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Plop: Recent Projects of the Public
Art Fund

The Public Art Fund has been unusually successful in its artistic mission, bringing to the sidewalks and squares of New York City a series of mind-boggling temporary art installations, which include, to name only two, Rachel Whitereads ghostly Water Tower of translucent cast resin installed on a SoHo rooftop in 1996 and Jeff Koons monumental, flower-covered Puppy at Rockefeller Center in 2000. But art-world insiders know the PAF, and its current director, Tom Eccles, to be unusually straightforward as well as successful -- and this freshness is reflected in the title of the new 256-page picture book from Merrell Publishers, Plop: Recent Projects of the Public Art Fund ($49.95).

The term "Plop Art" was coined by the progressive architect James Wines in 1969 as a punning put-down of the tendency to site large abstract sculptures on skyscraper plazas with little consideration of the surroundings. Since those more doctrinaire esthetic times (35 years ago!), the urban fabric has become so raucous and multilayered that a pronounced plop here and there fits right in. For proof, one need only to turn to this impressive collection, which features 500 illustrations chronicling important art projects by 45 artists, most of them "interventions" into public space that are lively, often comic and almost always welcome.

The Art of Bill Viola
(Thames & Hudson)
Everyone loves the mesmerizing video art of Bill Viola. If you need proof, a quick look at shows three major Viola titles are still in print in English -- a 2003 catalogue of his show "The Passions" at the J. Paul Getty Museum, a catalogue of his 1997 Whitney Museum survey, and a 1995 artists-notebook-style publication issued after his Venice Biennale appearance by MIT Press and Anthony dOffay Gallery in London. But all this good press doesnt really count unless the academics have put in their two cents.

That milestone is passed with The Art of Bill Viola ($24.95), 224-page trade paperback from Thames & Hudson. Edited by Chris Townsend, a lecturer in "media arts" at the University of London, the book boasts no less than ten chapters, each written by a different nutty professor. The rich trove of material includes, for example, "Piercing to our Inaccessible, Inmost Parts: The Sublime in the Work of Bill Viola" by Cynthia A. Freeland, professor of philosophy at the University of Houston, and "Something Rich and Strange: Bill Violas Uses of Asian Spirituality" by Elizabeth Ten Grotenhuis, a professor at Boston University. The fascinating tome also boasts 54 luxurious color illustrations.

Robert Rosenblum
Introducing Gilbert & George
(Thames & Hudson)
As if in uncanny anticipation of the recent selection of the British art duo of Gilbert & George to represent Britain at the 2005 Venice Biennale, Thames & Hudson has issued the latest in its series of full color contemporary art guides: Introducing Gilbert & George ($24.95), authored by the celebrated NYU professor and Guggenheim Museum curator, Robert Rosenblum. Gilbert & George burst upon art consciousness as The Singing Sculpture in 1970, a Postminimalist parody of British manners. By 1980, their interest had turned to topics that are now their trademarks -- an abject, scatological interest in shit, spit, sperm, blood and other bodily excretia, and a homoerotic interest in young men and gay prostitution. Its all illustrated quite well in this book, with the commentary by Rosenblum, replete with references to Christian and art historical precedents, that is about as close to Krispy Kremes as art criticism gets.

Alicia Foster
Tate Women Artists
Much water has passed under the bridge since the feminist artists of the 1970s pointed out the absence of women from mainstream art history. This fall, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., and Tate Publishing are issuing Tate Women Artists ($35), a 272-page picture-book-sized paperback with entries on more than 200 women artists spanning five centuries, all in the Tate collection. Author Alicia Foster arranges the material alphabetically by period, beginning with the 17th-century painters Mary Beale and Angelica Kauffman, moving through Victorians like Henriette Browne, Anna Lea Merritt and Berthe Morisot (?), and plunging into the much deeper waters of the 20th century. All in all, its a fascinating inventory of the holdings -- on the distaff side -- of Londons top art museum.

Robert L. Herbert
Seurat and the Making of "La Grande Jatte"

You know youre entering serious historical and esthetic territory when an entire museum exhibition, and the accompanying catalogue, is devoted to a single painting. So it is with Seurat and the Making of "La Grande Jatte" ($65 cloth, $34.95 paper) by Robert L. Herbert, with an essay by Neil Harris and contributions by Douglas W. Druick and Gloria Groom, Frank Zuccari and Allison Langley, Inge Fiedler and Roy S. Berns. Published by University of California Press in association with the Art Institute of Chicago, the 280-page, lavishly illustrated book is the catalogue to the exhibition of the same title, currently on view at the museum (June 16-Sept. 19, 2004).

The exhaustive book includes a photo of the installation of the famous painting at the 1933 Worlds Fair, a 19th-century photograph of the artist, a survey of Seurats career prior to the painting, a thorough study of the dozens of preparatory works done for it, a discussion of its appearance in the 1886 Impressionist exhibition, and posthumous interpretations of the painting. The book also features extensive discussions of the works composition and technique, and a sociological study of its reception (titled "The Park in the Museum").