Criticism & Features

Year 2019: 30 Books

Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light by Peter Schjeldahl: 2019 Criticism finalist

By Kerri Arsenault

Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light by Peter Schjeldahl (Abrams Press) Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light by Peter Schjeldahl (Abrams Press)

Peter Schjeldahl is not just a critic: he is a sensitive receptor and reporter, an art appreciator and viewer, an educator, and an artist himself who possesses the linguistic skills, training, experience, knowledge, and elastic mind to translate the multivalent textures of contemporary art, as the title of this book expresses: Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light

Whether or not he is moved or inspired by the art he critiques, Schjeldahl never forsakes or buttresses those assessments with judgment, even while he sometimes inserts personals thoughts. Those personal adjudications are brilliant injections to his already distilled texts—like platinum nuggets (high density, rarer than gold) that emerge from an alluvial deposit of more simple commentary. 

Schjeldahl always examines his subjects with acute yet dilated viewpoint that’s amplified with the vast contextual references he’s accumulated throughout his career. But his critiques never veer into elitism. In fact, he eliminates barriers to understanding contemporary art by avoiding exclusive vernacular and deploying empathy for the work and for the reader or viewer.

Schjeldahl represents the very best in criticism and essay: objective, personal, wide-ranging but human-scaled, fair, nuanced, funny, and generally uplifting even if he reprimands. This book– Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light–is a culmination of the emotional and visual experience about art, artists, and somehow, in each miniature text, the entire universe.

Kerri Arsenault