COLUMNS

  • Books

    Russian Avant-Garde Art

    LET US SAY FIRST and quickly that this book is a bargain. With 527 glossy, heavy stock pages displaying almost 1200 reproductions, more than half of them in good color, and dozens of documentary photographs, it retails at only $60.00. In this era of excessive prices for books in general, and especially for art books, Abrams is to be congratulated for making such “elite” material available to the art-loving proletariat. They have proved that it can be done.

    And what do we get for this investment? The most comprehensive and accurate look at early Russian modern painting yet seen anywhere. For the

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  • Passages

    PASSAGES

    Artforum would like to pay remembrance to Seymour Greenbaum, the certified public accountant who was of great help, both personal and professional, to so many artists. Mr. Greenbaum had been a CPA for 30 years. He died in an automobile accident on April 9th, aged 60.

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  • Books

    Real Lush

    THE TERM “ARTISTS’ BOOKS” seems to be applied more and more confusingly to anything in an art context that resembles a book. I would like to attempt to define this and some related terms. On one of the first occasions that the phrase “artists’ books” was used, it was implied that it referred to “books made by artists.”1 I have no quarrel with this definition, but would like to expand it so that artists’ books are defined as those books made or conceived by artists. The reason for this addition is that few so-called artists’ books are actually the result of a single person’s labor, even though

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  • Books

    Camera Lucida

    THROUGH THE VOLUMINOUS body of his critical undertaking, Roland Barthes single-handedly transformed not only the language of Modern criticism, but its method, scope, and application as well. His essays published during the last three decades are now considered classics, and range broadly in style and subject matter from the rigorous structural critique of language in its formal aspect in his semiological writings, to the free-flowing and discursive exploration of its various forms and specific texts. In addition to literature, Barthes’ conception of “language,” and hence his field of inquiry,

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  • Books

    Man as Art

    Man as Art: New Guinea, photographs by Malcolm Kirk, introduction by Andrew Strathern (New York: The Viking Press (A Studio Book), 1981), 143 pages, 92 illustrations, 62 in color.

    SOME YEARS AGO A FRIEND gave me a copy of Self-Decoration in Mount Hagen by Andrew and Marilyn Strathern (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971). This marvelous bit of anthropology changed my thinking about clothing, sculpture, presentation of the individual in society, and ultimately the importance of decoration—not only in New Guinea but in the world at large. My only disappointment with the Stratherns’ book was

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  • Passages

    H.C. Westermann (1922–1981)

    H.C. Westermann had a genius for making his art look like craft. The harmony that he established with his homey materials was capable of transforming the obvious and the sentimental into the sublime. The eloquent economy of his imagery suggested transcendent folk art, but the compact poetry of his vision lifted it much higher. Westermann was an unequivocally American artist who translated the cynical Duchampian monologue into a rueful Appalachian ballad.

    William Copley’s remembrance of Westermann is a bear hug of a painting. There is no “awful rowing toward God” in this memento mori, but rather

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  • Books

    Hardboiled America

    It is time that the American people realized themselves. Broadway is genuine. . . . But in the drawing rooms they think it well to deprecate all this. They want to copy Europe, just as we in Russia insisted for so many years on copying Europe. . . .

    —Serge Diaghilev, quoted in Serge Diaghilev, by Richard Buckle

    From a nation of immigrants dependent on what Diaghilev saw as a mail-order heritage, America, by the ’50s, had begun to realize the competitive vitality of its own accomplishments, eventually growing so enamored of its immediate past that planned obsolescence pioneered a brand of turnover

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  • Books

    Interviews with Francis Bacon 1962–1979

    David Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon 1962–1979 (London: Thames and Hudson (distributed by W.E. Norton & Co.), 1981), 176 pages, 129 illustrations.

    DAVID SYLVESTER’S INTERVIEWS WITH Francis Bacon presents a portrait of a tough-minded artist, a man who is father-conflicted, compulsive, driven to surpass himself, productive in spite of (or perhaps because of) his cynical world view. In the preface, Sylvester suggests that the seven interviews spanning 17 years from 1962 to 1979 form an extended dialogue. That is a prodigious claim, and while Sylvester has elicited the kind of candid

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  • Books

    The Persian Poems

    The Persian Poems by Janey Smith, illustrations by Robert Kushner, text by Kathy Acker (New York: Bozeau of London Press, 1980), 48 pages.

    A CAPTIVE GIRL-CHILD LEARNING LANGUAGES is the image upon which Kathy Acker and Robert Kushner’s The Persian Poems by Janey Smith is based. Twelve-year-old-Janey is the prisoner of a New York-based Iranian slave-trader, who is helping her to master the syntax of sex. “One day,” Janey comes into possession of a book of Persian grammar and, hoping to loosen the grip of ennui, begins to ponder the positionings of nouns. The text of The Persian Poems purports to

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  • Books

    Slave to Beauty

    TO STARVE ONESELF, TO ALLOW one’s hair to twine in stringy locks, to cast oneself in loincloth strapped and seemingly nailed to a cross, and to orchestrate the photographs of that crucifixion and later to exhibit them together in a frame as “The Seven Last Words of Christ” was to provoke mixed derision and acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. In July of 1898 an American photographer of romantic sensibility, F. Holland Day (with Baron Corvo, surely one of the most fascinating eccentrics of the century), a bookish man who throve on the examples of decadence and suffering that could be found in

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  • Books

    Photodiscovery

    TWO THINGS DISTINGUISH PHOTODISCOVERY from the usual run of coffee-table compilations of photographs. First, it includes an exceptionally high percentage of little-known pictures, and second, it lacks almost any shred of thematic unity.

    The book is an expanded version of a series of articles that Bruce Bernard originally prepared for the London Sunday Times magazine—where he’s the picture editor—on photographic treasures hidden away in archives and other collections. Bernard has a good eye for grabbers. Photodiscovery is chock-full of photographs that delight, puzzle, amuse and startle. Many are

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  • Books

    Nicaragua, Falkland Road, and Rajasthan

    WHILE IT CONVEYS INTIMATE DETAILS of a revolution, and therefore of a historical event, Susan Meiselas’ Nicaragua should not be treated as any kind of historical analysis. The book has been criticized for deciphering less about an event or a situation than a 60-second television news report, but this is fatuous. Whatever a book of still photos can tell its readers and viewers is clearly not of the same order of experience as a television broadcast. While such a book does not attempt to fill in the gaps between occurrences, it does impart their flavor and mood. If it doesn’t furnish corporate

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