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Umbrella Online - Current Issue

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ISSN 0160-0699

Volume 29, No. 2, Jun 2006

Book Reviews

REFERENCE

Art as Existence: The Artist’s Monograph and Its Project by Gabriele Guercio (Cambridge, MIT Press, 2006, $50.00 hardback) is a study of the artist’s monography including life and work in the history of Western literature of the visual arts. Guercio investigates the metamorphosis of the artist’s monograph, tracing its formal and conceptual trajectories from Vasari’s 16th century Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (a model and source for the genre) through its apex in the 19th century and its decline in the 20th. He studies it from the point of view of deconstructionism, psychoanalysis, feminism, and postcolonialism.

This study is thorough where Guercio explores key titles in the model’s evolution, including work by de Quincy, David Passavant, Bernard Berenson, and many others. It definitely was creating biography into art and art into biography, the life-and-work model equating art and existence.

Guercio is an independent writer living in Milano, calling for a contemporary reconsideration of the life-and-work model, citing the fact that the ultimate legacy of the artist’s monography lies in the intimate portrait that we gain of the nature of creativity. Includes 52 black-and-white illustrations. If you are interested in the literature of art, this is one for you!

GENERAL

Artists Talk 1969-1977, edited by Peggy Gale (Halifax, The Press of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, reprint 2004, $39.95 paperback) is the first time these transcriptions of historic talks by internationally known artists recorded some thirty years ago at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Included are talks by Vito Acconci, Carl Andre, Joseph Beuys, Daniel buren, James Lee Byars, Paterson Ewen, Robert Filliou, Dan Graham, Douglas Heubler, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt, Mel Ramsden for Art & Languag, Alan Sondheim, and Lawrence Weiner. Peggy Gale, renowned Canadian curator and critic, introduces this volume with a very insightful essay creating context and content that would bring to a new audience these important conversations. Much had to be done to get rights, permissions, and return the words to their original heard context. This is the first volume of many reprints of the Press, which was established in 1972 as a vehicle to publish books by and about leading contemporary conceptual artists. Between 1972 and 1987, 26 titles by such artists as Michael Snow, Steve Reich, Gerhard Richter and Yvonne Rainer were published. Re-launched in 2002, the Press will once again establish the University as a source for the publishing of prime documents and scholarly works in the fields of contemporary art, craft and design. Distributed by D.A.P.

The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene 1974-1984, edited by Marvin J. Taylor, with a foreword by Lynn Gumpert and essays by Gernard Gendron, Roselee Goldberg, Carlo McCormick, Robert Siegle, Marvin J. Taylor, Brian Wallis, and Matthew Yokobosky (Princeton University Press and the Grey Gallery, New York University, 2006, $29.95 paper) is a beautifully designed catalog and comprehensive overview of the fertile period of a decade. Published by Princeton University Press, the Downtown Book proves the trends that arose in the 1970s and ‘80s and solidified New York’s reputation as arbiter of the postmodern American avant-garde. Representing everyone from Victo Acconci, Joan Jonas, Leon Golub, Carolee Schneemann and Lawrence Weiner as well as Karen Finley, Robert Longo, Christian Marclay, Cindy Sherman, and Laurie Simmons, among so many others (175 artists, writers, performers and musicians.

The seven essays are intertwined with twelve personal reminiscences form pioneers, practitioners, and provocateurs of the scene. The book is beautiful in the hand, designed by Patricia Fabricant with stiffened boards under the paper as if it were hardbound with a spine. The end papers immediately let you know that the curator, Carlo McCormick, recalls the Times Square Show and then the period where artists could live in Soho’s sprawling industrial spaces due to the “loft Law”, concluding with the rise of the East Village’s narrow, storefront galleries and of course, Ronald Reagan’s re-election. An experimental spirit making writers artists and visual artists, writers, performers incorporating video and everyone else part of the action, includes input from the Downtown Collection of Fales–the world’s most extensive archive of books, journals, posters and ephemera relating to the Downtown scene from 1970 to the present.

Includes a major chronology, Selected bibliography, filmography and discography, and index. Color and black and white illustrations. A must!

