Books

  • Unica Zürn’s Trumpets of Jericho

    The Trumpets of Jericho, by Unica Zürn; translated by Christina Svendsen. Cambridge, MA: Wakefield Press, 2015. 80 pages.

    “MINE IS THE REALM OF SILK.” So Surrealist artist Unica Zürn weaves a material backdrop for her slender but gutting 1968 novella about childbirth. And yet nothing here is smooth. As she dips and stutters through telegraphic references to mythology and personal memories, hypnagogically recounting a violent delivery, she can’t help but see the fiber everywhere. Silk is the blood that runs from the naked breasts of pillaging Tartars to mix with the semen from a duck’s love nest.

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  • the writings of Josep Lluís Sert

    The Writings of Josep Lluís Sert, edited by Eric Mumford. New Haven: Yale University Press; Cambridge, MA: Harvard Graduate School of Design, 2015. 184 pages.

    JOSEP LLUÍS SERT belongs to a middle generation of modern architects whose reputations have not fared all that well over the past half century. Groomed by such early-twentieth-century giants as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and the Swiss historian Sigfried Giedion and straddling the historical divide of World War II, Sert and his peers tend to be pegged as epigones, their expansion and revision of modernist ideology overshadowed by a far

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  • Benjamin H. D. Buchloh’s Formalism and Historicity

    Formalism and Historicity: Models and Methods in Twentieth-Century Art, by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015. 592 pages.

    ALMOST EXACTLY MIDWAY through his new collection of essays, Formalism and Historicity, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh quotes El Lissitzky’s late-1920s description of the revolutionary “demonstration rooms” for abstract art he’d designed earlier that decade in Dresden and Hannover, Germany:

    Traditionally the viewer was lulled into passivity by the paintings on the walls. Our construction/design shall make the man active. . . . With each movement of the viewer in

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  • Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Dying

    Killing and Dying, by Adrian Tomine. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2015. 128 pages.

    THE LANDSCAPES in Adrian Tomine’s comics are stripped down to their most essential lines, so precisely and elegantly observed as to imply the whole world around them. His characters are drawn with the same meticulous intentionality, but their personalities come off as looser, broader caricatures—these are contemptible men and put-upon women. As the volume’s title punningly suggests, Killing and Dying’s six stories (collected from recent issues of Tomine’s comic book Optic Nerve, which has appeared intermittently

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  • Francine Prose’s Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern

    Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern, by Francine Prose. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015. 224 pages.

    WHO WAS PEGGY GUGGENHEIM? This new biography may not provide a complete answer, but it does give a whirlwind tour in a compact, peppy car through the tumultuous life of the most famous patron of modern art. Chapters flash by like cinematic scenes: “Her Money” (she was born into a great deal of it, though not as much as many imagined, and, by one friend’s account, she eventually gave away three-quarters of her wealth), “Paris Before the War” (where she was drawn to a bohemian lifestyle

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  • Asger Jorn and Jacqueline de Jong

    The Case of the Ascetic Satyr: Snapshots from Eternity, by Asger Jorn and Jacqueline de Jong, with texts by Axel Heil, Karen Kurczynski, Marc Lenot, Roberto Ohrt, and Kevin Repp. New York: JdJ/D.A.P., 2015. 2 volumes, 56 pages, 1 folder, 48 ephemera items.

    EVEN THE FORMAL HEADING ABOVE will give you no sense of this book. The definition of a title, never mind the neat totality suggested by an elegant case and a cover painting, won’t help solve this case—all punning inevitable. Better to start in the middle, blank, with a fragment, a piece of pinkish-gray paper scavenged from a hotel, an

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  • Wayne Koestenbaum’s Pink Trance Notebooks

    The Pink Trance Notebooks, by Wayne Koestenbaum. New York: Nightboat Books, 2015. 416 pages.

    IN A 2010 ESSAY essay on Frank O’Hara, Wayne Koestenbaum hymns what he calls the poet’s “excited devotion to the state of excitement itself.” It’s an apt description of Koestenbaum’s own modus as critic, poet, and essayist; his writing tends to verbal excess, to unabashed confessions of shame or humiliation (he has even written a book on the latter subject), and evinces an exorbitant urge toward meaning-making. “We commit a cruelty against existence if we do not interpret it to death,” he writes in The

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  • Kaja Silverman’s Miracle of Analogy

    The Miracle of Analogy, or The History of Photography, Part I, by Kaja Silverman. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015. 240 pages.

    READERS FAMILIAR WITH the work of Kaja Silverman—the renowned theorist and self-described “hardcore cultural constructivist” who came to prominence in the 1980s and ’90s—might be surprised by the title of her latest book, not least because it apparently trucks in miracles. Equally unexpected is that Silverman, known for major texts addressing semiotics, linguistics, and psychoanalysis, has written the first of two volumes that proclaim to offer

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  • Jussi Parikka’s Geology of Media

    A Geology of Media, by Jussi Parikka. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015. 224 pages.

    IF YOU TRULY BELIEVE in “nonhuman agency,” then I know a bridge that wants to sell itself to you. The idea seems to be everywhere these days: in books, articles, essays, blog posts, wall text. It’s as if theorists, with the best of intentions (and no small amount of grandiosity), having “given” agency to workers, then women, then the colonized, then racial and ethnic minorities, then homosexuals, then cyborgs, finally decided that agency was something they might as well keep giving away to anything

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  • Summer Reading

    HAL FOSTER

    Whither photo history and theory? A growth field in universities and museums a generation ago, it seems endangered today. For young people, photography is so last-century; for the rest of us, it is both everywhere and nowhere in a way that is very difficult to grasp. On the one hand, the great modernist accounts, such as the technophilic utopia of Benjamin and the traumatophilic pathos of Barthes, appear outdated; on the other hand, distinguished voices from somewhat outside the field feel empowered to tell us “why photography matters as never before.” (Answer 1: Its digital pictoriality

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  • Richard McGuire’s Here

    Here, by Richard McGuire. New York: Pantheon, 2014. 304 pages.

    ALL COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS turn space into time, but no other graphic novel does it like Here: Its 150-odd two-page spreads depict the same place, from the same perspective, at moments that vary across hours and centuries. During the 1900s and early 2000s, when most of the graphic novel takes place, the site is a parlor, or a living room: We gather the scattered evidence and watch (it’s like collating out-of-order snapshots) as families come in, grow up, move out. Millions of years back, the place was a swamp; six hundred years

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  • Summer Reading

    DAVID SALLE

    I’ve spent countless hours listening to Bob and Ray, first on the original radio broadcasts, later on cassette tape or CD compilations of their greatest routines. I don’t know of any other comedy as mesmerizing or closer to the spirit of art—that ability to make a whole world out of a few ingredients. I love them extravagantly. Bob and Ray, Keener Than Most Persons by David Pollock (Applause Books) is the first behind-the-scenes study of how the duo generated their material and shaped it into such casual sublimity. I’m cheating a little, as this under-the-radar book came out in

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