This month, our editors and writers have reflected on their favorite art books of 2022: artist’s writings, photobooks, monographs, and exhibition catalogues featuring work by Alison Knowles, Shala Miller, Robert Motherwell, and others.
Justine Kurland’s SCUMB Manifesto
(MACK Books, 2022)
“The canon is every dick shoved against some woman’s back on a crowded train,” Justine Kurland’s SCUMB Manifesto seethes across its text-infested alarm-red cover. “I’m coming for you with a blade.” Using collage as a way to impale the male gaze, Kurland’s SCUMB (Society for Cutting Up Men’s Books) dismantles visual language by cutting up 150 of her own photobooks featuring male artists—paper doll play turned furious, unrelenting, sly. A homage to Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto, the radical feminist text by a fringe revolutionary/vagabond is as galvanizing and resonantcaws a pillar as ever. Poet/performer Ariana Reines equates Kurland’s images to “a teenage Kenneth Anger’s cutting room floor” and “the surrealist feminine imagination of Leonor Fini or Dorothea Carrington.” Gallerist/curator Marina Chao’s essay sees Kurland’s work at once as a “vagina mandala” and “as an undoing of a certain photographic education.” Chao extolls collage’s fresh power as feminist re-appropriation: “While the initial gesture of collage channels violence, the final action is a metaphor for mending, revision, and potentiality.”
The Letters of Rosemary and Bernadette Mayer, 1976–1980
(Lenbachhaus/Ludwig Forum/Spike Island/Swiss Institute, 2022, Ed. Gillian Sneed and Marie Warsh)
“If I could answer the questions you pose in your letter,” the poet Bernadette Mayer writes to her sister, the artist Rosemary Mayer, “I would be beyond philosophy. Which I would like to be.” Characteristic of the epistolary exchanges between the two Mayer sisters collected in The Letters of Rosemary and Bernadette Mayer, 1976–1980, Bernadette’s words expose the generative nature of their correspondence. The Mayers’s letters are everything you want from good letters: confessional, philosophical, quotidian, sometimes funny, and often about love. During their four-year exchange, Rosemary reports news from New York, often relaying nuggets of art world gossip or updates on new projects, such as her series of site-specific installations she called “Temporary Monuments.” From her country isolation in New England, Bernadette writes blooming evocations of motherhood, equal parts poem and letter. Discussions of money recur. Amongst all the everyday talk, their shared desire to collaborate—to make art and share it—is the root of their exchange. Even if you’ve never heard of Rosemary or Bernadette Mayer, you will love the book all the same, for their letters can be read as a kind of manual for how to be.
Julie Doucet's Time Zone J
(Drawn & Quarterly, 2022)
Equal parts scrapbook, diary, and comix zine, Julie Doucet's Time Zone J calls attention to the peculiar affordances of the book medium. Graphically and compositionally, however, Time Zone J pushes against the physical limits of the page, to the point that stylistic density demands a new way of reading: “This book was drawn from bottom to top," Doucet instructs us. "Please read accordingly.” The viewer's eyes are directed to the bottom of the page, and then she must then track these lineations, from left to right, before slowly moving to the top of the page; usually, these sequences are of talking heads, iterations of Doucet's 55 year-old self, reflecting on an epistolary romance, 32 years prior. Because Doucet dispenses with the comics gutter, the space between panels projecting a linear temporal sequence, the dense materiality of the image re-orients the reading and viewing process. The past, the present, and the future are enfolded onto a single page.
By Alison Knowles: A Retrospective (1960–2022)
(D.A.P./University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2022, Ed. Karen Moss and Lucia Fabio)
In 1963, book artist, Fluxus artist, and performance artist Alison Knowles completed what many consider to be the first bookwork, Bean Rolls, a “canned book” that contained several actual beans and small scrolls of texts printed with various facts about beans. In 1967 she unveiled The Big Book, a life-size book installation that readers could walk, crawl, and step through. These are just two of many works by Knowles documented in her first survey monograph By Alison Knowles to accompany the exhibition at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. The book is not only a necessary and overdue record of this multimedia artist’s life and work, but a beautifully designed art book in itself. Organized chronologically, it’s jam packed with excellent archival reproductions, installation images, and images of printed books and bookworks. Additionally, each copy has a unique cover, a “makeready produced during the printing of the interior pages.” The section dividers in the book include cutouts that echo the multidimensional forms of Knowles’s own work, not as a gimmick, but as a consistent reminder that we are also holding a work of book art in our hands. By Alison Knowles smartly pushes the exhibition catalogue towards the form of artists’ book, a fitting push for the work of such a seminal figure in the field.
