COLUMNS

  • 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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  • Books

    Heinecken and The Photography of Max Yavno

    Heinecken, edited by James Enyeart, Friends of Photography in association with Light Gallery, 1980, 158 pages.

    IN HIS INTRODUCTORY STATEMENT to this volume, Robert Heinecken acknowledges that reproductions of his work can only function as “bare diagrams of already esoteric ideas or, at best, oblique reflections of the actual items.” Recognizing this limitation, Heinecken and his publishers have attempted to fashion something more visceral: sequences of “rich, non-linear sensations.”

    Heinecken surveys a little over a decade of work—the years between 1963 and 1976—in which the artist established

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  • Books

    About Looking and Seeing Berger: A Revaluation

    “WHY LOOK AT ANIMALS?” John Berger asks in the first of 23 brief essays. They disappoint so, our pretty pets and zoo inmates, they look so dead, so indifferent. What do we see there? Berger answers simply: we see “marginality,” and theirs reflects our own. Mere tokens, neither natural nor social, animals exist, properly, nowhere—a fate, Berger implies, that may be ours, too. As we isolate, so are we isolated, and that is what the dumb stares of both zoo visitors and zoo animals bespeak, isolation—an “historic loss” due to the “culture of capitalism.” In 19th- and 20th-century Western Europe and

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  • Books

    The Shock of the New

    “WHEN WATCHING A MOVIE,” writes Robert Hughes, “one only has two choices—go or stay. With television, there is a third: change the channel.” Channel-switching, he claims, has accustomed us to receiving information as a montage of images. While the subject of The Shock of the New is modern art, its armature is undeniably television; it is a fast-paced collage of themes, ideas and names, pasted together with Hughesian wit.

    After seeing most of the TV series from which the book evolved, it is impossible really to “read” it; one “hears” the sentences rumble forth in Hughes’ resonant Australian voice

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  • Books

    Photography: Essays & Images; Illustrated Readings in the History of Photography

    THIS ANTHOLOGY IS AN immensely valuable sourcebook for anyone interested in the history of photography. It includes 50 texts of various kinds from all periods of the medium’s past—essays by critics, historians, photographers; interviews with significant figures in the field; news reports of major events; and reports on technical advances—all illustrated profusely, and each introduced by a short background note by Beaumont Newhall. In form it is strongly reminiscent of Nathan Lyons’ 1966 Photographers on Photography. In fact, the two volumes complement each other well—while Newhall’s is weakest

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