Art and Architecture

By Way of Beginning: Read an Excerpt from “Dark Lens” by Françoise Meltzer

November 25, 2019
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The year 2020 will mark seventy-five years since the Second World War came to an end. In her new book, Dark Lens: Imaging Germany, 1945, Françoise Meltzer draws on her childhood memories of post-war Germany to consider how we construct our memories of war. Analyzing a collection of photographs taken by her mother, Jeanne Dumilieu, Meltzer confronts the ruins, wreckage, and ghosts that the war left behind. My mother, who was French, had been in the Resistance in Paris during the war. I never learned this from her (I found out from her friends, and by accident, in my late twenties); nor did she speak much about the occupation of Paris. The only thing she talked about was how hungry she and the Parisian population were throughout the war. When I asked her why she had never told me that she was in the Resistance, she retorted with some contained anger, “Today, everybody was in the Resistance. I have nothing to say about it.” But it must be said that this was a particularly tight-lipped genera­tion: my father never spoke of having been in the London Blitzkrieg, nor my uncle of surviving Buchenwald, nor my aunt of having hid­den my . . .

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Why the Sixties Won’t Go Away: Read an Excerpt from “The Art of the Return” by James Meyer

September 4, 2019
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More than any other decade, the sixties capture our collective cultural imagination, and in his new book, The Art of Return: The Sixties and Contemporary Culture, James Meyer turns to art criticism, theory, memoir, and fiction to examine the fascination with the long sixties and contemporary expressions of these cultural memories across the globe. In this excerpt, he offers a look at our continual fascination with the decade. Summer 1969. The summer to end all summers. On a steamy night in June the furious patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back during an abusive police raid, igniting the GLTBQ movement. That July Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin gathered lunar rocks as the world watched. August witnessed the Manson murders of Sharon Tate and four houseguests, and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Hundreds of thousands of young people gathered on a farm in upstate New York for the greatest rock concert of the age; Jimi Hendrix concluded Woodstock’s “Three Days of Music and Peace” with a heavy metal rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner,” a searing prosecution of the Vietnam War. By the end of the year, 48,736 US troops had given their lives in the Indochina theater. All this happened a . . .

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Six Questions for Hollis Clayson, author of Illuminated Paris

May 18, 2019
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Six Questions for Hollis Clayson, author of Illuminated Paris

To celebrate International Museum Day on May 18th, we sent professor of art history and the Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University, Hollis Clayson, a handful of questions about art and the city of light. Let’s start at the beginning: what sparked your interest in the nighttime illumination of Paris? Was there an artwork, or a trip to the city, that started your research? The book grew out of my interest in the topic of Americans especially artists in Paris which of course grew out of my experiences (from wonderful to terrible) as an American in Paris, an American billing herself as an “expert” on French culture. At the beginning of the enterprise, I was initially focused exclusively on Mary Cassatt (who figures prominently in the book and in other essays of mine), but the light angle only really dawned when I saw a painting in storage at the old Terra Foundation Museum of American Art on Michigan Ave., which is on the cover of the book: Charles Courtney Curran, Paris at Night, 1889.   It made me start asking questions about the American imagination of the Paris night and how it differed from the conception of the modernity . . .

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“Memoir of a City”–The David Garrard Lowe Collection at the AIC

April 12, 2018
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“Memoir of a City”–The David Garrard Lowe Collection at the AIC

Obvious to anyone who’s ever passed through the city, Chicago possesses one of the richest architectural heritages in the country, rivaled only perhaps by the oldest and largest of the metropolises on the eastern seaboard. This remains true despite a period in the later part of the twentieth century when many of its most distinctive buildings succumbed to neglect or the wrecking ball. Today, one of the last places to witness these lost architectural masterpieces is in the collection of renowned architectural historian David Garrard Lowe. Recently donated to the Art Institute of Chicago’s Ryerson and Burnham Archives, the collection is now on display weekdays through June 15, 2018. According to the Art Institute website, the exhibition highlights a selection of images, architectural plans, and other ephemera from the collection’s “approximately 1,100 objects dating from the 1880s to 1980s including residences, office buildings, hotels, schools, clubs, transportation, infrastructure, . . . in Chicago which have been greatly altered or are no longer extant.” Germaine to the Art Institute’s exhibition, Lowe’s 2010 book Lost Chicago also draws from his vast collection to showcase hundreds of rare photographs and prints which, accompanied by Lowe’s crisp and lively prose, . . .

