PRINT December 1988


Sadness Because the Video Rental Store Was Closed & Other Stories, by Mark Kostabi, New York: Abbeville Press, Inc., 1988, 176 pp., 186 color illustrations._

In the category of hyperchrome puerile excess between hardcovers, our nominee is . . .Sadness, etc. We actually bought this book of our own—totally inexplicable—free will. Modeled after a career on the move, it is best understood as a “flip” book in which, as pages speed by under the thumb, author’s not-so-sly humor slips into “flippage” when fast artist hits post-Structuralist wet pavement. Sadness also serves to remind us that before the advent of theory-laden appropriation there was old-fashioned copping-everything-one-can-from-other-people’s-art as a form of pictorial name-dropping.

In Mark Kostabi’s freewheeling eclecticism of emptied signs and bad puns, the privileged signifier is unmistakably the cash register (see pages 22–23, 26–28, 31–32, 35, 58–59, 89, 92, 129, 137, 141, 171, and esp. 172). No shortage of chutzpah here, no shortage of ego either. “Sadness because the video rental store was closed.” Indeed. Even more so, in our case, because the bookstore wasn’t.

Ed Hill and Suzanne Bloom

Architectural Practice: A Critical View, by Robert Gutman, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1988, 147 pp., 11 black and white illustrations._

I suppose it’s perverse in the season of the big picture book to select for review a skimpily illustrated 147-page paperback, but this is a book that deserves to be singled out in any season. On my shelf it sits not with the architecture books but right next to The Elements of Style. It’s that kind of book: a classic, a masterpiece in miniature, the kind of book you treasure not just, or even mainly, for the information it contains but for the moral lesson offered by the balance, concision, and straightforwardness with which the information is presented.

As against Ruskin’s seven idealist lamps (Truth, Sacrifice, etc.), Architectural Practice identifies and analyses ten material factors “which, when taken together, constitute a ‘world’ that members of the [architectural] profession experience daily.” These include changes in client demands, the oversupply of licensed architects, increased project complexity, competition with other professionals, salary structure, and, lastly, “greater intervention and involvement on the part of the state and the wider public in architectural concerns.” No one that I can think of has articulated more clearly or more persuasively the mechanisms by which market forces have determined architecture’s status as a cultural activity.

And yet, is it impossible to sociologically quantify creative initiative on the part of architects themselves? It’s in the final section of the book that Robert Gutman speculates on architecture as a form of art practice that has profited from our “culture of consumption.” But he evidently finds no sociological basis for distinguishing between architects who are merely symptomatic of this culture (Helmut Jahn), those who show conceptual sophistication in designing for it (Robert Venturi), those who attempt to mask it (Michael Graves), and those who rely more heavily on support from the art market (Bernard Tschumi) or the academic market (Peter Eisenman) than on the economics of traditional professional practice. And while he observes that many architects are pleased by the increasing attention to their work by the public, and others are troubled by “the development of an audience disposed to consume architecture apart from the experience of building,” he doesn’t peer into this phenomenon with much depth. I hope that someday, for example, Gutman will bring his analytic skills to bear on the power of the media to confer not only prestige but also identity.

Herbert Muschamp

Personal Exposures, by Elliott Erwitt, New York/London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1988, 255 pp., 240 Duotone photographs.

“When I talk about my pictures, I have to think a little bit. . . but. . . I certainly don’t use those funny words museum people and art critics like,” writes Elliott Erwitt in Personal Exposures. Instead, Erwitt presents his black and white photographs “like a diary,” punctuating them with anecdotes that are a gracious mix of modesty and ego, narrated with the charm and wit of a street-smart idealist who has gotten “into situations where you don’t really belong.” With calculated vulnerability, these verbal “snaps” give us a close-up view of the photographer’s family, inspirations/goals, approach/ technique, experiences, tricks of the trade, and wanderlust; a kind of spoken depth-of-field for Erwitt’s visual “exposures,” which, nonetheless, speak for themselves.

