Gregory Crewdson, Rick Moody, Darcey Steinke, Joyce Carol Oates and Bradford Morrow, Hover, Artspace Books, 1998, 57 pp., $15.
There's something irksome about Hover, a little hardcover book that pairs photographs by the contemporary artist Gregory Crewdson with short stories by four novelists.
Maybe it's the "Golden Books" format. Though the inside front cover has two blank lines for name-scrawling, this is no children's book. Its images and text aren't simple and comforting. Nor are they so disquieting that the packaging works in an ironic way.
Crewdson, who teaches at Yale and shows at Luhring Augustine in New York, is perhaps best known for large color photos of a fabricated animal world gone awry.
My favorite of Crewdson's eight images in Hover shows four quizzical stuffed birds, their heads tilted to the side as they stare at something -- a decomposed head? a moss-covered human placenta? Whatever it is, it has the word "HOME" glued on it in red yarn in an artsy-craftsy kindergardarten way that is totally charming.
Crewdson's other images -- of mice cavorting around a decomposing human leg, for example, or squirrels contemplating a levitating egg -- are less appealing. They're either pretty in a fake way, like the bird on the windowsill in David Lynch's Blue Velvet, or pretty in a gross way, like the dead bodies on The X Files.
The texts are by novelists Rick Moody (Purple America, The Ice Storm), Bradford Morrow (Come Sunday), Darcey Steinke (Jesus Saves) and Joyce Carol Oates, who needs no introduction, even in the art world.
The collaboration in Hover consisted of Crewdson sending one photo to each writer and asking him or her to respond with a short text. Crewdson might have been in the driver's seat as far as setting the tone for Hover, but the writing does a better job of creating imagery.
The best texts are Moody's lush, apocalyptic "Silhouette Romance," which ends with a scene of a man playing his cello during an inferno, and Oates's haunting "(The Salvation of the Grass) A Parable," which describes how the sudden appearance of new grass helps a boy escape unjust punishment. Both of these pieces make up for Morrow's inscrutable, non-sequitur pileup, "A Different Kind of Arbor."
Artspace has published nine titles in this series so far, including Memories that Smell Like Gasoline by David Wojnarowicz and Jerk, with art by Nayland Blake and fiction by Dennis Cooper. Artspace's promo copy proclaims that "these collaborations of image and text by today's most innovative artists challenge the culture in which we live."
But while standing in a Hallmark store, it suddenly hits me -- Hover is packaged with all the cuddly desirability of a gift-shop knickknack because it's essentially the same thing: a collectible -- about the most culturally unchallenging thing a book could be.
Maybe you don't mind spending $15 for what amounts to less than 30 pages of writing when a full-length novel can be had for less.
In which case, Hover would make a great holiday gift for friends who will immediately feel -- and relish -- the desire to amass Artspace's other titles.