November 20, 2014 | by Lilly Lampe
Finding artistic inspiration in YA lit.
At the behest of his preteen daughter, Hamza Walker set off one Saturday in search of Insurgent, the second book in Veronica Roth’s wildly popular Divergent trilogy. The book had been published the day before, and early crowds had snapped up seemingly every copy in Chicago. After a fruitless trip to Powell’s, Walker tried Barnes & Noble, only to be turned away. With his daughter’s imprecations buzzing in one ear, he stared at the Insurgent-less bookshelves, noting their panoply of shockingly similar titles. Then he saw the label on the wall: TEEN PARANORMAL ROMANCE.
Those three disparate words rang through his head: age demographic, supernatural phenomena, Eros. Together, these incongruous terms coalesced into a phrase that felt positively surreal. Walker, a curator, didn’t see the absence of the object of his daughter’s desire; he saw a ready-made exhibition title.
And so “Teen Paranormal Romance” became a group exhibition of the same name. It was on view this past spring at the University of Chicago’s contemporary museum, The Renaissance Society, where Walker has been a curator for twenty years; and it recently opened at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. The theme of adolescence runs through the assembled artworks, but the exhibition is generous with meaning; like lodestones for memory, the artworks dislodge the bits and pieces of our adolescent desires and anxieties. Read More »
November 13, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Harry Pearson, the founder of The Absolute Sound, died last week at seventy-seven, the New York Times reports. From its inception in 1972, The Absolute Sound was (and remains) an audiophile’s dream magazine. As the Times describes it,
Mr. Pearson laid the foundations of a philosophy and vocabulary that helped give rise to a worldwide subculture of high-end audiophiles. He wrote about recorded music with the conviction and nuance that food critics brought to haute cuisine, assessing qualities of depth, naturalness and “three-dimensionality” in the sound made by some stereo components and not others ... When all those intangibles came together in the right way, he said, they produced “absolute sound,” which he defined as “the sound of actual acoustic instruments playing in a real space.”
And it must be said: The Absolute Sound had incredible cover art and design, especially in its first years. Just look at those covers!
“Mr. Pearson initially refused to accept advertising but relented after a few years, though vowing not to soften his analysis,” the Times notes. And sure enough, the back of an early issue I found carries maybe the finest, purest statement of revenue philosophy I’ve ever seen from a magazine:
WARNING: Do not lend your copy of The Absolute Sound to friends. You endanger the continued existence of the magazine by so doing. The Absolute Sound exists entirely on subscription revenues. Freeloaders decrease our revenues, and not surprisingly our incentive. If you really like the magazine and want it to survive you will needle your friends into subscribing.
Kudos to Pearson for his clarity of vision—would that his revenue model would’ve panned out. Here, in remembrance, are three of the best seventies-era Absolute Sound covers I could find: Read More »
November 13, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Margaret Sullivan’s new book, Jane Austen Cover to Cover, collects dozens of the covers that publishers around the world have concocted for her six major novels; it’s “two hundred years of publication, interpretation, marketing, and misapprehensions.” These six examples of Emma indicate Austen’s singular place in the canon: the covers range from the lurid to the leather bound—highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow, every brow—with Emma Woodhouse taking on a new look and mien to suit every era. The art provides a fascinating glimpse into a variety of publishing cultures, and it reminds that even our classics are mutable, pitched to appeal to any number of sensibilities, their literary status in constant flux per the dictates of the market.
Read More »
November 12, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Duane Hanson’s Security Guard is on display at Gagosian Gallery’s Park and Seventy-fifth Street location through December 3. Hanson, who died in 1996, is known for his doggedly realistic sculptures of Joe and Jane Sixpack: the paunchy, unremarkable janitors, shoppers, joggers, tourists, and deliverymen of the world. Hanson’s working-class men and women are always in some form of repose, wearing expressions that range from the melancholic to the merely phlegmatic. These are people with whom the world has had its way—people used to being seen through. They have body hair. They have hangnails and bruises, varicose veins.
Hanson’s sculptures, given the commonness of their subjects, are almost suspiciously accessible, and so the temptation is to dismiss them as condescending or facile—or just tacky, a bid for the same kind of gee-whiz mimesis on display at Madame Tussaud’s. They are, after all, uncanny likenesses, and it’s easy to get tripped up on that, or to marvel at the painstaking craftsmanship. Hanson made casts from real people, and for maintenance he’d send envelopes of human hair to museums with instructions on how to attach it properly; he went to great lengths to produce convincing skin tones. All that’s very impressive, but it’d have you think the sculptures are just workmanlike forays into photorealism.
