Archive for November, 2011

Books | Taschenzine

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Taschen Booklist
Winter 2011/12

Taschen do something very clever. The book publishing house that proudly boasts it was established as long ago as 1980 and, as it says on the cover of its Winter 2011/2012 Booklist, ‘is for optimists only’, likes to surprise and even to shock. While many publishers have cut costs by putting their lists of forthcoming books exclusively on-line, Taschen’s, published biannually, which arrived here in the middle of this week – only 30 high street shopping days to go until Christmas! – takes the form of a well-produced magazine.

Whoever came up with the concept and put it together – probably Benedikt Taschen himself, who edits it – pays close attention to getting the details right. The cover is printed web-offset and the inside pages using the gravure method – only suitable for runs of over 300,000 copies due to the substantial costs involved (some of these having clearly been off-set by the inclusion of genuine, up-market advertising for the likes of Mercedes Benz, Chopard, Pirelli and Maybach) – giving it the familiar, floppy feel of news-based magazines like Stern, Paris Match, The (UK) Sunday Times Style section, The New York Times Magazine or even SAGA.

The cover shot is more than a little cheesy; it has a low-budget tang to it. It says this is a popular magazine; it’s inclusive, not exclusive; there’s something for everyone here. The cover type is overly colourful and looks like it might have been done in a rush to meet a tight deadline, however, the company name TASCHEN is subtly lacquered-over – perhaps to convey just a hint that what one is looking at is not all that it appears. Inside, looking for all the world like a list of features with page numbers, there’s – what could be more natural – a contents page. What could be a jauntily written editor’s intro, actually is just that and is signed off by Herr Taschen himself. The ‘features’ are mostly lavishly-illustrated using photographs or illustrations from the approximately 120 books individually listed at the back with prices. But there are what must be specially commissioned illustrations of the famous from Moby, Quincy Jones and Mario Testino to Rem Koolhaas, Pamela Anderson and Diane Keaton, each with a nice quote about their favourite Taschen book alongside them. These attempt to demonstrate the reach and ground this once best known for its cut-price art book publishing house has gained over the past twenty-five years. Taschen himself makes an appearance photographed, paparazzi-style, in a series of black and white images, most memorably in a full-bleed double-page spread with director Billy Wilder and photographer Helmut Newton at the 1960-built architectural landmark, Chemosphere house, in the Hollywood Hills in 1999. Newspaper USA Today’s quote about the Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot book – from Taschen, obviously – appears alongside: ‘A Wilder gift you couldn’t find for film fans.’ There’s a fashion ’story’ about photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin’s work – limited editions to 1,200 copies of the book are available, numbered and signed by the artists. This is up-market stuff but the way it’s packaged makes it feel democratic, accessible to the masses. Wine and food are covered; cars too. There’s sexy glamour from Bert Stern’s historic last sitting with Marilyn Monroe and a design ‘feature’ about information graphics. The Man from La Mancha, about a book on Pedro Almadóvar opens on a dramatic spread image with sparse headline, standfirst and quote, which is followed by a substantial text written by the director. There’s quite a lot of film-based stuff; Movies of the 2000 [sic] – the title of which must be a dodgy bit of translation from the presumably original German into English – opens with a complex double page spread of small film-stills and screaming headline, which, if this was in a real magazine, might be expected to lead somewhere, but doesn’t. There are a couple of spreads – please excuse the pun – about The Big Book of Pussy – the offending organ having been masked out by little, yellow smiley faces – immediately followed by a spread of illustrations of Toucans,’Big-billed technicolor marvels’, which at first glance might be taken for a special offer of the type one associates with sets of decorative plates, had the book cover not been slipped in at the bottom.