Erwitt’s photographs don’t give the sense of random shooting. Spontaneity has been waited for (“I. . . let them take their own time”), not staged, but in a way anticipated. As acute instincts and providence fuse, Erwitt, strategically located, finds the sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant, but always quirkily expressive relationship and/or gesture in a seemingly quotidian circumstance. On the other hand, when the situation is not commonplace at all, as in his documenting of J.F.K.’s funeral, or of the “kitchen debate” between Nixon and Khruschev, for instance, he focuses in on the emotion, the gut of the event, as much as the action itself, so that the photographs succinctly yet nondogmatically tell all. At the close of his text, Erwitt expresses his hope that the book “reflects a certain way of seeing and feeling.” It does, leaving the reader with a specific sensibility, point of view, and both the subjects and their photographer personally exposed.

Melissa Harris

Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction, eds. George E. Slusser and Eric S. Rabkin, Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987, 258 pp.

The authors of these scholarly essays on the craft, philosophy, and pure science of science fiction suggest that sci-fi aliens have much to teach us down on planet Earth. In this collection, professionals in the fields of animal physiology, environmental studies, literature, and physics take their subject seriously, citing everything from classic texts to contemporary papers on the development of robot culture to, with humorous seriousness, even the purported information on the subject currently available at our supermarkets in tabloids such as the National Enquirer: “10 ways to tell if your co-workers could be space aliens.” But why all this attention to the various manifestations of ET?

The modern word “alien” comes from the Latin alius, the other, or other than. By creating, with the sci-fi alien, a being in all ways other than man, man’s mirror image, our human dimensions are in fact defined. This is a process of negative definition akin to Ian Wilson’s discussion of knowing and not knowing. And it may be that we can read the popularity of these fictions as an indication of how—and how far—we have moved from accepting ourselves as the undisputed center of the universe: in today’s science fiction novels, modern man is more often presented as searcher in an unknowable void than as master of the cosmic situation. And this philosophic ill-ease brings to mind another term, derived from the same Latin root, that also characterizes our modern life here on earth: “alienation.”

Amy Baker Sandback

The Dog in Art from Rococo to Post-Modernism_, by Robert Rosenblum, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1988, 26 duotone and 35 color illustrations.

Heel!, barks the art historian, as he sets his sights on a short-leashed walk through the last 200 years of art, pursuing our best friend. And setting a delightful pace with this exercise in Horatian dulce et utili, Robert Rosenblum entices us to come along to examine our changing view of the world through the depiction of our greatest historical hounds.

In three terse, synchronic chapters entitled “From Rococo to Romanticism,” “From Realism to Fin de Siécle,” and “From Modernism to Post-Modernism,” the reader is treated to Rosenblum’s descriptive analyses of paintings, as he doggy-paddles all the way from lesser-known French court artists to notables of the 18th and 19th centuries (including Goya, Turner, Gauguin, Manet, Renoir, et al.) to Modern favorites Balla, Dali, Klee, and Miro, and into post-Modernist contemporaries Bacon, Haring, Wegman, and Warhol, among many, many others. But while in these, our pooch best reflects our current, eternally reproducible culture, the real showstoppers are those few pieces of sculpture that Rosenblum has included in his survey: Anne Seymour Damer’s Two Sleeping Dogs, 1784, whose cool, soft marble fur entices us to touch even in reproduction; Clodion’s Mausoleum for Ninette, 1780–85, which mocks (or perhaps not) the funerary monument; Adriano Cecioni’s Dog Defecating, ca. 1880, whose straightforward documentation pulls no punches; and even Stanley Tigerman’s full-scale Anti-Cruelty Society Building, 1981.

Rosenblum has doggedly pursued his goal in this book, offering us no new breeds, but plenty of juicy bones to gnaw on.

Charles V. Miller

Calligram: Essays in New Art History from France, ed. Norman Bryson, Cambridge: at the University Press, 1988, 224 pp., 19 black and white illustrations.

