The Year in Books

Printed Matters

The Year in Books

By Art Practical Editors December 18, 2013

From artists' monographs to beach reads, "Printed Matters" offers a monthly take by a rotating group of contributors on visual art through the printed word.

Forgetting the Art World, Patricia M. Lee (The MIT Press, 2012)

“What is art’s work?” This is the question that drives historian Patricia M. Lee’s incisive discussion of contemporary art produced in the age of unmediated, under-theorized globalization. Lee’s consideration of the context in which art is exhibited and consumed—bi- and triennials and art fairs—and art’s role as both object and agent of globalization unfolds in five chapters that address work by makers including Takashi Murakami, Andreas Gursky, and Thomas Hirschhorn. Her argument could easily be burdened by imprecise terminology, or retreat to the safety of pluralism so as to explain the contradictions inherent in globalism and its effects. Instead, she examines with enviable clarity how the art world, which she describes as once “singular” and “distinct,” became routinized in its norms and procedures. For Lee and her readers, forgetting the art world means forgoing fifty years of history and attendant -isms in order to identify the forces and conditions that define it in the now.

— Roula Seikaly

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt (Little, Brown and Company, 2013)

Theo Decker, age 13, survives a museum bombing that kills his aesthete mother. In the ruined gallery, a dying man implores Theo to take a small Old Master painting of a goldfinch by Carel Fabritius in 1654, and in his shock and confusion, he complies. What happens next unfolds slowly over the 771 pages of the book, as Theo struggles with what to do with the painting and grows up under the mismanagement of various adults. Strictly speaking, the book is part coming-of-age drama, part thriller, but there are details that only an art lover could enjoy: considerations of the social and economic value of art, issues of conservation, and what one character calls the “heart shock” of finding artwork that calls out to you. While this novel isn’t as tightly plotted as Tartt’s first work, The Secret History, the lushly detailed language creates a universe we know well: of art and love and longing. As another character notes, “Beauty alters the grain of reality.”

— Bean Gilsdorf

24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Courtesy Verso, UK.

24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, Jonathan Crary (Verso, 2013)

In his latest book, Columbia professor Jonathan Crary seamlessly weaves together art-historical examples, theoretical concepts, and sociological studies to advance his thesis that sleep (symbolizing a moment of repose in our nonstop lives) is the last bastion of non-capitalistic society. The result is a captivating, if terrifying, glimpse of a future where work and play coalesce, and we are always tuned in. Particularly persuasive is his contemporary application of Gilles Deleuze’s “control society,” where gaps (of time and space) disappear in a technology-dominated world. Likewise, his analysis of two artworks—Joseph Wright’s Arkwright’s Cotton Mills by Night (1782) and Chantal Akerman’s D’Est (1993)—as representations of society hovering on the brink of capitalism is compelling. Crary’s 24/7 is a dark prediction of the dangers of consumption and technological production.

— Jeanne Gerrity

Wear Your Dreams: My Life in Tattoo, Ed Hardy with Joel Selvin (Chronicle Books, 2013)

We can count on one hand the literary or biographical library that has emerged from the Bay Area art scene in recent decades: Larry Rinder's thinly veiled novel about his years at the Whitney; Nancy Boas' biography of David Parks; Tom Marioni's autobiography; Betty Klausner on David Ireland. To that list we can now add a biography of Don Ed Hardy, co-written by Hardy and Joel Selvin. It's a direct, unpretentious read, putting together a life that has been made of many eccentric ingredients:  Runyonesque North Beach characters, a lifetime of travels to Asia, with touches of Dashiell Hammett and Yakuza culture tossed with a heaping serving of recollections of great artists like Gordon Cook and Ron Nagel.

—Renny Pritikin

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