Pin-Up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture by Maria Elena Buszek (Durham, Duke University Press, 2006, $24.95 paperback) proposes that there is a new generation of feminist artists remaking the pin-up, much as Annie Sprinkle, Cindy Sherman, and others did in the 1970s and 1980s, thus subverting stereotypical images of women, often reveling in their own sex appeal. With 104 photographs (9 in color) Maria Elena Buszek tells the history of the pin-up since its birth, revealing how its development is intimately connected to the history of feminism. From 19th-century carte-de-visite photographs of burlesque performers, Buszek explores how female sex symbols, includng Bettie Page (from the recent biographical movie) to Adah Isaacs Menken and Lydia Thompson, fought to exert control over their own images. The history covers the New Woman, the suffrage movement, fanzine photographs of early film stars, the Varga Girl illustrations that appeared in Esquire during World War II, the Playboy pin-up and the recent revival of the genre in appropriations by third-wave feminist artists. This is a nice combination of art history and cultural history, and it works!

Bas Jan Ader: In Search of the Miraculous by Jan Verwoert (Cambridge, MIT Press, 2006, $16.00 paperback original) presents the critical motives behind the last, unfinished work that has defined the romantic legacy of this conceptual artist. Resident of Los Angeles from 1953 until his death, exhibiting widely and teaching at the University of California, Irvine, Bas Jan Ader was already an enigma when he arrived in L.A., but he became a legend when he disappeared at sea in 1975, trying to sail from the East Coast of the U.S. to Europe, as part of a project called In Search of the Miraculous. The three-part project consisted of 1) a lonely nighttime walk from the hills of L.A. down to the sea, documented in photographs; 2) The Atlantic crossing; 3) A night walk through Amsterdam, mirroring the LA photographs.

Having influenced later conceptual artists, Ader’s impact stems from the way in which he used the cool analytic and anti-subjective aesthetics of conceptual art to explore experiences that would seem definitively subjective. But he became, because of his disappearance, the tragic romantic hero.Verwoert is trying to find concepts that might describe the intimate ties bewteen the conceptual and existential that characterize Ader’s approach. 16 photos, notes. This is an Afterall Book, one of a series by Afterall, a research and publishing organization based in London and Los Angeles.

A Sculpture Reader: Contemporary Sculpture Since 1980, edited by Glenn Harper and Twylene Moyer (Hamilton, NJ, ISC Press, 2006, $29.95 paper, dist. By Univ. of Washington Press) is an anthology on name brands in the sculpture world, with critics writing on those sculptors they know best. It seems earmarked for classroom use or a catch-up on what has been happening with indivdiual sculptors since 1980 on a worldwide basis. The premise for this book, published by the International Sculpture Center is introduced by Karen Wilkin. There are 83 color photos in this interesting survey of sculptors from Ann Hamilton to Olafur Eliasson, from Pistoletto to Robert Irwin, and almost everyone in-between.

Persistence/Transformation: Text as Image in the Art of Xu Bing, edited by Jerome Bilvergeld and Dora C.Y. Ching (Princeton, P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art, Princeton University Press, 2006, $49.95 cloth, $24.95 paper) exhibits the subversive, brilliant and deliciously entertaining art of this Asian-American “genius”. I like subversive art, so I gravitate to anyone who simplifies the complex and makes complex the simple until we get it! Xu Bing is a calligrapher and book artist, called the most innovative Chinese artist of our time. Creating imaginative textual art, Xu Bing has captivated audiences throughout the world. His work seems more operative than intimate, since his installations stun, mesmerize and awe the viewer. From making “square words” so that “Chinese” becomes readable by anyone to calligraphic sculptures and writing on pigs, Xu Bing has been written about by many.

In this volume, specialists in many disciplines study his art and its intellectual implications. Included are essays by Jerome Silbergeld, Robert E. Harrist, Jr., Perry Link, Gennifer Weisenfeld, Hal Foster and the artist himself who illuminates his own work, so that the work is placed within the Chinese calligraphic context, in perspective of Chinese intellectual dissidence, in parallel to Japanese avant-garde practices, and also from a Western art-historical context. Includes bibliography, notes and 60 halftones, but it is the work itself which awes–one must experience Xu Bing in all his cunning.

Feelings are Facts: A Life by Yvonne Rainer (Cambridge, MIT Press, 2006, $37.95 cloth) is another in the Writing Art Series that so nobly encompasses the artistic life and practice of artists of our time. In her own words, Rainer uses diary entries, letters, program notes, excerpts form film scripts, snapshots, and film-frame enlargements to present a living portrait of this extraordinary artist and woman in postwar America.

