Monday, December 17, 2012

Gifts of Art

Rene Magritte: Newly Discovered Works
Edited by Sarah Whitfield
Yale Press

This is the season for coffee table art books, which have apparently outlived coffee tables.  Rene Magritte is one of a handful of modern artists who also fascinates a popular audience with his playful juxtapositions and enigmatic images.  Over the past couple of decades a number of works have surfaced purporting to be Magritte's.  This volume publishes color images of many that have been authenticated as true Magrittes.

For the Magritte aficionado, the imagery of many will be familiar--not only did Magritte often mix and match his imagery, but he created exactly (or almost exactly) the same imagery in different media (here it seems to be most often gouache versions of oil paintings.)  Still, there are enough new variations and several spectacular new images to delight even the casual admirer of Magritte's work.  This is a handsome volume indeed, with some images filling a large page.  The scholarly notes are precise but don't overwhelm the images.  Like many famous Magritte paintings, they delight--they make you smile, but also often with that air of mystery and melancholy.  I've always liked his skies, which seem to be between night and day.  Dawn or dusk--or both.  That's Magritte.

Here are three more of my favorites from Yale:

Ezra Stoller: Photographer
Edited by Nina Rappaport and Erica Stoller

Ezra Stoller's photographs of the work of modern architects helped make them famous.  This volume of his mostly black-and-white photography from the 1940s to the 1970s includes these photos, but also photos of other characteristically modern exteriors and interiors--everything from inside the United Nations to inside a Sears store.  The photos often concentrate on what's most interesting about a building: the play of light and shadow, for instance, or its particular place in the landscape (a small modern house at the top of a formidable rocky hill.)  A few of the interiors include people, which at this point help to place them in time, but most of the images are recognizably from the modern age--the pre-post-modern age, that is.

The selection and arrangement of images is excellent for browsing as well as study, and there are several introductory essays on the biographical, historical and formal background.  "My father was a storyteller," Erica Stoller writes, and this volume is like a collection of visual short stories.  It should please readers beyond those involved in either architecture or photography, but will be of special interest to them.

 Ancestral Modern
by Pamela McClusky, Wally Caruana, Lisa Graziose Corrin, and Stephen Gilchrist
Artists and others have long been fascinated with the imagery of Australian aboriginal art, both ancient and contemporary.  But beyond their interest as abstract images, there is often a specific relationship of the images to actual landscape, animals and historical events.  This volume matches images with the aspects of the real world that inspired them.  It should appeal to the wandering eye, open to color and pattern and to their relationship to nature, but there is also the scholarly support by two Australian and two American curators that adds another level of satisfaction as well as a permanent contribution to knowledge.

Roy Lichtenstein
James Rondeau and Sheena Wagstaff; With contributions by Clare Bell, Yve-Alain Bois, Iria Candela, Harry Cooper, Sara Doris, Chrissie Iles, James Lawrence, and Stephen Little.

Lichtenstein's images also combine popular fascination with artistic stature.  This volume expands on the familiar with a more complete view of the artist's work, plus previously obscure drawings and collages.  The contributors place Lichtenstein in art history and his own time, while the wealth of images (some 130 works) presented in this large format may fascinate and delight on their own.  

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