In this lively memoir, art critic and writer Cooper (The Bill from My Father), winner of the PEN/Hemingway award, retraces his youth, up to and including the period of his intellectual awakening during the heyday of conceptual art, and vividly recalls his experiences as a son, brother, student, and closeted young gay man. Alternately funny and touching, the book chronicles Cooper’s adolescence in 1960s Los Angeles, including the moment he fell in love with pop art in his middle school library, and his young adulthood in New York, where he studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, as well as the years he spent studying under the likes of Allan Kaprow and the poet and visual artist Emmett Williams at CalArts. Throughout, Cooper draws interesting connections between his suppressed sexuality and the period’s radical reexamination of the art object, observing, “The stronger and more tangible my longing for men, the more adamantly I crusaded for art’s dematerialization.” Offbeat characters and comic incidents richly animate Cooper’s narrative, as do his recollections of compelling seminars and performance pieces at CalArts. Toward the end of the memoir, short chapters offer a glimpse into his career as an art critic and writer, as well as the losses he suffered during the AIDS epidemic. Readers interested in conceptualism will especially value these personal reflections during such a critical moment in the recent history of art. Agent: Steven Barclay, Steven Barclay Agency. (Feb.)
"[O]ne of L.A.’s great cultural critics and memoirists."
Los Angeles Magazine - Ed Leibowitz
My Avant-Garde Education, Bernard Cooper delivers a kind of magic. He works in a mode that is so subtle, so ingenious, so deeply rooted in the visceral that it almost defies verbal description.…This book employs the best practices of the best memoirs…By asking, "what is art?" Cooper is really asking, "what is life?" And though he gives us no easy answers, he explores these questions with such insight, humor, and generosity of spirit that we come away not only educated but genuinely enlightened."
"Bernard Cooper has created another elegantly simple testament to the power of the personal story. This is a riveting, soulful, whimsical, mournful, and triumphantly moving story about that weirdly mysterious process of transferring meaning from life to art, and then back again into life."
"[Cooper] put[s] together words in a combination of funny scenes, astute observations and moments of quiet poetry… The book is filled with moments…that practically require the reader to stop and savor the sentence again."
Los Angeles Times - Carolina A. Miranda
"A smart and funny coming-into-consciousness narrative of an extraordinary writer, a precise and evocative art-history lesson, and (above all) a persuasive reclamation of the everyday. A beautiful book."
"Bernard Cooper is among my most favorite writers for his fearlessness, his honesty, his grace. He has written eloquently about subjects, many of us can find few words for and now he’s turned his eye onto his own coming of age the world of Cal Arts—an epicenter for art, creativity and a kind of highly intellectual absurdity. Cooper brilliantly captures what it is to awaken to ones creative self and the need to find what is ones own in terms of intellectual and personal identity while making sense of the world that surrounds."
"The paradox of making something from nothing, of threading the maze of reality, is finely illuminated in this honest, articulate, and moving memoir. Through his search for the avant-garde, Bernard Cooper found something rarer, a wisdom grounded in humility before unanswerable questions. In doing so, he has achieved a combination of 'beauty plus pity,' Nabokov's definition of art."
"Moving…capture[s] the era…poetically."
Wall Street Journal - Peter Plagens
"We could all use an avant-garde education. If it's too late for you, please read
My Avant-Garde Education. Bernard Cooper is one of the funniest writers I know, and like all the best humor, his work is tinged with the darker streams of life."
PEN/Hemingway Award winner Cooper (The Bill from My Father: A Memoir, 2006, etc.) returns with a memoir/essay collection (some previously published) that chronicles his early interest in pop art and charts where that interest has taken him.It began in the author's junior high school library (in the early 1960s) when a Life magazine piece about pop art caught his fancy. He tore it out, and his adult life began. Cooper tells us how he pursued this growing obsession in local bookstores, watched a TV art teacher (Jon Gnagy) and eventually realized that art "didn't have to be somber and lofty; it could be as laughable and blunt as a pratfall." The author's interests—and his creations—puzzled his parents, but he persisted. At about the same time, Cooper was also realizing he was homosexual, an orientation he had to conceal fiercely during his youth. He dated women, but he yearned for men. He shares memories of his parents, of his school days (experiencing a gym teacher who paddled, learning about the JFK assassination from that same teacher), his search for technique, and his years as a student at CalArts, which opened its doors just at the time he was ready to walk through them. Cooper writes fondly of some instructors at the school, and he notes how he began to realize that he had talents for writing, as well. An art teacher told him, "[s]ounds like you're ready to write." And so he did: He spent some years as an art critic and a few as a writing instructor. Cooper also deals with crises in his life, including the death of his mother and the grim arrival of AIDS in his world. His account of the suffering of his partner is one of the most wrenching sections, and he concludes with a brief passage about his chronic insomnia. Throughout, his sentences elicit laughs, gasps and tears. An unconventional narrative that focuses on sharp, piercing moments.