COLUMNS

  • Books

    The Art of the Insane

    The Discovery of the Art of the Insane, by John M. MacGregor. Princeton: at the University Press, 1989, 390 pp., 29 color and 168 black and white illustrations.

    THIS BOOK IS A treasure trove of information, a masterpiece of detective work and intellectual archaeology: John M. MacGregor has undoubtedly succeeded in his “historical reconstruction of the process” whereby the art of the insane “entered consciousness for the first time as a reality of scientific and aesthetic significance.” Of special interest to an art audience is MacGregor’s theory of the psychiatrist Etienne Georget’s influence on

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  • Slant

    The Deadman

    A DEAD MAN LIES NAKED, sprawled across a bed. From somewhere there’s the oppressive drone of a buzzing fly; a nearly naked woman flees the scene. Peggy Ahwesh’s and Keith Sanborn’s take on Georges Bataille’s story “The Deadman” begins like art-house pulp, an adults-only Kiss Me Deadly, but it quickly becomes something less comfortable. This is not warmed-over noir, it’s sex—raw, erotic, pornographic, maybe even feminist. So strong you can smell it.

    During the ’70s, feminist intellectuals here and abroad—Laura Mulvey wrote the landmark “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in 1973—established a

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  • Slant

    The Autobiography of Eve

    A MIND OF MY OWN is the autobiography of Chris Costner Sizemore, better known as “Eve.” Sizemore was the case study upon which The Three Faces of Eve, a popular 1957 movie directed by Nunnally Johnson, was based. Joanne Woodward played Eve, winning an Academy Award for her virtuoso performance as a woman under the influence of a mental illness, Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). In the movie Woodward metamorphosed, before the camera and without special effects, from Eve Black, “the party girl,” to Eve White, “the mother/wife,” to Jane, “the intellectual woman,” enacting a female Jekyll, Jekyll

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  • Books

    Graphic Design in America

    Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History, ed. Mildred Friedman and Phil Freshman. Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, and New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989. 264 pp.

    THE QUAKER OATS MAN, the tech-type IBM logo, and the generic Woman on the ladies’ room door—we all know these images. But who invented them, and when? Produced for the public eye, works of graphic design become so familiar it’s hard to think of them as having authors or histories. The slick surface of design effaces both the marks of these icons’ production and the continual process of renewal and revision that is needed

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  • Books

    Liberals at War

    Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, by Paul Fussell (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 330 pages, 18 black and white illustrations.

    ACCORDING TO PAUL FUSSELL, the picture of frontline life in World War II that was piped back to the Allied homelands was a massive snow job. A vast separation was enforced between what the fighting felt like, smelt like, and what the American and British publics were led to imagine about it. The received information, the censorings and distortions that were pop-fed to the folks at home, in the name of some kind of ideological

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  • Books

    Remedios Varo

    SURREALISM, A MOVEMENT THAT valorized a “feminine” position while at the same time defining this position in traditional terms as irrational and unconscious, gave us Woman as no-longer-placid muse. But this Ophelia unbound took flight only through her impersonation by male artists who, while they valued imagination, could not imagine female subjectivity. As in the movie Tootsie, in which the best woman is a man, or in Jacques Derrida’s privileging of the feminine position of the reader so long as femininity is not specifically ensconced in a female body, the best madwoman was a sane male Surrealist

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  • Books

    Greil Marcus' European Dream

    Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, by Greil Marcus. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989, 496 pp., illustrated, $29.95.

    GREIL MARCUS’ LIPSTICK TRACES is a story of radical European dissent, and a story of the possibilities of negation as a cultural force. The book sometimes reads inspirationally—as an American mirror image of the European enthusiasm for and, often, overvaluation of dissidence in the United States, especially that of the tight-lipped, insane variety. Marcus’ approach to such European dissident groups as the Anabaptists and the Sex Pistols is

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  • Books

    the Art of the Monument

    READERS WHO WANT A GUIDE to the Aztec or Mayan ruins that the title Mexican Monuments may connote should not buy this book. For the contributors to this volume, the Aztec and Maya are by definition not Mexican but pre-Hispanic. Mexican monuments draw on the idioms of pre-Hispanic art (the giant head, the decorated pedestal, the pyramid shape) but can only refer ironically to these motifs of a distant past. Tourists will be disappointed, but readers interested in the situation of nations like Mexico or in questions about public art will not. Although written in an entertaining tone that is

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  • Books

    Nuclear Fear

    Nuclear Fear: A History of Images, by Spencer R. Weart, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988, 535 pp.

    NUCLEAR FEAR IS BOMB SHELTERS in middle-class neighborhoods. It’s a year’s supply of canned food and hunting rifles to keep the neighbors out—if it should come to that. Nuclear fear is staged in Doom Town, a row of mannequin-filled houses set up near a test site. After the nuclear blast, the living rooms are photographed to show twisted plastic bodies covered with glass. Nuclear fear structures our social space. Even suburbia can be understood as a response to the 1950s notion that new

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  • Books

    L'art Africain

    L’Art africain by Jacques Kerchaches, Jean-Louis Paudrat, and Lucien Stéphan. Paris: Editions Mazenod, 1988, 620 pp., 248 color and 821 black and white illustrations, FF. 880.

    IN 1965, A SMALL Parisian publisher, Editions Mazenod, launched a series entitled “L’Art et les grandes civilizations” with the publication of André Leroi-Gourhan’s Préhistoire de l’art occidental (published in the U.S. by Harry N. Abrams under the title Treasures of Prehistoric Art), a work acknowledged at the time to be fundamental to the field. Mazenod has now brought out a collection of essays on African art in a no

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  • Books

    The Predicament of Culture

    The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art, by James Clifford, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988.

    THIS IMPORTANT BOOK is about a crisis in authority—the authority that underwrites modern Western representations of other cultures. The cover photograph provides the first clue to what this predicament entails. Hardly the usual ethnographic image of an old ritual or exotic dance saved for science or presented as spectacle, it shows a black man in khaki pants and smock shirt with a pencil and open notebook in his hands, his head swaddled in fabric and topped

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  • Books

    Peter Halley: Collected Essays 1981–87

    Peter Halley: Collected Essays 1981–87, Zurich: Bruno Bischofberger Gallery, 1988, 205 pp., 19 black and white photographs.

    THE ABILITY TO INFURIATE two factions that believe themselves to be mutually exclusive is always of value, indicating as it does the presence of limits of which we were hitherto unaware, of complementariness where we had dreamed of opposition. Apparently sickened by endless talk about how nonrepresentational paintings have to be involved with the idea of the transcendental, Peter Halley has made a career out of paintings that are not concerned with transcending anything.

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