Archive for category Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Places of the Mind || ed Kim Sloan

Subtitled British watercolour landscapes 1850-1950, this accompanies a major (free) exhibition at the British Museum. The works included are from the Museum’s own collection and although they are not necessarily some of the artists’ major works, they are rarely seen and some are being reproduced for the first time.

In spite of this apparent limitation, the coverage is comprehensive and an extraordinarily wide range of artists is included, making this truly representative of the period covered. You’ll find Turner, Nash, Whistler, Rossetti, Russell Flint, Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland alongside less well-known names who nevertheless complete the canon.

The arrangement of the book is thematic rather than chronological, which leads to some nice juxtapositions; a simple A-Z arrangement always feels more like filing than curating. These themes are accompanied by essays by the book’s six contributors and include The search for a sense of place, A new ‘golden age’? – the ‘modern’ landscape watercolour and Some versions of pastoral. I’ve listed them to show the eclectic approach and the variety of interpretation that the book brings, rather than just being a catalogue.

There are many reasons to like this. The first is the quality and authority of the text, but you can add the excellent reproduction, the fact that these are unfamiliar works, the sheer extent and, finally, the price: at £20, they’re practically giving it away!

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David Hockney: Current

There’s almost no end of books about David Hockney, up to and including the impressive and impressively-priced A Bigger Book. Hockney’s output over a long career is vast and any compilation can only be a selection at best. It’s largely a question of choosing the one that includes the most of what you like and has a quality of reproduction that will satisfy.

This, which was originally published to accompany an exhibition of the same title at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, is one of the best and most comprehensive for the period it covers, the last decade, which is described as “a profound turning point in [Hockney’s] exceptional sixty-year career”. As is usual, a few earlier works are included where they are necessary to provide perspective.

The quality of reproduction is first class and, with 2,036 illustrations, you’re not going to feel short-changed on that front. The curation is good too, with sections organised by theme: iPad works, Yosemite, The Arrival of Spring (selections from the 2012 RA show), the multipoint perspective works, the complete 82 Portraits & 1 Still Life and a full catalogue raisonné of the iPhone and iPad drawings. Each section is headed by an essay considering its topic in some depth and followed by a listing of the works included. I was fascinated to discover that the figure of Peter Schlesinger in Portrait of An Artist (pool with two figures) is based on an earlier photomontage (which is shown here).

There are drawbacks. The illustrations in the iPhone/Pad section are necessarily small and some of the detail is lost. Also, although the lists of works are keyed to page numbers, you need to do a considerable amount of jumping about in a heavy book to find titles. The reverse of that coin, of course, is that the plates themselves are uncluttered and without distractions.

Despite those very small reservations, this is an excellent book and is certainly one for my core library. I’d choose it, I think, over the catalogue for the 2017 Tate retrospective, in spite of the broader scope that has. At £45, it’s amazing value, too!

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Who’s Afraid of Contemporary Art? || Kyung An & Jessica Kerasi

Please, sir. Me, sir. I am, sir. The trouble with modern art is the fear of saying the wrong thing, of being unable to recognise the juxtaposition of referenced elements within the contemporary zeitgeist. The last thing you want is someone with over-sized glasses rolling their eyes.

There is, though, a coming realisation that non-pictorial art does need to be explained, and Susie Hodge has previously made some valiant and remarkably successful efforts. This, written by two experienced curators is, at first sight, not welcoming and user-friendly. A tendency to diagrams, word clouds and rather small illustrations does not help the casual reader get into it.

This is a shame, as it’s a remarkably helpful book and there’s a stream of quite subtle humour running through it – the authors may be highly experienced in their field, but they really do want to help the uninitiated.

The best way into the book, I think, is to start with the contents list. This is arranged in a A-Z format and reveals topics such as How Did We Get Here (contemporary before contemporary), Geeks and Techies (when did it all get so technical) and Picasso Baby (why does everyone want in on art – Kanye West, a minimalist in a rapper’s body). You see what I mean about inclusion and humour? You want to know more now, don’t you. Add to this explanation of the Guerrilla Girls, the Emperor’s new Clothes (what makes it art?), Fun, and the language of contemporary art (that word cloud) and you begin to see that this is a very clever way into a complex subject that often does close itself out to a world outside the cognoscenti.

