PRINT December 1992


Homely Girl, A Life, by Louise Bourgeois and Arthur Miller. New York: Peter Blum Editions. Two volumes, each 36 pp. 3 editions, regular $100, signed $275, special $2,000. Available by special order only from Peter Blum Editions, 14 W. 10th Street, NY, NY 10011.

Reading this curious two-volume collaboration between two of America’s most celebrated creators is like retracing your steps along a garden path after night has fallen. The first volume contains Miller’s longish short story about an unpretty woman, Janice, who marries twice: once to a downtown socialist who never really notices her, later to a blind musician who gives her 14 years of bliss. Interspersed with the story are Bourgeois’ ten offset lithos (or etchings, if you want to spring for the $2,000 limited edition), which evolve from simple botanical studies to a pair of climactic visions of sky and mountain peaks. The second volume contains the same story, sans offsets but with a more startling intervention by Bourgeois. Many of Miller’s references to eyes and seeing have been highlighted in blood red, and eight half-page photocollages of eyes are bound in with the pages. These are no ordinary human eyes, though: terrifying orbs roll half-crazed in their sockets, or ooze with blood and malice. Is this what happens when a Surrealist imagines life from the perspective of a blind person, or is Bourgeois showing us how the eyes of the world feel to someone who’s gone through half a lifetime feeling undesired?

Dan Cameron is a writer and curator who lives in New York. He contributes frequently to Artforum


The Final Results of Psychoanalytic Treatment, by M.M. Lum. Self-published artists’ book, funded by the New York Council on the Arts. 128 pp. $10.

In a society where it seems nearly everyone heads for the analyst’s couch at least once in their lives, and in which some people’s commitments to their therapists outlast those to their mates, the mythology of psychoanalysis can get pretty out-of-hand. Artist M. M. Lum has set out to expose some of what happens on the far side of shrinkdom’s language-play, in a slim volume the design of which perfectly simulates the Signet Paperback look of the ’50s. The book opens with “The Elements,” a chapter on free association in which rumination about the analytic process is interrupted by fragments of text that appear to drift in from some other sort of book entirely. By the time we reach the third chapter, arcane grammatical lists and Chinese characters have begun to invade the page, making what logical discourse there is all but impossible to follow. That’s the gag: Lum has found a perfect way to exploit the notion that overextended analysis undermines any ability to maintain criteria of relevance; any piece of evidence becomes equal in importance to any other. The book may be a one-liner in psychoanalytic terms, but it works as showcase for the imaginative typographical slippages between text and subtext.

Dan Cameron


Never Odd Or Even, by Barbara Bloom. Munich: Velag Silke Schreiber, and Pittsburgh: The Carnegie Museum of Art. 40 pp. $33.

Eclectic combinations of scholarship and pure hunch, Barbara Bloom’s books give the reader a sense of entering into the artist’s way of thinking about her subjects without resorting to direct documentation. Beginning with L’Esprit de l’Escalier in 1988, Bloom has published four books, and this is probably her best. None of the books functions as an exhibition catalogue, although the impetus for making them generally comes directly from the experience of creating an installation. This one parallels her 1992 solo installation at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The piece derived from a previous exhibition in post-Wall, preunification Berlin, for which each participant was invited to create works on both the east and west sides of the city. Mirroring her context, Bloom’s work addressed the universal fascination with examples of perfect symmetry in nature, particularly in the case of twins and butterflies. Surpassing her typically arduous research methods, this book contains some of Bloom’s most memorable discoveries, presented in the form of unbound leaves, which the reader must cut apart individually with a knife. (You can use your hands, but why spoil the fun?) It’s a particular must-have for fans of Vladimir Nabokov, whose lepidopterist’s spirit is conjured more than once.

Dan Cameron


Steven Parrino, with a text by Lydia Lunch. Dijon: L’Association pour la diffusion de l’art contemporain.

Whether or not Steven Parrino knows that the latest in chaos physics attempts to theorize how order can spontaneously emerge from or descend into disorder, he is intuitively a chaos artist. Although at first glance the images collected in this album of his work since 1983 may seem eclectic or incompatible, the tension between order and chaos runs through them all. It is as if Parrino periodically tried to approach the problem from different angles. In early images, a square or a diamond at the center of a blank field is either losing itself in or differentiating itself from a splat of darkness. In a series of drawings from the mid ’80s, it looks as if three parallel universes had collided on a two-dimensional plane: an abstract universe of rectangles overlays a fantastic one of cartoonish superheroes and another fantastic one of buxom women who all bear a striking resemblance to Vampirella. In later works, abstract shapes are contrasted with cutouts from porno mags or pictures of racing motorcycles and Hell’s Angels. Chaos appears to win out in the final series of works in the album, but prima donna ranter Lydia Lunch, in a typically apocalyptic text, warns that “this is the Battle that goes on forever.”

Keith Seward is a regular reviewer for Artforum.


Shadows of Africa, by Peter Matthiessen and Mary Frank. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 120 pp. $34.95.

Peter Matthiessen writes passionately and prolifically on natural environments and their inhabitants. Mary Frank defies categorization: she makes sculpture, paintings, prints, and ceramic reliefs. These two sets of restless and remarkable interests are spiritedly combined in Shadows of Africa. The book’s unhappy subject is the appalling increase in the number of endangered animal species. Matthiessen’s writings, dating from 1961 to 1991, reflect on his many travels to Africa. On this politically divided continent. the common territory of undomesticated species has suffered desperate diminishment. Matthiessen writes about the continental landscapes, their wildlife, and the alarming changes he has seen in three decades of travel. His observations are laconic, poetic, and often disquieting. He describes a giraffe considering its own reflection in a still river as a curious and ominous sign, or the grisly scene of a young zebra being attacked and devoured at its mother’s feet by a pack of wild dogs. He captures the sweeping scale and regional textures of Africa in visceral detail so that readers may imaginatively occupy these distant spaces.

Frank’s drawings, prints, and sculptural works include both jubilant and brooding portraits of animals—many of which represent threatened species. Her decisive lines and powerful gestures convey great narrative breadth. Animals are drawn with a keen agility achieved through prolonged observation. Often depicted in solitary, vulnerable circumstances or as disembodied fragments, many of the animals seem suspended in activity or threatened by menacing, unidentified forces. These faithfully inscribed yet spontaneous images are compassionate but independent companions to Matthiessen’s unfolding observations. Frank does not illustrate Matthiessen’s text. nor do his essays describe her images. Their effort is an improvisational duet rather than a long-rehearsed collaboration, a pair of independent but supportive performances orchestrated to signal environmental tragedy.

Patricia C. Phillips is a regular reviewer for Artforum.