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.