The sections are short, so you won’t get bogged down in lengthy explanations – if you want to know more, there are plenty more books – trust me, plenty!

Overall, this is a brave and largely successful attempt to explain something that threatens to be unexplainable.

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Intimate Geometries: The life and art of Louise Bourgeois || Robert Storr

This is an important book – a significant undertaking written with great scholarship and integrity and will be of particular relevance to academics and students, but I believe it will be of interest to anyone who has seen and admired the work of such an intriguing artist and wishes to learn more about her life and her creative influences.

Robert Storr, the author, is currently Dean of the Yale School of Art where he has served two tenures. Formerly, between 1990 and 2002, he was a Curator, then Senior Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He has written over 30 books on art and painters including, in 2003, a book on Louise Bourgeois. He knew the artist well for the last thirty years of her life and as such he is eminently qualified to write a detailed account of her life, her work and its influences from a personal and an intellectual perspective.

Anthony d’Offay (2013) has described Louise Bourgeois as one of the four great women artists of the 20th Century citing the others as Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo and Agnes Martin (all of whom have had major retrospectives at Tate Modern in recent years). However, Louise Bourgeois is unique among them in having a creative practice spanning seven decades and incorporating a variety of media including drawing, painting, sculpture, installation, textiles and text. Frances Morris (now Director of Tate Modern) selected Bourgeois’ pieces, Maman (1999) and I do, I undo, I redo (1999) for the opening of Tate Modern in 2000 and perhaps this was the first time that Bourgeois’ work had exposure to the general British public. Since then her work has been shown there at a major retrospective in 2008 and at numerous other British art galleries.

The book follows a template, being organized historically and providing a clear sequential account of the artist’s life including photographs of the people and events described and of contemporaneous work. Each chapter is followed by a Portfolio devoted to larger photographs of selected work relevant to the chapter. Hence, Chapter I, entitled A Family Romance describes Bourgeois’ family life and background and those who influenced her. It describes the origin of her psychological turmoil – still evident years later – and which was to become the seed corn of her work. The Portfolio which follows is devoted to work made during the period 1930 – 1944. The biographical account is not limited to people and events, but incorporates quotes and commentary on Bourgeois’ thinking and other influences which contributed towards her making. This serves as a useful guide when examining the work illustrated in detail.

Chapter II, One and Others overlaps with Bourgeois’ life in Paris and New York and describes the death of her mother and its aftermath and her life as a student of Geometry at the Sorbonne. However, her passion was art and between 1933 and 1938 she studied at the principal art academies in Paris and at various artists’ studios. A chance encounter with Alfred H Barr Jnr, a founding Director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York led inadvertently to her meeting Robert Goldwater, a young art historian and researcher. Storr comments that Goldwater reversed Bourgeois’ internalised model of the ‘masculine’ based on her father. She married Goldwater in 1938 and followed him almost immediately to New York where she remained for the rest of her life. Alienated, she was unhappy initially but her mood and motherhood did not stifle her creativity and she continued to make work using the roof of the family home both as a plein air studio and as a source of inspiration (He disappeared into complete silence 1947). The Portfolio that follows covers the period 1944- 1955 and includes drawings, paintings and sculpture.

Chapter III describes the years between 1960 and 1970 and is entitled Inside – Outside – here Storr describes Bourgeois increasing exposure to the art scene in New York and the opportunities that were becoming available to her and upon which she was determined to optimize. But he also touches on Bourgeois’ deep psychological distress – difficulties in her marriage and her psychoanalysis. During this time she began a small venture – trading by mail order under the name Erasmus Books and Prints – it was not wholly successful but served as a refuge – a means of ‘disappearing’ during a time of emotional stress and unease when her husband and sons were away from home all day. Bourgeois was deeply troubled by Goldwater’s reserve and this triggered intense confusion about the relationship she had with her father. Her sense of her own sexuality and of womanhood made her feel insecure and aggressive in turn and she worked fitfully. However this period showed Bourgeois emerging to experiment with synthetics, with her attention being redirected from the external to the internal space or from the negative to the positive.

