These days it seems that publishers of every stripe -- from large to small -- are issuing art books. For art world insiders, the token of exchange is the gallery imprint, especially the high-end, limited-edition, hardcover monographs put out by galleries and the occasional nonprofit space.
One example of the latter is The Prologue, the Poltergeist & the Hollow Tree: Recalling the Tightrope Walker from Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Foundation 20 21, $35), a new book by Jimmy Raskin that accompanied a recent exhibition of his works at the Foundation 20 21 gallery in the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park. A Cal Arts graduate who lives and works in New York, Raskin has an intense fixation on the 19th-century philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. For the exhibition, he filled the gallerys duplex, townhouse-style space with colorful mixed-media sculptures and works on paper, many of which have an expressionistic or arts-and-crafts texture.
Raskins elegantly designed, 160-page hardcover book, the result of almost 10 years of effort, is a poets close reading of Nietzsches 1891 parable (the philosophers only fictional work), complete with colorful, analytic diagrams that map out the narrative as well as its allegorical and theoretical aspects. In one of his elaborations, Raskin confounds Nietzsches "tightrope walker," who represent a metaphorical human on the road to enlightenment (who fails, and is abandoned), with Pinocchio, the Italian folk puppet who picks himself up and, as a "restless spirit," embarks on a series of misadventures.
As Raskin explains, the prologue to Thus Spake Zarathustra ends with the tightrope walker abandoned in a hollow tree, while Pinocchio begins with a spirit that inhabits a piece of wood. "Death and rebirth both take place in a tree." This is only the beginning of Raskins adventurous exegesis. Exceedingly original as well as obsessive and ornate, the book is a visual and written diorama of brilliant notions.
Another good example of small-scale gallery publication is Nobuya Hoki: drawings (Daiwa Radio Factory, $40), a monograph published in conjunction with the Japanese artists current exhibition at I-20 in Chelsea, his first exhibition in the U.S. Despite the sampling of three Japanese clichs -- japanimation, Zen-like poeticism and textile patterns -- Hokis works manage to emerge in a place that is entirely unique. His deft line drawings, done on monochrome grounds on canvas or paper, have a nave simplicity of style and form, and emanate a sense of quiet wisdom.
Beautifully bound and printed on soft delicate paper, the book has a vibrant blue hard cover that is decorated with silver line drawings -- a work of art on its own. Acting as a retrospective of the 39-year-old artists work, the book includes over 100 color plates and a short essay in both English and Japanese by art critic Minoru Shimizu.
The celebrated German art publisher Stiedl was founded in 1969 as a printer of art posters by Gerhard Steidl, but only after he had quizzed with Andy Warhol about his silkscreen technique. Among the recent offerings from his press is Harlemville (Steidl, $40), a clothbound, horizontally formatted book of 37 color photographs by 30-something British photographer Clare Richardson, an artist who shows at White Cube in London. Harlemville offers an up-close encounter with the pre-adolescent denizens of the upstate New York town of that name, where a sizable community of people live under the philosophy of early 20th-century Austrian thinker Rudolph Steiner. Steiner placed children at the apex of human sensibility, so in Harlemville children rule.
Harlemville is a hidden utopian world. Richardsons photos range from bucolic landscapes (sometimes accentuated by children running amok) to single portraits of children -- they look fairly normal, in the way that Damien looked normal -- to weirdly ritualistic images of boys playing in the mud. These could be the visual counterparts to scenes described in Aldous Huxleys A Brave New World or in some more chilling images William Goldings The Lord of the Flies. Richardsons uncanny ability to capture their world so intimately is what gives the images their weight.
Another, rather more complex Steidl title is This Goofy Life of Constant Mourning (Steidl $80) by the Pop Artist Jim Dine, who must be about 70 years young. The veteran artists ease of invention is on clear view in this 296-page book, which is a new kind of long, visual poem. The book is filled with photographs, bled to the edges of each page, that are themselves filled with words. Sometimes Dine has written his text on the wall or a blackboard or a canvas and photographed it, other times he has written on the photographic print itself.
In one of the first pictures, for instance, the books title phrase is written on a slat-board fence. In other photos, "Now" and "My Death, Money" are written right on the white pillows and sheets of a bed. Walls, fences, rocks, chalkboards, and beds take turns acting as Dines bard. Each page-break sets the pace of the poem to a Beat-like rhythm. The final page contains the words, "To Steidl himself for this Freedom --J.D."
The New York-based Independent Curators International puts together its own exhibitions, and publishes the accompanying catalogues. 100 Artists See God (ICI, $35) is the catalogue for the ICI show organized by John Baldessari and Meg Cranston (next on view at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia in Virginia Beach, June 9-Sept. 4, 2005, its third and final stop). A direct response to 9/11, planning for 100 Artists See God began six months after the demise of the World Trade Center, when G-d was appearing everywhere in the press.
