Duchamp's dictionary, Picasso's (other) muse, Lucy Lippard's landscapes, and Hans Ulrich Obrist's map quests are among the subjects of recent volumes that expand the story of art
Artistic appropriation may be common practice these days, but the debate about authorship rages on. The recent lawsuit over Richard Prince’s use of Patrick Cariou’s Rasta photographs was settled in Prince’s favor, inciting a fresh wave of commentary on what constitutes fair use. Scholar and curator Patrick Greaney takes a long view in his second book, delving into the role quotation has played since 1945 in art, writing, and history, citing Walter Benjamin and contemporary artists Marcel Broodthaers, Sharon Hayes and Glenn Ligon. Taking Michel Foucault’s “frugal lyricism of quotation” as a theoretical point of departure, Greaney trains a sharp scholarly eye on the “archive” of history, discussing in dense, if cogently argued, prose what it means to pluck material from it.
Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties
Edited by Teresa A. Carbone and Kellie Jones; Contributions by Connie Choi, Dalila Scruggs, and Cynthia Young
The Monacelli Press
AMAZON POWELLS INDIEBOUND
Published in conjunction with the Brooklyn Museum’s knockout exhibition of the same name, this book explores the art born out of the Civil Rights era through images, essays, and artist statements. Artist Jack Whitten, whose haunting collage Birmingham appears in the show, reflects on the power of images and quotes from The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois, who described the “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” Here, we see artists define their own visual experiences in every medium, from Romare Bearden’s striking collages, to David Hammons’s mixed-media sculptures, to Charles White’s realist charcoal drawings.
Jens Hoffmann, a curator known for organizing exhibitions about other exhibitions (see “Other Primary Structures” at the Jewish Museum) and blockbuster biennials around the world, calls curating a “creative and perhaps even artistic undertaking,” a view some argue can distract from the art on display. With fact sheets for every show, both legendary and lesser known, the book feels like an essential field guide to the past 20 years of curatorial innovation. Limiting the survey to 50 shows means that Hoffmann neglects institutions and entire continents (Asia, for instance, is almost absent), but the reader still gets a good swath of exhibitions, from South Africa to South Carolina, that illustrate the controversial nature of exhibiting art.
If curating is increasingly seen as a creative act in its own right, the origins of the trend and the anxieties surrounding it can be traced to early 20th-century France. André Breton, the founder of Surrealism, wrote: “It is already unfortunate that so few opportunities exist for a painter to bring his work to public attention, apart from art galleries. His presence in those evil places almost always leads him to make compromises that I am not prepared to forgive.” Jolles discusses the Surrealists’ own exhibitions, with which writers and artists possessing no formal curatorial training attempted to wrest control back from the high art establishment, with wild results. Exhibitions centered on Surrealism are currently having a moment, making it the perfect time to look at the way these artists displayed their own art.
To open this slim volume is to board a train rattling through the rugged southwestern landscape that Lucy Lippard, renowned art writer and curator, calls home. With lucid prose that tears along at breakneck speeds, Lippard tackles ecological abuse and the relationships between art and place, politics and myth, and the natural and the manmade as they play out across the terrain. Not every writer could bring snippets of the Muslim hadith, lines of architectural criticism, bits of Hopi prophecies, and excerpts from Terry Tempest Williams, Jorge Luis Borges, and Karl Marx together so effortlessly, but Lippard weaves them and many other sources into a rich, intellectual fabric.
This handsome clothbound volume represents the most comprehensive monograph on the British ceramicist and writer to date, one that elegantly traces his rigorous practice from the first fist pot he threw at age five to the present. We learn about his early influences, including W. H. Auden’s poetry and Japanese tea ceremonies, and his major achievements, such as “Signs & Wonders,” his transcendent installation in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. De Waal, who wrote the acclaimed memoir and family history The Hare with Amber Eyes contributes luminous writings on elements of his practice, such as titling work: “Sometimes it is a provocation: the claiming of a shared space with someone I care about. Sometimes it is a stone thrown in the opposite direction to attract attention. Giving a work a name is the start of letting it go, making a space to start again.”
