Our eye on…. Books at home

 

As our team continues to work from home, we’ve finally had the time to read more; both recent releases and old favourites. Enjoy some of the reviews below.

John Richardson – Sacred Monsters Sacred Masters

Reviewed by Guy Jennings, Managing Director

Caught in the splendid isolation of the Somerset countryside I have been able, when not attending Zoom or Teams conference video calls, to re-visit some of my favourite books which I suspect have been sitting on my shelves waiting for just such a moment for me to take them down, re-open them and re-discover the pleasures that fill their pages.

One of my all time favourites, John Richardson’s Sacred Monsters Sacred Masters has been giving me considerable pleasure. The late John Richardson will long be remembered for his magisterial multi-volume biography of Picasso; a magnum opus that is unlikely ever to be bettered. But with Sacred Monsters Sacred Masters, a collection of essays published in 2001, Richardson is altogether much more light hearted. The monsters are incomparably more interesting than the masters. Unsurprisingly the masters include some of the great painters of the twentieth century; Braque, Miro, Dali, Freud, Warhol and of course Picasso himself. Richardson writes of them with his typical verve and insight, but it is in his treatment of the monsters that the author really comes into his own.

The monsters are all connected, if loosely in some cases, to the art world. Richardson enjoys himself enormously displaying all his celebrated wit and panache as with a few deft sentences, he eviscerates the misanthropic Dr Albert Barnes, founder of the eponymous collection in Philadelphia, or exposes the acquisitively legalistic tactics of Rolf Burgi and his cronies as they rob Felix Klee of his inheritance. Peggy Guggenheim is not spared and nor are the Sitwells. Armand Hammer’s takeover of Knoedler is laid bare and Richardson is merciless as he dissects Truman Capote’s later work.

Drop whatever you are doing; get off Zoom; stop reading gallery emails or newsletters; read Richardson. Flick through the pages of Sacred Monsters Sacred Masters for the sheer delight of the stories the author tells and his engagingly, erudite prose but please, please do not neglect the monsters. Richardson has made his monsters truly monstrous – read and enjoy!


Melissa Chiu & Gianni Jetzer – Brand New: Art & Commodity in the 1980s

Reviewed by Jonathan Levy, Head of DACH Region

The most recent addition to my library is the exhibition catalogue Brand New – Art & Commodity in the 1980’s, which was published in conjunction with the eponymous 2018 exhibition at the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC.

The book includes three fantastic essays by the museum’s curator-at-large, Gianni Jetzer, the journalist Leah Pires and the indie curator and critic, Bob Nickas.

The exhibition and the accompanying texts reflect on the 1980s art scene in New York’s East Village. The title, Brand New, alludes to insatiable consumer demand for the latest products during an era characterized by desire, (self-) indulgence, trickle-down Reaganomics and an increased fear of the spread of AIDS.

It describes the artistic activity during the emergence of a new, globalized economy and the idealistic beginnings of some of today’s most celebrated artists, including Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Louise Lawler and Sherrie Levine.

In the first essay, Gianni Jetzer describes how sociologists, like Jean Boudrillard and Jacques Derrida, contributed to a new investigation of the connection between Conceptualism and the material world. A re-investigation of commercial products as ready-mades, a new generation of artists as public personas and a new form of de-constructive appropriation and loosely structured groupings, like the media-appropriating Pictures Generation.

In a convergence of art and commercial information, two systems begin to place a substantial premium on brevity, relying on commonly shared ideas, concepts and aspirations. While the book provides examples of different forms of appropriation by over 60 artists, it also explains how advertising firms worked on artistic brand ideas that went far beyond a product’s use value. Among various examples, Gianni Jetzer makes reference to MTV’s “Artbreaks” and the dystopian Apple TV ad for the 1984 Superbowl, directed by Ridley Scott.

Next to the obvious “household” names of the period (Prince, Koons, Sherman, Kruger etc.), this exhibition is full of great works by some of my favourite artists. The reproductions of works by Ashley Bickerton, Ken Lum, Julia Wachtel, Meyer Vaisman, John Dogg, Hans Haacke and (Elaine) Sturtevant provide a very colourful and welcome distraction, while I am unable to visit museum and gallery exhibitions.


Works by Cindy Sherman and Julia Wachtel, excerpt from Brand New: Art & Commodity in the 1980s


Excerpt from Hold Still, A Memoir with Photographs, including images from Immediate Family

Sally Mann – Hold Still, A Memoir with Photographs

Reviewed by Charlie Wood, Art Associate

Represented by Gagosian and Edwynn Houk, photographer Sally Mann has produced some of the most fascinating and iconic imagery of late 20th Century America and yet the controversies of some of her works have almost superseded the artist herself, with few articles able to avoid referencing it. Her excellent memoir, Hold Still, elegantly addresses this, justly providing context for the images in her most famous and talked about series Immediate Family. The book is honest about the price that Mann, her husband and children paid for the family photos but ultimately it delivers so much more. Her lyrical and eloquent text is laced with fascinating photographs: archival prints from Mann’s family, others showing the evolution of her art, including some of those images of the children.

Charting a truly fascinating and vivid reflection of Virginia and the South, this memoir is punctuated with dramatic stories of deceit and scandal, alcohol, domestic abuse, car crashes, clandestine affairs, and a troubling murder-suicide. It begins with Mann opening what she calls ‘ancestral boxes’ filled with old photographs but comes to reflect that the belief that visual representations of ourselves offer clues to who we are, is misguided, as she uncovers and reassesses her personal history.

The book is divided into sections that reflect the major relationships of Mann’s life: her mother, her father, her husband and Gee-Gee, the African American nanny she insists she loved like a mother. This direct engagement with race makes for one of the most powerful and challenging parts of the book and reflects the complicated and difficult history of the place that defines Sally Mann.

For me the most fascinating aspect of the book is Mann’s willingness to describe why an artist might photograph one thing and not another, and how one decides that an image works. Few artists possess the ability to articulate their vision in such clear language. This memoir reveals the skill of Mann’s critical mind and the impartial, exacting lens she is willing to place upon herself. Notably acknowledging the tension in her work as well her experience creating this biography, “photographs supplant and corrupt the past, all the while creating their own memories.” The book’s engagement with the complex relationship of image and memory, makes for an opportune read when we ourselves have time to reflect.


 

Anthony Haden-Guest – True Colors

Reviewed by Cynthia Zabel, Head of Business Development, North America

I first read True Colors in 1997 when I was a student at Sotheby’s Institute.  The book opens in the late 1960s, as Conceptualists, Performance artists and Surrealists rebel against Minimalism; it moves through a flurry of movements from neo-expressionism to earthworks and graffiti art, covering the New York art scene in the 70s and the astonishing boom years of the 80s. From the sale of the Scull collection to the rise of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst’s first exhibition in New York. Other artists he profiles in an absorbing, anecdotal form include Cindy Sherman, Keith Haring, Julian Schnabel, Malcolm Morley, Donald Judd, James Turrell and Jean-Michel Basquiat. It closes with a report on the 1993 Venice Biennale and a questioning look at 1990s’ developments, including confessional and victim art, ecological, computer and technological art.

Haden-Guest’s engaging writing sparked my interest in Contemporary Art and got me into the habit of going to art galleries.  Now, over twenty years later with an established career in the world, I still find myself returning to this book, reading a few chapters here and there. True Colors serves as reminder of how we arrived at the art market we are experiencing today.


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