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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Birdsong is a collective of artists, writers, printmakers and publishers, but it’s also a zine press, and it’s also a cultural moment. You may have noticed editor-in-chief Tommy Pico’s place on the L Magazine’s “Young New Yorkers Who Are Better Than You” feature. Self-consciously confessional, diaristic and young, the pieces and creators that make up the latest two editions of Birdsong the bimonthly zine (numbers 13 and 14) might have a hipster sheen, but what makes them worth reading is their desire to go past the slick surface, an unwillingness to be superficial. Birdsong boasts a solid heart of dedicated writing, drawing and thinking, and it’s this thoughtful center that makes the short zines worth picking up.
Dutch photojournalist Geert van Kesteren’s Baghdad Calling is unique in photojournalism first for its innovative use of the book medium, a compendium of newsprint interspersed with smaller, glossy pages with text and photos. But the content of the book is just as surprising as the format it comes in. The dramatic book, outwardly reminiscent of a UN field manual, mingles van Kesteren’s professional shots of Iraqi families and daily life with his subjects’ own photos, snapshots of the country and their surroundings taken on cell phones and digital cameras.
Scott Blake’s rectangular, black two-inch wide and one-inch tall flipbook looks pretty harmless. It’s small enough to fit in a pocket and has two normal, plastic covers bound by staples. The shock comes on the first flip through the book: it presents a moving image of the airplane hitting the second of the Twin Towers on 9/11, followed by the beginnings of the building’s explosion and collapse. This might sound like a project aiming for shock value, provoking audiences by trivializing a serious, historically significant event that has come to define the beginning of a new century. Yet the flipbook itself doesn’t feel sarcastic.
A Perfect Home: The Bridge Project was produced in conjunction with Korean artist Do Ho Suh’s exhibition of the same name at Storefront for Art and Architecture here in New York City, which ran from September 14 through December 7 2010. Excellently edited by Yasmeen M. Siddiqui, the volume is more artist book than catalog, less a document of an exhibition than impressionistic of an artistic effort. Intensively designed for maximum info and impact, the slim book is an unorthodox way to look at an exhibition, but its innovations end up making perfect sense for Do Ho Suh’s project, a part conceptual and part emotional attempt to bridge New York with Seoul.
Harmony Korine is known chiefly as a filmmaker, best for writing Larry Clark’s 1995 cult hit Kids. His most recent movie, Trash Humpers, was variously decried and praised for its unabashedly gritty commitment to a certain kind of disturbing, voyeuristic realism. Bill Saylor is an artist who works in a surreal vein of the American visual vernacular remixing ideas of the great West, motorcycle culture and 60s psychadelia into a seething new whole. The pair have collaborated on a recently released zine, called Ho Bags, that springs from a similar milieu: messy, dirty, smudged drawings present the psychotic essence of the unrealized and over-idealized American Dream.
Alison Young is a lawyer and a professor at the University of Melbourne, Australia, but don’t let that intimidate you. She has also extensively covered the Australian street art world, writing and teaching on the “intersection of law, crime and culture.” In Street|Studio: The Place of Street Art in Melbourne, Young works with street artists Ghostpatrol, Miso (Stanislava Pinchuk) and designer Timba Smits to create a book that documents the culture of street art in Melbourne. From introductory essays to photo spreads to in-depth interviews with artists about their work and the role of street art, Street|Studio covers everything you’d want to know about a city’s scene in a way that few other street art compendiums manage to accomplish. Beyond its excellent good looks, this is a surprisingly informative volume.