Picasso was a man of many muses, but few inspired such prodigious bodies of work as 19-year-old Sylvette David, whom he met in 1954 on the Côte d’Azur. After buying two of her boyfriend’s chairs, Picasso entreated the shy young woman to pose for him regularly (she, unlike other subjects, never slept with the artist, whom the Surrealist writer Louis Aragon called an “eternal adolescent.”) She and her signature ponytail inspired more than 50 paintings, drawings, and sculptures that range from realist portraits to Cubist abstractions. Essays illuminate specific works and Picasso’s renderings of other models, as well as “the teenager phenomenon” of the 1950s, contextualizing the artist’s interest in Sylvette.
True, it’s wrong to judge a book by its cover, but it’s impossible not to be seduced by the candy colors of Thomas Girst’s entertaining guide to Marcel Duchamp. Graphic designers Luke Frost and Therese Vandling complement Girst’s playful concept—dictionary entries—including “Peggy Guggenheim” and “puns”—with a playful palette of red, pink, and blue. The entries themselves are no less colorful. We learn that Duchamp wanted to “grasp things with the mind the way the penis is grasped by the vagina” and that he had “an almost morbid fear of hair.”
Whether they are charting metaphysical ideas or simply the way home, this diverse group of artists, thinkers, and scientists are all over the map. Doug Aitken plots the colonization of New York and its contemporary corollary—the rapid spread of luxury developments—onto Manhattan, while Damien Hirst offers written directions: “if you pass the wildlife and dinosaur park you’ve gone too far.” Maurizio Cattelan riffs on the idea of uncharted territory through his absence (though the table of contents states that Cattelan’s contribution can be found on page 24, the page does not exist), while drawings in Anish Kapoor’s sketchbook conflate maps and the human body.
The 16th-century Florentine Codex is the principal document on the Nahua culture of Mesoamerica, written by Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún in collaboration with native peoples, whose traditions and beliefs were vanishing. Many scholars have addressed the book’s text, but Diana Magaloni Kerpel’s project is unique. She approaches the Codex as a collaborative work of art, exploring the object’s physical attributes and its authorship. The result is a novel interpretation, one that returns autonomy to the indigenous people who helped create the book. Accompanying her thesis are selected reproductions of the 2,486 beautiful illustrations in the Codex, depicting midwifery, the fabrication of feather headdresses, history, myths, and animals.
Jonathan Brown, one of the world’s leading Velázquez scholars, is known for vividly plunging readers into the Spanish court of the 16th century. Now, Brown unlocks his own history, explaining the ways his idiosyncratic upbringing shaped his interest in and approach to Hispanic art of the golden age. Based on a series of lectures delivered at the Prado in 2012, his text combines personal narrative with insightful art history, including a new interpretation of the Velázquez masterpiece Las Meninas, all delivered in quick, unpretentious prose.
Bernard Berenson, the son of a Lithuanian Jewish tin peddler, grew up to become perhaps the single most influential Renaissance connoisseur of his age, whose advice was coveted by Gilded Age millionaire collectors. A new biography of Berenson, by Rachel Cohen, came out last year, and now art historians Joseph Connors and Louis A. Waldman offer a selection of fresh, substantial essays exploring aspects of Berenson’s career and personal life. Connors unearths fascinating evidence of his relationship with black dance icon Katherine Dunham, while others tap his library for information on his intellectual influences or focus on his contentious relationship with the Islamic world.
In a digital environment oversaturated with blurred selfies and sundry other forms of optic spam, the creation of a painting is a “miraculous” act, writes Marc Valli. Here, he and his coauthor list dozens of artists, including such stars as Jules de Balincourt, Cynthia Daignault, and Liu Xiaodong alongside unknowns, who persist in painting the figure. Some embrace Internet images as source material, while others eschew contemporary technology entirely. The breadth of style is appreciated—the artists represented here owe debts to everyone from Gustav Klimt to Neo Rauch—but the work is uneven. A tighter selection would make a better case for the strength of contemporary figurative painting.
The Social Lives of Artistic Property
By Pablo Helguera, Michael Mandiberg, William Powhida, Amy Whitaker, and Caroline Woolard
In the wake of Occupy Wall Street, 12 artists gathered for 20 meetings over two and a half years, discussing property both physical (studios and homes) and artistic. Rather than present raw transcripts of their conversations, the authors individually or collaboratively penned chapters on relevant issues. We get historical case studies alongside a host of topical issues affecting artists’ abilities to work, such as the French droit de suite, the right to resale royalties of artists and their heirs. Poignantly, Michael Mandiberg offers a significant oral history of 135 Rivington Street, a collectively artist-owned building purchased in 1981 by a group of art school alumni, a virtual impossibility in today’s real estate game.