Art, Books October 19, 2010 By Eugene Rabkin

Photography courtesy of Rizzoli USA

assume vivid astro focus by Cay Sophie Rabinotwitz, courtesy of Rizzoli, 2010.

avsf title Assume Vivid Astro Focus
In today’s instamatic culture where attention spans are steadily decreasing and whoever shouts loudest wins, it seems creative minds have only two ways to go — you either embrace the cultural noise or retreat from it. Assume vivid astro focus, the growing, multi-striped art collective, seems to wholly embrace the speed-of-light changes with its collages and installations. The group’s chosen aesthetic method is sensory overload — an explosion of colors and sounds. The work itself is mostly collages and installations, the copy-and-paste, low-brow material that ranges from carnivals to gay porn. This just might be the logical end of postmodernism.
    Avaf, as it is also known, became recognized in 2004 with its outrageous, cacophonous installations. The collective’s artists have done many since and their work has been exhibited in major museums in the US and abroad. The new, eponymous book (Rizzoli, $60) documents the collective’s work in a gorgeous visual tome with 270 illustrations. The volume also includes an avaf-designed, a surprisingly understated (by avaf standards) poster, and a mask with 3-D glasses — just in case your brain does not explode from seeing their vibrant pastiches with the unassisted eye.
    The text that opens the book is an engaging essay by Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, director of Art Basel. As with any loud, campy art, the natural question arises — are these guys serious? Is this a critique of contemporary culture or its indulgence? Rabinowitz offers no answer. I guess you will have to decide for yourself.

Art, Books October 15, 2010 By Cheri Caso

Photography by Lyle Owerko

Photography by Lyle Owerko

boomboxtitle The Boombox Project
Do you remember? It was an unforgettable time. The kind that, in hindsight, you can say, “something really unique was happening then”. But the late 1970s was a time when people with very little, especially in New York City, were just making the best with what they had: each other, music, and a new type of portable sound system — the boombox.
     In Lyle Owerko’s new book The Boombox Project, the New York-based photographer intended to turn subject into art, and photograph his personal collection of radios. But once he started hearing stories about his topic, the outcome shifted dramatically. In this book, you are invited to listen in on some of the most iconic MCs, musicians, and artists of that generation, recollecting about life on the streets and how the boombox grew to be so much more than just another radio. Filmmaker Spike Lee starts the book off with a foreword about Joe Radio, the first guy he ever saw listening to a portable radio on the corner of his Brooklyn block. From there, Owerko reveals stories from the likes of LL Cool J, Fab 5 Freddy, Kool Moe Dee, and Rosie Perez about their first encounters and experiences with the boombox. All their memories share a common thread: community. Today, we hear so much about sharing online, whether it’s music files or social networking. But the true pioneers of electronic sharing came from the boombox generation. It was a time of great creative growth.

Art, Books, Music October 14, 2010 By Eugene Rabkin

Images courtesy of Abram's Publishing

Images courtesy of Abram's Publishing

antony title2 Antony and the Johnsons
With much of the music shared online today, and the recording industry in crisis, artists increasingly turn to new means of distributing their work. Antony Hegarty, the transgender singer, whose ironically (or unfortunately, depending on one’s point of view) named band, the Johnsons, is no exception. For his new album, Swanlights, Antony produced a book by the same title, (Abrams Image, $35), which includes the CD.
    Antony is a famously tender and sensitive artist who aches in our rough world. His self-declared creed is seeing the world from a feminine perspective (presumably, it’s the males who are solely responsible for messing everything up, because they are too aggressive). In the short essay accompanying the book, Antony calls out, “Circles of mothers, please usher in an era of profoundly feminine governance.” But what if one of those mothers is Margaret Thatcher?
    Swanlights is reflective of Antony’s soft longing for escape from our male-induced filth, whether by dieing or by ushering in matriarchy. The music on the CD is gentle and full of feeling, especially the piano that is by turn forlorn and passionate. But it is Antony’s voice, powerful and yearning, that leaves the most lasting impression on the listener.
    The art in the book is another matter. Its content is mostly made up of collages or old newspaper cutouts drawn over with haphazard pencil lines (Antony calls them “unconscious lines or spirit lines”).

