PRINT January 1981


Parker Hodges

Edward Ruscha, Guacamole Airlines and other drawings (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1980), 96 pages, 84 illustrations, including 30 in color.

What Edward Ruscha says about signs and symbols, myths, drugs, houses and vegetables is clear and relaxing. Whether short texts with single words dropped out of colored backgrounds, or images of aspirins, fireplaces, hit records, or apartment houses and the Los Angeles Times, (earlier trademarks) Ruscha takes as his material familiar stuff. How could anyone fail to smile at Those Of Us Who Have Double Parked, 1976, which consists of just that text, in four lines, lit as if from heaven. The wit is as deadpan as Buster Keaton’s, and as frontal as Don Rickles——but never mean, unless reference to polyester can be taken as an insult.

Guacamole Airlines is one of a series of artists’ books published by Abrams, and was designed by Ruscha himself. It is a handsome book, and the drawings are delightful. On the other hand, were I forced to choose just one of Ruscha’s books, I’m afraid I’d pick one of the earlier ones, probably his total photographic re-creation of Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. Happily, I don’t have to choose; as long as he keeps making them, I’ll probably keep craving them.


Virginia P. White, Grants for the Arts, (New York: Plenum Press).

Michael McCann, Artist Beware (New York: Watson-Guptill).

These books, a guide to getting money from private foundations and government programs, and a primer of poisonous substances common in art and craft materials, reveal exactly what the life of an artist in the late 20th century is like.

Grants for the Arts should probably be read first. How can artists afford to poison themselves with the stuff in Artist Beware if they haven’t gotten a little something from, say, the van Ameringen Foundation to pay for the zinc yellow that’s liable to give them cancer? Or the benzene that may lead to aplastic anemia or leukemia?

Virginia P. White, lecturer and writer on the “art of grantsmanship” and editor of Grants Magazine, has put together an exhaustive guide to getting grants from every possible source, for every possible art form including theater, film, dance, music and the visual arts. She explains how federal arts programs today and in the past (the WPA) work, how to write proposals and how to approach private foundations. She thoughtfully includes addresses for guides to foundations and organizations that specialize in helping people get grants, and offers suggestions on how to deal with everyone currently holding the purse strings.

It is a sober, valuable work, with one major problem. What is going to happen to federal funds for the arts under the new regime in Washington? By the time you read this, at least two of the major forces favorable to federal help for the arts will no longer be in power: Joan Mondale will have left the vice-presidential mansion, and, more important, Democratic congressman John Brademas will have gone back to the Midwest, possibly replaced by a hard-line budget cutter. Brademas, assistant majority leader of the House for years, has traditionally used his powers to push arts bills through Congress. Virginia White’s book, published before the election, may turn out to be hopelessly optimistic about what’s really possible.

Michael McCann’s book, subtitled “the hazards and precautions in working with art and craft materials,” studies the media used in painting, printmaking, ceramics, glass blowing, enamelling; in making sculpture of plaster, clay, wax, stone, wood, plastic and metal; in photography; and in crafts using fibers, dyes, leather, bone, shells, feathers and glass. His message is clear: the studio is a dangerous place to work. Words like pulmonary edema, cancer, skin ulcers, kidney damage, reappear like a litany of the diseases artists can inflict on themselves. He does, however add much information on how people can protect themselves. I cannot imagine an artist not having the information contained in this book. It could be suicidal.


Reservations, photographs by Diane Keaton (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.).

Wouldn’t it be nice to discover that Diane Keaton was too busy making movies and her stand-in took the photographs in Reservations. Alas, the picture on the dustjacket is unmistakably that of the talented actress from Manhattan and Annie Hall. Well, if anyone does remember this book of 44 photographs of hotel lobbies, halls and ballrooms in America, it won’t, I’m afraid, be with fondness, but with something more like disappointment and anger that these glum and static images were published in the first place.

What went wrong? Technically the pictures seem okay, oddly reminiscent of some 1940s studio glamour shots from Hollywood: the light that bounces off the Naugahyde chairbacks in Keaton’s shot of The George Washington Hotel in New York, is as carefully placed as any highlight on Rita Hayworth’s cheekbones. But it is a greasy kind of light which makes much of the detail look suspect.

The subject matter must have seemed a natural one: the eerie lobbies and ballrooms of hotels which have been worn down over the years, rooms that demonstrate an unassuageable appetite for kitsch, and a lack of attention from hotel maintenance staffs. But strangely Keaton’s “public rooms” have no connection with humanity other than the wear and tear that phantom backsides and spike heels have inflicted on these banquettes and patterned carpets.

Where are the people? In these 44 shots there are only three human beings, and only pieces of these stray bodies have actually made it into the frame: the back of a head in Miami Beach, a headless waiter in Boston, and a sweatshirt that levitates outside a lobby door in Luray, Virginia. These vacant pictures gain nothing by their underpopulation. Keaton should stay in prettier hotels or learn to talk to strangers.


Joel Meyerowitz, St. Louis & the Arch, by foreword by James N. Wood (Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1980).

Gorgeous art gives some people the pip. They get cross, start muttering about lack of seriousness, at times even resort to accusations of bad politics. And even though the last few years have brought respectability to the decorative impulse in painting, sculpture and even—Holy Cow!—architecture, doubt about the rectitude of sumptuous art seems to linger. The problem is no less evident in photography.

Joel Meyerowitz, onetime photographer of black-and-white street scenes, has recently published his second book of gorgeous color photographs, St. Louis & the Arch. Like his first book, Cape Light, this new one is filled, page after page, with extraordinarily beautiful images. St. Louis and the Arch, as the name suggests, is an urban document, its light bouncing off courthouses, cathedrals, monuments and undistinguished streets rather than the sea. But this makes surprisingly little difference in what the pictures look like: the light shimmering on the metal skin of Saarinen’s huge Gateway Arch is as ideal as the light on the ocean off Provincetown. The pictures are wonderful; so is the book.

Here, however, is the. rub. If your experience with Meyerowitz’s photographs is anything like mine has been, there may come a moment when, suddenly, the photographs begin to look so damn pretty they are difficult to see. But wait. Don’t despair. I have a Meyerowitz print, one reproduced in Cape Light called Red Interior, Provincetown 1977. About six months after I’d hung the print on the wall, it “turned,” went bad on me—or so I thought. Two years later I am deeply grateful I didn’t get rid of it; the picture has come back to life and is even more beautiful than when I first saw it.

It would be a shame if the beauty of this work were to blind the viewer to the real elegance and intelligence that reside in Meyerowitz’s work.

Parker Hodges