Robert Motherwell Drawings: A Catalogue Raisonné
(Yale University Press, 2022, Ed. Katy Rogers)
Weighty, surely, but this volume is worth every ounce. Just Katy Rogers’s elegant introduction could be dwelled on and in, enlightening: nothing weighs on you. Drawing in its immediacy, as act and object, paper as the chosen material: “I suppose there has been more paper in my life than anything else” says Motherwell, as it makes art available to all. Its “vibrating warmth” exudes under the creations even in the void, while the empty space serves as a powerful weapon for the painter, vivifying. Vitality abounds in the artist’s after-images, containing his “layered feelings” and responses. From the multidimensional to the flatter conceptual art, always in relationship to the edges, the emotional pitch remains high. The agonizing, despairing, nigh-death elegies reached many of us first. Automatic drawings, think surrealism, think a “racing yacht, cutting through the ocean.” Unforgettable, for this public intellectual, his experience of Zen.
Shala Miller’s Tender Noted
(Wendy’s Subway, 2022)
Shala Miller’s Tender Noted weaves together deeply personal, yet intimately familiar vignettes on grief and connection. Through letters, lyrics, fictional stories, and poetry, Miller meditates on loss, both personal and collective: that of her father in 2019, the cataclysmic loss of life since the beginning of the pandemic, and the ongoing mourning of Black life in US, seen and felt internationally in the summer of 2020. In considering these moments not as disparate points in time but as interconnected experiential echoes, Miller crafts a fitting metaphor for the disorientation of mourning. In both form and content, skin emerges as another metaphor, a vessel for memory, pain, and healing within the book, encased in cardboard-like paper with blood red striations along its fore edge, and an illustration entitled “Broken Girl, jumping broken rope” embossed on its cover. While Miller’s thoughtful storytelling and photographic testimonials gesture to the etymological origins of the word grief—to be heavy, to burden, to encumber, to harm, to oppress—she reveals how the actual process of grief is not tethered to its root. From this process, Miller extracts moments of joy, celebration, and soothing, mid-requiem. Tender Noted creates a much-needed space for mourning, which itself can be a process of remembering, of coming back to oneself through a continual act of healing.
Satoshi Tsuchiyama’s Heat of Sand
(Witty Books, 2022)
The premise of Heat of Sand seems simple: between 2017 and 2019, Satoshi Tsuchiyama photographed the urban and remote landscapes of Israel and Palestine through the lens of contemporary dance. However, with thoughtful design and lyrical sequencing, Tsuchiyama and Witty Books have created something that defies easy characterization. Pictures of bodies arrested in motion key up rhythmic echoes in the natural and built environments alike, and by contrasting the fluid movements of dancers with odd and unsettling pictures of architectural space, what we see is not the enhancing of urban beauty, but rather its further complication and estrangement from us. In these pages the desert landscape seems to contain time and history in its waves of sand, craggy rock formations and vast horizon lines, and the paper stock and image grain consistently express these qualities in a tactile way, making the transhistorical feel palpably real.