The tone and pace of the content is keenly balanced, some items picture-lead, others text-heavy, some short, some long, in such a way as to convince anyone casually flicking through the pages that he’s holding a real magazine. There’s no crossword or puzzle page but there is a game that encourages the reader to search for the character Faulpeltz – familiar, apparently, to past recipients of this publication – hidden within the pages of the magazine: the successful participants earning the chance of winning the Taschen sweepstake or book tokens. This is psychologically-clever salesmanship. First-timers are drawn in, made to feel comfortable in familiar territory – it’s the game that advertorial plays, when it apes the editorial of the magazine it appears in – until suddenly the penny drops and you feel rather let down, fooled. Make no mistake; this ‘magazine’ is 100% advertorial. But maybe in this particular case you can convince yourself to rest easy – this is a smartly-executed joke – you might have been fooled but now you get it and it’s so well done that you’re not ashamed at all that you were had. On the contrary, you begin to appreciate the level of intellectual thought and creative consideration that went into this fine thing. You want to tell all your friends about it: do a blog post on it – exactly what they want you to do. You might put it aside – you never know, one day it might be a collector’s item, and be worth something. Anyway, that’s what I’m going to do with mine.

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Show & Auction | Lucio Fontana, The Last Futurist

Friday, November 18th, 2011


Modern & Contemporary Art and Identita’ Italiana

Sotheby’s Milan, Exhibition until 22nd November, 2011
Auction 22nd & 23rd November, 2011

‘And what is there to see in an old picture except the laborious contortions of an artist throwing himself against the barriers that thwart his desire to express his dream completely?’ – Extract from The Futurist Manifesto, first published in France’s Le Figaro in 1909.

Much as the Italian Futurists, whom he would have been aware of in this youth, Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) was perhaps seen as getting rather carried away by his own enthusiasm when in the 1950s he declared: ‘I make holes; infinity passes through them; light passes through them, there is no need to paint.’

This is the man who slashed his own canvases and slit open his sculptures. I’d like to use the occasion of this Sotheby’s auction in Milan, in which six of his works go under the hammer, alongside paintings and sculpture from many of Italy’s most revered 20th century artists, among them: Giacomo Balla, Arturo Martini,Giorgio de Chirico, Massimo Campigli, Mario Sironi, Alberto Savinio, Renato Birolli, Luigi Ontani, Gastone Novelli and Domenico Gnoli, to extrapolate a theory I have developed concerning Lucio Fontana.

Fontana, was born in Argentina of Italian immigrant parents, his father being a sculptor. He was in Italy studying engineering when WWI broke out and fought in it. Afterwards he studied sculpture in Milan but soon returned to Argentina before settling once more in Italy. Despite having, with some Italian artist friends, gone to Paris – like de Chirico had, more than a decade before – to join one of the many factions of modern artists there – the Abstraction-Création group – contradictorily, his first one-man abstract art show having happened the year before, Fontana’s sensitive, equine, figurative bronze Bozzetto per i ‘Cavalli che seguono la Vittoria’, 1936, (above middle, and included in the sale) dates from this period. It’s interesting to note, though, that these horses are moving, not static, and the younger one is a little ahead of its parent. 1939 finds Fontana back in Argentina where he founds a private academy and with some of his students writes the Manifesto Blanco, demanding the synthesis of artistic genres and the renunciation of traditional art materials. It recognised that: ’We live in the mechanical age. Painted canvas and upright plaster no longer have a reason to exist.’ In their place, his idea was to merge technology and art to create something entirely new and more suited to the time. Back in Milan in 1947 he wrote another manifesto: Primo Manifesto dello Spezialismo, demanding a new form of space-oriented art. At the time his concept would have seemed improbable and grandiose: to synthesize space, sound, colour, movement and time into a new kind of art.

