Unlike visual art, when it comes to books there is something unseemly about discussing form. We are taught that books are solely their content and we should not judge them by their cover. The paper may be nice, but it isn’t indicative of the quality of the writing. Or the cover photo is lovely, but the plot has gaping holes. When I was little, I loved little books. Sometimes I loved them just because they were little. I had the whole Beatrix Potter mini-book collection going on in my room. I mean who could forget the adorable Tale of Squirrel Nutkin? My favorite of all the books was Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library, which is a collection of five tiny books united in a diminutive box. The stories were fun to read and they rhymed, which made them easy to memorize, but what made me come back to them time and again was their itty-bittyness.
As an adult, I am surprised to find this sort of preciousness still effective. It seems as if I should have outgrown this sort of thing by now. Currently, I’m reading my way through (in no particular order) the 33 1/3 series. In case you haven’t had a chance to pick one of these up, they’re slim, mostly fewer than 100 pages, meditations on a single album. Their smaller than average 5×7 size is cute as pie. The 33 1/3 series is published by Continuum and started in 2003 with Warren Zanes’ treatment of the 1969 classic Dusty in Memphis, by Dusty Springfield. A few other notable recordings that undergo inspection are Aja, by Steely Dan; Swordfishtrombone, by Tom Waits; Marquee Moon, by Television. Seriously though, there are as of this writing 86 titles, so certainly there is something for everyone. Don’t expect a “making of.” These little gems are more essayistic and idiosyncratic than that. Check out Phillip Shaw’s treatment of Patty Smith’s Horses. It’s the first book of the series that I read, and it’s a delight.
Melville House is home of the novella. The novella is perhaps the most perfect of forms. Longer than a short story, shorter than a novel, the novella is best described why what it isn’t than what it is. Melville House does the novella well. I just finished reading The Death of the Author, by Gilbert Adair, a mere 150 pages. Turns out this was just the right length for this little mystery-like satire addressing the ridiculousness academia and the sometimes foolishness of theory. Any longer and I think I might have taken the literary theory too seriously. Besides contemporary novellas, they also have a line of novellas by classic authors. You’ll find short works by lots of your favorite authors: Chekov, Proust, Cather, Wharton, Tolstoy, and of course Melville.
Originally, the plan for this month’s post was to write a book review, which I started a bunch of times. Somehow, I couldn’t quite get excited about it. There is nothing wrong with the “book” I was reading, Hilton Kramer’s Abstraction and Utopia. For a while, I thought it was because I had picked the wrong text, but it turns out that what I really wanted to talk about was the unseemly subject of form. Abstraction and Utopia is published by e-publisher Now & Then, and at only 16 pages, this work seems unlikely to have been published as a stand-alone print book. In fact, this essay is actually reprint from The New Criterion. A 16-page book may seem like no bargain, but I bought it because of its brevity. It also had an abbreviated price tag. At the same time I also purchased The Story of a Photograph: Walker Evans, Ellie Mae Burroughs, and the Great Depression, Jerry L. Thompson. I had a four-hour plane ride ahead of me and I wanted something I could finish in one sitting. For the first time, I really understood the flexibility that e-books offer. Until that point, I considered them a way to, let’s say, carry the entirety of In Search of Lost Time around in my purse, a feat impossible in the pre-digital age. But the possibility of digital publishing allowing short works to exist on their own, as opposed to being stuffed into an anthology is extraordinarily freeing both as a reader and as a writer. Perhaps e-publishing will give small works a home, and maybe even start a renaissance of the short form.
Lastly, as a random bit of book-related information, check out this video of Seattle Public Library’s world record setting domino book chain.
This week: Duncan and Richard talk to art superstar Luc Tuymans!
The following is shamelessly lifted from the MCA site:
Luc Tuymans (Belgian, b. 1958) is considered one of the most significant European painters of his generation and he has been an enduring influence on younger and emerging artists. Born and raised in Antwerp, where he lives and works, Tuymans is an inheritor to the vast tradition of Northern European painting. At the same time, as a child of the 1950s, his relationship to the medium is understandably influenced by photography, television, and cinema.
Interested in the lingering effects of World War II on the lives of Europeans, Tuymans explores issues of history and memory, as well as the relationship between photography and painting, using a muted palette to create canvases that are simultaneously withholding and disarmingly stark. Drawing on imagery from photography, television, and film, his distinctive compositions make ingenious use of cropping, close-ups, framing, and Luc Tuymans sequencing, offering fresh perspectives on the medium of painting, as well as larger cultural issues.
The artist’s more recent work approaches the post-colonial situation in the Congo and the dramatic turn of world events after 9/11. These series have led Tuymans to a sustained investigation of the realms of the pathological and the conspiratorial.
Maybe Hip which has been broadcasting from Chicago only since Nov/Dec of 2009 is already starting to find it’s feet successfully as the new independent pop culture-focused internet television network. Their stated goal, to be a place where original video entertainment centers on all things that may – or may not – be hip.
Be it music, film, TV, pop culture, news, events in Chicago or around the world the crew of Maybe Hip are successfully writing, filming, producing & creating high level content on a shoestring budget. It’s funny, driven and earnest in it desire to inform & entertain. Needless to say it reminds me of another group I knew 5 years or so ago.
The company, founded in 2009 by Patrick Lothian, Robby Silver, and Lexi Scherr looks to add to the growing internet television industry discussion by creating original content for Generation Next that is more mainstream then the work done by people like Revision 3. It’s raw, it wears it heart on it’s sleeve & it wants to have fun and bring everyone along.
Time will only tell if the group can continue to refine their voice, onair chemistry & most of all get past the coming wall that is continuously meeting weekly deadlines for more then a year with no budget. So far though it looks to be a group worth keeping an eye on and more importantly, watching.
Forget all the news about Chicago city arts grants, potentially major boosts to NEA funding, and all that other boring crap. I would be remiss were I not to inform Chicago artists about this fabulous opportunity, no? Bravo is launching a new counterpart to its Top Chef, Top Designer, put-12-aspiring-whatevers-into-a-weekly competitive-lineup-and-get-them-to-cry franchise, but this time it’s devoted to makers of contemporary art. Finally, artists are getting their due!
The L.A. Times reports that, “according to the application instructions for potential contestants, the show’s producers are looking for ‘emerging or mid-career’ artists who work in any number of the following fields: painting, sculpture, installation, video, photography and mixed-media.”
Everybody thinks this show’s gonna suck, but I actually have very high hopes for SJP’s (that’s Sarah Jessica Parker to those of you not in the celeb gossip loop) newest television venture. I didn’t know she was into contemporary art, but I’m not interested in that angle of celebrity worship, Brad Pitt notwithstanding. Top Chef looked like it wouldn’t work (who wants to watch a reality show about food, we all thought) and we were wrong, wrong, wrong. Hopefully, the naysayers will be disproved once again and we’ll get some great television out of this.
Art Fag City is speculating that Matthew Higgs might be one of the judges (or maybe even the Top guy, a la Tom Colicchio?) but I truly hope this is not the case. Higgs is all wrong for this. Please God, let it be Schimmel instead. He’s probably looking for a job right now, and he would be absolutely perfect. Now, who should they pick for his junior underlings? I can think of so many possibilities…but perhaps it would be mean to hazard any further guesses? Up here, anyway–but feel free to do so in the comments.
Now, getting back to the critical business at hand: the Chicago audition information is as follows:
Thursday, July 16, 10 AM – 2 PM, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sullivan Galleries, 33 State Street (www.saic.edu).
See you on the small screen.