Books October 12, 2010 By Alex Shephard

Photography via the Baltimore Sun

Photography via the Baltimore Sun

llosatitle Mario Vargas Llosa
Recently, the committee that awards the Nobel Prize for Literature has favored obscure writers that, though talented, have little international reputation or influence. Bucking this trend (and odds that the prize would go to a poet, a Kenyan, or Cormac McCarthy) the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, a giant of world literature and a major figure in the Latin American Boom of the mid-late 20th century.
     Vargas Llosa was awarded the prize “for his cartography of the structures of power and his scathing images on resistance, uprisings, and individual defeat”. That is unquestionably the most precise assessment of his work you will find. Beyond that sentence, Vargas Llosa is remarkably difficult to define. His body of work is, among both recent Nobel laureates and Boom authors, arguably the most varied. In his novels one can see threads of many of the major literary movements of the 20th century, especially modernism, existentialism, and postmodernism.
     Vargas Llosa is also notable for his politics. Unlike many other Boom authors — including fellow Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who he once famously punched in the face — Vargas Llosa soured of the Cuban revolution and its leader in the mid ’70s and has slowly drifted to the political right ever since. After leading a protest against the nationalization of the Peruvian financial system in 1987, he launched a presidential campaign, and endured abuse and death threats, before losing his bid in 1990.

Art, Books October 11, 2010 By Sarah Coleman

dignity title Dignity : Dana Gluckstein
When Dana Gluckstein made her first trip to photograph indigenous Haitians in the 1980s, she didn’t know she was embarking on a three-decade-long journey. Led by instinct, Gluckstein — then a young photographer shooting for advertising campaigns and annual reports — simply wanted to do some work that felt more profound and personal. “I always knew I wanted to go deep, rather than stay on the surface,” she says. “I knew this was important work.”
     In the twenty-five years since, Gluckstein has indeed gone deep. She’s traveled far, both in terms of air miles and insight into the human condition. Her quest to document indigenous peoples — many of whose cultures are threatened — has resulted in the stunning book Dignity (powerHouse Books, $39.95), published this month to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Amnesty International.
     As Gluckstein is quick to point out, Dignity is more than just a beautiful coffee table book. It’s also a passionate call to action. While indigenous peoples comprise six percent of the global population and are among its most impoverished and oppressed inhabitants, they remain largely invisible and it’s easy to ignore their plight.
     Shot in black and white on a vintage Hasselblad, Gluckstein’s images show us the beauty, strength, and vivacity of these “first peoples”. Often intimate, sometimes breathtaking, the photographs in Dignity have a classical feel and a rich, velvety softness. Gluckstein’s artistry is matched by her deep compassion for her subject matter — a compassion that has sustained her through a quarter century of work.

Art, Books October 7, 2010 By Sarah Coleman

All photography by Alfred Stieglitz. Courtesy of National Gallery of Art and Skira/Rizzoli.

All photography by Alfred Stieglitz. Courtesy of National Gallery of Art and Skira/Rizzoli.

The word “ambitious” barely covers the life and work of Alfred Stieglitz. He was a photographer, a gallery owner, a magazine editor, and probably the man most responsible for bringing photography to the art world. Along the way, he also found time to marry a young Georgia O’Keefe and seal her reputation as a painter.
     As a photographer, Stieglitz experimented with many subjects, from New York street scenes to cloudscapes to sultry portraits of O’Keefe. Behind all of his images was the driving philosophy of “pictorialism”, a belief that photographs should look like paintings. His most celebrated image is The Steerage, a picture of poor immigrants on a steamship. Where another photographer might have focused on faces and gestures, Stieglitz makes it a Cubist-like study of form and light.
     New York, and its teeming street life, was a subject Stieglitz returned to throughout his career. In Alfred Stieglitz New York, the city is shown over a period of five decades, but always filtered through Stieglitz’s unique personality. Beauty and desolation are given equal weight. As Georgia O’Keefe once said of her husband, it was as though “something hot, dark, and destructive was hitched to the highest, brightest star”.

Books October 1, 2010 By Jesse Montgomery

Cover art coutesy of Putnam

Cover art coutesy of Putnam

williamgibson title William Gibson
That old saying (and secret dictum of science fiction) “the future is now” is rarely as appropriate a descriptor as it is for William Gibson’s latest novel, Zero History (Putnam, $26.95). For the past twenty-five years, Gibson has been churning out, with a machinelike consistency, remarkable works of science fiction — all the while edging their settings backwards, closer and closer to the present.
     Having established himself as one of our finest dealers of far-flung futures, Gibson’s decision to set his first novels of the new century — Pattern Recognition (2003) and Spook Country (2007) — in a future barely distinguishable from the present came as something of a surprise. Gone were the razor girls, neural uplinks and dope-smoking Rastafarian spaceship pilots that had for so long characterized his work; in their stead were viral internet footage, transnational marketing conspiracies and something akin to a 9/11 induced cultural tinnitus, the nascent whine of the old rhythms of the world unfurrowing. All of a sudden, the future felt more like the now than ever before.
     Zero History marks the third, and perhaps final, installment in Gibson’s newest series. The three novels share the same near future world, as well as many of its characters, preoccupations and flaws.