Rainer has been a pioneer in this country, starting with her California childhood in which she was farmed out by her parents to foster families and orphanages. She speaks of her sexual and intellectual initiations in San Francisco and Berkeley, of her discoveries and successes in New York City’s dance world. Founder of the Judson Dance Theater in 1962 after having studied with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, she danced with Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton, David Gordon, and Lucinda Childs, nobnobbed with New York artists such as Rauschenberg, Robert Morris, and Yoko Ono, and then became deeply involved in feminist and anti-war causes in the 1970s and 1980s.

She divulges how she created dances and moved from film and then back to dance. And she talks about her life partner, Martha Gever, and her domestic life as well. This book gives testimony to one’s keeping the documents of a life–one never knows when it can become a book!

PHOTOGRAPHY

Bernard Plossu’s New Mexico with photographs by Plossu, text by Gilles Mora and a foreword y Edward T. Hall (Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 2006, $29.95 paper original) presents us in black and white with his take on the state he has adopted as home. From the late 1970s on, Bernard Plossu and New Mexico have met with sun, dust, mud, wind, and snow and the wonderful friends he calls his own.

Plossu has photographed, in a mostly biographical visual experience, dogs, roads, snow-covered pueblo villages, empty roads, rodeos, night scenes, the New Mexican Latino culture, and so much more. If you would like to see rich black and white photographs that breathe nostalgia for somewhere else, of the feeling of being an insider/outsider, of personalizing a place by image-making.

PERIODICALS

Fluxus en France (20/21.siècles: Cahiers du Centre Pierre Francastel, no. 2, Autumn 2005, coordinated by Bernard Clavez is a French-language journal, but this effort by Clavel to encapsulate the importance and activities of Fluxus in France, especially in 2002 and 2003, when anniversary events, happenings and concerts took place in France. The cover photograph is an indication of the reconstruction of happenings. Ben Patterson, Willem de Ridder and Alison Knowles interpret Phil Corner’s Piano Activities at the FluxWorks at the Ménagerie de Verre (Paris) on 21 June 2002.

Clavez gives context to this journal issue with contributions from Jean-Jacque Lebel, Sylvie Mokhtari and others to cover France. To cover Paris, Michel Giroud speaks of the 60s; Dick Higgins’ Postface (1964) is abstracted; Emmett Williams reconstitutes the Letter of 15 October 1963; Ben Patterson speaks of his French life in 1961-63, and Jacques Donguy presents extracts of interviews with Fluxus artists in Paris.

The third part covers Nice with Ben Vautier, Marcel Alocco, Ken Friedman about Jean Dupuy and Charles Dreyfus talking about the continuation of Fluxus through 2003.

Includes a bibliography (1961-2004), a chronology of activities linked to Fluxus in France, and an album in color of paper ephemera, posters, etc. of the period. A significant contribution to the history of Fluxus.

Fluxus and Legacy (Visible Language, vol. 39.3, Part I) edited by Owen Smith of the University of Maine and Ken Friedman, Norwegian School of Management is volume one of a two-part examining of Fluxus today. This part examines the relationship between Fluxus and a range of artistic and art historical concerns, including the question of historical consciousness in the work of specific artists. Contributors include Bertrand Clavez on the relationship of Fluxus to the artistic practice of recent decades; Ina Blom on the historiographic dialelctic of Ben Vautier’s signature; and a special collection of conversations and notes by children of the Fluxus artists compiled by Hannah Higgins (herself a “Fluxkid”). Owen Smith examines Fluxus and learning strategies, and the issue ends with an inquiry into historiography and legacy by Smith and Ken Friedman.

Fluxus After Fluxus (Visible Language, vol. 40.1,Part II) examines the relationship of younger artists to the Fluxus work. Contributors include Anne Klefstad on the difficult question of legacy, Celia Pearce ong ames as art and the aesthetics of play, and a dozen contemporary artists on their view of–and relation to–Fluxus. In addition, Lisa Moren has organized a special collection of event scores titled “Keep Walking Intently”, blending traditional Fluxus scores with parallel works by other artists and an introduction by Ina Blom. In their introduction, Owen Smith and Friedman discuss the dialectics of legacy, and Friedman problematizes the question of legacy in a bibliographic essay on the literature of Fluxus that accompanies a selective bibliography on Fluxus from 1961 to 2004.

Both issues available from the Rhode Island School of Design, Graphic Design Dept., 2 College St., Providence, RI 02903. $10.00 each or $20.00 a set. charris@risd.edu