Anthony’s Art Diary

Monday, December 18, 2017

Books Do Furnish A Room, was the title that Anthony Powell, the British novelist, a mighty figure in the Post World War II decades, gave one of his books. Powell has somewhat receded now, as writers do, although Wikipedia notes chirpily that Books Do Furnish A Room is still in print, and at Art Basel Miami his title seemed spot on, with books all over, used as classy décor in hotel lobbies (giant Audubon bird books at 1 Hotel on Collins, a Rizzoli colossus devoted to Manohlo Blahnik’s shoes someplace else), reproduced on curtains in the SLS Hotel’s Dragon Lounge or, especially, morphed directly into art.

 There’s art history here. The artist John Latham, another Brit, made his rep in the 60s by building towers of books – backspelled Skoob Towers – and setting them afire. He intended these pieces to be seen as rejections of institutionalized knowledge, as in Pink Floyd’s We don’t need no education/We don’t need no thought control. (More Brits. Sorry). The messaging in Miami was seldom that hostile, though one artist, who uses the last name “The”, cut one book into the shape of a hand-grenade and cut another, an art book, in half and attached a handle, thus adapting it for use as a broom. Mostly in Miami, though, books and other such heritage information sources as newspapers and magazines, were not repurposed into art as a tribute to their dread power, more to a sometimes woeful memorialising what the culture is losing to hi-tech and the Internet.

The Sponder Gallery of Boca Raton, for instance, was showing a piece by Max Steven Grossman at its stand at Art Miami. who photographs libraries that he has created in his head to last forever. There has been talk of the demise of the book and the demise of photography for quite some time now, Grossman’s text at the show begins. It is unlikely, at least for the immediate future, that books and photographs will disappear, but it is a fact that those objects are no longer what they used to be.

Also at Miami, Smith Davidson, a gallery with spaces in Miami and Amsterdam, was showing Paul Rousso, who contrives to make sculptured surfaces out of newspapers, magazines and such similar ephemera as gum wrappers. Manolis Projects, a new space in Miami, was showing the remarkable photo-based works of Alex Vignoli, such as those which generate energies that channel both Bernini and the Futurists from riffled books and folded magazines. (Full disclosure: I show my cartoonery with Manolis and am delighted to do so).

Jayne Baum, a New York dealer, was showing altered books by Doug Beube, on her stand at Pulse, one dexterously curved into a kind of Mobius Strip. My work explores the book itself, an antiquated technology that is still purposeful in a digital age, his gallery text begins, cheerily. Also at the Jayne Baum space was the work of Guy Laramee, a Montreal artist, who carved a 24 volume edition of the Encylopedia Britannica into a mountainscape after it had been announced that the venerable reference book would no longer be published on paper. He called the piece Adieu, which even non-Francophones should know means Goodbye. Baum had two other altered books by Laramee on her stand at Pulse. Cultures emerge, become obsolete, and are replaced by new ones, ran the artist’s accompanying text. We are currently told that the paper book is bound to die … One might ask so what? Do we really believe that “new technologies” will change anything concerning our existential dilemma, our human condition?

Well, do we? This year’s Rubell Family Collection show, Still Human, is still up. It contains work by over two dozen artists, including Charles Ray, Andro Wekua, Isa Genzken and Jennifer Rubell, which inhabits territory opened up by hi-tech and the digital revolution, including AI, bio-technology, surveillance and such virtual world entities as avatars, and it makes it clear that many of us believe exactly that.




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