Art and Architecture

RIP Paul Laffoley (1940–2015)

November 23, 2015
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RIP Paul Laffoley (1940–2015)

We’ve long been set to publish the closest volume yet to a catalogue raisonné for the visionary artist Paul Laffoley (1940–2015) in Spring 2016, and thus, were all the more saddened to hear of Laff0ley’s death last week. If you’re unfamiliar, even the tone and pitch of his NY Times obituary should offer a lens into his work—it’s titled, “Paul Laffoley, Painter Inspired by Time Travel and Aliens, Dies at 80.” Although working in what practically redefines the nature of “liminal space”—engaging in visual and textual inquiries positioned someplace between New Age theology, mathematical abstraction, mystical systems, and all senses of the term extraterrestrial (he claimed to have seen the film The Day the Earth Stood Still 873 times)—Laffoley’s work was also uncannily prescient, as you can note from the NYT obit below: “It is kind of like taking money out of a bank machine, when you’re looking at a screen and you’re called upon to touch the screen,” he said of “Thanaton III,” a painting from 1989, in a 1999 interview shown on “Disinformation,” a television series on Channel 4 in Britain. “You know that you can’t go through the screen, but you do also know that there’s something behind the screen that’s organizing the experience that . . .

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The First World War

November 11, 2015
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The First World War

*** The first Armistice Day, which celebrated the one-year anniversary of the end of hostilities on the Western Front, and ultimately, the conflict-based dissolvement of World War I, took place on November 11, 1919, and marked that moment a year earlier, the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. Fast forward nearly a century. Desensitized via the ubiquity of war photography and new forms of media circulation to the strangeness, the horrors, the portrayal of foreign terrain, and the shocks of bearing witness to conflict, we can point to any number of examples of now classic photojournalism that portray the terror of warfare in the twentieth and twenty-first century, including work by Robert Capa, Joe Rosenthal, Nick Ut, Gary Knight, Benjamin Lowy, and Ashley Gilbertson. The First World War: Unseen Glass Plate Photographs of the Western Front is different. Carl De Keyzer’s meticulous reconstruction of photographs—including many authentic color images, the result of early autochrome technology—makes available glimpses of the First World War, as never seen before. We’re accustomed to grainy, scratched, blurred images in monochrome of the devastation of trench warfare, but these images, taken by some of the war’s most gifted photographers producing glass plate images in lieu of . . .

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Svetlana Boym (1966–2015)

August 7, 2015
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Svetlana Boym (1966–2015)

  In sad news, scholar, media artist, and writer Svetlana Boym (1966–2015) died on August 5, 2015, following a year-long struggle with cancer. The Curt Hugo Reisinger Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literatures at Harvard University, Boym’s voracious and wide-ranging intellectual pursuit of our iconic, burdensome, and occasionally off-kilter inheritances from modernism led to engagements with the works of such artists “as Vladimir Tatlin, Kazimir Malevich, Ilya Kabakov, Victor Shklovsky, Osip Mandelshtam, Marina Tsvetaeva, and Joseph Brodsky, among others.” Included in her own writings was Another Freedom: An Alternative History of an Idea, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2010, which explored freedom’s cross-cultural and utopian possibilities drawn from a personal and historical examination of the relationship between art and politics. Boym had previously been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Academy in Berlin Fellowship, a Bunting Fellowship, and Harvard University’s Everett Mendelsohn Award for excellence in mentoring. From the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University: Our memory of her remains of one who was brimming with vitality, brilliance, and wit. Her warm yet fiercely independent personality together with her influential scholarship attracted students and colleagues from around Harvard, and indeed around the world. We will miss her . . .

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The Freedom Principle

July 13, 2015
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The Freedom Principle

This past weekend, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago launched the exhibition The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, co-organized by Naomi Beckwith and Dieter Roelstraete. An easy explication for the impetus behind the show takes the viewer to the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s, where African American artists and musicians grappled with new language and forms inspired by the black nationalist turn in the Civil Rights movement. I’m plucking that line from the jacket copy, but the show (and its associated book) goes beyond cultural inventory and instead repositions the wide-ranging experimental works and the community of artists who made them in one particular canon to which they have long-belonged: the history of avant-garde collectives engaged equally in art and social justice. You can view sample pages from the book here. From a very brief description via the Art Newspaper: This year, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), an avant-garde jazz collective founded on the South Side of Chicago, celebrates its 50th birthday. Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art is joining the festivities with the exhibition The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now. Hingeing on the themes of improvisation, experimentation and collectivity, it . . .

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2015 Robert Motherwell Book Award

June 8, 2015
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2015 Robert Motherwell Book Award

Fresh off an embargo of the news, we’re delighted to announce that Megan R. Luke’s Kurt Schwitters: Space, Image, Exile is the recipient of the 2015 Robert Motherwell Prize from the Dedalus Foundation. The Motherwell Prize, accompanied by a $10,000 award, “honors an outstanding publication in the history and criticism of modernism in the arts.” Luke’s book contextualizes, for the first time, the multidisciplinary work produced by one of modernism’s foremost innovators during the last years of his life, both during the Nazi regime and while in exile in Western Europe. From the official announcement: The Dedalus Foundation is pleased to announce that Megan R. Luke is the winner of the fourteenth annual Robert Motherwell Book Award, for Kurt Schwitters: Space, Image, Exile, published by The University of Chicago Press. The award, which carries a prize of $10,000, honors an outstanding publication in the history and criticism of modernism in the arts for the year 2014. German artist Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) is best known for his pioneering work in fusing collage and abstraction, the two most transformative innovations of twentieth-century art. Considered the father of installation art, Schwitters was also a theorist and a writer whose influence extends from Robert Rauschenberg and . . .