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Review: Pamela Bannos’ “Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife”

November 8, 2017
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Review: Pamela Bannos’ “Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife”

(Photograph from the Ron Slattery negative collection. Courtesy of the Estate of Vivian Maier, copyright 2017 The Estate of Vivian Maier. All rights reserved.) During her lifetime Vivian Maier was unknown. A social recluse with a day job as a nanny and a habit of wandering about with her Rolleiflex, snapping photographs of the daily goings-on of the various places she inhabited throughout her life, including France, New York, L. A., and of course Chicago, where she lived for most of her life. She died in 2009, at the age of 82, the bulk of her photographic work filed away or abandoned in storage lockers, perhaps never to be seen again, were it not for its discovery by a cadre of lucky collectors who stumbled upon her work at auction. Soon after, the thousands of images she had created over her long photographic career went viral, and her work has since been lauded as some of the most iconic street photography of the twentieth century. Since her ouvre’s discovery and popularization, however, a particular narrative has developed surrounding her life and work, as Parul Sehgal notes in a recent article for the New York Times: “Stories—like snapshots—are shaped by people, and . . .

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Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures in Artforum

April 19, 2017
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Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures in Artforum

Below follows an excerpt from David Velasco’s review of Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures at Artforum. What makes Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures so remarkable is not just its subject—the art historian and AIDS activist’s early years leading up to the epoch-defining 1977 exhibition at Artists Space and the pair of titular essays that were so critical to its historicization. It’s not just the casual meet-cutes at John Ashbery parties and the formative encounters with Agnes Martin and Ellsworth Kelly and Charles James and Daniel Buren; the early, incisive formalist writings whose frissons eventually inspired one of the great innovations in late-twentieth-century criticism: the recognition of a breach, which Crimp labels postmodernism, in modernist parables of art and theatricality. It’s how the story is told. Before Pictures is a strange and shimmering chimera: Part memoir, part theory, it swerves and circles, often paragraph to paragraph, from anecdote to argument and back again, a graceful, unfussy waltz that sometimes seduces you into thinking that it’s “simply” autobiography. But the writing is also a performance of the necessary entanglement between serious thought and its “decor”—an entanglement that fascinates Crimp, and that makes him such an exceptional protagonist. The animating juxtaposition is announced early on, in the . . .

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Artificial Darkness in the TLS: A Mystical Abyss

March 29, 2017
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Artificial Darkness in the TLS: A Mystical Abyss

The full  TLS review of Noam Elcott’s Artificial Darkness: An Obscure History of Modern Art and Media follows below—for those behind the Times (or a paywall)—after the jump. *** In the Festival Theatre in Bayreuth, built in 1876 for Richard Wagner to stage his music dramas, darkness was carefully manufactured and controlled. In earlier theatres, the audience was as much a spectacle as the play, and lighting was balanced so that you could see the dignitaries in attendance as clearly as the performers. But Wagner, with his windowless cathedral, intended the audience to disappear entirely so that spectators would project all their attention to the stage. The orchestra was hidden behind a hood in a pit, referred to as the “mystical abyss,” which created a clear division between a blacked-out reality and the ideal world of the artwork. For Noam M. Elcott, in his compelling study of early cinema and avant-garde performance, it was a new mode of seeing to which all the deliberate darknesses of our contemporary cinemas is indebted. Elcott was a student of Jonathan Crary, the author of the seminal Techniques of the Observer (1990), a book that examined how—for René Descartes and John Locke in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—the camera . . .

