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In these biographical essays on 10 of the most interesting contemporary artists, Tomkins's access is astonishing, as when he dines with Jasper Johns and his wife in their Caribbean home in St. Martin, watches John Currin paint or receives revealing gifts from Maurizio Cattelan ("he loves giving odd presents to his friends.... His gifts to my wife include a large three-dimensional display ad for Oscar Mayer franks..."). A deft biographer, Tomkins (Duchamp) gives a lesson in his craft: how to balance present with past, the specific with the general, personality with context, features with flaws-all in the space of 20 pages. Tomkins is a ruthless observer. On Cindy Sherman watching a slasher movie, he writes: "She slides down in her seat like a teenager, knees pulled up, and giggles at the gory parts and the in jokes...." He is also a generous critic of the cult of artistic personality, so that Julian Schnabel's ego appears charming and Richard Serra's notorious anger seems a measure of his dedication to his work. Books that trade on content that originally appeared in the New Yorker have become a small industry, but not all are as intimate as this one. (Nov.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.