COLUMNS

  • Books

    Gemini G.E.L.

    What was noticed (what the book made me think about):

    That every artist has a kind of goad in the form of another artist who represents what they don’t like about being an artist. These goads/other artists are not so much inventories of what to avoid as an artist as they are an embodiment of what other people, nonartists that is should not think artists are. This could be either their relationship to and manner of carrying around their celebrity (who is watching); or their overprofessionalism, which puts a rationalized face on a near-random thing—work patterns of relative arbitrariness (habits)

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  • Books

    The Real World of the Impressionists: Paintings and Photographs 1848–1918

    Yann Le Pichon’s intention to “recreate the intimate milieus” that shaped painting in France from 1848 to 1918 is unnecessary, given the number of extensive and well-documented studies of the Paris of early Modernism. This poorly researched and spare effort is organized into six chronological chapters, each covering a quartier of Paris (or a country site) that was significant to the avant-garde. In the foreword, Maurice Rheims of the French Academy echoes Le Pichon’s bankrupt thesis: “The vision of happiness . . . celebrated in these canvases is . . . a kind of salvation wrested from the work

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  • Books

    Ficciones

    “Obviously Borges and . . . LeWitt have traveled to the same remote and pristine territories by different, circuitous routes,” said Alastair Reid in the newsletter of the Limited Editions Club; it was Reid who suggested the pairing of Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones (1945) with the drawings of Sol LeWitt. Alexander Coleman’s introductory essay for this elegant, limited-edition volume evades this most important convergence between Borges and LeWitt: the questioning of the models of reason that forms the basis of modern thought. Moreover, the rarefied, estheticized character of the presentation—the

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  • Books

    The Rap Attack: African Jive to New York Hip-Hop

    Of all the books generated by hip-hop this is the first to address rap music and music-as art. That says a good deal about the dynamics of fads, the power of internal colonialism, and the practice of rock criticism. Still, worthy as Britisher David Toop’s efforts are, his sensibility and his methods remain elementary. A clumsy writer, Toop spends a good bit of his text detailing rap antecedents: the praise songs of African griots, Afro-American “dozens,” Jamaican dub and DJing—even lily-white Cliff Richard’s bongo solo on the UK Shadows’ 1960 version of “Apache.” But because Toop can’t really

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  • Books

    Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network of International Postal Art Activity

    Edited by Michael Crane and Mary Stofflet, San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984, 522 pp., ca. 200 black and white illustrations, $15.95 paper.

    There are lots of examples of and comment on the organized neo-Dada mail art movement (mid ’50s-1981) in this volume including a few Dada precursors, but not Raoul Hausmann’s 1921 postcard to Tristan Tzara, where he decorated a face with uncouth phrases. You can buy it today as a postcard of the postcard and send it yourself— after six decades it still retains a certain violence. The stuff collected in Correspondence Art doesn’t; to use the words

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  • Books

    Return Engagement: Faces to Remember—Then & Now

    The selling point here is that fashion cameraman Horst will “go back” and shoot bygone movie queens “as they are today”—as if he had shot them when they were. The problem is not even that the selling point is misleading—the Then pictures are almost exclusively not by Horst—but that those selected (from Museum of Modern Art files, Watters’ collection, etc.) don’t come close to telling the present-day viewer why so many of these women (74 of them, including Janet Gaynor, Fay Wray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Mary Astor) were so luminous on the screen. As for the Now pictures, most of the time we seem

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  • Books

    Forbidden Dreams

    Shutterbug and would-be mise en scénariste Rebecca Blake did the Helmut Newton knock-offs for Eyes of Laura Mars, the Faye Dunaway movie of some years back. Now she has her own big book of glitzy femme “fantasies” (so promoted, but then what’s David Led dick doing here with his “concept”?). Result: “forbidden dreams” so bland all 40-plus female models look alike. Given that the sexy-violence-without-sex concept is really Newton’s, it’s fair that Blakes pictures make his work seem as compassionate as Lewis Hine’s—and Marc Behm’s Nazi-porn read like Céline, and Chanel’s “Share the Fantasy” TV

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  • Books

    The Hypocrisy of Justice in the Belle Epoque

    Let me say right off that I could not put this book down—not so much for Benjamin Martin’s analysis of the hypocrisy of the social scene of the Third Republic as for his fascinating account of the three major scandals of the period. One of these, the Steinheil Affair, reads like a treatment for a Belle Epoque soap opera. Here are the facts.

    At 21, Meg Japy, beautiful, sensual, etc., married a man twenty years her elder, an artist of vast ordinariness but who had made his modest way “content that each year since 1870 the official state exhibition had selected one of his paintings for hanging.”

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  • Books

    Our Lives and Our Children

    Our Lives and Our Children: Photographs Taken Near the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, by Robert Adams, Millerton, N.Y.: Aperture, 1984, 96 pp., 74 black and white photographs.

    The factory at Rocky Flats, near Denver, makes plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons. Robert Adams sums up his pictures of Rocky Flats residents—people of all ages, many in family groups, all shot outdoors, especially in shopping malls—with the idea that one can gain the will to challenge power “after we have noticed the individuals with whom we live. How mysteriously absolute each is. How many achieve, in moments of

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  • Books

    The Innocent Eye

    The Innocent Eye: On Modern Literature and the Arts, by Roger Shattuck, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1984, 362 pp., 11 black and white illustrations.

    Roger Shattuck’s The Banquet Years (1958) remains the unsurpassed work on the great, fecund period of art ferment in Paris before World War I. Rich with anecdote and stories of such exotic artists as Alfred Jarry, Henri Rousseau, and Guillaume Apollinaire, The Banquet Years serves as a model cultural history, a luscious, erudite narrative. “Having Congress: The Shame of the Thirties,” the lead essay in Shattuck’s recent collection of essays, The

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  • Books

    New Art, Art Plastic, Beyond a Portrait, Emile Gallé, Howard Hodgkin, Munch, and Irving Penn

    IN THE GRANDER SCHEME of things, this tabloid-sized record will surely look dated in no time at all. Compiled by four editors who seem to have combed recent catalogues and reviews rather than looked at the real thing in order to make their selections, this cross between a telephone book and a mail-order catalogue illustrates works (very little sculpture, endless numbers of paintings) by 118 artists “exhibited in the United States.” For the unfamiliar reader this will be confusing since there is only one page of text (in the form of an editors’ note) to accompany the mass of images laid out

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  • Books

    The Golden Age, Images of a Golden Past, A toute épreuve, Cézanne and the End of Impressionism, and 19th Century Art

    THIS HANDSOME AND INFORMATIVE BOOK will be of use to specialists and laymen alike. The text is comprehensive, almost encyclopedic, covering—in addition to its discussion of individual artists and pictures—such matters as patronage, theory, and subject matter, as well as the political, historical, religious, and economic contexts in which Dutch painting developed during the 17th century. The treatment of individual artists is organized geographically, in terms of major artistic centers, which has the advantage of conveying a good deal of the specific texture, and variety, of the life out of which

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