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#ReadUPScience: A Digital Menagerie from The Paper Zoo

March 13, 2017
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#ReadUPScience: A Digital Menagerie from The Paper Zoo

American Scientist explores several centuries-worth of zoology on paper at the British Library in a review + “digital menagerie” from The Paper Zoo, an excerpt from which follows below. *** Historian Charlotte Sleigh’s book The Paper Zoo, which taps into the British Museum’s rich collection to explore and contextualize five centuries of zoological illustration (our sampler), leads one to conclude that the refrain’s origin can be traced back to 1659. Johann Amos Comenius’s elementary reader Orbis sensualium pictus (“The Visible World in Pictures”), Sleigh explains, “is commonly regarded as the first picture book for children.” By combining didactic text with illustrations Comenius had, with the stroke of a printing press, invented multimedia instruction. His petite depictions of animals, each appearing alongside a letter of the alphabet meant to represent the sound the animal makes, are clear and endearing without being especially cute. It’s easy to see how they would capture a child’s interest and, as Sleigh observes, ease memorization: Presenting the image of an animal next to a letter whose sound replicates the creature’s hooting, braying, growling, or hissing was an instructional breakthrough. In addition to their utility in the classroom, Sleigh notes, zoological illustrations helped far-flung naturalists keep up with discoveries made in . . .

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1971: A Year in the Life of Color

February 13, 2017
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1971: A Year in the Life of Color

Darby English’s 1971: A Year in the Life of Color points to a moment when the self-representation of black American artists working in the wake of modernism manifested in two shows staged during a tumultuous period of cultural, political, and aesthetic change—Contemporary Black Artists in America, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and The DeLuxe Show, “a racially integrated abstract art exhibition presented in a renovated movie theater in a Houston ghetto.” *** Hyperallergic (in a piece by Jessica Bell Brown) has more commentary on what the convergence of these two shows meant for dismantling a homogeneous narrative of black modernist expression: Enter 1971, which takes as its starting point a most urgent year in aesthetic and racial politics. English’s object of study are two exhibitions essential to the ongoing relationship between black American artists and modernism: The Deluxe Show and the Contemporary Black Artists in America exhibition at the Whitney Museum, preceding Deluxe in the spring of 1971. In his book, English magnifies “an unprecedented brief swell of dissent within black political culture” that year, centering his study on the status and relevance of “color” as an aesthetic and social obsession. For so long, historians of African American art were unable . . .

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RIP Tzvetan Todorov (1939–2017)

February 9, 2017
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RIP Tzvetan Todorov (1939–2017)

Tzvetan Todorov (1939–2017)—literary theorist, intellectual historian, and philosopher—died earlier this week; in particularly uncanny circumstances, our free e-book of the month happens to be his The Fear of Barbarians. Rather than link to an obit, we’re going to reblog a conversation between Todorov and media scholar WJT Mitchell—who had never met in person or previously exchanged correspondence—that unfolded over three days on our blog, back in December 2010, on the heels of the then-recent publications of Barbarians and Mitchell’s Cloning Terror. Little more than six years ago, and the topics they discuss—the politics of occupation, the war on terror, the then-emergent Wikileaks, Goya, the US State Department’s penchant for torture, Guantanamo, cloning—feel both like prescient observations from a time now past, and nearly enraging in their unfortunate contemporaneity. Below, you’ll find links to Parts II and III. Download your free copy of The Fear of Barbarians here. ** We’re kicking things off with a series of letters between Tzvetan Todorov, author of The Fear of Barbarians: Beyond the Clash of Civilizations and W. J. T. Mitchell, author of Cloning Terror: The War of Images, 9/11 to the Present on the visual imagery of the war on terror, our current global political climate, and the role of . . .

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