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Chuck Close and Bob Holman
A Couple of Ways of Doing Something

Chuck Close's portrait of Elizabeth Peyton

Bob Holman's poem to James Turrell

Ambling Family
by Brian Riley

Chuck Close and Bob Holman, A Couple of Ways of Doing Something, 2003, Art of this Century, $18,000

"Ambling family willingly deconstructs into camera" are the first words of New York poet Bob Holman's poem to Chuck Close, one of 20 that he has written to accompany Close's daguerreotype portraits of artists in a deluxe collaborative book entitled, A Couple of Ways of Doing Something (2003).

And what a family! Close has always been attracted to the art-world's top talents, and this intimate album is a "who's who" of the New York art scene -- Laurie Anderson, Lyle Ashton-Harris, Cecily Brown, Gregory Crewdson, Carroll Dunham, Ellen Gallagher, Philip Glass, Elizabeth Peyton, Andres Serrano, Cindy Sherman, James Siena, Lorna Simpson, Kiki Smith, James Turrell, Robert Wilson, Terry Winters, Lisa Yuskavage and Elizabeth Murray -- who happens to be Holman's wife. The book also contains a portrait of the poet and Close's self-portrait.

In a way, the book is a latter-day version of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's candid sketches of Belle Epoque Paris, with its lively bars and brothels. Close's daguerreotype portraits are notorious for their unflattering rendering of his subjects' skin, which often seems as pocked and cratered as the surface of the moon. Yet, so potent is the transformative power of these pictures, ugliness becomes a strange kind of new beauty.

For Holman, a 25-year-veteran of the New York poetry scene who is most recently founder of the super-hip Bowery Poetry Club, the book was a three-year-long labor of love. Here he has contributed a series of lyric, concrete poems, works that he calls "praise poems" in emulation of the West African oral tradition of reciting a family history or celebratory poem.

Sly art-world references will delight those familiar with the artists' work. For James Turrell, for instance, Holman wrote a poem of unfinished words in a diagonal column that resembles a shaft of light, while for James Siena the stanzas of the poem are laid out in a cross-hatch pattern that suggests one of the artist's paintings. A CD of Holman reading the poems accompanies the book.

Published in an edition of 75 by Harry Jancovic and Art of This Century, numbered and signed by both artist and poet, the book features 20 portraits and accompanying poems elegantly bound in four accordion-fold books contained in a charcoal colored Japanese cloth box with bone fasteners. Daguerreotype printing is by David Adamson, and the hand typography and letterpress printing on Somerset paper is done by Brooklyn artist Ruth Lingon. Overall dimensions of the book are 16 ½ x 13 x 2 ½ inches. The primary audience for the book -- the price is $18,000 -- is museums.

BRIAN RILEY is a San Francisco-based writer.