicitous biographical content.
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