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Expand your visual frontiers
Whether you prefer classic design, historic photography, performance art or up-and-coming modern artists, you’ll find something in these five books to whet your appetite.
THE ART OF THE BOOK
Books represent one of my favorite forms of artistic expression, and The Thing The Book: A Monument to the Book as Object takes a truly novel approach to the subject. Creators Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan (publishers of THE THING Quarterly) decided to make a book into what they call an “exhibition space.” They invited a variety of artists and illustrators to celebrate the physical nature of books, and the result is certainly an unusual conglomeration of creativity. Sam Green, for example, writes a colophon describing, in pictures and words, the phone book entries of a San Francisco man named Zachary Zzzzzzzzzra from 1963 through 1986. Mark Dion presents a wonderful photo essay called “Cover Life,” which simply depicts the covers of more than 50 well-worn books, ranging from the classic children’s book A Hole Is to Dig to a tattered Ulysses paperback. His montage is a thoughtful way to examine how books influence a life. With varied entries like this, the result is pure fun and oddly compelling. Everything is worth examining (there’s even a naughty errata slip), including the bookplate, bookmark ribbon and index.
More typical in layout and structure is the massive Photography: The Definitive Visual History. Photography expert Tom Ang has compiled this comprehensive look at the subject, beginning with inventions such as the camera obscura and continuing through today’s digital age.
This well-organized volume contains sections that examine historical trends, such as “Diversity and Conflict” from 1960 to 1979. There’s also an A-to-Z list of photographers, along with short profiles. You’ll see much that is familiar, but you’re also bound to discover new treats, such as Dutch photographer Frans Lanting’s “Dead Camelthorn Trees.” This striking image, taken in a national park in Namibia, is otherworldly, reminiscent of an exceptional illustration from a children’s book. Each historical discussion examines a variety of topics, such as the Polaroid camera, photography in space and the advent of the iPhone 3GS. Certain photographers are profiled in detail, such as Walker Evans and Cindy Sherman. Noteworthy photos are explored as well, including Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother.”
Even if you’re not a camera buff, this book is nothing short of fascinating.
Chinese artist Liu Bolin is known as “The Invisible Man,” and Liu Bolin presents a captivating retrospective of his politically charged work, complete with 200 color photographs. Bolin’s well-known Hiding in the City series began in 2005, after the Chinese police destroyed the artists’ village where he had been working. His signature style then emerged when he painted his entire body to blend into the background of the demolished village. Bolin went on to photograph himself in painted camouflage all over Beijing, and later in places like New York and Venice.
In the book’s introduction, Sorbonne art professor Philippe Dagen writes that Bolin “composes images that at first attract, then surprise and disturb, and finally imprint themselves on the memory. He uses a unique artistic form with a rare effectiveness that is perfectly in sync with the modern times.” Bolin’s images are indeed mesmerizing, managing to be compelling to everyone from a preschooler to the most sophisticated art critic. Watch him appear and disappear in front of a tropical fruit stand, a locomotive, racks of magazines, a toy shop or in the midst of a Venice street scene. This volume is a worthy tribute to this artist’s singular accomplishments.
Eames: Beautiful Details is just the visually arresting package one would expect from two of the greatest designers of the 20th century. Encased in a bold, colorful slipcase, this hefty compendium is a very personal look at the work of husband-and-wife team Charles and Ray Eames, renowned for their work in architecture, furniture, textile, film, photography and graphic design. After marrying in 1941, the couple was commissioned by the U.S. Navy during World War II to produce molded plywood splints, stretchers and more. One art critic called their molded plywood chair “the chair of the century.” Another creation, the Eames lounge chair, is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The fact that this couple was creative on so many different fronts means that this book is a particularly rich edition, full of family photos and personal memories, as well as reminisces describing the designers’ process and design philosophies. Charles summed up his and Ray’s life perfectly by saying, “At all times love and discipline have led to a beautiful environment and a good life.”
MODERN ART SAMPLER
What’s happening in modern art? The 21st-Century Art Book will bring you up to speed. This alphabetical overview takes a look at contemporary art since 2000, including paintings, photography, sculpture, performance art, video and digital art and more. The pleasing layout makes for easy browsing, with each page containing a photograph and a short write-up about an artist. Some entries will likely be familiar, such as the 110-ton Chicago “Bean” sculpture, more properly known as Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate.” Many entries document the ever-expanding criteria of what defines modern art, such as a video and sound installation by Iranian artist Shirin Neshat that depicts a funeral procession on a beach. British artist Michael Landy catalogued everything he owned (7,277 items) and then placed them on a conveyor belt to be destroyed by a machine. Regardless of your opinions about such works, all are thought provoking and likely to lead art lovers to new discoveries.