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Wednesday 12.22.10

« Monday Links | Main | Last day for nominations, 2010 art scene MVP etc. »

Art book gift ideas

No idea what to get? Here are three very nice books on; Asian art, Lynda Benglis and the Chinati Foundation.

Asian Art Now
by Melissa Chiu & Benjamin Genocchio, published by Monacelli Press (2010)

In the past few six years I’ve subjected myself to numerous Asian contemporary art survey shows. All have been overwhelming in the sheer amount of material on display and though intense I was never really fully satisfied in terms of a more recent art historical arc on which to place recent developments in perspective. That is where Asian Art Now fits in.

This survey of the vast topic of Asian contemporary art makes some sense of a history of which I had an annoyingly incomplete understanding. I understood China well enough and Murakami's Superflat but my understanding of Korea, Indonesia etc. always left me wanting to upgrade my Art knowledge beyond my political and historical understanding (I studied a great deal of Asian history in grad school but not its contemporary art). As the book anticipated my initial understanding of Asian contemporary art began with Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Noguchi and Yayoi Kusama and a fewew others. Later in the 90's and Aughts I acquired a taste for Murakami, Cao Fei, Huang Yong Ping and Ai Weiwei. In many ways this book confirms my belief that these are the perhaps the most important Asian artists to come into the limelight so far. Only now I can more fully explain why with much greater context and this is a great resource for any contemporary curator, critic or curious artist seeking to make sense and cut a path through the barrage of still mostly B and C grade Asian art.

I feel like this book fills in so many holes while suggesting further research. For example the Japanese Mono-ha group was founded in 1968, the same year as America's Land Art movement. It was lead by Lee Ufan (from Korea) whose writings extol the use of raw natural materials as a presence. Ufan has a mystical/geometric/structural focus that parallels Michael Heizer while being very different from Smithson (who was very influenced by Heizer and mysticism). This is a valuable find allowing me to make some very fine distinctions.

Another gem, in 1979 China's first “real avant garde group” xing xing The Stars was formed. By 1981 the first of its members (a young Ai Weiwei) left for the USA.

Then there's the an interesting viewpoint that Asian Modernism was not just a copy of Modernism. Instead, “Multimodernism”, a term coined by Indonesian curator/critic Jim Supanghat “to characterize disparate modern artistic directions that were manifested in Asian countries in accordance with local conditions,” even suggests the flaws in the Alfred Barr version of Modernism that make it such a paper tiger (Even Barr is more complicated than he is made out to be). Fact was Modernism is just as fractured, dark and confusing as Postmodernism claimed to be. It suggests a convenient repackaging of the same ideas and Asia's parallel developments support the argument.

But where the book really shines is the way it fits contemporary developments into mid century and much earlier roots. Though perhaps a bit obvious chapters like; Rethinking Tradition (screens , Scrolls, prints, ritual performance religion), Politics Society and The State (gendered agendas. Social consciousness. Asian Pop, consumerism and stereotypes, Urban NatImaginaryes = Hiraki Sawa and Do Ho Suh, Cao Fei etc.) do paint a digestible active polyglot of activity.

Highly recommended.

Lynda Benglis, published by Les Presses Du Reel (2009)

For years I've been harping on about the fact that Lynda Benglis may be the most influential living artist today. She's brash (presaging Britpop) a genius with materials on par with Eva Hesse and she mastered the goopy and glittered moves that no MFA program in the last 10 years could have have done without. She even exposed Artforum as a bunch of group thinking reactionaries. She's a kind of independent voice of feminism as well. What's not to love?

Yet Elizabeth Murray and Lee Bontecou received major retrospectives to much acclaim, Lynda though never off the radar simply wasn't on that list (if there was a chain to yank, she'd yank it). You see, Elizabeth Murray is merely OK, Bontecou is good but Benglis really matters because like Judd, Smithson, Serra and Irwin she set the tone for her work rather than merely flesh out an established idiom. Before her artist's worked in one vein. Benglis is multimedia personified.

So I was extremely pleased when the the Irish Museum of Art decided to give her a proper retrospective and this book is the document. The show will travel to New York's New Museum in February. It is a somewhat odd decision considering her “newness” but Benglis is the mother of a lot of moves in their first and so far only really notable show Unmonumental. Overall, I love everything about this volume and it should expand people's understanding of her work.

Chinati: The Vision of Donald Judd (2010)

There simply aren't very many good Donald Judd books out there and this particularly hefty one shares the way Judd set up his own institution for the ideal presentation and permanent display of his own work and others. In many ways Chinati is the outgrowth of Judd's critical thinking and it makes sense that he would want to create an institution that extended his special knack for absolute integrity and curiosity through residencies and further long term projects. Think of Chinati as a museum to Judd's curiosity as much as his taste and it is evidenced in projects by Carl Andre, John Chamberlain and Dan Flavin here.

All that said, Chinati's first Director Maryanne Stockebrand is retiring from the helm of this institution and this large volume with many excellent photographs acts as a kind of monument to this first era of Chinati. Will the institution retain it's independent thinking, starkly individualistic nature under the new leadership? Or will it simply become another destination museum simply giving residencies to the flavor of the month? Chinati isn't so much about Judd himself, that is the Judd Foundation's role. Instead, Chinati is the living embodiment of Judd's critiques of museums and aspects of the the art world that destroy the integrity of art (including his own). There couldn't be a better time to publish this book as the institution must remind itself and everyone else why it matters.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 22, 2010 at 13:12 | Comments (0)


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