In 1949, his fiftieth year, Fontana punched holes through painted canvases and created his first spatial environment: an experiment with shapeless objects painted in fluorescent colours illuminated by ultra-violet light to be viewed in a darkened room. Seemingly manifesto-mad, in the 1950s he wrote another three of them and continued to conduct further experiments, slashing and perforating his paintings and sculptures, and even including neon lights, memorably at the 1966 Venice Biennale where he installed an ultra-violet light-room and a violet neon-room. His uncompromising Concetto spaziale, Attesa,1964 (above top, and in the sale), is perhaps the most bald and direct of his attempts to shock the viewer into the realisation that he is not looking at a flat plane. In slashing the canvas he attempts to bring the background – the wall behind – into the painting, giving it another dimension, making the painting into an object or sculpture. Earlier in the century, the Cubists had of course already experimented with this idea but Fontana wanted to push it further. Around about this time, many of his pieces were named Concetto Spaziele, the pierced sculptural form (above bottom, and in the sale) is one of them; here his object is to blur the difference between a solid, rounded, bean-shaped object and a hollow one, thus allowing the inside as well as the outside surface to have a presence.

Looking beyond the limits of the picture, exploring space and science fiction to connect the new art to the dramatic technological and social changes taking place in the middle of the 20th Century, Fontana’s outlook was enormously influential. Ahead of his time, with so many vague and unformed but interesting ideas, it is fair to say that his spatial concept foreshadowed installation and environmental art and his promotion of gesture as art prompted performance as art. A long list of artists emerging in the 1960s and later all owe him a great debt, among them: Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Jenny Holzer, James Turrell, Laurie Anderson, Bill Viola, Christo, Fiona BannerMartin Creed

We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicoloured, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervour of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd. Extract from The Futurist Manifesto, 1909.

Lucio Fontana may well have been the last Futurist.

Works from top
Concetto spaziale, Attesa, 1964
Bozzetto per i ‘Cavalli che seguono la Vittoria’, 1936
Concetto Spaziale, Undated


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New Book & Exhibition | Heroes Unbound

Friday, November 11th, 2011


We Can Be Heroes by Graham Smith.
Punks, Poseurs, Peacocks and People of a Particular Persuasion
London Clubland 1976 – 84
Exhibition: The Society Club, London, until 23rd December 2011.
Book: Published by Unbound, 8th December 2011

You could be anybody. If you were there. You were somebody.

Graham Smith just happened to be there and knew how to use a camera. 450 of his previously unseen images of the heroes for whom he became the house photographer: Sade, Boy George, Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet, Robert Elms and Steve Strange, among many others from London’s vital and legendary club scene – Billy’s, The Blitz, Le Beat Route, Mud Club, Dirt Box and The Wag – of the late 70s and early 80s grace the pages of We Can be Heroes. Researcher, film critic and writer, Chris Sullivan supplies the main text and there are personal accounts and quotes from many of the main players.

We can be heroes is being published via the Unbound.co.uk publishing platform founded by writers John Mitchinson, Justin Pollard and Dan Kieran. It’s an interesting and novel concept in book publishing wherein well-known and new authors pitch their book ideas directly to their potential readers via a website. If you like a certain book you can pledge your support by donating towards the set target figure deemed necessary to bring it to fruition. When an idea has enough support the book is produced as a cloth-bound limited edition; if it doesn’t get enough support, it doesn’t get published, in which case supporters receive a full refund. All pre-target supporters get their name printed in every edition of each book and, at every level, each receives the e-book. Those who have pledged more money, depending on the amount, may receive a personally dedicated copy or, as in this case, a deluxe copy with two signed prints from the photographer, or be invited to the book launch and perhaps to meet the author. There are also many ways you can follow the book’s progress, for example, all supporters gain access to the author’s shed.

Graham Smith, in the Unbound pitch video, looks as if he might have been more comfortable behind the camera rather than before it. There’s a shot of him in the book, taken at the time he was engaged in photographing the peacocks and birds of paradise who frequented the clubs that would seem to bear this theory out: avoiding eye-contact with the photographer Swift looks down at the camera in his hands, as if longing for the moment when he can put it back in front of his face. Smith was not a paparazzo. His reticence may well have been the key to the intimacy he was able to achieve with the flamboyant subjects in his pictures.

