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Posted inBooks

An Obsession with Art’s Communicative Power

The latest monograph of the Contemporary Art Series covers the provocative Polish artist and trickster Pawel Althamer (b. 1967), discussing in minute detail his “sculptures, installations, and pubic interventions.” Without a doubt, Phaidon’s Pawel Althamer is the most substantial art book I’ve laid my hands on in a long time, and it’s certainly not a book for someone with only a passing interest in contemporary Polish art.

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Oh, Knitta Puh-leze

Urban Knits, a small book of colorful photographs, explores a relatively new kind of graffiti called “urban knitting,” self-proclaimed to be the most “inoffensive” type of urban graffiti. Like most books of its kind, a collection compiled by theme, Urban Knits unintentionally shows the wide discrepancies in quality that exist in all forms of art, but that are especially prevalent in graffiti and street art. When the impetus for making art is not exclusively about the quality of the work itself but rather about the act of leaving a mark, the results are often less than imaginative. This seems to hold true for tagging as well as knitting.

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A Connected White Hedonist’s Guide to Young British Art

A Hedonist’s Guide to Art may as well be called A Hedonist’s Guide to the Art World. Released last winter, the book is a collaboration between Artica, an eGallery for contemporary art, and Hg2, a series of luxury travel guides. It’s comprised of short essays from about 60 people from various reaches of the upper echelons of the London art world. The essays are divided between five chapter headings — ideas, lifestyle, the market, the art itself and “inner workings.” The content is most often in the form of a personal anecdote. That said, these tidbits are best nibbled on in small doses — it’s slow-going to read very many of these essays all at once.

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Too Many MFAs Spoil the Zine

Birdsong, the local Williamsburg zine now in its 15th issue, is a blend of short stories, poems, drawings, collages and photographs: it is primarily a literary magazine that features artwork woven between each written piece. Birdsong’s appeal can be summed up nicely by the resumes of the artists and writers who contribute to it …

Posted inBooks

Digging Into Ai Weiwei’s Online Diary

Reading through detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s blog, recently translated by Lee Ambrozy and published as an eponymous book by MIT Press, isn’t fun, and it’s not for the faint of heart. A carefully selected culling of the artist’s massive production of posts between 2006 and 2009, the volume is a guts-and-all portrait of the man who is in all likelihood the most important artist working in the world today. That he remains arrested without charge by the Chinese government only heightens the strained urgency of Ai’s posts, an avalanche of “writings, interviews and digital rants,” as the book’s tagline puts it, that range through political philosophy, aesthetic inquiry and simple documentation of daily life.

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Steve Martin Attempts to Skewer the Art World & Fails

You may know Steve Martin from being one of our time’s defining comedians, actors and celebrity figures. But along with those first few titles, the man is also a renowned collector of contemporary art, as well as a novelist and a playwright. These pursuits could be called hobbies if they didn’t require quite so much dedication. Martin’s An Object of Beauty (2010), his third novel, attempts to combine the actor’s sidelines in writing and art into a narrative showpiece that aims a satirical skewer at the art world. Unfortunately, the punch never lands. Object of Beauty is too simplistic and editorializing for an art world-savvy audience and too limping for readers just looking for a punchy narrative.

Posted inBooks

Artist Interventions as Sugarcoating

The Studio Museum in Harlem’s Fall 2010 Studio magazine, a publication that functions as newsletter, press release and behind-the-scenes peek at the museum’s operation, doesn’t exactly look institutional. This edition is covered by a mottled, fibrous layer of paper that obscures the magazine itself. Simply emblazoned “Fences,” the cover is part of an artist intervention into the Studio Museum’s magazine by Dave McKenzie. Interspersed throughout the publication’s pages are photos by the artist. Yet the photos fail to escape their medium; the whole project feels too much like branding. Does this artist intervention act more like the toy at the bottom of a cereal box than a distinct work?

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Meditations on Celebrity Over Millennia

Lapham’s Quarterly is a quarterly (duh) publication edited by Lewis Lapham (also duh), former Harper’s Magazine editor from 1976 to 1981. Each issue of the staid, stately magazine focuses on a single theme; previous themes have included “The City,” “Sports & Games,” and “About Money.” Drawing on writers and source texts from throughout history, Lapham’s provides a unique perspective on its chosen topics by sheer editorial insight, pairing eras and authors to best highlight the similarities and contrast between changing perceptions. It’s the proximity of all of these authoritative voices that gives Lapham’s its historical heft, but it’s the lightness of their touch that makes the text fun, an adventure and a time machine in the reading.

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MoMA Hits the Streets With Newsprint

After stopping in to Hyperallergic’s local coffee shop one morning, I noticed something interesting in the newsstand next to the Village Voices and L Magazines. I took a closer look. MoMA’s logo? On a newsprint publication? The Museum of Modern Art is refreshing an old form of advertising to get the word out about two print exhibitions — the printed broadsheet. This two-sided newspaper publicizes the museum’s Impressions From South Africa: 1965 to Now and German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse with an eye-catching combination of information and print reproductions. Even better, the broadsheet presents the exhibition’s prints in their native multiple format.

Posted inBooks

Artist’s Hearts for Sale

In addition to a thriving street art practice that includes putting hearts and cute doodle faces on everything from farm silos to city walls, artist Chris Uphues also makes little printed goods. This week, we’re checking out two of Uphues’ zines as well as a selection of day-glo colored hearts printed on stiff cardboard stock. Kind of like a warped version of a kindergarten bulletin board, these little mementos are sweet but not without their creepy side. A zine made up on Uphues’ doodles on paint chip cards, ranging from pink to yellow to green, blue and purple, has more than a few scenes of freaky psychedelia, a softer version of Kenny Scharf’s zaniness.