Architecture, Art, Books September 26, 2010 By Nalina Moses

filler165 Maxxi   zaha hadids art museum in rome

Exterior view of Suite V from the plaza.  All photography by Iwan Baan. Click images to enlarge)

Exterior view of Suite V from the plaza. All photography by Iwan Baan.
(Click images to enlarge)

filler165 Maxxi   zaha hadids art museum in romemaxxi title Maxxi   zaha hadids art museum in rome
No other contemporary architect has a formal language as seductive and expressive as Zaha Hadid’s. Her work has sidestepped the conventional forms of modern architecture (rigid boxes and planes) for something altogether different (warped and tilted vectors) with complete assurance.
     Hadid’s new museum for contemporary art in Rome, MAXXI: Zaha Hadid Architects. In addition to a portfolio of masterful photographs by Iwan Baan, the volume contains insightful essays about the building’s design and development, architectural plans, detail drawings, and construction photos. It’s eye-opening to understand the immense coordination efforts, and also the vast grid of steel reinforcing, that were required to get this building up.
     Since the project spanned from 1999, when Hadid’s office first won a design competition, to 2009, when construction was completed, MAXXI is a powerful summation of the ideas the architect explored during these fruitful years. Chief among them is the notion that buildings aren’t static constructions but complex, mutable entities that emerge from fields of energy and activity at a site. That idea is given full, clear expression at MAXXI. The building’s long curved walls follow the outline of the L-shaped site and retract and expand in response to adjacent street grids. The compressed, overlapping forms recreate the density of traditional Roman city blocks, and echo adjacent military barracks, train tracks, and the curve of the Tiber River. The structure looks strikingly contemporary and still sits comfortably within this very old city.

Books September 20, 2010 By Alex Shephard


Book cover courtesy of Viking Press

kandg title Jack Kerouac & Allen Ginsberg
The Beats’ place in the popular imagination is akin to Che Guevara’s face on a faded t-shirt: iconic and romantic, emblematic of a myth, not a historical reality. Still, this much is immune from any kind of distortion: the work the Beats produced permanently altered not only American literature and culture, but world literature and culture as well.
     Somewhere in the process, however, they too were altered. Shortly after the publication of On the Road in 1957, the small circle of beat (as in crushed) writers, hipsters, and junkies became Beatific, a generation with a capital G, caricatures of characters they had created. Transformed into avatars of authenticity, they became legends, but also lost a great deal — namely, a sense of humanity.
     The epigraph of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters, which comes from a letter from Kerouac to William S. Burroughs, promises to remedy that. “Someday The Letters of Allen Ginsberg to Jack Kerouac will make America cry,” wrote Kerouac in 1961, by which point he had finally attained the recognition he had sought for so long, only to recoil from the “voice of a generation” moniker that had been thrust upon him. He had been famous for four years, had produced all of his major works, and had all but resigned himself to the fact that he would be unable to quit drinking. He retreated from public life, emerging only periodically throughout the 1960s, his body swollen from drink, to make increasingly reactionary statements about Vietnam and hippies and sit-ins.

Architecture, Books September 20, 2010 By Rafael Schimidt

Juscelino Kubitschek Memorial, Brasilia, Brazil.  Oscar Niemeyer, 1980. Photography courtesy of Rizzoli USA (Click image to enlarge)

Juscelino Kubitschek Memorial, Brasilia, Brazil. Oscar Niemeyer, 1980. Photography courtesy of Rizzoli USA (Click image to enlarge)

brasilia title Brasilia
To honor the fiftieth anniversary of Brasilia, Brazil’s modern capital city, we asked Rafael Schimidt, architect and Director of the Instituto de Arquitetos do Brasil, Departamento de Sao Paulo, to share his thoughts. We’re also presenting photographs by Alan Weintraub from the impressive new monograph “Oscar Niemeyer: Buildings“.
     For a Brazilian, Brasilia brings to mind Oscar Niemeyer. Lucio Costa and his role in planning the city remain practically unknown. The confusion comes from the fact that when someone visits or sees pictures of the place, what’s instantly perceived are the famous buildings created by Niemeyer, such as the Three Powers Plaza, the Ministries Offices, the Cathedral, or the Jucelino Kubitsheck Memorial, even though other great architects also designed fine buildings for the city.
     Brasilia is a postcard city that every Brazilian wants to visit at least once, and also an administrative capital, but not a place where anyone would specifically choose to live, spend free time, or work. And as the majority of Brazilian politicians seem to serve their own interests, Brasilia is seen by the population as a center of political corruption.