Art Buzz May 23, 2013: Pablo Picasso: Catalogue Raisoné by Christian Zervos: A Tome to Rival the Artist Himself



A Tome to Rival the Artist Himself

Source: NYT, 5-23-13

“Pablo Picasso,” a catalogue raisoné by Christian Zervos, is to be republished this fall.
Editions Cahiers d’Art

“Pablo Picasso,” a catalogue raisoné by Christian Zervos, is to be republished this fall.

A legendary catalogue raisonné of Picasso’s works is being republished at a stratospheric price….READ MORE

Art Buzz May 7, 2013: A Destiny’s Child-Inspired Study Guide for Art History Majors



A Destiny’s Child-Inspired Study Guide for Art History Majors

Source: BlackBook Magazine, 5-7-13

We here at BlackBook love fine art from many eras, and we also love Beyoncé. And as often happens with these things, some genius on the Internet has decided to marry the two at last….READ MORE

Art Buzz April 20, 2013: The Books that Shaped Art History – Review



The Books that Shaped Art History – review

The essayists are bound by connections in this thrilling account of the history of 20th-century art

Source: Guardian UK, 4-20-13

The Bathers by Paul Cezanne

Form meets colour … A detail from The Bathers by Paul Cézanne (1894-1905). Photograph: Corbis

How strangely comforting it is to learn that a book as important as Roger Fry’s Cézanne slipped into the world in less than stellar circumstances. It was first published in 1926 in a French magazine with virtually no illustrations, and all Fry received in return was a handful of free copies. Even when his friends Virginia and Leonard Woolf came to the rescue a year later and did an English version for their Hogarth Press, Cézanne: A Study of His Development, it left a lot to be desired. There were pictures this time, but laid out so crazily that even the mildest reader might feel annoyed at having to flip back and forth to find what they were after….READ MORE

Art Buzz Review March 30, 2012: How to Teach Art in 89 Simple Lessons ‘Draw It With Your Eyes Closed,’ Edited by Paper Monument



How to Teach Art in 89 Simple Lessons

‘Draw It With Your Eyes Closed,’ Edited by Paper Monument

Source: New York Times, 3-30-12

When the American painter, sculptor and installation artist Paul Thek (1933-88) taught art classes at Cooper Union in the late 1970s, he wrote and then gave to his students a long, provocative and now famous list of questions and marching orders he titled “Teaching Notes.”

Patricia Wall/The New York Times


The Art of the Art Assignment

Edited by Paper Monument

128 pages. Paper Monument. $15.

Thek’s list has been passed around by serious art teachers for decades. It is now reprinted in — and its spirit lingers over — a mischievous and nourishing new book called “Draw It With Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment,” compiled by the editors of the art magazine Paper Monument, a sibling publication of the literary magazine n + 1….

Here’s what Paper Monument’s editors, in this slim book, have had the wit to do: They’ve asked dozens of artists and teachers, some well known and some not, to speak about the best art assignments they’ve given or received or even heard of.

The results are aimed at M.F.A.-level teachers, but these 89 entries are accessible to anyone, many even to children. Like the conversation in the final hour of a boozy art opening, these small anecdotal essays mix gossip, profundity, bogosity and lecherousness in equal parts. The book is buzzy and wild, like real talk….READ MORE

Art Buzz February 21, 2012: James Johnson: Unmasking the Past Boston University history professor examines mask-wearing in 18th-century Venice



Unmasking the Past

CAS prof examines mask-wearing in 18th-century Venice

Source: BU Today, 2-21-12
Woman Holding a Mask and a Pomegranate, James Johnson author of book Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic For his new book, James Johnson, a CAS associate professor of history, researched how masks were used by 18th-century Venetians. Woman Holding a Mask and a Pomegranate, Lorenzi Lippi, Musée d’Angers. Courtesy of Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resources, NY

James Johnson is the kind of historian who wants to get inside people’s heads.

In his 1996 book Listening in Paris: A Cultural History, the College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of history, explored what it was like for people 200 years ago to attend concerts and how they experienced music differently from modern audiences. His newest book, Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic (University of California Press, 2011), investigates the subject of identity by focusing on the role that masks played in 18th-century Venice.

“As a historian I’m drawn to the inner experience of people who lived centuries ago,” he says. “That’s very elusive to research. You have to generalize from other clues, such as behavior.”

Why focus on mask-wearing as a way to research people’s ideas of self? Johnson, winner of a 1996 Metcalf Award, one of the University’s highest teaching honors, reasoned that uncovering why people disguised themselves in the past might reveal how they thought about identity. As he writes in the preface to Venice Incognito, he was drawn naturally to Venice, where the tradition of masking dates back to the 13th-century. The city’s history of mask-wearing continues today with Carnevale, the annual festival that begins 58 days before Easter and concludes today, Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday, the last day before Lent.

Modern Carnevale revelers don masks largely for celebratory reasons. But as Johnson found through his research, the 18th-century masks themselves, and the reasons people wore them then, bear little resemblance to the feathered, sequined versions you see on partiers parading through the streets of Venice today.