By 1970 Bourgeois was beginning to be recognized as an activist and on the front lines of the feminist cause: her promotion by the prominent feminists Lucy Lippard and Linda Nochlin meant that she was ‘ripe for discovery’. But in 1973 Robert Goldwater died unexpectedly and Storr reports that the impact on Bourgeois was incalculable. To fill the emptiness, she immersed herself in a broad social network. She ‘played mother’ to many but women particularly gravitated to her doorstep. At this point her work became more overtly preoccupied with the body; since the 1940s her sculpture had been ‘incised’ or ‘indented’ – suggesting vaginal openings, but the stone pieces of the 1970 -1980s became much more gender explicit and often ‘bisexual’ incorporating both vagina and phallus. Storr considers that Goldwater was Bourgeois’ shield and that his death left her exposed to her demons. She projected her ‘survivors guilt’ into her nemesis – ‘the father’ resulting in a body of work where her father was represented symbolically. Chapter IV, Janus, describing this period: 1970 – 1989 which represented the most significant and prolific creative period in her career to date and yet one when Bourgeois’ obsessive calculations were employed by her as a method against madness.

In 1982 MOMA held a retrospective of Bourgeois’ work. She was seventy- one, and previously relatively unknown. However this public exposure revealed her as a ‘force to be reckoned with’. A supporter who emerged at this time was Jerry Gorovoy who became her assistant and later also her constant companion and adviser. Despite public acclaim, Bourgeois’ insecurities never abated and in fact increased to the extent that she became reclusive, leaving home only to go to her studio and later, in her eighties, virtually ceasing to go there at all. Storr explains that the world (people) she had retreated from came, instead, to see her but ‘on her own terms’. However, the work she made between 1989–1999 – illustrated in the Portfolio which follows.

Chapter V, Rooms of her Own, is some of the most powerful of her oeuvre. Ferried between her home and her studio by Gorovy in an ancient Chrysler, later in his Ford Bronco and with the help of numerous assistants, Bourgeois made a series of Installations (rooms), which she called Cells. They comprised many materials of symbolic relevance to Bourgeois and included some of her own clothes. During this time she began to make her Spiders (the prototype being a charcoal drawing dating from 1947): this monumental series served as an homage to her mother. Storr quotes Bourgeois:

The theme of spiders is a double theme. First of all, the spider is a guardian, a guardian against mosquitoes… it is a defense against evil…the other metaphor is the spider represents the mother.

(Bourgeois’ parents had run a tapestry restoration atelier in Paris where undoing and reweaving threads – just as the spider makes and repairs her web – was her mother’s quotidian task). Another theme from this time are the fabric sculptures (Personages)- human figures, often dismembered or stunted, inspired by the amputees she saw as a child in the aftermath of the Great War.

The concluding chapter of this remarkable book, entitled Coda describes Bourgeois’ final years and records her frailty and continuing psychological vulnerability. In reviewing her output Storr writes that Bourgeois’ life and work weave in and out of the narratives of art history – embracing Cubism, Surrealism, the Schools of Paris and New York, Modernism and Postmodernism but that of greater significance is the breadth and depth of her visual culture: combining both intelligence and imagination and including her use of material, iconography and psychoanalytic concepts.

Bourgeois was an exceptional artist and this is an exceptional book.

A word of warning: this book is substantial: it measures 29.5 x 34.5x 5.5cms and weighs 5.4 kgs!


(This was written by my sister, whose dissertation for her Textiles & Mixed Media degree was: Does an artist’s childhood influence the art she makes? A comparative study of the work of Louise Bourgeois and Tracy Emin.)

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Interviews With Francis Bacon || David Sylvester

This is the second book I’ve written about today whose blurb name-checks David Bowie. Well, that’s 2016 for you.