In his introduction to this anthology of writings by such figures as Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva, and Michel Foucault, Norman Bryson asserts that the discipline of art history, after decades of intransigency, is now “unmistakably beginning to alter.” It is the point of this impressive and, from the standpoint of the classroom, eminently useful collection to reveal some of the bases for these changes. Included in the anthology are Barthes’ meditations on 17th-century Dutch painting; Kristeva’s psychoanalytical examination of Giotto; and Jean Baudrillard’s problematic exploration of the concept of trompe-l’oeil. On the whole, Bryson’s choices reveal the significant role played by each writer in altering the discourse of art history, particularly evident in his selection of two remarkable and influential essays: Michel Foucault’s analysis of Velãzquez’s Las Meniñas, and Louis Marin’s discussion of rhetoric and subjectivity in Poussin’s The Arcadian Shepherds.

By limiting his inquiry to France and to major critics and theorists, however, Bryson offers a somewhat deceptive view. (And most of the selected essays are, in fact, not “new” at all: of the 11 works included, the majority are from the 1970s or earlier.) Thus Bryson overlooks what may be the most radical methodological shift in recent art-historical studies: the expansion of the discourse on art—most notably in the United Kingdom, West Germany, and the United States—to a broader political understanding of culture, both high (an analysis of the institutions of art, such as the gallery and museum system) and popular (the interchange between art and advertising). Yet Bryson’s introductory essay and the breadth of his selections are important for their insights into both groundbreaking changes in the field of art history and the meaning of these changes in France.

Maurice Berger

The Quilt: Stories from The NAMES Project, by Cindy Ruskin, New York: Pocket Books, 1988, 160 pp., over 200 color photographs by Matt Herron.

This book isn’t about art and it isn’t about craft. It is the record of the origins and development of a gigantic quilt, and a few of the thousands of personal stories surrounding this special, poignant way in which a large group of people chose to remember those they loved who have died of AIDS.

We know of the great discoveries of tombs of kings and princes; knights and their ladies are memorialized in their effigies; the war dead have their statues and special days; some people collect elaborate mourning embroideries and jewelry, often incorporating a lock of the late lamented’s hair. But in so many of those memorials there is a formality and distance between the memorial and the remembered. This is not so here. All of the sewn and painted panels making up the now famous NAMES Project quilt were made by grieving lovers, friends, and families as a direct expression of their loss. For the most part, the quilt makers are neither artists, nor even adept at sewing, but the results go straight to the heart.

If you had visited the quilt in Washington in October you might have seen one panel, not recorded in this book (probably because it arrived too late), which has scrawled on it something like the following, “After he died, the young man appeared before his Lord and said ‘As I look back at the end of my life I see only one set of footprints, and yet you promised me that you would always be at my side.’ To which his Lord replied, ‘I was with you all the time but when it became truly unbearable for you I carried you in my arms.’” If you can read these words unmoved, then this book and the NAMES Project are not for you.

Anthony Korner

Nicola De Maria: Trionfo della caritá (Triumph of charity) by Franco Toselli, Milan: Franco Toselli, 1988, 208 pp., 88 color illustrations.

Those who know Nicola De Maria’s painting and who read Franco Toselli’s text will immediately feel their hearts beating at the same speed and tempo as this art.

“Nicola has removed the vacuum-cleaner from the room of Van Gogh and put the flame again to the gunpowder of painting”; “The material of dreams is the same as that of our bones”; “Eyes and ears are a box of matches that ignite the forest of the soul”; “Nicola, friend of Courbet”; “Green thought of a frog in the red eyes of the sea god”; “Paintings memorable and unexpected as the footprints of a wolf at the threshold of the house”; “Good news from the planet earth—the end of tourism”; “The thought flies, silently accompanied by its light. . . . ”

This volume of 88 paintings on paper must be considered completely out of the ordinary, not only because of the exceptional care taken with the graphics, but also because it is born out of unique conditions. Only a very few visitors are permitted entrance into Nicola’s studio. But over many years of familiarity with the artist’s work, and his organizing of many exhibitions of it, Toselli has come upon this “unknown” part of Nicola’s extraordinary pictorial project. (For this artist’s pictorial project is oceanic, immense: what has appeared up until now is only the tip of the iceberg.)

Toselli has always been a publisher of books, big and small. But this formidable volume, offering us the evidence of one more marvelous aspect of Nicola’s adventure in progress, seems to me to be a high point.

Lisa Licitra Ponti

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.