BU Today spoke to Johnson about his research and his book, which recently won the 2011 George Mosse Prize from the American Historical Association.
Spectators buying tickets outside the theater, James Johnson author of book Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene RepublicVenetians, Johnson found, wore masks six months of the year. Spectators buying tickets outside the theater, Carlo Goldoni, Commedie (1788-95), vol. 21. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University

BU Today: What surprised you most in your research?

Johnson: To learn that Venetians wore masks six months out of the year, from when the theater season started in the fall through Carnevale. Also, they were not wearing masks to disguise themselves or for intrigue or corruption, as people visiting Venice at the time thought. It was a custom, a fashion….READ MORE

Art Buzz February 13, 2012: Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie: New book by UCSB art historian is the first to catalog indigenous African art owned by an African collector



New book by UCSB art historian is the first to catalog indigenous African art owned by an African collector

Source: Art Daily, 2-13-12

Ogbechie catalogs the private collection owned by Femi Akinsanya.

With a new book that formalizes and interprets a collection of indigenous African art owned by an African collector, Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie, a professor of history of art and architecture at UC Santa Barbara, is changing the way African art is regarded and valued.

In “Making History: African Collectors and the Canon of African Art” (Milan: 5 Continents Editions, 2012 distributed by Harry N. Abrams, Inc.), Ogbechie catalogs the private collection owned by Femi Akinsanya. Located in Lagos, Nigeria, the collection features 740 pieces, including artworks that originated in Yoruba, Igbo, Urhobo, Cross River, Benin, and the Benue River Valley cultures of Nigeria. The book is published in English and French editions.

“There is a sense in which the idea of African art seems to be restricted to those African artworks that were taken out of the continent during the colonial period,” Ogbechie explained. “When people talk about authentic African art, that’s what they’re referring to –– artworks that are held by Western collectors and museums. Anything that’s owned or held by Africans themselves is considered to be a fake.”

According to Ogbechie, the protocols of authenticating artworks as original have less to do with the history of the works in their indigenous contexts, than with their provenance –– the documentation of the works after they have become part of a collection. Publishing a book like “Making History” is the first step in elevating African artworks held by African collectors from generic objects to works of art that have measurable economic value.

“Someone in Africa could have a piece that belonged to a society that used it as an object of initiation. It has indigenous value, but until it becomes part of someone’s collection, it has no financial value,” Ogbechie continued. “The collector is important to the process of creating value.”…READ MORE

Art Buzz February 9, 2012: South African Art: Art history that lifts the value of the book



Art history that lifts the value of the book

E-readers rarely do the ‘art book’ justice, writes Chris Thurman

Source: Business Day NZ, 2-9-12

DETAILED: The four volumes of Visual Century contain a polyvocal history of South African art that includes healthy disagreements between contributors.

IN OUR era of e-readers and tablets, the prevailing wisdom is that printed books are destined to become moribund. At best, they’ll be quirky relics of centuries gone by that are kept for the sake of nostalgia; at worst, clunky tomes chucked into the recycling bin of history.

Those of us inclined to pontificate about the talismanic qualities of hard copy tend to come across as reactionaries, Luddites or even anti-environmentalists.

But there’s one kind of publication Kindle and company rarely do justice to: the “art book”. Whether it’s a coffee-table exhibition catalogue, an artist’s portfolio or a text-and image-rich art history, the art book needs to be handled, fondled and otherwise physically browsed, perused, paged through, scanned or mulled over. Often the choice of packaging, binding, paper and printing technique is as much a part of the reading experience as the content and layout.

SA has a particularly curious mixture of readers with divergent means and preferences; for now, the printed word is still able to vie with the electronic word. Local publishers have tried to win customers through sexed-up genre fiction (bulky “airport thrillers” and “beach reads”), SMS novels for teens, books with multimedia tie-ins and various other initiatives. Critics have pointed out that sloppy editing practices have crept in as books have been rushed to print.

Art books, on the other hand, are promoted according to a distinct model. They are niche publications, often produced in limited editions and typically quite expensive: their publishers target buyers who value books as objects or as works of art in themselves. While there may be cause to fret about the future of publishing, digital or otherwise, an encounter with a high-quality South African art book (and there are many of them) is likely to leave the reader feeling more than sanguine.

Early last year, at about the same time that TJ/Double Negative — a remarkable collaboration between photographer David Goldblatt and novelist Ivan Vladislavic — won the prestigious Kraszna-Krausz award, FourthWall Books published Fire Walker, a striking collection of images and essays relating to the now-iconic Johannesburg sculpture by William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx. Then, late last year, Wits University Press launched the four-volume Visual Century: South African Art in Context.