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Excerpt: Portrait of a Man Known as Il Condottiere

April 16, 2015
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Excerpt: Portrait of a Man Known as Il Condottiere

An excerpt from Portrait of a Man Known as Il Condottiere by Georges Perec *** Madera was heavy. I grabbed him by the armpits and went backwards down the stairs to the laboratory. His feet bounced from tread to tread in a staccato rhythm that matched my own unsteady descent, thumping and banging around the narrow stairwell. Our shadows danced on the walls. Blood was still flowing, all sticky, seeping from the soaking wet towel, rapidly forming drips on the silk lapels, then disappearing into the folds of the jacket, like trails of slightly glinting snot side-tracked by the slightest roughness in the fabric, sometimes accumulating into drops that fell to the floor and exploded into star-shaped stains. I let him slump at the bottom of the stairs, right next to the laboratory door, and then went back up to fetch the razor and to mop up the bloodstains before Otto returned. But Otto came in by the other door at almost the same time as I did. He looked at me uncomprehendingly. I beat a retreat, ran down the stairs, and shut myself in the laboratory. I padlocked the door and jammed the wardrobe up against it. He came down a . . .

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Excerpt: In Search of a Lost Avant-Garde

February 9, 2015
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Excerpt: In Search of a Lost Avant-Garde

  An excerpt from In Search of a Lost Avant-Garde: An Anthropologist Investigates the Contemporary Art Museum by Matti Bunzl *** “JEFF KOONS <3 CHICAGO” I’m sitting in the conference room on the fifth floor of the MCA, the administrative nerve center which is off limits to the public. It is late January and the temperatures have just plunged to near zero. But the museum staff is bustling with activity. With four months to go until the opening of the big Jeff Koons show, all hands are on deck. And there is a little bit of panic. Deadlines for the exhibit layout and catalogue are looming, and the artist has been hard to pin down. Everyone at the MCA knows why. Koons, who commands a studio that makes Warhol’s Factory look like a little workshop, is in colossal demand. For the MCA, the show has top priority. But for Koons, it is just one among many. In 2008 alone, he will have major exhibits in Berlin, New York, and Paris. The presentation at the Neue Nationalgalerie is pretty straightforward. Less so New York, where Koons is scheduled to take over the roof of the Metropolitan Museum, one of the city’s premiere . . .

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Launch: Baronova and Baryshnikov

December 18, 2014
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Launch: Baronova and Baryshnikov

Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo chronicles one of the most acclaimed touring ballet companies of the twentieth century, along with its prima ballerina and muse, the incomparable Irina Baronova. Along the way, it expands upon the rise of modern ballet as a medium, through an unprecedented archive of letters (over 2,000 of them), photographs, oral histories, and interviews conducted by Victoria Tennant, the book’s author and Baronova’s daughter. Earlier this month, the book was feted at a launch by none other than Mikhail Baryshnikov at his eponymous Arts Center in New York City. Although less sumptuous than those collected in the book, below follow some candid photos from the event:   To read more about Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, click here. . . .

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For Mark Rothko on his birthday

September 25, 2014
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For Mark Rothko on his birthday

James E. B. Breslin’s book on the life of painter Mark Rothko helped redefine the field of the artist’s biography and, in its day, was praised by outlets such as the New York Times Book Review (on the front cover, no less), where critic Hilton Kramer ascribed it as, “the best life of an American painter that has yet been written.” On what would have been the artist’s 111th birthday, Biographile revisted Breslin’s work: In Breslin’s book, we follow Rothko’s search for the approach that would become such a significant contribution to art and painting in the twentieth century. He was in his forties before he started making his “multiforms,” and even after he started painting them in his studio, he didn’t show them right away. Breslin dissects and details the techniques Rothko developed upon creating his greatest works. He rotated the canvas as he worked, so that the painting wouldn’t be weighted in any one direction. He spent much more time in the studio figuring out a painting than actually painting it, and he filled a canvas as many as twenty times before feeling it was done. Maybe most important, he worked tirelessly to eliminate any recognizable shapes from the multiforms. . . .

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Terror and Wonder: our free ebook for September

September 2, 2014
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Terror and Wonder: our free ebook for September

For more than twenty years now, Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune has explored how architecture captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize for criticism, Kamin treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. Terror and Wonder gathers the best of Kamin’s writings from the past decade along with new reflections on an era framed by the destruction of the World Trade Center and the opening of the world’s tallest skyscraper. Assessing ordinary commercial structures as well as head-turning designs by some of the world’s leading architects, Kamin paints a sweeping but finely textured portrait of a tumultuous age torn between the conflicting mandates of architectural spectacle and sustainability. For Kamin, the story of our built environment over the past ten years is, in tangible ways, the story of the decade itself. Terror and Wonder considers how architecture has been central to the main events and crosscurrents in American life since 2001: the devastating and debilitating consequences of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina; the real estate boom and bust; the use of over-the-top cultural designs as engines of civic renewal; new challenges in saving old buildings; the . . .

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