Pòtoprens: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince
Leah Gordon and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Ed. (Pioneer Works Press, 2022)
Pòtoprens: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince is an impressive, 416-page bilingual (English and Haitian Creole) book documenting the eponymous exhibition that was held at Pioneer Works in 2018. Co-organized by Haitian American artist and curator Edouard Duval-Carrié and British photographer and curator Leah Gordon, the exhibition featured a variety of contemporary artists from across Port-au-Prince, occupying three floors of the Brooklyn organization’s cavernous space. For the publication, Gordon, who is also co-curator of Haiti’s Ghetto Biennale, teamed up with writer and geographer Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. Mirroring the exhibition’s layout, which benefited from Duval-Carrié and Gordon’s cartographic approach to curating, the profiled artists are organized according to the areas of the city where they maintain studios, thus offering a glimpse into the ecology of the local art scene. Identified as “zones” by the exhibition’s curators, these neighborhoods are characterized by clusters of artists who work with shared traditions and forms, often as a result of specific social histories. All of the included artists, however, draw from Haiti’s rich and complex visual culture, particularly its melding of religious, political, and aesthetic influences over the course of the country’s turbulent history. A running theme throughout the book (and exhibition) is that Haiti’s “urban” artists belong to a staggering lineage of struggle, resistance, and steadfastness that began long before its emergence as the first Black-led republic in the late 1800s. Geographically focused survey shows and their accompanying publications rarely offer such depth, on the contrary, they often border on ethnography. Pòtoprens: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince succeeds wonderfully in avoiding this trap, and serves as the perfect case study for how curators and editors tasked with such projects can produce something meaningful.
Carmen Winant’s A Brand New End: Survival and Its Pictures
(The Print Center, 2022)
Artist Carmen Winant is known for her work with photographic archives and found imagery. Clipping, pasting, cutting, and reorganizing in printed collages, books, films, and installations, she reveals the multiple narratives held within documents. A Brand New End: Survival and Its Pictures continues this practice, focusing on the archive of Women In Transition, a collection of materials related to domestic violence collected by the Philadelphia-based advocacy group. Winant bookends A Brand New End with news clippings featuring headlines like, “Violent nights” and “salon owner shot to death by boyfriend,” reproduced on fragile paper much like the original newsprint. Photographs of women reading informational literature and receiving counseling and 35mm slides documenting their injuries are contextualized by critical essays by scholars and reflections from other artists, including Catherine Opie and Suzanne Lacy. A catalogue for an accompanying exhibition at The Print Center, this book also acts as an important reminder of the legacy of gendered violence and a celebration of the enduring stories of women.
Michael Auping’s 40 Years: Just Talking About Art
(Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, DelMonico Books, 2018)
As we often ask: what’s the role of a curator? Must they be both good as a “caretaker,” as the word suggests, and as a bureaucrat? Can we add the following essentials to the extended function, for example, possessing an encyclopedic visual memory of works of art seen, and the ability to install them anywhere with an aura of elevation visually; feeling at home in the artist’s studio; having a deep sense of curiosity about art, and equally a deep sense of respect for the way artists made their work.
Michael Auping is one of those few curators who seems to have given such attributes to his curatorial arsenals early on. “Don’t start asking artists questions about their art or anyone else’s until after you have looked carefully at it. Artists are not keen on people looking for shortcuts they have not been afforded.” Or “How artists become artists is as fascinating as it is mysterious, partly because even … they are not entirely sure how they came to be artists.” Those are Auping’s words of wisdom from his forty years of looking closely at works of art, of being, working, and talking with artists. This book is divided into ten themes: Beginnings; The Dimensions of Drawing; Portraits; Landscape: All Terrain; Color; The Studio; Figures of Speech; Light and Space; Abstraction; Getting Late. Moving between subjects of human experiences and the subjects of art, Auping made a wide selection of artists, featuring Tadao Ando, Georg Baselitz, Louise Bourgeois, Vernon Fisher, Jess, Agnes Martin, Bruce Nauman, Susan Rothenberg, Julian Schnabel, Sean Scully, Frank Stella, Jonathan Borofsky, Cai Guo-Qiang, Ellsworth Kelly, William Kentridge, Sol LeWitt, Richard Serra, Scott Burton, Lucian Freud, Anselm Kiefer, Ed Ruscha, Laurie Simmons, and John Chamberlain. Among other household names—such as Francesco Clemente, Mark Bradford, Jenny Holzer, James Lee Byars, Lawrence Weiner, and Christopher Wilmarth—two poets, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, and one composer Morton Feldman were delightfully included in the mix. Even though this book was published in 2018, I relished reading it over and over again. Without the need to read it in chronological order, whatever interview, or chapter one may come upon, the content is packed with intrigues, wits, and at times profound statements about life’s journeys and experiences. It's indeed my reading recommendation for the holidays.