Francis Bacon is without doubt one of the giants of the art of the latter part of the Twentieth Century. Whether you like his work can’t alter that and he was, in general, a man who set out to confront rather than console. His work makes you think rather than feel comfortable and it’s possible to appreciate it because of, rather than in spite of, that.

The interviews here were conducted over a 25 year period and are reproduced verbatim as dialogues rather than a prose account. While it has an honesty, in print this can make for rather disjointed reading, but it is hard to argue with the preservation of the subject’s immediate rather than reported speech.

David Sylvester is a forensic interviewer and he benefits from Bacon’s trust, which leads to full and candid answers to often searching questions. The result is a classic account of the artistic endeavour that has resonated with other practitioners (and Bowie, who named it his favourite book) since its original publication in 1975. Its subtitle, The Brutality of Fact, provides a strong clue to its nature.

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Dada – art & anti-art || Hans Richter

Dada is, you might argue, one of those things that should never have existed. No, don’t go away, I haven’t discovered a new streak of reactionary Philistinism. What I mean is that a movement (I think we can call it that) that rejects the idea of art – and, indeed, of movements – is inherently destructive of itself. That such things almost always gain traction has the sort of nightmare logic that is at the centre of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 or Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant (the anti-massacree movement).

This is, no less, the centenary edition of a book by one of Dada’s central figures, so it has plenty of claim to be authoritative. While an inside job cannot be said to be objective, Dada is one of those things whose story is best told by insiders because it not only defies definition, it avowedly does so. The centenary celebrated is that of Dada’s emergence at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1915, it should be said, not of the book’s original publication. That was 1965, fifty years on from the origination, and allowed plenty of time for the dust to settle and a perspective to set in.

Dada, as the layout of the book makes clear, had several centres, mostly in Europe but extending to New York. As a force, it lasted less than a decade, but that is often the way with art movements – they arrive, they shock, they mature (or maybe immature) and then morph into something else. In this case, it’s argued, that would be Surrealism and subsequently Pop Art. The genie of free expression was firmly out of the bottle by then, though, and non-representational art was practically mainstream. Yes, I am planning to visit the Tate’s Robert Rauschenberg retrospective.

Such a historical work inevitably becomes a piece of art in its own right and this re-publication includes an extensive introduction and commentary by the art historian Michael White that allows it to be appreciated by a whole new audience.

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Art Since 1900 || Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H D Buchloh & David Joselit

As you might expect, this is a substantial volume but, thanks to a moderately compact format, it’s not an unmanageable one, albeit it’s really quite heavy. It should also be said that, in this instance, “compact” doesn’t mean “too small to be any practical use”. Regular readers may remember that this is one of my personal beefs.

First published in 2004, this is now the third edition of what has become the standard reference book on its subject. I’d love to know what has changed, although the standard response is usually “interpretation”.

Given the sheer wealth, as well as weight, of material, structure is important in a book like this and extensive cross-referencing allows the reader to chart their own path through what is best described as a maze: here are paintings, sculptures, posters, furniture and installations. The subtitle, “Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism” hardly does justice to all there is – I’m pretty sure the Twentieth Century ran to more than three movements and, to be fair, so are the authors.

When I find a page entitled “How to use this book”, I can feel my hackles rise. Isn’t that supposed to be obvious? Could I not just read it, I mean, for instance? But the truth is that this is a lot more than a book. In fact, think of it as a season ticket to all the world’s galleries, Google, and the far corners of the internet all rolled into one. The summary chapter heads, direct references to illustrations, pointers to related entries and suggestions for further reading, as well as break-out boxes that illuminate a particular topic, and handy date markers that remind you where you are, all go towards breaking what would otherwise be indigestible into manageable courses. Think of it as Service Française rather than Service à la Russe. A half dozen pages of basic chronology at the beginning add much, too.

This is an extraordinary book extraordinarily well managed. I do have a slight reservation over the illustrations – the amount of black & white surprised me, as did the vintage feel to some of them; as a result I was expecting the original publication date to be earlier than it is. You could argue though, and I think I will, that this isn’t primarily about the illustrations and that they’re there as pointers in the text, which is the most important part.

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