Poets on Painters: Essays on the Art of Painting by Twentieth-Century Poets, ed. J. D. McClatchy, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988, 362 pp., 8 color and 70 black and white illustrations.

Gertrude Stein is disingenuously coy about why “it is more complete, looking out of windows in museums, than looking out of windows anywhere else.” D. H. Lawrence rails at “the dear high-brows who gaze in a sort of ecstasy and get a correct mental thrill.” Elizabeth Bishop tenders a gracious tribute to a naive artist of “natural virtue.” These postures may be more or less characteristic of these poets, but nevertheless, when they’re struck before paintings, we’re in for some delighted and delightful sighs.

I don’t know who’s going to buy this book, other than double-major college students and the already converted who have found that when poets turn their attention to arrangements of oil on canvas, we can expect the unexpected. That’s not to say these writers don’t know their theory (Richard Howard and John Ashbery can go the distance with any post-Structuralist heavyweight); or their history (Ezra Pound’s and Kenneth Rexroth’s idiosyncratic revisionism can blow conventional canon-makers out of the water); or the place their chosen subjects occupy in the art landscape (James Merrill’s “Notes on Corot” is a small wonder of critical assessment wed to sensuous observation; the prose of James Schuyler’s affectionate appreciation of Jane Freilicher does just what he claims her paintings do—brings the eye “up close, right on top of the canvas, right on top of you”). But the ultimate value of this anthology, and the reason it deserves a wider readership, lie in the way it reminds us that a responsibility—and a joy—of the art writer, in Howard’s words, is to “ransack the world in search of eloquence. . . one wants the terms by which to declare one’s adoration.”

Jan Heller Levi

BEN: La Vérité de A à Z (BEN: The truth from A to Z), Toulouse: Editions ARPAP, 1987, 192 pp., 128 black and white illustrations.

This compact, beautifully realized book is a dictionary of the life, works, and positions of Ben Vautier. It was an inspired idea to present Ben in this Voltairean mode, where all his past and present preoccupations, from chickens to God, jealousy to bananas, his wife Annie to ethnocentrism, can be interfiled with his considered remarks on art and other topics. The alphabetical ordering also means that the tyranny of chronology is set aside, so that each of Ben’s works, gestures, ideas, etc., stands on its own merits. This suits him very well, since his preoccupation with “the new” means that having succinctly realized a work he moves quickly on to another, scattering gems of ideas in his wake.

Ben’s candor and humor make the book a riot to read. In spite of his “megalomania,” he cannot help judging himself: charm 3/10, intelligence 4/10, honesty 6/10, etc. (Virility, however, 18/20). He is also well informed about art, and a keen critic; see how he scores the exponents of Pop art, Support-Surface, the trans-avantgarde, and German painting.

While this is a book that can be sampled randomly, it can also be profitably read all through. Ben’s range is extraordinary. It is not every artist whose concerns could generate and warrant a pocket encyclopedia such as this.

Clive Phillpot

Monuments of Egypt: The Napoleonic Edition, ed. Charles Coulston Gillispie and Michel Dewachter, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, in association with the Architectural League of New York and the J. Paul Getty Trust, 1988, 640 pp., 29 color and 390 black and white illustrations.

In 1798, when Napoleon invaded Egypt, Talleyrand wrote in his memoirs, “Egypt was a province of the Roman Republic; she must become a province of the French Republic. . . . The French will lift it from the hands of the most appalling tyrants who have ever existed.” Thus this “civilizing mission” consisted of 400 ships bearing not only 17,000 military troops but also scientists, engineers, architects—and the artists who would document the feverish excitement of the French’s first actual encounter with Egypt’s panoramic views, temples, sculpture and paintings, manuscripts and hieroglyphs, mummies, etc!

