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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama



Yasmina Reza

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To purchase 'Art'

Title: 'Art'
Author: Yasmina Reza
Genre: Drama
Written: 1994 (Eng. 1996)
Length: 63 pages
Original in: French
Availability: 'Art' - US
'Art' - UK
'Art' - Canada
'Art' - India
'Art' - France
Kunst - Deutschland
Arte - Italia
Arte - España
  • Translated by Christopher Hampton
  • The original French production won the Molière Award for Best Play, Best Production, and Best Author.
  • Winner of numerous other theatrical awards in various later productions.

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Our Assessment:

B : a clever idea, fairly cleverly done.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor A 20/3/1998 Iris Fanger
The Independent . 26/10/1996 David Benedict
India Times . . Gopika Vaidya
The Nation . 29/6/1998 Arthur C. Danto
Newsweek A+ 9/3/1998 Jack Kroll
Time B- 16/3/1998 Richard Zoglin
TLS . 1/11/1996 John Stokes
The Washington Post . 12/4/2011 Nelson Pressley

  Review Consensus:

  Generally very enthusiastic.

  From the Reviews:
  • "'Art', which has been translated from the French by Christopher Hampton, is filled from first curtain to ending with a dazzling array of language." - Iris Fanger, Christian Science Monitor

  • "But without wishing to be curmudgeonly, I worry that the play isn't quite up to all this. For all its modernist intercutting of address with sharply characterised scenes about art and the demand for friendship, I suspect its appeal for mostly middle- aged, married male critics is, strangely enough, one of nostalgia. It reminds them all of the days when the West End was supposedly packed with such intelligent entertainment." - David Benedict, The Independent

  • "Ultimately, we realise that 'Art', like the form itself, is universal and all encompassing." - Gopika Vaidya, India Times

  • "'Art' (...) is in part an allegory of the politics of aesthetics in France today." - Arthur C. Danto, The Nation

  • "It's an actor's dream, a nonstop cross-fire of crackling language, serious issues of life and art expressed in outbursts that sound like Don Rickles with a degree from the Sorbonne. Brilliantly translated by Christopher Hampton, (...) 'Art' takes that yawny old bore, the play of ideas, and jolts it to life." - Jack Kroll, Newsweek

  • "Unfortunately, 'Art' is an overrated trifle: one of those small, schematic finger exercises that seem to win critical praise in direct proportion to their lack of ambition. The characters are all too easy to parse: Serge is a modernist but really a dilettante; Marc, a classicist who's a snob underneath; Yvan, an art-naif who goes whichever way the wind blows." - Richard Zoglin, Time

  • "More vitally, the text leaves its own blank spaces for the actors to fill with technique. (...) Art may not exactly coincide with one's own idea of men behaving naturally, but it certainly allows for a demonstration of shared skills that moves and impresses, leaving you at the curtain-call with the unusual sight of three grown-up chaps holding hands." - John Stokes, Times Literary Supplement

  • "And so Art sails along, funny, engaging and devilishly efficient. Brittle and slight ? Or pointed and crafty ? Audiences will no doubt debate on the way home" - Nelson Pressley, The Washington Post

Please note and bear in mind that reviews of dramas often refer to specific performances rather than to the written work itself. (Note also that complete review's reviews refer specifically to the written text.)

Please note that these ratings solely represent
the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       'Art' is an industry, one of the rare dramas that joins a select list of musicals and finds its way to seemingly every theatre town, making a splash as a play that must be seen and discussed. Its universal themes seem to have universal appeal, as its stunning international success would seem to prove.
       The story, about art and friendship, is marvelously simple. A man, Serge, buys a modern painting for a relatively large sum of money (200,000 French francs). It is basically a large canvas, about five foot by four, painted white, with "fine white diagonal scars". One friend to whom he shows off his new purchase, Marc, is completely unsettled by Serge's purchase. Another mutual friend, Yvan, is more ambivalent.
       At issue, in part, is the famous question: "What is art ?" The white canvas pushes at the limits of the definition in the age-old debate. There are, however, more layers to the question, and to Reza's play. Central to the piece, for Serge, is the official sanction -- "Huntingdon would take it off my hands for two hundred and twenty" is Serge's first justification of the price. The artist, Antrios, is "well-known", and it is "worth mentioning" that it is a seventies Antrios. The experts say it is significant, so Serge believes it is.
       However, Serge also wants validation from his friends. They in turn question their relationship with a man willing to spend such a large amount of money on something that they find hard pressed to consider 'art.'
       Yvan, teetering uncommitedly between the two extreme positions, is also trying to prepare for his wedding. The joyous event gets dragged into the fight as well as the conflict becomes much more personal. In the end the play is, in fact, not about art at all.
       Reza does entertain with her ideas and her presentation, though the play is neither as sharp nor as funny as one might hope. There are a number of clever moments, but there are also loose ends as the play itself balances between classicism and abstraction. Only her ending is truly inspired, a nice way to round off the play as the friends make their choices. Even if it does ring completely true it is a nice close.
       'Art' is not a great play, though it is certainly an actor's play and allows for entertaining stage indulgences. A surprisingly light entertainment, it is more successful in examining friendship than it is art. (And even regarding the friends one has to give Reza the benefit of the doubt as to her premise -- for there is no apparent reason why these three should, in fact, be friends).
       Decent entertainment on the page, but less than one might expect, given its stage-success.

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'Art' Reviews: Yasmina Reza: Other Books by Yasmina Reza under Review Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Yasmina Reza, born in 1959, achieved her first great success with the play 'Art'. She has also written fiction and screenplays.

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