The book is virtually the show in print, and is divided into 16 sections, such as "God as Love, "God as Architect" and "Artists See God as Tyrant." The works include Martin Kippenbergers 1990 wooden sculpture of a crucified frog holding a beer mug, a panoramic shot of the Love Parade by Andreas Gursky and a trademark image of a medicine cabinet by Damien Hirst titled God (1991). Catherine Opies They See God, I See Hate (1984) is a black-and-white picture of some fundamentalist demonstrators and their "Eternal Life or Burn in Hell" banners.
The publication opens with a dutiful essay by Thomas McEvilley titled "Ways of Seeing God," which briefly traces the manifestation of the spiritual in art through the centuries, focusing primarily on the 20th Century. Other artists in the show include Chris Burden, Nicole Eisenman, Katharina Fritsch, Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Albert Oehlen, Tony Oursler, Jorge Pardo, Nicolette Pot, Gerhard Richter, Nancy Rubins, Ed Ruscha, Marnie Weber and Franz West.
ICI also has published Inside the Studio: Two Decades of Talks with Artist in New York ($29.95), an invaluable and historic compilation of interviews and photographs of 69 artists in their New York studios from 1981-2003 edited by Judith Olch Richards. The book is a great way to get on the inside of the New York artist community over the past two decades. The artists discuss a range of subjects, from their personal backgrounds and the influences behind their works to wider esthetic issues.
The photographic portraits of the artists are intimate and up-close, many of them documenting the artists at work. Among the artists covered are Magdalena Abakanowicz, Vito Acconci, Ross Bleckner, Louis Bourgeois, Chuck Close, John Currin, Jim Dine, Carroll Dunham, Leon Golub, Jenny Holzer, Donald Judd, Anish Kapoor, Allan McCollum, Susan Rothenberg, Kiki Smith, Richard Tuttle, and Terry Winters.
Over at more commercial publishers like Thames & Hudson, one can assume that grander editorial forces are at work. Thus, Art Works: Money (Thames & Hudson, $29.95) is the second entry in the publishers "Art Works" series, and brings together a storehouse-worth of art works that take money as their theme. Edited by Katy Seigel and Paul Mattick, the book is organized like a museum show, with its various sections labeled as "rooms" devoted to themes like "Precious Material" (Boris Beckers 1999 espadrilles made of cocaine, for instance), "Production" (Santiago Sierras action in 2000, in which he tattooed a line on the backs of four heroin-addicted prostitutes, for which he paid them an amount equal to the price of a single dose of the drug) and "Alternatives" (a pile of candy by Felix Gonzalez-Torres).
The 208-page paperback book includes works by over 50 artists, along with pithy descriptions by the authors, as well as poems and quotes, an unfortunately academic historical overview and a transcribed conversation between the authors and several artists. Among the international roster of artists in this bound exhibition are Joseph Beuys, Jeremy Deller, Andreas Gursky, Jens Hoffman, Sarah Morris, Fabian Marcaccio, Cildo Meireles, Takashi Murakami, Philippe Parreno, Danica Phelps and Rob Pruitt.
Also new from Thames & Hudson is Collage: The Making of Modern Art (Thames & Hudson $50). Editor Brandon Taylor begins Collage with the pivotal moment in 1908 when the young Pablo Picasso first took a piece of brown card pasted with a "Magasins au Louvre" label and invented a new kind of picture. The entire sweep of the 20th century follows in quick order, from Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism and the experiments of the Russian Constructivists and Eastern European avant-gardes through the hard-hitting political satires of interwar Germany to the raw, aggressive collage styles of the 50s on both the east and west coasts of the U.S. and the burgeoning Pop esthetic of the 60s.
Taylor ends his authoritative account, updating us to the present, by addressing the question of why the ideas behind collage seem so much in harmony with the digital age. The book offers readers a chance to view the reproductions of many works rarely seen and even more seldom seen all together.
Last but not least are museum catalogues, those heavy duty publications that are invariably worth the price of admission, which is relatively high when compared to most book prices, but a true bargain when considered in light of the wealth of image and info that comes between the covers. Asian Games: The Art of Contest (Asia Society, $45), for instance,
is a 328-page tome with more than 20 essays on early games, ranging from "Dice in India and Beyond" by Irving Finkel, one of the shows co-curators, to "Polo: The Emperor of Games" by Virginia Bower and Colin Mackenzie, who is the other co-curator. New Yorkers who havent seen the actual exhibition should make haste; it closes Jan. 16, 2005.
Another museum catalogue is Great Expectations: John Singer Sargent Painting Children (Brooklyn Museum and Bulfinch Press $35/$60), which examines for the first time the prominence and the meaning behind John Singer Sargents depiction of children in his works. The catalogue was edited by Barbara Dayer Gallati, curator of American art at the Brooklyn Museum. Five essays delve into the subject of childhood in relation to Sargents life and career, as well as the context of 19th-century thinking that helped shape the role of children in the society Sargent was painting.
The exhibition title, for instance, refers to Charles Dickens novel Great Expectaions, an example from a long list of works centered on children in the 1800s. Sprinkled throughout the books 230 pages are stunning reproductions of Sargents work, including several that are not on view in the show. This exhibition also closes on Jan. 16, 2005.
NICOLE DAVIS is associate editor of Artnet Magazine.