Monuments of Egypt is a superlative reprinting of the 419 extraordinary engravings (29 in color) in the first five folios (printed 1809–1822) generated in this expedition. But more than this, it is the evidence of one of the most obsessive attempts on the part of Western imagination and conceptual praxis to define, circumscribe, and assert power over the manifest meanings of an utterly “other” culture. Indeed, that imperialistic intent is made clear in the frontispiece image: in clear skies above a vast, perspectived landscape of Egyptian monuments, the heroized, (neo)classic conqueror Napoleon, escorted by emblems of science and art, drives a chariot wreaking devastation on the Mameluke rulers of Egypt toppling below. Seen through modern eyes, many of the engravings within appear claustrophobic—blind and airless in their total evenness, their exacting and exhaustive articulation of detail and surface. But that is through modern eyes. For in the world of Monuments of Egypt, the rendered object is consumed and re-represented through a relentlessly universalizing vision: visual information is tendered through a process that is an encyclopedic, additive, and cumulative accretion of the observable.

Visual control of the world has changed. Perceptual acknowledgment is now vested in photographs (and film). The emergence and privileging of photography represents a crucial shift in our construction of perception and cognition. Thus this great Napoleonic enterprise and its astounding folios represent the fitting monument to the closure of the prephotographic knowing of the world.

Leon Golub

The Oxford Companion to the Mind, ed. Richard L. Gregory, Oxford: at the University Press, 1987, 856 pp., 200 black and white illustrations.

Anyone who marvels at having a mind ought to own this book. Writers will certainly benefit by it, for it’s a pharmacopoeia of intellectual stimulants: there’s a remedy in it for every strain of writer’s block. Organized alphabetically by topic, The Oxford Companion to the Mind covers subjects ranging from “Consciousness,” “Nervous System,” and “Schizophrenia” to improbable entries such as “Manners,” “[Deep-Sea] Diver Performance,” “Blood Myth,” “Theology and Mind-Brain Identity,” and “Blindness, Recovery From.” And there are plenty of handy, thorough definitions of technical terms that crop up, for better or worse, in art discourse, like “aphasia” and “intentionality.”

Editor and contributor Richard Gregory is well-known for his research on sense perception. He has respected the Freudian psychoanalytic tradition and its offspring, but he has also devoted long entries to Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Egyptian, and Greek concepts of mind. And he has weighted the whole volume heavily with recent findings in brain research that bear directly on the theoretical background of the arts. Contributors include A. J. Ayer, A. R. Luria, Daniel Dennett, Noam Chomsky, R. D. Laing, Mary Warnock, and many other distinguished psychologists, philosophers, and scientists. They provide neat glosses on the work of key thinkers and make a wealth of technical information accessible. Though structured like a reference book, this Oxford Companion is entertaining enough to be read straight through.

Kenneth Baker

In Exitu, by Giovanni Testori, Milan: Garzanti, 1988, 125 pp.

Any translator of In Exitu will face a formidable challenge, for it will be extremely difficult to capture the voice of its protagonist, Gino Riboldi, whose speech is Giovanni Testori’s brilliant invention—a combination of Milanese dialect, Latin, French, and neologisms that reflects Gino’s origins and milieu, the Catholic Italian culture of vox dei, vox populi, vox culis. In Exitu is Gino’s deathbed monologue, as this drug-dependent hustler addresses all those who determined and destroyed his existence: Christ, his father, his mother, his teacher, his “john,” his friends, and ultimately his reader. He speaks short—often only one-word—sentences, as his illness weakens him almost to breathlessness. But as Gino does not go gently into that good night, he struggles to find and master a language for his acute and agonizing awareness. And that language becomes one based on almost mathematical structures produced from relationships among sound, content, and associations. In In Exitu, the conventions of conversational language are exploded, and the meaning of words and images expanded, to create a work of art of frightening intensity.

Jacqueline Burckhardt

A Book by Anselm Kiefer. Erotik im Fernen Osten, oder: Transition from cool to warm, by Anselm Kiefer, New York: George Braziller, Inc., in association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1988, 89 pp., 95 color illustrations.

This is a twice-made artist’s book. The first is Anselm Kiefer’s original notebook containing this series of watercolors. But rather than as an incidental visual diary, or as a sketch pad for a larger project, Kiefer conceived of the notebook as an autonomous work of art. In reproducing this work, Kiefer did not wish his publisher to create a facsimile (as one might have expected). So the second book is, as presented here, one reconstructed in accordance with the artist’s vision and specification—a book of a book.

