Doodaaa

Ralph Steadman, Author
Ralph Steadman, Author Bloomsbury Publishing PLC $29.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-58234-265-8
Paperback - 333 pages - 978-0-7475-6187-3
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New Yorker cartoonist and Hunter S. Thompson collaborator Steadman sends up modern art with this energetic but ungainly combination of solemn aesthetics and oddball satire. The book is a fictional""triography"" of one Gavin Twinge, leader of the""Doodaaa group,"" a coterie of avant-garde artists loosely based on the Dada movement. Paragons of bohemian excess, Twinge and company go on epic drinking binges and push the boundaries of art with bizarre experimental pieces in which they paint with gnat blood or heat up beer cans until they explode onto a canvas. Mostly, though, they function as mouthpieces for enthusiastic and rambling disquisitions on, among other things, philistinism, the soul-deadening effects of formal education and the history of flush toilets. Unfortunately, Steadman's fertile comic imagination is somewhat hobbled by sluggish pacing and a fondness for art-school palaver. The narrative lurches from rumination to picaresque and back again; sections on art and philosophy are marked by overwriting (""Gavin had kept alive a memory of art in flux, fractured by two world wars, shot senseless in a post-war miasma of rationed optimism and left for dead on a floor smeared with childish ideals of freedom, self-fulfillment and bright futility"") and convoluted thinking (""The human condition actually cannot accept the reality of nature because the human condition has allowed reason to enter, and nature knows nothing of human reason""). Amusing bits pop up here and there, but in the end, it's hard to parody a world that seems to lean into self-parody often enough on its own. Illus.
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