And in the wrong setting, they may well be. I could imagine how a roomful of Hanson’s work might register as taunting rather than haunting—in aggregate, the statues could lose their subtlety, all but daring you to appreciate their lifelikeness. But Gagosian Gallery has done a shrewd thing with Security Guard: they’ve put him on his own. He’s leaning against the wall of an otherwise empty space, patrolling nothing, alone. You can see him in there from the street.
“My art is not about fooling people,” Hanson once said. “It’s the human attitudes I’m after—fatigue, a bit of frustration, rejection. To me, there is a kind of beauty in all this.”
By himself, hand in pocket, walkie-talkie at the ready, surrounded by white walls and looking at none of them, Security Guard evokes the whole spectrum of Weltschmerz. Stare at him for sixty seconds and you see a bored, stoical man, an intimate of blankness, maybe solving a Rubik’s Cube in his head or thinking about supper. Stare at him for three minutes and you think, Maybe a widower. Stare at him for five minutes and you want to jot down the number of a suicide hotline, press it into his breast pocket. Take lunch, you want to say with a clap on his shoulder, Go out and get some air.
But he won’t move. As the critic Sebastian Smee wrote of another Hanson piece, “He is not waiting for death, exactly. But death sure is what his life has in mind for him. And for us.”
November 11, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Between the fifth and thirteenth centuries, most books were made of skin—calfskin, sheepskin, or goatskin, typically, that had been soaked, limed, dehaired, and stretched. The resulting parchment was resilient and often astonishingly consistent, but imperfections could creep in. Over at Medieval Books, Erik Kwakkel explores a few of them:
Preparing parchment was a delicate business … If the round knife of the parchment maker (the lunellum) cut too deep during this scraping process, elongated rips or holes would appear … We encounter such holes frequently in medieval books, which suggests that readers were not too bothered by them. Many scribes will have shared this sentiment, because they usually simply wrote around a hole. Some placed a little line around them, as if to prevent the reader from falling in.
Scribes would sometimes stitch up the holes with silk or colored thread. They’d also turn them into adornments: a particularly inventive scribe turned three holes in the page into the face of a laughing man. When the parchment was of especially poor quality, large swaths of hair follicles would be visible; the scribe would have to write around these.
Studies suggest that parchment was sold in four different grades, which implies that sheets with and without visible deficiencies may have been sold at different rates. If this was indeed the case, an abundance of elongates holes in a manuscript may just point at an attempt to economize on the cost of the writing support. In other words, bad skin may have come at a good price.
November 6, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
T: The New York Times Style Magazine just sent us a sneak preview of their newest cover model: Philip Roth. He’s in handsome company, perhaps dangerously so. The last guy on the cover was Channing Tatum.
But if Roth has that stressed, I-can’t-bear-to-look thing going on—anxiety chic—it’s not because he’s out of his depth in the modeling game. It’s because he’s been rereading his own work, always a dicey proposition. Specifically, he’s been rereading Portnoy’s Complaint, to which his reputation remains staked, many decades and nearly two dozen novels later. Roth doesn’t have a problem with that, but he does have a problem with those who have cast the book as gratuitous or indecorous:
I portrayed a man who is the repository of every unacceptable thought, a 33-year-old man possessed by dangerous sensations, nasty opinions, savage grievances, sinister feelings and, of course, one stalked by the implacable presence of lust. In short, I wrote about the quotient of the unsocialized that is rooted in almost everyone … One writes a repellent book (and Portnoy’s Complaint was taken by many to be solely that) not to be repellent but to represent the repellent, to air the repellent, to expose it, to reveal how it looks and what it is. Chekhov wisely advised that the writer’s task lies not in solving problems but in properly presenting the problem.
With his usual candor, Roth meditates on Alexander Portnoy’s standing today, in these “erotically unfettered” times. His essay is one in a series wherein authors reread their own work; there’s also Lydia Davis on Break It Down, Robert Caro on The Power Broker, George Saunders on CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, Marilynne Robinson on Housekeeping, Jennifer Egan on A Visit From the Goon Squad, and Junot Díaz on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. You can read all of them here.
Next month, these writers and others are auctioning annotated first editions of their books to benefit PEN American Center. The auction, “First Editions, Second Thoughts,” takes place December 2 at Christie’s New York; previews begin November 17.