No words or text to accompany or live with Kiefer’s images, which describe a ship’s journey through frozen bluish sea and skies and ice floes to a naked, orange-red female form or forms. In a sense, this is as much a journey of transformation as it is of transitions, a journey of tones, mood, and archetypes. Above all, it is a wordless adventure, primordial and rooted in childhood fantasy, and as compelling as a Jules Verne novel.

A cogent introduction to the book provides a sampling of possible readings and sources for Kiefer’s images in German literature (and gives a clear and direct overview of themes in Kiefer’s overall work), but the visual pull of this book, its sheer visceral beauty, does not invite literary interpretation.

This is a treasure book, simple and haunting. Both Kiefer and his publisher are to be thanked for such fine richness.

Frederic Tuten

The Elton John Collection, 4 vols., London: Sotheby's London, 1988, 624 pp., 431 color and 467 black and white illustrations.

Even four lavishly illustrated volumes in an elegant slipcase fall short of rivaling the unabashed pop materialism of Elton John. Yet we cannot say this package doesn’t try: indeed, the logo stamped on the back cover of each volume—the words “Elton John” printed above a circumscribed boater and a pair of eyeglasses, and the words “Sotheby’s / founded 1744” printed below—is the scary imprimatur of a brave new world of unthinking hyperconsumerism. Inside, for the serious collector, almost every lot in the sale is individually illustrated, and accompanied by a “scholarly” catalogue entry. (Special extravaganzas include a shot of John’s squash court as display site for the rock star’s purchasing prowess, the evidence including a suite of Bugatti furniture, a pinball machine, an Erté screenprint of the Three Graces, a lithograph of Sarah Bernhardt as Joan of Arc, and four ceramic Minnie Mouses; as well as a shot of Mr. John himself lounging amid Tiffany frames and lamps, bronze and ivory figurines, and an electroplated muffin dish and cover.) And each volume opens with three essays: a fabulously banal transcription of the photographic session for the catalogue’s covers; a “conversation” in which John Culme, who wrote the notorious introduction for the catalogue of the Duchess of Windsor’s jewels, asks Elton’s pal Paul Gambaccini about his famous friend, and the inevitable introduction by Sotheby’s chairman, Lord Gowrie. Elton is quoted in the transcript, “If I see something I like, I just buy it”; Gambaccini adds that “once [Elton] had bought [something] the thrill was over . . . what was the point in having [it] any more?”; but Lord Gowrie reassures, “It is clear that Elton the Collector will start again,” suggesting, as does the pop star himself, that Sotheby’s auction will help underwrite impending years of purchase. For true glamour, this catalogue tells us, as the Warhol catalogue told us, Buy not to have, but simply to buy. There is no suggestion that could better serve the ends of an institution like Sotheby’s, founded 1744.

Andrew Solomon

Rembrandt’s Enterprise: The Studio and the Market, by Svetlana Alpers, Chicago: at the University Press, 1988, 308 pp., 12 color and 118 black and white illustrations.

Rembrandt loved but three things—his freedom, money, and art. So said one of his contemporaries, and the subject of this hugely confident and erudite but controversial study is how the painter ensured his artistic freedom through the clever manipulation of the art market. In fact Rembrandt was one of the first painters to break with the old patronage system and to sell directly or through dealers to various collectors.

Svetlana Alpers also reveals to us how Rembrandt’s new orientation showed up in his studio habits, in particular his obsessive working of the pigment (which becomes thickly applied and prized for itself), and in his relationship to his students and models. The models were asked to move about and stage playlets—an innovation that permitted Rembrandt to freeze them in poses that were brand-new (whereas a precedent can be found for all the poses in Rubens’ paintings, for instance).

Rembrandt, we learn, had more than fifty students during his career, whose work he directed with severity and intelligence. He would correct their drawings with his own sketches and with written notes. On a student’s drawing of Rest on the Flight Rembrandt wrote: “It would be better if the ass was placed further back for a change and that a greater accent came on the heads; also that there was more vegetation by the tree. . . . Joseph is straining too hard and too impetuously. Mary must hold the child more loosely, for a tender babe cannot endure to be clasped so firmly. . . . ”

Edmund White

Boxed In: The Culture of TV, by Mark Crispin Miller, Evanston, II: Northwestern University Press, 1988, 361 pp., 64 black and white illustrations.

