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  • The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860–1989 ed. by Alexandra Munroe
  • Laura Specker Sullivan
The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860–1989. Edited by Alexandra Munroe. New York: Guggenheim Museum; distributed by D.A.P. / Distributed Art Publishers, 2009. Pp. 439. isbn 978-0892073832.

The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860–1989 is a volume of prints and essays published on the occasion of the exhibition of the same name at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City from January 30 to April 19, 2009. The exhibition organizer is also the editor/author of this volume, Alexandra Monroe. The book serves as the exhibition catalog, as well as offering a collection of essays about the catalog. There are three introductory essays by Alexandra Monroe, Richard King, and Harry Harootunian. Following these introductory essays are eight essays that are presented along with the items in the catalog to which they correspond. The extensive appendices, consisting of a general chronology, a list of exhibition artists, and a selected bibliography, are all compiled and edited by Ikuyo Nakagawa.

The introductory essays by Munroe, King, and Harootunian each present the book in a different light. Munroe’s essay is quite good at problematizing the very idea of examining how American artists were influenced by Asia. She conceives of this book as tracing “how the art, literature, and philosophical systems of ‘the East’ became known, reconstructed, and transformed within American cultural and intellectual currents, influencing the articulation of new visual and conceptual languages” (p. 21). She is thus primarily interested in how American artists creatively interpreted ideas and objects from “the East,” and how understanding American art according to this process of “creative interpretation” changes the American perspective on aesthetic history. King’s introduction places the book in the context of larger discussions about Orientalism and colonialism, while Harootunian’s introduction deals with post–World War II America’s interest in the “meeting of East and West” (p. 46). Of interest to philosophers in these introductions will be Munroe’s history of how American thinkers began interacting with Asian thinkers (especially in aesthetics, but also in politics and religion) and Harootunian’s discussion of the ideological possibilities that postwar America found in Asian thought.

The catalog itself, and the exhibition it originated in, focuses on the growing importance that interaction with Asian art had for American artists working from 1860 to 1989. Beginning with the more explicit visual references to Asian art by nineteenth-century artists such as James McNeill Whistler, John La Farge, and Mary Cassatt (plates 1–17, with an essay by Vivien Greene), the book continues into the twentieth century, dealing with more subtle references to Asian art by painters and photographers such as Georgia O’Keefe, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Arthur Dove (plates 18–44, with an essay by Kathleen Pyne and D. Scott Atkinson).

There is then a brief change in medium, with a consideration of the impact that Asian literature and Asian dance theater had on American creative expression, focusing on Ezra Pound and Martha Graham (no plates; essay by J. Thomas Rimer). [End Page 820] Returning to painting and photography, the next section of the book deals with Asian art in the post–World War II context, particularly in terms of how Asian concepts and practices were taken up by American artists at the same time that the art world, and specifically the movement of Abstract Expressionism, denied the relevance of Asia to American art. Artists represented in this period include Jackson Pollock, Mark Tobey, Franz Kline, and David Smith (plates 45–76, with an essay by Bert Winther-Tamaki).

Continuing into the 1950s and 1960s, the book looks at the now recognizable influence that Zen Buddhism had on beat poets and other representatives of the neoavant-garde, including recognizable figures like Jack Kerouac and Robert Rauschenberg, but also lesser-known artists such as David Ireland and Bruce Conner (plates 77–124, with an essay by Alexandra Monroe). After a brief examination of the relationship between Asian music and American concert music in the twentieth century (no plates; essay by David W. Patterson), the book enters its final phase...


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