Art

  • Atlas of Remote Islands

    Judith Schalansky

    Subtitled “Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will,” this atlas will usually be shelved in the travel section, but it’s really an art book. Though since Schalansky declares in her preface, “It is high time for cartography to take its place among the arts, and for the atlas to be recognized as literature,” she would reshelve more than just her own book. She wrote, illustrated, and designed everything, and the entries are more lyrical than comprehensive. Her description of Macquarie Island begins:

    This craggy piece of land, where it rains all year round, has never been part of a land mass, but comes directly from the sea. It is a piece of the earth’s crust from

    ...more
  • Against Interpretation

    Susan Sontag

    From now to the end of consciousness, we are stuck with the task of defending art. We can only quarrel with one or another means of defense. Indeed, we have an obligation to overthrow any means of defending and justifying art which becomes particularly obtuse or onerous or insensitive to contemporary needs and practices.

    This is the case, today, with the very idea of content itself. Whatever it may have been in the past, the idea of content is today mainly a hindrance, a nuisance, a subtle or not so subtle philistinism.

    Despite being fascinated by Susan Sontag, I haven’t actually read much of her work, so it was inevitable that at some point I would end up with three...more

  • You Are Here

    Katharine Harmon

    A curated exploration of “Personal Geographies And Other Maps of the Imagination,” I appropriately read and browsed through this while visiting a city that I used to live in, wandering old neighborhoods, piecing together streets, and layering new experiences over the mental cartographies. There are a few essays and textual maps in this book, but most of it is visuals.

    One map from Kathy Prendergast shows the US and its state borders and topographical details but the only labels are places that involve the word “lost,” suggesting a country of disorientation, missed opportunities, or even the land that was colonized away from native people.

    The Map as Art is evidently a follow-up the came to be largely because artists sent Harmon work in response to You are Here.more

  • The Englishman who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects

    John Tingey

    In many ways W. Reginald Bray could be considered a mail art pioneer, as he sent a bevy of interesting items through the post including, as the title reveals, himself — twice! He also posted his dog and various objects with addresses and stamps applied directly to them, as when he traveled to Ireland and dug up a turnip and etched his address into it (the turnip itself didn’t survive to be documented). His experiments seem more inquisitive of the abilities of the Royal Mail than artistic though. He sent postcards where the addresses were hidden inside poems or partially represented pictorially or written entirely in a mirror. The postcards included his own address and instructions for their return — taking advantage of the...more

  • Good Mail Day

    Jennie Hinchcliff & Carolee Gilligan Wheeler

    The news about the USPS a few weeks ago was dire, so I bought some new stamps (I recommend a couple panes of the Pioneers of American Industrial Design — they’re good forever!) and picked up this book for a little inspiration. I met the Pod Post girls Carolee and Jennie years ago at a Portland Zine Symposium, where they worked their table, as they do, dressed like mail art Girl Scouts, complete with merit badges.

    While this is mostly a practical guide to create art-by-mail — from what should be in your kit to etiquette — there’s a bit of history as well. I actually would have liked even more history and stories, but then I have already spent many...more

  • I Wonder

    Marian Bantjes

    Apparently Marian Bantjes’s approach to her first book was to make it “feel like a brick of gold.” With a cover of gold and silver foils on a satin cloth with gold-gilded page edges and lots of gold ink on the interior, it’s definitely a success, gold-brick-wise. Her work is known for being both illustrative and typographic at once, involving intricate patterns and highly ornamental vector art. The graphics represent all of these aspects and are fully entangled with the text throughout.

    The content comes partially from essays previously published on Speak Up that she reworked for the book, and the rest is original. The writing feels somewhat zinelike to me: very personal and at times lightly researched. The...more

  • Paris

    Eugène Atget

    Beautiful photographs. Eugène Atget “was a French flâneur and a pioneer of documentary photography, noted for his determination to document all of the architecture and street scenes of Paris before their disappearance to modernization.” (as summarized by Wikipedia)…more

  • True North

    Rebecca Solnit

    True North was a 2008 exhibition at Deutsche Guggenheim; this catalog is technically not by Rebecca Solnit, but I borrowed it to read her opening essay, “The Needle Points, the Ice Melts: Thoughts Facing North.” Solnit manages a fairly broad survey of the north, framed through Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, based on an adolescent memory of a made-for-TV version’s polar climax. She breezes through colonialist explorations, draws in some Cold War references, and finishes up by drawing a parallel between Frankenstein and climate change. Brilliant and poetic. The art is lovely too....more

  • On Photography

    Susan Sontag

    Although photography generates works that can be called art — it requires subjectivity, it can lie, it gives aesthetic pleasure — photography is not, to begin with, an art form at all. Like language, it is a medium in which works of art (among other things) are made. Out of language, one can make scientific discourse, bureaucratic memoranda, love letters, grocery lists, and Balzac’s Paris. Out of photography, one can make passport pictures, weather photographs, pornographic pictures, X-rays, wedding pictures, and Atget’s Paris.

    About halfway through this book, you might start to wonder if Sontag appreciates photography at all, and potentially you’ll wonder further exactly when her relationship with Annie Leibovitz started (in the late 80s, well after the publication of this book, though...more

  • The Principles of Uncertainty

    Maira Kalman

    Maybe you saw these when they were posted as Maira Kalman’s blog on nytimes.com and now it’s only available as this book, which is not such a bad thing. It’s kind of a comic of paintings while also somewhat of a general elegy on the finiteness of life. People who have died are a recurring theme; even some of the people she mentions visiting back in 2006 have since passed on — Louise Bourgeois, Helen Levitt. But her sense of humor particularly tickles me. I read half of it before bed and the rest with breakfast.

    The Principles of Uncertainty

    Kalman’s blog currently documents her take on the topic of American democracy (but this will also...more

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