As he tells us in his introduction to this collection of essays, Mark Miller’s academic training was in the old New Criticism, the pre-Structural and -semiotic approach to literature that opened the way, though flawed by various rigidities and elitisms, for later methods of close reading. You can see Miller’s intellectual habits at work when he devotes a page and some to the explication of a single sentence of George Orwell’s 1984; his is no ivory-tower lit crit, however, as he puts the technique in service of an effort to deal with the social and political issues the novel actually raises. These issues in fact echo throughout his writing. Though Miller covers a variety of subjects here, in witty essays and reviews mainly written for weekly and biweekly magazines between 1977 and 1986, he has a theme, and it’s a dark one.

Miller is smart about movies and rock music, but the core of Boxed In, along with the Orwell essay, is its opening section on television. Covering game shows and sitcoms, news programs and cop dramas and advertising, Miller returns always to a larger frame of address, which is in its outlines familiar: generally, the corporate institution as modernity’s way of life, and its ability to absorb for its own ends all the raw materials of the world, including us. Specifically, television is for Miller the main digestive in this process, and he examines it acutely. He’s familiar with the other writers and theoreticians who share his overall concern—Orwell, Theodor Adorno, the Situationists—but his thinking is supple enough to toe no line; he is sensitive to the intricate ironies by which alternative positions are converted into their opposite. (See him, for example, on the People Magazine cover that proclaimed Cher “THE ULTIMATE LIBERATED WOMAN” because "SHE’S TOUGH ENOUGH TO SAY: ‘MESS WITH ME AND I’LL KILL YOU.’’’) One of the several strengths of Boxed In, in fact, is Miller’s critical willingness to pursue the subtleties of the material (subtle, often, in all its banality) instead of trying to contain it in some theoretical bag.

David Frankel

American Splendor and More American Splendor, by Harvey Pekar, Garden City, N.Y.: Dolphin Books, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1986 and 1987 respectively, 160 pp. each.

These compilations represent the best of American Splendor, an annual comic book that since 1976 has documented “the life and times of Harvey Pekar.” As the manic Jewish narrator of this middle-aged bildungsroman (illustrated by a variety of cartoonists, notably long-time underground ace R. Crumb), Pekar recounts episodes of his everyday life in Cleveland, Ohio—running into an old flame at the bank, helping a friend move—that begin and trail off, or are brought to a close with little incident or instruction. Yet out of this seemingly unpromising material he builds a specific, painfully recognizable world of stunted ambition, received opinion, daily grind, and basic camaraderie. Like Flaubert, Pekar celebrates humanity’s limitless stupidity, finding redemption only through the recognition of that mercilessly shared trait. He displays an uncanny sensitivity to the real rhythms and inflections of speech, particularly to the flat, unmusical Midwestern dialect. And what makes his work distinctive and brilliant is the way it combines the subtlety and ambiguity of fiction with the compression and sheer pleasurability of comics. These stories are illuminated by a trenchant sense of humor, and by a sometimes desperate yearning for order, meaning, or at least an incidental beauty. In their sensitivity to the way people build drama for the sake of hope, they strike a note of uncommon earthly grace.

Scott Gutterman

The Artist in His Studio, by Alexander Liberman, New York: Random House, 1988, 340 pp., 160 color and 55 black and white illustrations.

Focusing his own perception as an artist through the cyclops eye of the camera, Alexander Liberman explored the studios of the great artists of the School of Paris in the years following World War II. Liberman recorded the personae of the artists, their smiles and frowns and gestures, and notably their laughter. Guided by his own esthetic knowledge and curiosity, he also takes us through the studios, past the easels and the artists’ materials to the finished works and, often, the objects that served as their inspiration. As Liberman writes, “I looked at the studios with the painter’s interest in mind. Whenever I saw a significant detail that enhanced my knowledge of the artist and his method of work, I recorded it.”