Each of these publications is significant in its own way. While the former two are idiosyncratic commentaries on specific works, the latter is a compendious survey. A book such as Fire Walker can pay attention to the minute details of artistic conception and execution; its editors and contributors engage variously (and in various modes or formats, by turns textual and visual, “academic” and “creative”) with the sculpture alone, with comparable public artworks, or with directly related aspects of city space and urban planning. The many participants in the Visual Century project, under director Gavin Jantjes, have tackled a different task.

While the four volumes are not reference books per se, they do offer an overview of South African art (from 1907-2007). This is huge terrain to cover and the authors do so admirably, presenting art and artists not simply within set periods but also through key themes. Nonetheless, like most expansive art history endeavours, it cannot afford the luxury of particularity: artist biographies, the nuances of method, questions of form and even, to an extent, formal analysis are all secondary concerns. Instead, the imperative driving the book — as indicated in the subtitle — is “context”, which means national (and sometimes international) sociopolitical context.

In his general introduction, Jantjes writes of the history of SA ’s art as “a river … growing in stature as it glides towards the estuary of the present. It connects to the history of the world’s art just as rivers inevitably connect to the great oceans of our planet.” This analogy is a useful one as it allows that the process of navigating and mapping our country’s art history will neglect some minor tributaries and, ultimately, will be unable to trace the major waterways to their sources.

Nonetheless, although he emphasizes “there are plural narratives of art history” and that “all history remains incomplete”, Jantjes does delimit the project within the confines of the nation and national culture. According to this logic, those artists who rejected the politics of the national — who did not wish to see their art as articulating “moments in the life of a nation” — could not and did not “become actors in the making of history”. There is a teleological bent to any construction of South African history according to “the politics of national liberation”: as Jantjes affirms, artists who held “a critical light up to their nation’s moral potential” created works that are now “testimony to historical progress”.

The multiple perspectives offered by the contributors (and by many of the works of the art reproduced on its pages) do, however, unsettle this framework. Moreover, the series presents many examples of artists who were not defined by their “context” and whose work disrupts the standard black/white narratives. In Volume One, which covers 1907-1948 — from the post-war detente between Briton and Boer to the National Party election victory that ushered in apartheid — this occurs, for instance, in intriguing visual pairings such as the twin landscapes by Moses Tladi and Gregoire Boonzaier.

Volume Four, which covers the transition to democracy and beyond (1990-2007), has a foreword by Sarat Maharaj that complicates claims about “SA -in-the-world”, reminding readers (notwithstanding the country’s isolation for so long ) of the “runaway translation, cultural swap, pidginisation” and “dirty cosmopolitanism” that has long defined this part of the world. In the same volume, however, Jantjes rightly exposes the “masks and myths of globalism”; his perspective as an inside-outsider (he has been based in Europe for more than 30 years ) is valuable in this regard.

This is, then, a polyvocal history. It was evident at the launch events in Johannesburg and Cape Town last year that there is a healthy disagreement between contributors to Visual Century on how to approach race, medium, ideology and any number of contentious issues that arise in writing about art in/and SA. The series manages to be both comprehensive and contradictory, and the editors (Jillian Carman, Lize van Robbroeck, Mario Pissarra, Thembinkosi Goniwe and Mandisi Majavu) have corralled diverse opinions within its four volumes.

Detailed, dense and beautifully presented, Visual Century is more than an account of the material circumstances under which our artists have worked for the past 100 years. In its own appealing materiality, it makes a significant contribution both to South African art history and to the value of the book in this country.

Art Buzz February 8, 2012: Sinclair Bell: Northern Illinois University art historian co-edits book that explores cultural, societal impact of freed Roman slaves



NIU art historian co-edits book that explores cultural, societal impact of freed Roman slaves

Source: NIU Today, 2-8-12

Free At Last! book coverSinclair Bell, assistant professor of art history, has co-edited a volume on freed slaves in ancient Rome that was published this week.

“Free at Last! The Impact of Freed Slaves on the Roman Empire,” which he co-edited with Teresa Ramsby, was published by Bloomsbury Press in London, and will become available in the United States next month.

The book builds on recent dynamic work on Roman freedmen.

Contributors draw upon a rich and varied body of evidence – visual, literary, epigraphic and archaeological – to elucidate the impact of freed slaves on Roman society and culture amid the shadow of their former servitude.

The contributions span the period between the first century BCE and the early third century CE and survey the territories of the Roman Republic and Empire, while focusing on Italy and Rome.

Advance notice of the book has been highly positive.

Glenys Davies, senior lecturer in classical art and archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, writes: “The essays in this book explore the experiences of Roman freedmen (and women) from a new set of perspectives: they enrich our knowledge and understanding of a social group which has no exact equivalent in any other society.”

Eve D’Ambra, professor of art and the Agnes Rindge Claflin Chair at Vassar College as well as a noted authority on ancient art, writes: “Roman freedmen have taken central stage in historical and literary studies recently, but their role as independent actors (e.g. as patrons of art and architecture) has long been suspect. This compelling and lucid volume addresses this oversight and plots a course for future research.”

This is Bell’s fifth edited volume and his third book since arriving at NIU in 2008.