Sensory Deprivation

Toledo, Ohio, USA, 1974 Image © Bernd and Hilla Becher

Gas Tanks

Bernd and Hilla Becher

“The famous Düsseldorf photographers’ formal investigation of industrial structures displays their serenely cool, rigorous approach to the structures they photograph as variations on an ideal form. The Bechers make no attempt to analyze or explain their subjects. For more than 35 years, the Bechers have been creating a monument to the most venerable buildings of the industrial era through their photographic art. They have re-awoken the forgotten or unnoticed beauty of water towers, gas holders, lime kilns and blast furnaces, and their photographs have told the story of the process of industrialization. Their head-on, deadpan photographs express an almost Egyptial sense of man’s heroic effort to put his mark on the landscape. Gas Tanks presents four principally different forms of gas holders or gas tanks taken over three decades.”

Publisher: MIT
Hardback: 144 pages


Deathtripping: The Cinema of Transgression

Jack Sargeant

Focusing primarily on the trash terrorism of the New York movie underground from its roots in the post-punk ’70s through to the digital fixes of the early ’90s, Deathtripping reads like a depraved cinematic book of the dead. Whether detailing Beth and Scott B’s brutal meditation on torture, Black Box, the visionary excesses of Nick Zedd’s War Is Menstrual Envy or the strap-on role-reversal porn of Richard Kern’s The Bitches, it soon becomes clear from this remarkable collection of interviews and profiles that the most forceful arguments for transgression in film are ethical rather than aesthetic. A shared anger and frustration with the legacy of Reagan’s fuckwit America cuts through every line and image. With the likes of Lydia Lunch, Joe Coleman, Tommy Turner and David Wojnarowicz also on hand to give evidence, a selection of film scripts, assorted manifestoes and diatribes as well as some rare stills and twisted production shots, Jack Sargeant has taken a corpse and turned it into a feast. Folks’ll be pickin’ dark meat off these bones for a long time to come. KXH

Publisher: Creation
Paperback: 258 pages

Derek Jarman’s Garden

Derek Jarman

Last in the series of memoirs by late filmmaker and artist Derek Jarman, Derek Jarman’s Garden is his personal account of how his garden evolved from its beginnings to the last days of his life. The photographs provide glimpses of Jarman’s life in Dungeness: “walking, weeding, watering or simply enjoying life.” JAT

Publisher: Overlook
Paperback: 144 pages

Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp

Pierre Cabanne

The author must have been highly respected and trusted by Marcel Duchamp because this series of coversations between two learned and mild men in 1966, two years before Duchamp’s death, are unexpectedly warm, open and relaxed. Despite the many marvelous books reviewed throughout this sourcebook, I am going to maintain that every reader should do everything possible to acquire a copy of Dialogues With Marcel Duchamp as soon as possible. It is really that essential, a sentiment which Duchamp would no doubt deplore on principle.
Marcel Duchamp was selected in one of the few moments of consensus among the bickering and socially feeble Surrealist group as a general mediator. He presided over a group whose chief practice was making, squeezing, honing and pricking conceptual conceits, words and objects until they could pass for disconcertingly comfortable contrivances, things more or less akin to that very art that seemingly froze over its self early in this century, dying in a mire of deceit. Apparence, and appearance sit benignly in a worn, leather armchair blowing out a steady stream of Havana cigar smoke and musing with cynical irony over the possibilities and improbabilities of “deceptual art,” as Brion Gysin once dubbed it.
Upon reflection, this is all rather peculiar and not a little ridiculous. Was Duchamp primarily an armchair critic whose persuasive challenges pushed a pseudo-avant-garde unwittingly and quite fearfully towards a new radicalism disconcertingly beyond painterly concerns and art-historical contexts, and employing surgically logical analyses of method, motive, madness and the absurdity of making any “Thing” with either a small or capital “T”? The impression of Duchamp that emerges from this book is one of an existentialist dandy par excellence whose brilliant brain amused itself in order to alleviate the utter boredom and pointlessness of a shattered Western culture bereft of all style and function, and whose final commentary upon uselessness was to exploit and animate the limits of the intrinsically redundant and meaningless.
So, was Duchamp the seminal imposter of 20th-century art, as many conceptually retarded painters, critics and even dealers with more than a passing vested interest in the merely “retinal” decorations passed off as “art” that Duchamp so wished to terminate with extreme prejudice would have us believe? Duchamp states that he amused himself occasionally by “thing” making, as he would objectively describe it. Money was not his prime directive. In fact, examples are given of his financial disability. Many “things” were made just to give to a friend at a nominal price when they could have been sold through dealers for a far higher price. Surprisingly, throughout his incredibly influential and intellectually colossal life he had only a single “one-man” exhibition in his native France and about four others worldwide.
Duchamp really didn’t give a fuck about established art-world systems of lionization or the accrual of critical esteem. He eked out a frugal living first from librarianship, and later by buying and selling works by Brancusi. He claimed laziness and convenience led him to sell as many of his works as he possibly could to a single patron, collector Walter Arensberg. For Duchamp, minimizing distraction was a preeminent ascetic concern. Throughout his life he sought privacy and was punctilious regarding discretion. He maintained absolute control and discipline in all aspects of his perceptual life, with a level of linguistic and conceptual rigor that remains as extraordinary today as it was to André Breton and Duchamp’s other contemporaries throughout his marvelously inspiring life.
Was he a charlatan? An opportunist? A compelling and ruthlessly effective “art historical” strategist? My personal position would have to be “of course… yes… no… probably… it really does not matter… no… yes.”
Duchamp himself repeatedly claims that all his “things” and ideas are only the result of “an extraordinary curiosity” and a need to alleviate a sophisticated sense of boredom by “amusing” himself. So much the better! His elevation of skepticism to a previously unthinkable level is as contemporary and inspirational as it gets. At one point in this book he tellingly asserts while discussing Surrealism that “There isn’t any existential painting.” Cabanne replies, “It’s a question of behavior,” and dear Duchamp concurs, “That’s it.” The conclusion one could rightly draw after enjoying the twists and turns within this text is that Marcel Duchamp is deflecting us from the inevitable and probably accurate conclusion that he was, and is, the quintessential existentialist painter. Possibly the first and last of his kind, and all the more glorious and vainglorious for it. What is certain is that his clarity of disenchantment and detachment is so utterly compelling and rings so true that his exclusion from any perspective of what has laughingly been dubbed the “history of art” on the grounds of whimsy and sarcasm personified would be an inadmissable omission. He has set us all up forever, redesigned the “game,” reassigned the functions of the pieces and, with disarming charm has put us in a most rigorous and contorted situation of checkmate. GPO