Some of the painters and sculptors whose ateliers Liberman sought out were no longer alive, but he was able to trace what remained of their studios. Cézanne’s was still more or less as he had left it; Liberman was almost equally lucky with Monet, Renoir, and Bonnard. He gives us particularly rich details of Picasso’s studio: filled with endless objects, souvenirs, and works of art from every period, along with cherished and therefore revealing examples of his own work. Liberman’s photograph of Fernand Léger standing monolithlike in front of one of his mural-sized paintings reveals the kinetic connection between the physiology of this artist and the human figures in his paintings. Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Gontcharova, who had lived in Paris since 1914, sit awkwardly on hard chairs in their small and crowded studio, as if prepared at any moment to have to move once more to another refuge.

Liberman’s essays are as sensitively revealing as his camera eye. Photographs and text illuminate each other, together making each of the 31 studio visits described here a surprisingly intimate encounter. And the book is well designed: large enough that the concatenations of minute but essential details that Liberman’s eye has caught in his photographs are easy to see, yet not so large as to be difficult to hold, nor so heavy that only a coffee table can support it. Happily, too, the text is printed in two columns on each page, so that the eye is not forced to travel a wide distance from the margin to the gutter and back again, or vice versa, a wearying exercise for the readers of too many contemporary books on art.

André Emmerich

Real Fiction: An Inquiry into the Bookeresque, by Telfer Stokes and Helen Douglas, Rochester, N. Y.: Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1987, 140 pp.

This is the 13th publication by Scottish book artists Telfer Stokes and Helen Douglas, continuing their starkly printed offset explorations of the correlatives of text and image. Subtitled “An Inquiry into the Bookeresque,” the book plays off that neologism by positing the space of its bound pages as a sequence of three-dimensional environments. Strips of typography on clear acetate are photographed against blank backdrops of white pages, lit so as to cast shadows. Printed as full-bleed halftones, text becomes image, transforming cognitive site into pictorial space. Other two-page spreads “contain” reproductions of booklike structures, some suggesting the format of Real Fictions itself, others featuring collages that combine rephotographed elements of a quasi-architectural model with rephotographed images of the construction of an actual house to allude to the structure of the book form. The textual and graphic combinations become steadily more complex as the reader progresses, evoking the allegorical literary architecture of Borges. The text, which begins, “There are two sides / to every opening,” and concludes, “continually / searching for / containment,” also twists and turns upon itself in a manner worthy of Borges. A splendid effort.

Buzz Spector

The Rietveld Schröder House, by Paul Overy et al., Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988, 128 pp., 50 color and 43 black and white illustrations.

Truus Schröder, the patron/collaborator of Gerrit Rietveld’s first full-scale architectural commission, is the primary historical source in this volume. Lenneke Büller and Frank den Oudsten’s 1982 interview with the then 92-year-old Schröder occupies the center of the book, and architect Bertus Mulder’s essay on the recent restoration of the Utrecht home begins with “The Role of Mrs. Schröder in the Restoration.” Schröder lived in the house from the age of 35 to 95 (1924–85).

Neither Schröder nor Rietveld anticipated the iconic status of the house they conceived and built as an inexpensive home for the newly widowed Truus Schröder and her three small children. Yet as Paul Overy notes in his introduction, their collaboration has become an emblem of the “idealism and fantasy” of early Modernism.

In the interview, Schröder acknowledges her strong influence on the design of the house, exhaustively illustrated here by preparatory and schematic drawings, models, and photos, both as it was lived in over the years and as it looks today, restored. Speaking of Rietveld, she says, “He never thought this was his best house, you know. . . . I believe I loved this house more than Rietveld did.” Indeed, Rietveld suggested tearing the house down just before his death when a raised motorway was built that obscured its southeast facade. Fortunately for us, Truus Schröder refused, maintained the house for 20 years and some, and ultimately initiated and secured (as well as provided much of the information for) its restoration—all in an attempt to further promote Rietveld’s work and his ideals. She recalls; “I often liked. . . showing people the house and watching their enthusiastic reactions. You know, I wanted to make propaganda with it—I had the idea that I could spread such ideas convincingly. Not by means of words or rhetoric, but by allowing people to see the house and experience it.” This book gives us all an opportunity to experience a superb architectural accomplishment.

Jane Ryan Beck

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