Images from top
Steve Strange outside Club for Heroes, 1981
Sade, 1983
Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet) at Warren Street Squat, 1981
All photographs ©Graham Smith, courtesy of the photographer

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Exhibition | Jean-Paul Goude Retrospective

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011


Goudemalion, A Retrospective of the life and work of Jean-Paul Goude

Les Arts Decoratifs, Paris, France. 11th November, 2011 – 18th March 2012

I had been a great admirer of Jean-Paul Goude’s work long before he agreed to produce a cover for me in 1989 for one of the two Sunday Times Magazine issues we devoted to the bicentenary of the French Revolution. I had immediately bought his book Jungle Fever in 1982 when it was first published in the UK; it remains one of my most treasured possessions and is filled with so many original visual ideas that it makes my head spin, even now, to flick through its slick, chic-idea-packed pages. Another treasure, perhaps more precious, is a drawing similar to the sketch above though less accomplished and less detailed that Jean-Paul very kindly gave me as a memento of our collaboration. I was a fan of Grace Jones, too – still am – of her phenomenal presence and talent and the amazing and incredibly sexy music she produced in the 80s. I regret that although I was briefly introduced to her a few years ago by her great friend the milliner, Philip Treacy – I shook her Warm Leatherette hand while she scowled at me – I never saw her perform live in any of the fantastical, postmodernist-meets-expressionist sets created and master-minded for her by Goude.

The colleague who edited the bicentenary issue and myself were surprised and greatly honoured to receive invitations from Jean-Paul to attend the bicentenary celebrations in Paris – possibly the most spectacular pageant the world has ever seen – a taster of it and of the rest of this polymath’s formidable portfolio of painting, sculpture, photography, choreography, stage direction and advertising genius, appears as part of the (somewhat blurred) retrospective film on YouTube, which I’d rather you see for yourself than try to describe.

‘I like to amaze’, wrote Goude in his introductory text to Jungle Fever, ‘ It is an impulse I have that is uncontrollable.’ Long has he amazed us and long may he continue to do so.

Image Le bicentenaire, Paris, 1988. Courtesy of Jean-Paul Goude

Link Opening Night Images


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Art Fair | Jeff Koons’ Old Masters

Friday, November 4th, 2011


Poussin, Fragonard, Courbet. The Private Passions of Jeff Koons

Paris Tableau – First International Art Fair Dedicated to Old Master Paintings.
Palais de la Bourse, Paris, France. 4th – 8th November, 2011

The female body and sexuality – France’s great 17th century baroque artist, Nicolas Poussin (1584-1665) had a great talent for getting away with barely concealed eroticism in his painting. His groups of entangled, barely-clad or naked figures fall barely short of orgies.

For the first Paris Tableau, the virtually unknown and unseen for over a century Jupiter & Antiope or Venus & Satyr by Poussin has been loaned by American artist, Jeff Koons, along with two others from his collection: the racey Young Girl Holding Two Puppies by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) and the utterly lascivious Femme nue or Woman with a Parrot by Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), and is perhaps his cheekiest.

The female body and sexuality – Koons, also no stranger to the subject matter, is well-known for collecting the work of his high-profile contemporaries but more recently began taking an interest in acquiring old masters, especially the ravishing ones with barely-concealed sexual allure. As a boy, he had started out painting copies of old masters which he sold in his father’s Pennsylvania furniture store; had Koons been a contemporary of Poussin, Fragonard or Courbet, it isn’t too difficult to imagine he might have got up to the same, or even more flagrantly explicit antics as they did.

Works from top
Gustave Courbet Femme nue or Woman with a Parrot, 1865-1866
Jean-Honoré Fragonard Young Girl Holding Two Puppies, circa 1770
Nicolas Poussin Jupiter & Antiope or Venus and Satyr, 17th century
All paintings courtesy of Jeff Koons

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