Publisher: Da Capo
Paperback: 136 pages

Diane Arbus: A Biography

Patricia Bosworth

Profiles one of the most preeminent and influential photographers of the 20th century, covering Arbus’ privileged Park Avenue childhood, her marriage to (and divorce from) Alan Arbus, her photographic work for various fashion magazines (among them, Vogue and Glamour) and her emergence as an artist in her own right. Encouraged by her mentor, Lisette Model, to pursue “the forbidden” with her camera, Arbus documented—with a steely persistence, a gentle manner and a wise child’s eyes—the perverse, the alienated and the strange: “people without their masks,” as she put it. But the ever mounting freedoms and risks she pursued in her work did not come without a price. Plagued throughout her life by depressions that commenced in childhood, Arbus possessed a sense of despair and futility that appears to have escalated in proportion to her increasing fame. She resolved her personal crisis tragically by committing suicide in 1971. A compassionate, informative and highly readable biography of this uncompromising and enigmatic giant of American photography. MDG

Publisher: Norton
Paperback: 367 pages

Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph

Diane Arbus

First published in 1972, a year after the artist’s death by suicide, this volume is a collection of 80 photographs she took between 1962 and 1971. Referring to herself as “an anthropologist of sorts,” Arbus chose archetypes as subjects, everything from the conventional to the marginal: teenagers, suburbanites, infants, dwarfs, drag queens, nudists. Possessed of an unflinching ability to see the unexpected in the familiar and the familiar in the freakish, Arbus created portraists—raw, unsettling, gentle and sympathetic—that became collaborative, silent dialogues between herself and her subjects. For all their documentary-like clarity and starkness (she frequently shot with a strobe), the photos consistently confirm that their thrust is internal, not external, private rather than social; to quote the artist, “a little bit like walking into an hallucination without being quite sure whose it is.” The introduction, edited from tape recordings of classes she gave in 1971 as well as from interviews and her writings, provides an excellent insight into Arbus’ thoughts on the art of photography and her intentions within that form. MDG

Publisher: Aperture
Paperback: 136 pages

Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes

Richard Kostelanetz

Rimbaud, Stein, Cage, Beefheart, electronic music, Reinhardt, Duchamp, Fuller, Paik, performance art, Reich, copy culture, etc. “Elucidates, celebrates, enumerates and sometimes obliterates achievers and achievements in the avant-garde arts. Although it runs from A to Z, it could have easily have been written from Z to A (or in any other order you might imagine) and may be read from front to back, back to front, or point to point. It is opinionated, as all good dictionaries should be, but it is also inclusive, because there can never be just one avant-garde.” If you don’t like it, says the author, go read the phone book. GR

Publisher: A Cappella
Paperback: 246 pages

Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film

Erik Barnouw

Barnouw, former chief of the Library of Congress’ Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, covers a lot of celluloid ranging from the earliest cinematic experiments of Muybridge, Lumière and Edison to Shoah, Sherman’s March and Roger and Me. Such towering figures of documentary filmmaking as Dziga Vertov (Man With the Movie Camera), Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North, Moana), Leni Riefenstahl (Triumph of the Will, Olympia), the Maysles Brothers (Salesman, Gimme Shelter) and Frederick Wiseman (Titicut Follies, High School) are given their proper due along the way in this densely packed ride through a century of non-narrative film history. SS

Publisher: Oxford University
Paperback: 400 pages

Doré’s Illustrations for Rabelais

Gustave Doré

Young Doré (1832-1883), “the precocious genius from Strasbourg, who had been drawing practically from infancy,” was inspired by Rabelais’ two social satires, Gargantua and Pantagruel, to produce these comic illustrations. The woodblock prints show Doré’s deft, humorous hand at work, playing light against dark for both dramatic depth and theatrical effect. Gargantua is the story of a giant man, who can be seen here spearing a human on his dinner fork (strictly a Doré touch—it’s not in the story). GR

Publisher: Dover
Paperback: 153 pages

Duchamp 1887-1986: Art as Anti-Art

Janis Mink

“I want to grasp things with the mind, the way the penis is grasped by the vagina.” Duchamp channeled the hot air of dada into the lungs of surrealism. Originator of the ready-made as art object, Duchamp experimented with the effects of motion on perception, created art in response to science and technology and generally got busy, messing with the artists and critics of his day. Surrounding himself with suggestions of androgyny and a wall of silence, he presented art historians, critics and patrons with an IQ test, poetry, word play and an element of humor. The book is large, glossy and includes chronology, notes and many fine plates. Provocative, aggravating, confusing, but too strange to be meaningless. CF

Publisher: Taschen
Paperback: 94 pages

Ecce Homo

George Grosz

Grosz’s masterwork depicting Germany between wars through grotesque cabaret visions and images of frightening hedonism.

Publisher: Dover
Paperback: 88 pages