This month’s Brooklyn Rail didn’t just update me on the critical reception of the past months’ art exhibitions, it also kept me well-informed about the state of vegetarian burritos, Indian call centers and the misunderstood G train! The November issue (my copy is elegantly covered in a Jonas Mekas lithograph of a hand cradling a flower bud) is a primer for anyone who hasn’t necessarily seen all of the right shows and read all of the right books for the recent spat of cultural production. Taken as a whole, though, the weighty newsprint publication’s most interesting articles lay in unexpected places and concern unexpected topics.
It’s easy enough to tell that The Believer is a publication from California from looking at the cover of their 2010 Art Issue, much less getting to the table of contents. A 70s psychedelic mashup of art icons, a John Baldessari suited figure, a dinosaur figurine, and a Picassoian acrobat by Clare Rojas march up a ray of red and yellow light into … the mouth of a skin-less human body? New York this is not.
Famously co-edited by Vendela Vida, writer spouse of writer wunderkind Dave Eggers, The Believer is well known for its cutesy tone and off-beat vibe, helped along by its graphic design and a coterie of Californian cultural denizens. None of these are bad qualities in themselves, but when editing an “art issue,” it might be best to start looking outside of the narrow perspective of your own aesthetic.
The trek out to PS1 for the 2010 New York Art Book Fair took me on the E train to Long Island City, away from Hyperallergic’s Williamsburg office. Yet somehow, the population of Williamsburg had followed me there. The concrete colonnade and ramped steps leading up to PS1’s converted school building were filled with more keds, more obscure totebags, more skinny jeans and photocopied zines than one often sees in a single place. Once inside, the books on offer only slightly outnumbered the visitors.
The New Museum’s “Free” exhibition is based on the freedom of cultural exchange that has followed the advent of the internet and digital technology. Following up on that emphasis on online activity, the exhibition’s catalogue is entirely digital as well, a website-hosted document that’s somewhere between an online PDF and an interactive vertical blog.
If you’re wondering why I’m reviewing a digital catalogue as a book, it’s because this is a book — it’s just online.
The Brooklyn Museum’s catalog for their Fred Tomaselli exhibition is pretty mammoth for a show that only takes up three galleries. Still, the tome serves well as a way to expand on ideas presented in the exhibition and give a greater view of the artist’s work than would otherwise be possible in the limited space. Just do yourself a favor and don’t stop at the book version.
The diversity of works included in the catalog, from early installations and sculptures to constellation drug charts and later lacquered collages, is fascinating to see, but the ability to see so much at once also comes at a cost.
You might remember Poster Boy from his days wreaking havoc on the New York City (Brooklyn) subways, slicing up vinyl-adhesive posters with a pocketed razor and remixing them at will. The prankster switched up celebrity bodies, rearranged words, got big in the blogosphere, profiled in New York Magazine, got questionably arrested, and has now put out a book of his works. It remains a mystery to most people who Poster Boy is, though the smart guess would be a collective of like-minded street artists, and the War of Art book doesn’t do anything to clear the mystery up. What the slim volume does do well is to document Poster Boy’s work, a collection previously only visible on Flickr.
OUR FIRST WEDNESDAY BOOK REVIEW!
Reading Lawrence Weschler’s nigh-legendary book on Robert Irwin, Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, inspired me to next grab the New Yorker writer’s other artist-focused book, True to Life: Twenty-Five Years of Conversations With David Hockney. As entertaining as they are challenging, the two books are hard to categorize as biographies, though they concern individuals and their oeuvres. Weschler’s works are more like conversations: anecdotal histories formed less by research than by hanging out with an artist, watching exhibitions open and major works develop, witnessing a lifelong artistic practice.
With a month on a plane, I had boredom on the brain and packed what books I could to feed it. The worst decision I have made to date was to bring Michael Cunningham’s latest novel By Nightfall with me and read it over the first few days of jetting … because the book’s protagonist, Peter Harris, is an art dealer suffering from a crippling bout of nihilism and, when you’re setting out from New York City to look for what’s happening elsewhere in the art world, the least helpful thing to bring along is a book busy interrogating everything that underpins the creation, enjoyment, and dissemination of contemporary art. But I read on, attentive to detail in a fit of masochistic idiocy, and because I had room in my backpack for two books and the other one I brought was Learning from Las Vegas, which I wanted to save, of course, for Las Vegas.
By now, we all know that the 2008 Obama Presidential campaign was a great leap forward for the aesthetics of US election campaign, so it should come as no surprise that the director of the Obama campaign, Scott Thomas, decided to publish a book about the innovative Obama design brand and its impact on American pop and design cultures. The resulting book, titled Designing Obama: A Chronicle of Art & Design from the 2008 Presidential Campaign, is an attractive product that includes a short foreward by Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and an introduction by graphic design guru Steven Heller, who cleverly calls the brand “O Design.”
Co-founded by Carla Repice and Geoff Cunningham in 2007, the Office of Blame Accountability (OBA) is, according to the pair, “not an office … it’s just life.” They have a new book, and they talked to Hyperallergic about their “Blame” project and how it continues to evolve.
Imagine a gallerist bringing new art works into the gallery. She pulls her truck up to the gallery curbside, gets out, and starts taking some paintings out of the truck bed. She takes one out just as she realizes that she hasn’t unlocked the gallery doors. So, she places the artwork on the curb and sets off to unlock the gallery. This person has intentionally placed art in the street. Is it street art? Obviously not. So what makes something street art if not the art’s being intentionally placed in the street? It might even seem that street art needn’t be literally in the street at all, so long as one accepts that Blu’s MUTO and similar works are street art — as a digital video it has no literal or direct connection to the street. Street artistic status must hinge on something else. So what is it?
In the world of graffiti, Martha Cooper is a cult figure. She’s an old skool photog who, along with Henry Chalfant, documented the fast-changing world of New York graffiti and unintentionally helped make it sexy and digestible for public consumption. Her book Subway Art, co-authored with Chalfant, kickstarted the graff book genre that has ballooned (for better or worse) into a full-blown field that witnesses hundreds of books published a year.
Since the influence and impact of Subway Art is well-know, I chose to focus this review on two more recent works by the graff photography veteran which were published in that last few years, Tag Town: The Evolution of New York Graffiti Writing and Going Postal.